How being lean can help you find success on the App Store

The long review cycles on the App Store are annoyingly anti-lean.  It’s probably the worst drawback of building Apps for Apple. My friend Dustin Mckay even chose to focus on the Google Play store so he could push new apps and new updates way more often.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t try to be lean.  I used lean practices to find success with my first app, GifShare, and have done my best to remain lean ever since. 

Here’s how I do it: 

Use the web

Last year when I was freelancing and looking for my first success,  I didn’t have much time.  My previous app, Valt, which I spent four months building, was a huge flop.  I didn’t want to do that again.

In attempt to use the least amount of energy to find a profitable product, I created a landing page for GifShare (which didn’t exist yet) to see if anyone would click to download.  I then posted GifShare’s landing page on various websites that were popping up on trending searches like “Instagram GIF”.  

I received a ton of email signups and click throughs, so I built it.  I validated further by testing if people would signup for beta access (which they did) and if they would actually pay for any in app purchases (which they did).  The web was a great low cost, fast way to find an idea worth building.

I often use Google keyword planner and google trends to see if there’s any traction for an idea I’m looking to build.  A landing page, which you can build in less than 10 minutes using QuickMVP.com is a great way to find some further validation for your idea.

But what about once you have a product?  How can you make lean iterations of what you think will improve conversions?

Use dynamic updating from the cloud

If you’re not familiar with what I mean, I mean using a service like Parse.com as a backend which you can make changes to at any time which will cause instant changes to your app.

For example, I wanted to see which background image worked best for my In app purchase sales screen in converting users.  I added three I wanted to test to parse, and once the test finished I determined the one in the image was converting way better than the other two.  If I had tried this using app updates, this single test could’ve taken 20+ days… yikes.

There’s a variety of different ways to run split tests, but like I mentioned, I use Parse.  I gather data using Mixpanel, but you may also use a service like Flurry to measure which version of your tests is bringing your closer towards your conversion goals.  

Engage with users often

I’ll admit that sometimes I get lazy and I don’t do this. I always regret not doing it, and always come back to it.  

It’s important to have some way for your users to keep up with you.  I use Instagram, but you can use Facebook, Twitter, email, tumblr and others depending on how your users prefer to engage. Users will tell you what they want from your app, what they hate about it, and everything in between.  

You also get to see up close what your users look like.  Browse through their profiles and guaranteed you’ll start to see a trend of exactly what type of person you have on your app.

Another awesome benefit of building your audience is you can cross promote new apps to the users, and I even use it to test which kind of app I might build next.

When I follow these steps — things generally go well for me.  Not every experiment I run is a success, but it helps me fail way faster with much less effort.  The times I haven’t followed these lean practices have always led to a lot of wasted effort and struggle.  Don’t be like that version of me.  Be lean!

Making a Living on the App Store — What I’ve Learned

I figured that since I’ve recently started hitting around $100/day on avg, I could share the biggest lessons I’ve learned on the App Store.

1. The most important part of the funnel is the top. Finding your app is the most important part (via App Store search or web search). The top of the App Store is the Icon, the name, the screenshots, and the description. If these can’t be done well the app isn’t worth further development.

2. The first version should do what it needs to do and nothing more. The original version of GifShare beta — which converts GIFs to videos — did nothing other than that — I made the design usable, but it wasn’t pretty. The remaining features were easier to implement as users will complain about what the app needs to be better.

3. Measure whats important — If you aren’t measuring things, Mixpanel is free, and Flurry is free forever. If your serving ads, active daily users is good to know. I also track how many GIFs are converted daily for this. Don’t measure too much — data bloat will only serve to distract you.

4. Don’t change too many things at once — This is really hard because the review cycle is 7 days so sometimes you might be tempted to make a lot of “improvements” at once — don’t do this! I’ve made this mistake recently, and my revenue dropped massively — because I had made so many changes at once, I wasn’t sure what caused it. Fortunately, I was able to guess what it was on the next update, but you shouldn’t have to put yourself in that position.

5. Use a backend service to dynamically update your app — To overcome the long dev cycles of the App Store, I created a backend using Parse.com which I could change data to my Upgrade screen and for which I could test different promotions for new apps without pushing a new update. I recently tested promotion screens for several different apps to see which one might be more worth my time building next.

6. Don’t fall in love with your app – “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” Very much like Edison’s thoughts on ideas, the best way to find an app that works may just be to build a lot of them.

Before actor Ed Helms got “lucky” with winning an audition he gave for a correspondent with The Daily Show, he was making a living in New York as a voice for radio commercials. The nature of the business meant he was auditioning for new commercials every day, sometimes multiple times in one day.

When the Daily Show role came up, he auditioned for it, then he was done with it. Totally forgot about it. Not only did he get the role, but having gone through so many auditions taught him to audition really well. His emotionless state of auditioning actually worked to his advantage.

That’s almost how you have to be with your apps. Make your apps prove themselves to you as viable business opportunities before you start spending heaps of time on them. The first changes you make should be to the top — the app name, the keywords, and the icon mainly. If these don’t work then move on. Never attach yourself unless it begs for your attention.

Now it’s time to hit $200/day. Game time!

On Accountability

It’s funny: I finally find enough success as an entrepreneur to live off my profits and I get depressed. I lost my purpose. It’s like the opposite of what I felt would happen.

I let myself get seduced by the comfort of having passive income. I indulged in lots of shit that derailed my productivity. I thought it was okay if I limited the behavior, but that never worked in practice.

SO I’ve banned a lot of shit cold turkey out of my life. Watching sports, Esports, reddit — really anything that can serve as a major distraction to my mission (I have THREE website blockers that I have to disable to get to any sites I’d indulge in, not worth it). I’m waking up at 5am again. And hey IM BLOGGING AGAIN. I also help out other entrepreneurs daily on The Fastlane Forum.

Being uncomfortable is great! It helps when things get rough (like resetting my sleep to 5am) that I tell myself this discomfort is way more fun than giving into comfort and being sad about it. This seems weird to write because this wasn’t a problem for me until I had success but whatev.

I haven’t been valuing my time and in return my time has not been valuing me (hrrrrrr I’m so clever). But ya I’ve also put my yearly goals in a picture frame above my computer, and I write down Deadlines for ANYTHING I work on. I make life like a game and it become more fun to do the right things.

Hey but I’m also not taking life so seriously. Like I’m not even gonna edit this post more than one time over! This guy!

K see you next time peace

Random Human Kindness

Random Human Kindness

Fuck. My immediate thoughts after my bike’s front tire gave out and I was miles away from home at Whole Foods. My mind started iterating through any possible next step I could take. I decided after only seconds I’d have to make the miserable trek back home on a flat.

“You don’t want to do that, your spokes will all blow out”. Like a fucking Batman outta nowhere, my bike broke down right in front of THE bike expert who happened to live two houses away from Whole Foods. We went to her house, pumped the tire and temporarily sealed the leak.

Her name is Alyssa, she appeared to be into Rock, was chill as fuck, and I may never see her again. But for that moment, she was one of the coolest people I knew.

She had no obligation to me but she saved my day. Maybe I’ll find a way to pay her back.

Thanks, Alyssa.

Working Hard is Overrated

Do you think any boxers preparing for Muhammad Ali weren’t preparing like their life depended on it?  Of course they were. They still lost.  But not because they didn’t work hard.

Look no further than Silicon Valley if you need a today example.  So many startups fail year after year.  Yes, some of them could have worked harder.  But most failed startups didn’t fail because “they didn’t work hard enough”. 

I’m not advocating you become a success by sleeping all day and picking your nose.  Working hard is important, but working smart is far more important.  

The heavyweight boxers of Muhammad Ali’s time were winning titles by raw bruteforce.  The harder the punch, the more successful the boxer.  The most feared of the 60s was Sonny Liston.  He won the heavyweight title by knocking out the previous title-holder, Floyd Merriweather, in a single round. 

Liston was a monster. No one wanted to fight him.  Until an upstart Cassius Clay challenged and took him down in 6 rounds.

Ali wasn’t a hard hitter at all.  He talked a lot of shit.  He almost seemed “scrawny” for being a heavyweight boxer.  So how the fuck did he make Liston look like a amateur?

Ali moved too fast for heavy punches.  He conserved energy so he was always prepared to go 12+ rounds.  His own punches were fast and precise — eventually enough head blows would be game over for his opponent.

Defense wins championships.  And Ali’s agility and endurance gave him the best defense in the game. 

Ali fought smart.