Mindvalley’s mission is to touch the lives of 1 billion people with new ideas on health and wellness, and in this age of smartphones and tablets, we knew that mobile development was a key area that would help help us reach that goal.
In March 2011 I was at a conference in DC and over dinner and drinks I had a fellow entrepreneur tell me “you know, as brilliant as you think your websites are, you really suck cos you’re totally lacking a mobile strategy.” I realized he was right. I went back home and started making plans to build a platform app to add to Mindvalley’s portfolio. One year later we launched Omvana.
I ran Omvana for 6 months and in that time we hit #1 highest grossing app in 20 countries. It was an exciting journey.
In my 6 months I developed a model for Growth Hacking Omvana that I called Conversion Hacking.
When I start a new business I follow a piece of advice Richard Branson gave me. Run the business for 3 months and focus on finding someone smarter than you to take over.
So in the summer of 2013, I brought on Kshitij Minglani as CEO.
Within just one year Kshitij and his team has managed to deliver over 12 million meditation sessions around the world. On top of that, we continued to hit new records on the iTunes store. (Our follow up app Dormio became the #2 most downloaded Health and Fitness app in America in April this year.)
In addition to the Conversion Hacking video above I asked Kshitij to write this article below for Mindvalley Insights so that other businesses can have a better understanding of what the mobile app business is really like and how to create an app that truly changes people’s lives.
The app market is always growing, and many entrepreneurs are looking to mobile for their next development venture. At the same time, it’s widely acknowledged that it’s a gamble, with 59% of apps not breaking even. Ouch. On the other hand, our apps have been runaway successes. How did we build a flourishing app ecosystem despite the odds? Read on for our step-by-step insights…
Hit the Ground Running: Four Steps to Increase Your Chances of Success
Step #1: Assess the landscape
Before you get started making an app, make sure there’s a market for it. When we did our user research, we looked at several different apps and dug deep into all the metrics we could find. When you’re doing competitive research, here’s a few things to ask yourself about other apps:
- What’s the payment model–subscription or in-app purchases?
- How do they market themselves?
- What category do they belong to in the iTunes store?
- Where are they ranked at? And where have they been ranked at?
For the competitive research part of the process, we worked through two books in their entirety: The Best Book on IOS App Marketing and App Empire . I strongly recommend checking them out to get a jump-start on your research process.
This part of the process is all about identifying a gap (or more than one gap) on the app store to see what people actually consume. It’s easy to say (without doing a lot of research) that people spend all of their time on social media apps, or on gaming apps, but that’s not necessarily true–many people are using apps that help improve their lives.
After combining our research in the app market with our knowledge of the industry, we decided to build an app that would go in the Health and Wellness section of the app stores. We knew that we wouldn’t just be building one app, but instead, an ecosystem of interconnected apps that will all work on a day-to-day basis to improve the user’s quality of life
- Get a solid understanding of the app industry and app marketing overall–the previously mentioned two books will give you a huge head start here.
- Examine not only the existing app market to see where the gaps are, but your own areas of expertise and things that you’re passionate about, to see where there’s a fit.
Step #2: Choose your KPIs carefully
Metrics aren’t just for the web any more. When you’re tracking the success of your app (and creating a plan to increase that success), you need a way to track the right kind of metrics. Too many people just look at the number of app downloads as a metric of success, but I know I’m not the only one that’s downloaded an app only to never open it and then delete it three months later.
The first thing you look at shouldn’t be the number of downloads, it should be how many active users you have. How many users are engaging with your app over and over again? Is there a drop-off point where people tend to open it three times and then never use it again? Or is there a learning curve that, once users progress past it, they start using the app on a daily basis? How can you make your app so valuable that the user is willing to make it a part of their daily life?
That was our goal with Omvana–to create an app that genuinely adds value to people’s lives so that keep coming back. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but once you’ve solved that, everything else is going to be much easier. With Omvana, we’ve delivered 12 million app sessions in the last twelve months, which is literally a million meditation sessions a month. And the sole reason we’ve been able achieve this success is because of the kind of metrics we measure and our work to improve those metrics. Your core focus should always be about the experience you provide to your users. We focused on increasing value to our users, and it paid off.
Step #3: Take the time and effort to create an amazing user experience
Once we realized we didn’t want to focus on paying for downloads or rely on downloads as a success metric, we knew that we needed to put that effort into creating an amazing user experience (UX) . To build an app that becomes a part of your user’s life, you need make it so intuitive that people don’t have to learn how to use it. Our philosophy is that if you have to put a tutorial in your app for the user to understand it, you’ve failed from a UX perspective.
We spent a lot of time testing our app’s interface, taking the time to create a phenomenal UX through beautiful art and design. To test the design of our app we’d have five people using the app at once and watched how they interacted with the app. We wanted to see where the gaps in their experience were and where they struggled to find the next step in using the app. If you create a beautiful and simplistic user experience within your app, your number of active and repeat users will naturally increase.
Step #4: Genuinely add value to peoples’ lives
As you can see, this “step” actually permeates every part of our process, but it’s so important that it bears repeating on its own: your app should genuinely add value to the user’s life.
Put the four steps together and…
This is the process that let us get featured in the app store over eight times. We learned the hard way that buying downloads costs money and only very rarely results in loyal users. In today’s app-eat-app world, the only reason that you’ll give five star ratings, get featured by Apple, or successfully monetize your app at all, is because you’re asking yourself these questions:
- Can my app genuinely add value to the user’s life?
- Can I create something that is intuitive to learn and use?
- Can we keep our active users high?
We tried tracking multiple metrics (retention, lifetime value, downloads, etc.) but for us, answering these three questions outweighed any metric as far as useful data. By focusing on these key metrics, we’ve been #1 and #2 in the US, and #5 in China within the Health and Fitness section of the iTunes store.
How to choose and validate your app idea
No idea where to start? It’s simple: sit down and brainstorm. Come up with 50 or 60 or 100 ideas. Anything goes–whether it’s an app about beer or meditation or music. Come up with as many ideas as you can.
Then go to the app store. Find out how many of those apps already exist, and look and what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. If you’re able to find them in the app store and they’re on the front page, think about how much money they might be making–do you have the skillset to actually beat this app in rankings and income? Can you add additional value to your app that makes a difference?
Here’s an example: One of the 56 ideas we came up with in our initial brainstorming session was to build an app around pregnant women. When we went to the app store, we saw 3-4 apps that were based around the same idea and they were doing phenomenally well. There was no freakin’ way we’d be able to beat them in terms of the knowledge, expertise, and the founders–even if we came up with a sleek, gorgeous app and tried to add information to it, we’d just be matching them, not beating them. On top of that, they’ve already been around for six months and taken up most of the market share. It would have been much harder for us to add value to that market than to look somewhere else.
Out of the 56 or so ideas we came up with in our initial brainstorming session, we crossed off a lot of ideas through this process. But of course, we also realized through our research that there were several gaps that other apps weren’t taking advantage of. That realization turned our list of 56 into a list of 75-80, even after several contenders were taken out of the running.
How do I know if my app is really different enough to add value?
It can be hard to figure out if your app is different enough to stand out in a crowded niche. When it comes down to it, look for a different value proposition for the user.
As far as music apps go, Pandora used to be the main contender (and they still have 256 million users). But there’s also Spotify, which lets you take your songs offline and sync playlists across devices. Then there’s another app called 8tracks which lets you pick music for a particular mood–laid back party, or studying, or what-have-you. It’s a completely different experience than taking your music offline or listening to popular music on the radio. See how these are three different value propositions, even though they’re all ways to listen to music?
Fitness apps are another example. There’s Nike Training Club, which lets you unlock celebrity workouts and features videos with a high production value to guide you through the workouts. Then there’s multiple apps based off the seven minute workout that are basically animations guiding you through a quick-and-dirty workout. Two entirely different experiences, even if the end result is the same (better health).
If your market niche is crowded, that’s fine. Just make sure that you’re targeting a different subset of the market that the current apps aren’t quite reaching.
What if there’s no competition?
On the other end of the spectrum, it might seem like a good idea to get into a niche when there’s no competition, but it can be dangerous in reality. With no already existing apps, you don’t have a baseline to compare yourself to, or an idea of how much need actually exists for this app. You could actually be first on the scene with a profitable idea–but when entering into a new market, it’s important to do as much user testing as you can to make sure that your app is actually going to be useful in day-to-day life.
You’ve analyzed the current offerings in the app store and you’ve got a refined list of ideas. The next step is to take that list of ideas and prioritize them. How excited are you (and your team) about a particular idea? How likely is it that you can execute this idea–and execute it well?
Here’s a recap of how to come up with and validate an app idea, before you start on it:
- List all your ideas.
- Go to the app store, do research on competing apps, and cross out the ideas that don’t make sense.
- Identify gaps in the app store, and add those to your list of ideas.
- Cross out anything that you and your team aren’t passionate about, interested in, and confident you can execute well.
Now you’ve got a list of ideas that you think have value, fill a gap, and that your team is interested in…which means you have less work to do when it comes to motivating your team, as well.
Post-app: How to stay ahead of the curve
What do you do after creating a (hopefully successful) app?
You certainly don’t rest on your laurels.
At this point, we have a series of 15 apps on the app store, and four of them have been featured so many times we’ve lost count. Our focus now that we have successful apps in the store is to stay ahead of the curve. We still have other ideas on our list (remember how we came up with 56 ideas at first?) and we’ve got 5-7 that we’re keeping on the front burner. We’re constantly discussing, brainstorming, thinking of potential partners, and experimenting with concepts around those ideas. That way, when it comes time to develop the app, it won’t already be obsolete.
We also make a point to pay attention to:
- What Apple and Google are doing as companies
- What’s trending on the Apple app store, and on Google Play
- The potential features we can add to an app, with new tools like Apple’s HealthKit
For example, by using Apple’s HealthKit data, our Omvana app can now recognize when the user is stressed and recommends them a track to help relax. With new technologies like this, we can create a better experience for our user that makes them want to keep coming back to our app.
After your success
Once you’ve got the ball rolling with a successful app, you want to keep the momentum going. In our case, it’s been key for us to experiment. Here’s a list of some things we’ve done since our first successful app:
- Tested out offline partnerships and events that complement the app
- Experimented with localizing apps
- Set up the aforementioned HealthKit connection
- Experimented with wearable connections
Our realization has been that you can’t focus on one particular mode of delivery. Your app should be a part of a larger consumption platform that’s available on the web, Android, iOS, Kindle–wherever your users are, your platform should be there.
Test, test, and test again:
And of course, sometimes, even with a successful app (or three) under your belt, you fail. We’ve had some apps that haven’t done well at all, and sometimes we’ve spent a considerable chunk of time building features that don’t do well at all. We think we’ve got the feature that’s going to have us hitting 40% growth next month, but instead, our metrics drop.
You have to know your users inside and out, and you have to have the tools (whether that’s App Annie, Flurry, Apptimize, or another app metrics tool) to backup your instincts. You need to know what screen your users are dropping off at, and what features they’re using the most. And then you can turn that data into a better app–whether it’s by improving that app, or building a new one.
Building a successful app is quite the journey in and of itself, but after reading this article, you’re better equipped. Good luck–and remember: keep the focus on genuinely adding value; everything else will come from there.
Make sure to comment below if you have questions related to this article and our Mobile App Business.