Welcome back to my weekly newsletter. This is going to be a series of blogs covering how we came up with the idea of Calm Sleep, scaled it to over 1 Million users in less than a year with less than a $1,000 total investment. 🌱
I’m Akshay Pruthi, an entrepreneur who loves to build products from the ground up. Over the past 6 years, I have built multiple products from scratch and scaled them to millions of users. This is my attempt to share our most important lessons from building one of those apps: Calm Sleep. 🤗
Note - Calm Sleep is my side hustle that I started with Ankur Warikoo, Anurag Dalia, and a team of 3.
Every week I will publish an article about a different problem we faced while building Calm Sleep. This week, I am going to cover how we got our first 1000 users, what our early retention looked like and what we learned after analyzing the data.
We launched the app in 15 days. It was time to get some users and analyse early feedback.
How did we get our early users? 😋
I have sufficient experience of scaling apps to millions of users, nonetheless, it’s not like there’s a playbook that teaches you how to do it; or is there?
Based on my research, I narrowed down 5 strategies that most of the popular consumer companies often applied to get their early users.
If anything else worked for you, do feel free to share your findings! DM, please 😀
What did we do?
Test the Waters by Putting Up a Webpage Online, Inviting People to Sign Up for Early Access It took us a day to put up a functional website and start inviting people to take our Beta version on a test drive. The question remained, how do we get traffic to the website? What Worked for Us? SEO targeted blogs: Seems like a lot of work but you need to be smart to get this done in an async manner. Hire freelancers. Pay them $4-5/article and get one article a week around some targeted keywords. If you are early in the SEO game, read up about the biz here and here.
2. Set Up the Path Towards AppStore Optimisation We identified the keywords where we wanted to rank and optimized the entire app narrative around those keywords.
Primary Keywords: Calm, sleep.
We had an opportunity to fill in keywords like meditation and headspace but chose otherwise as the app didn’t support those features.
I was surprised to see the lack of literature about ASO. Most of the companies take it for granted as it’s slow and requires grunt work. But, it seems to have done wonders for me. I have written in detail about it here.
“There was a secret in the app store. You could make the application name really really long. And the search engine on the App Store gives more weight to the application name rather than the key bookwords defined. So we put a really long application name, "make awesome music videos with all kinds of effects for Instagram, Facebook, Messenger”. And then traffic came from the search engine. That's how we initially got started.
— Alex Zhu - Founder TikTok
That’s it. Through these two strategies, we started getting our initial installs. We started seeing some installs coming from the USA, UK, and India.
What Worked for the World?
Invite your friends: For companies like Yelp, Facebook, Slack Pinterest - the founders emailed or messaged their friends and family to try out the product. Here’s how Ben, Founder of Pinterest did it.
Look for Product Hunter Platforms: Products like Product Hunt, Betalist where you can submit your product and wait for the community to try it out. Here’s a guide on how to launch your product on Product Hunt
FOMO built through Gating Mechanisms: The core principle of Gating is gated out folks have to chatter about gated in folks which essentially builds FOMO. Very recently, Cred is a brilliant example of creating a gated community of credit card holders gated around your credit score. People who missing a credit card or a credit score of 750+ are barred from being a part of this exclusive community. This created a buzz and FOMO around many who had scored under750.
Build a community: Products like Product Hunt, Stack Overflow started off by building a community around a specific domain. They focused on providing a single value to a single community, did it consistently for long periods of time, and eventually made a product out of it.
Get some influencers to create buzz. More examples of how to do it and how it happened for various brands here and here.
Our ASO had also started to show some results.
When we got to a constant 100 installs a day, we started doing user analysis. We saw our Day 1 retention was 19% which means, if 100 users install the app today, only 19 users came back tomorrow.
This was pretty low. This was supposed to be a daily use case app and our targets were pretty high. For reference, this is what good and great 6-month retention numbers look like.
Source: Lenny’s Blog
Looking at these numbers, one would be encouraged to shut down the business and move on. 😝
We decided to go deep 🤓
What were the good signs?
Some people left positive feedback on the play store saying sleep sounds helped them sleep
2. People showed interest by trying out multiple sounds. They would navigate through
different categories to find their favorite sound and listen to it.
What were the bad signs?
Data wasn’t showing any behavioral patterns for people to open the app. There was no habit that was being created.
Coming back to the app was the function of user satisfaction with the sounds. If they liked the sleep sounds and received the best experience, they would keep the app, otherwise, they uninstalled the app.
Our day 0 uninstall rate was 40-50%
In our weekly Thursday call, we asked ourselves: What number do we want to move? Is it the Day 1 retention, or the number of installs on a single day, or the number of people listening to sleep sounds daily? What should be our North-Star metric?
Find out in the upcoming article!