First users are always the most difficult. The acquisition of the first 100 thousand users is an art, especially if you do not have money for marketing and paid installations. Winnie crossed this line this year, so I want to share some insights with you, especially strategies that work for almost any product and also cost almost nothing.
In simple words Winnie Is an application that helps parents find useful information. This can be information about places or about different topics (for example, help with breastfeeding).
All this information is collected by the community, which gives Winnie a network effect when each new user adds value to the product for other users through content and communication with other users. These products have a natural growth advantage, but they are more difficult in the early days, when the application has few users and information. What to do in the beginning to start long-term organic growth?
First users: what worked
Growth before launch
Startups often launch closed beta testing for friends and family. This is great practice, but it’s important to make sure you have a growth mechanism for the beta: it can be sending out invitations or just moving on to public testing. Think about it, your beta’s goal is to test product performance, but isn’t the ability of the product to grow one of the most important things to test?
Winnie closed beta has grown from 10 to 400 in 3 months by sending out personal invitations. The group of first users helped us a lot and gave confidence that people want this product and it will grow.
All or nothing
We really wanted to leave Winnie local and focus on one or two markets for starters, but this approach cuts you off from many acquisition channels where you cannot target ads based on location (especially the App Store). It is also difficult to limit growth when product improvement depends on how many people use it.
Therefore, while we were preparing to launch the first version, we made the difficult decision to launch Winnie everywhere, even in regions for which we had almost no data. We did another onboarding for these users, which unlocked the product when writing a review. This was the right decision, because immediately after launching Apple chose Winnie to feature on the main page. Without this separate onboarding, we would simply abandon these users, but instead we used the opportunity to get valuable information.
Run ads, but use them to test your value proposition.
Growing up is difficult if you don’t know how to effectively position your product. Fortunately, we have an advantage in the form of advertising platforms, in particular Facebook and Google, which will help you test ideas on different groups of people. Even the most modest investments will allow you to test a lot of ideas and see what works best. This will give you information about what the first users are looking for – in one of the tests we found that people responded well to “find places where children eat for free,” so we made the content that is now one of our most popular features.
Get featured from Apple and Google
Fetching from the App Store was our experience of “God’s will”: it can bring you a lot of new users, but you still have absolutely no control over what is happening. Winnie got featured several times in both stores because we made our product attractive for featured.
Here are the key points for getting into phishing:
Ignore the calls “create once and deploy everywhere”, create native applications that will work stably and show the advantages of the platform.
Both Apple and Google have very detailed guides on design and interface, use them.
Create a unique and beautiful application icon and attractive images for promotion.
If possible, use integration with the platform, for example, embed Apple Pay support if Apple is actively promoting this feature in the store.
To share is to communicate
The ability to share your content or product is very important, but the implementation of this action greatly affects its adoption. At first we had a “Share” button under each post, but we noticed that it was rarely used. Instead, the first users asked us to save posts in order to return to them later, as well as a way to share these bookmarks with spouses or partners.
Some early users did not want to share content, but almost all used the product to team up with family and friends. Therefore, we removed the “Share” button and made the “Save” button, which offers you to share the post. This proposal is more focused on communication rather than content distribution, and it worked great – the number of posts on social networks increased by 300%.
Start with a request
From the very beginning, we saw Winnie as a place for parents to communicate not only with each other, but also with companies, services, experts in education and medicine, which you can rely on when raising children and caring for the family. But such a vision relies on the successful creation of a two-way ecosystem, which is a very difficult task for a startup with limited resources.
We decided to start with a request from the audience of parents and create a source of the necessary information.
Many of our first initiatives were data collection projects, such as creating complete lists of more than 5,000 kindergartens in the San Francisco Bay Area. This turned out to be a good move, as valuable data from a loyal audience of parents was attracted by companies that themselves began to provide this content (in order to better understand what is happening, check out aggregation theory Ben Thompson).
Stop optimizing your product for your existing audience.
As a product designer, I often have to think about not focusing too much on the current iteration of the product. At first, Winnie was a very useful application for parents of babies, as it helped to find restaurants with baby chairs and parks with mother and baby rooms. But then it was almost useless for parents with older children.
We knew that Winnie would work, we needed to continue to grow, so we did not further develop the search for mother and child rooms, but started adding functions for other user groups. This is a search for kindergartens that attracted a group of parents of 3-5 year old children. These are pages on topics that allowed us to create content around specific interests, for example, teenagers, mixed families, single parents and so on.
First users: what did not work
This tool is good for branding and can create a sense of community among your users, but events are time consuming. Especially for a team consisting entirely of engineers, ROI was not enough in comparison with large projects that we could spend our time on.
This was probably our biggest mistake. We targeted the market for millennial parents who often use apps, but the web is still very important. Most of our growth comes from web traffic in the form of organic search, social networks and recommendations from friends. Mobile-first is great. Mobile-only – no.
Hope only for push alerts
Another mobile-first error. It’s nice to think that if your application is installed on someone’s phone, then you will just be able to make the user active again just by sending a push notification. But do not forget about more traditional channels, for example, email.
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