App Failure, What Next? – Part 1

We’re three apps in with no ‘success’ beyond being featured, for 7 days. Essentially, we’ve experienced one week of good downloads. As you’d imagine this has prompted some analysis – and also some self doubt. Why didn’t it work? What could we have done differently? What should we do next? And what about these three apps, are they done?

I’m sure there are other developers in the position where they’re considering the future of an existing app, or product, based on current performance. Is it best to drop that app and start on something else?

On the face of it, all three of our apps are in that position, ready to be left alone. Forget them and move on.

However, as I consider our development approach I can’t help but think there are unanswered questions. Questions that shouldn’t be ignored. To explain my thought process I will start by setting the stage. In Part 1 of App Failure, What Next? I’ll use the development history of one of our apps to show the following:

  • Indy developer has an idea
  • Developer puts in a bunch of work in to make the app
  • The app flops – it’s not making any money
  • What now? How does the developer respond to this?

I think this story will make it obvious that there’s been something substantial missing from our product development strategy. I’ll write about this in Part 2. I might be out on a limb here but I’d guess that other (‘unsuccessful’) developers have followed a similar pattern…

Nudg’em from v1.0 to v1.2.2

The idea for Nudg’em came from my wondering at why friends and family weren’t using their iPhone to set reminders. “Will you remind me later?” they’d say, transferring the task. I’d respond by suggesting they create themselves a reminder…

We launched Nudg’em in October 2012; almost a year ago. For initial launch sales we’re talking $26.

We quickly decided the pricing was flawed. Nudg’em lets you send a reminder to someone else. If they accept, it fires on their device. To accept though, the recipient needs the app… Free is more suitable for this kind of workflow to spread.

The first update switched the app to free, with an optional In-App Purchase to send the reminder using SMS/iMessage. The rationale was that iMessage is a slight ‘upgrade’ from email because it’s pushed; plus we use an S3 server as an intermediary to hold the reminder data until it’s accepted. Apart from the delivery mechanism we wanted the full workflow to be available as free.

Following the small spike from the price drop, downloads settled at around 1 – 2 per day. Ouch.

What next? Nudg’em integrates with Apple’s built-in Reminders app and initially, it only presented the reminders created there. I wanted to add reminder creation – so I did. Following some research I also wanted to iterate on the keywords. A few small releases later brings us to v1.2.2, released on 22 May 2013, with downloads in the region of 6 – 8 per day.

Total sales to date = $61.81.

What Was Our Strategy Following the v1.0 Release?

Many would argue we should have stopped after the initial release. If v1.0 flops, give it up right away. The app isn’t going anywhere.

I write apps because I like the challenge of making something good. Something that I like, that I’m proud of. Something that other people will like. Also something that’s successful.

When Nudg’em went on sale and did nothing, I had the urge to make it better. My first thoughts were to ‘fix it’. Let’s get started on v1.1.

Not only that, I wanted to know if my idea, the use case, was something that would appeal to more than a handful of people. Knowing that discoverability is a problem, I had this thought: maybe the app is good, it’s just that people don’t know about it… In many ways I’d rather have had thousands of 1 star reviews saying “this isn’t useful – don’t download”.

So I looked to App Store search. Following a bit of research I realised that with some analysis and experimentation I’d probably be able to increase downloads. Changing keywords requires a new submission, which fitted well, as we had a number of small changes we wanted to make to the app.

It’s clear that, in trying to correct things, we concentrated on development. Activities within our comfort zone.

What of our current mindset? I ask myself, does it deserve another release?

  • We could update the UI for iOS 7
  • I really want to add a nice way to set a location based reminder using the map view, and then be able to recall those locations easily
  • Maybe we could use AirDrop to send the reminder? That would be cool
  • I’m sure I can improve the keywords further to get more views from App Store searches

Consider the backlog of ideas on our Trello board for Nudg’em:

Is It Time to Delete the App and Move On?

So we’re at v1.2.2 and the app has essentially done nothing. It’s not a big app but we’re doing this in our spare time – so we’ve put some effort into this.

On the surface it seems quite clear: we should leave this app behind.

So what’s to question? Is personal attachment preventing an objective decision? Perhaps. It’s probably valid to question the choices made following v1.0. But to be clear, I’m not suggesting more development time for this app…

I wanted to use the history of one of our apps to illustrate the following:

  • Indy developer invests in an idea. This is good!
  • Working on the app, efforts are development-biased
  • App fails
  • Conclusion: this app didn’t work, move on to the next one

The factors that led to a development heavy approach can also lead to a conclusion that overlooks important aspects of releasing a new product.

In our case, there has been something missing in our approach. I used the word ‘launch’ above with reference to the app being Ready for Sale. But what did we actually do to launch the product? What was our marketing strategy? Do we know if this is an app that people want, or don’t want?

In Part 2 I’ll look at what we did do to market this app, and our other apps, and consider how that might affect the decision to move on. Perhaps more importantly, how it might change our future strategy for developing new apps.