Podcast: How our App naturally acquired new users

Dec 12

Podcast: How our App naturally acquired new users

In this podcast series we ask experienced Appreneurs for one success story and one fail. You get actionable ideas for your Apps in just 20 minutes.

Here I speak with Matthew Ho, the Head of Product from Tapmint and Native Tongue App. Matthew talks about some hacks in their user acquisition, what learnings they had, how it changed their growth and also where they learned a tough lesson – enjoy!!!

Engagement Score

For all our interviews we ask the interviewee to score their own insight – Matthew self-scored his hack as 9,7,7 because he had a super-strong new user acquisition without needing to do any paid advertising.

Let us know on our Twitter account how you score it.



This podcast by StreetHawk & Tapmint covers how they acquired new users for mobile app without advertising. Matt’s method of encouraging & rewarding users for sharing was tightly coupled with a happy moment in the App. Also a few interesting comments about ASO (Appstore Optimization).

David: This is the Mobile Engagement podcast where we talk to app developers and entrepreneurs who’ve been there and done that, and they will share one win and one fail along their journey. Hope you enjoy.
Hi, this is David for Street Hawk. I’m here talking today with Matthew Ho. He’s the head of Product Dev for Tapmint. I met Matt a couple of years ago when he was doing a language learning thing. I was actually trying to figure out how to learn a little bit about Mandarin and I came across this app, which was gamifying how to actually learn Mandarin. I think it was the only language at the time too. So that’s when I met Matt. Anyway, Matt, if you’d like to introduce yourself, it would be great to hear about what you’ve been doing and what you’re doing at the moment.
Matt: Sure. As you mentioned, I was working on some language games at the time, teaching people how to learn a language in a really fun, fast, and effective way. We had a couple of apps at the time which were Mandarin, Spanish, and English, which I can get into a bit later. Then in the last two years, we started a new business with the same team to work more on consulting, including apps, for other people, and now we’re getting back into working on some of our end products as well.
David: Ah, so you’re trying to sort of balance that bridge of being both a product company and a service company. How are you finding that challenge?
Matt: Yeah, it’s tough. I know that I’ve had a few conversations with you about it. The hard part is trying to find time in between client projects to do it and you aren’t always going to treat it like it. Well, you have to actually treat it like a separate project in itself and dedicate time to it.
But, yeah, it’s a big struggle, a lot of what my consulting company is faced. We’re transitioning towards that by doing things like productized consulting, so turning your consulting practice or the service that you offer into more of, I guess, a product. Then we’re also working on some that are just pure product which is like an app, which hopefully should be out in a couple of weeks.
David: So what’s an example of this productized service that you’re talking about?
Matt: One thing that we’ve been thinking about is how can we create a service which is fixed in scope and price? So something that we’ve done in the past is we’ve helped companies do app design.
One of the tools that we used was 99designs, so that’s where you can post the project on there and get people to submit their designs. We found it’s really good at the initial stage to get a lot of ideas from a lot of different people and then to refine them, and then we take that design, give it to one of our designers or we hire the designer that made the initial design, again to further iterate on that, and so what we will do is manage that design for a client.
So we’ve already done that several times, and I thought that’s probably a good way for us to get involved but also be fixed in scope, so it could be like two weeks and with a set amount and fixed expectation which is like, say, two screens. So that’s what I’m thinking of as a productized service.
David: So you just basically “sprint” with a very tightly scoped thing to try and control sort of customer expectations and things like that?
Matt: Yeah, because the thing with app consulting is that sometimes the timeline can sort of “blow-out” and then there’s “scope creep” and then and so on.
David: I’m very familiar with it. [Laughter] We see it a lot with our customers too. Sometimes the entrepreneur has hired an external party to do that, and there’s kind of like a bit of load jam to do with whether they’re going to pay any more or whether they thought that was within the initial scope and that sort of thing. So it’s always a challenge.
Matt: Yeah, definitely.
David: All right. So, anyway, good luck with that. Maybe if we just go back to the point of the podcast, which is to explore one real “aha moment” that you had in regards to user engagement or user uptake or user experience or any of these things, so what you might think of as kind of an inflection point based on your user base and also on your experience? You can pick anything from the last few years. It could be a customer app or it could be one of your own and, you know, just see where we go from there.
Matt: Sure. One example is that we made an app a few years ago called “Letterpress Cheat”. What had happened was there’s a new word game that came out called “Letterpress”. As soon as I played it, I knew it was going to take off. [Laughter] It’s all those things like really good user experience. It was made by someone who had made Tweety, acquired by Twitter. It’s one of the designs I though this is a really amazing app and started playing it. We started playing it and we thought, “Well, let’s make it a cheat app, to help people cheat in the game.” I saw that some of the apps like, you know, the cheats for Word with Friends, we’ll play it like a million times a day, so not the actual game itself but the cheat apps. So that’s where we got the idea from.
At the start, we tried to figure out, “Well, how can we get more use of this and how can we get more downloads?” One thing that we implemented was the ability for a user to test out the app and then if they wanted additional access for it – so there was a free version and like a full-blown version – if they wanted additional usage of the app for that full-blown version, they could get it by leaving reviews on the app store, so it’s sort of an incentive device for them to do that.
David: So they review the lightweight version and that gives them access to the full version?
Matt: Yeah. So they get, I think, a couple of additional games, of usage to the full-blown version. So the full-blown version you could cheat with longer words. I think we restricted it to like seven-letter words. But then the longer one could generate words that are like 21 characters long. So, yeah, you can get better cheats.
One thing that we did was essentially just grow through our users, so we had this incentive they could go to the app store. We couldn’t track whether they left a review or not but we could see if they had clicked on the link or tapped on the link, went to the app store and came back. It’s something that we noticed with our language apps is when people left more reviews and high-quality reviews, our app store ranking would go up as well, so it was a form of app store optimization.
David: Yeah. So that was something that you were saying. When was this? Was this 2012 or something like that?
Matt: Yeah, maybe end of 2012.
David: Right. So it was apparent to you that that’s what was happening at that stage, that there was that kind of optimization happening in the app store.
Matt: Yeah, that’s right.
David: Was that translating to (Google) Play as well?
Matt: Yeah, it was. It was actually being used a lot at the time and we could see the servers getting a bit creaky with like increased usage of the app.
David: Good problem to have. [Laughs]
Matt: Yeah, exactly. So they had a lot who cheaters out there, but the thing was there was also a lot of competition in this space, so we had to try to incorporate everything that we’ve learned about apps optimization for our language apps, so we had to optimize their copy and keywords and just every advantage that we could get.
David: Right. So you’re saying that you already had a little bit of experience in regards to ASO or app store optimization. You’d already played around with that a little bit so you weren’t coming off a completely clueless space in that sense.
Matt: Yeah. So we’re trying a number of things that we’ve learned previously, so we would be like changing the app store screenshots to make it clear to people. We’re changing their copy constantly as well. We’re also adding additional features to the app like on a weekly or fortnightly basis. At the time, we ranked quite high on one of the top apps in the app store for this category of like Letterpress and Letterpress Cheats. So even within like one week of the app coming out, that’s when the cheat apps start coming out. [Laughter]
David: You guys just create these machines to churn the stuff out.
Matt: Yeah, that’s right. We actually had it ready like within a couple of days but we held off to make a high-quality app and to improve the design, and we [parted] with a design to help us just get that topnotch design.
David: So how important do you think that was in terms of not just, you know, deferring a little bit just to actually get the experience better? What are your thoughts on that? You know, people say if you don’t release early or release often, then ñ you know that old but famous quote from that LinkedIn CEO that, you know, you should be ashamed of your first release or your first product. What’s your thought, in terms of is that really true these days in our world where the consumer is absolutely brutal on app store?
Matt: Yeah, I think it’s a balance and I think it starts with working out what is your initial release going to be with that minimal viable product. You still do it like a high-quality minimal viable product with the design, and I think on the app store, people do judge you in terms of design and user experience.
I saw straight away that the ones that came out straight away weren’t getting very high-quality reviews and that was affecting them in terms of their ranking as well. So we kept out our score like really tight as to what we were going to release, and all we did was just refine over that first, second, one in two weeks, by testing against like real users to see whether we could beat them.
The first version that we created was actually a desktop version. We were not even sure it was going to be an app. It was [James] playing on his computer with a local version on his laptop against me. So that was our initial MVP and then we decided to turn it into an app.
David: Right, got you. So how would you translate that particular learning that you had in regards to somebody that’s just got one app? Would it be basically unlocking extra features or getting free in app purchase? So how would you take that learning and apply to somebody that’s actually just producing one app out there and trying to monetize that?
Matt: Yeah. So, you bang on the money like, you know, having those incentives they use to either share to their social networks or to increase their engagement or to get some additional [A star]. Whether it’s like a Facebook like or review, I think they’re really helpful.
David: Yeah. So you were saying that you take somebody that’s engaged and you turn them into a net promoter for you.
Matt: Yeah, for sure.
David: Okay. So have you found a particular point in time which is the best way to actually get those people to promote? Is that after a happy experience or is it when they finish playing in background of the app? What’s your thought on that?
Matt: It’s definitely after they’re had a happy experience but it’s probably not at that time they just had a happy experience. We’re going to just keep them going in the app. We [learned] this simple business rule in our language apps, so after they played it like ten times we asked them for a review. I mean, for a game it could be after some progress in the game, it could be after [a couple] of levels or you completed certain actions.
You know, now there are tools out there which will ask a customer, “Are you happy with the app or are you having a negative experience?” If you’re having a negative experience, they’ll ask you why. If you’re having a positive experience, then they’ll ask you for a review.
David: Yeah, there’s pre-filtering questions up front.
Matt: Yeah. What I’ve seen is called “Apptentive” and there’s like a few out there like that as well. Does Street Hawk come with something like that as well?
David: Not specifically. I have seen guys like that who kind of try and intercept/pre-empt the writing process. So, yeah, with Straight Talk you could do some triggers, like you can filter people to a particular level, you know, so they are really engaged or these people are disengaged or somebody’s completed a particular level in the game, and then you could use that type of approach but it’s not as finely-tuned as what those guys are doing to really drive and capture really high-value writings in a different area.
Matt: Sure. I mean we did…sorry, keep going.
David: We could be a trigger or a segmentation into those particular types of services if you like.
Matt: Okay. Yeah, we had another trigger where like in the language app, if you had like a new high score, you could share that on Facebook. We saw that was being used quite a bit, and so those people wanted to promote that they’ve learned a language and they’d reached a certain level and they’d share it to their social network.
David: Hmm, okay. All right, very good. So let’s move on. You know, we’re experimenting with this idea of the three axes of acquisition, experience and engagement. In regards to that particular learning or hack that you had, how would you kind of write that? I mean, obviously it was a really great way of getting fan out in terms of new acquisition. So if you were to write it on 1 to 10 for acquisition, 1 to 10 on experience, 1 to 10 on engagement or retention, how would you score those?
Matt: I’d say on acquisition, it’s going to be on the higher end, on the champion end. User experience, I’d probably put it as “perfect” it’s something that we could have probably fine-tuned a bit more. And then engagement and retention, I’d probably put it on the “perfect” kind of scale.
David: Right, okay. All right, so that’s kind of like a 9 and a 7 and a 7.
Matt: Yeah. I like it on the higher end on acquisition because it was some kind of phrasing that we did, so we’ve never really done a lot of paid acquisition, we’re always trying to go for the free type of customer acquisition because primarily we’re a startup and we didn’t have a lot of money to spend.
David: Yeah. Well, even if you do have a lot of money, it’s so expensive these days. [Laughs] As you pointed out with those cheats, there’s always other competitions, so it’s really about figuring out what kind of hack you can do that levels you up against the others, isn’t it?
Matt: Yeah, that’s right.
David: All right, that’s great. Thank you for that. Before we finish, just tell us about one big fail that you’ve had, you know, something that you put a lot of effort into and it just yielded nothing or you even went backwards.
Matt: Yeah, sure. So to give you some context, we were a pretty small team; we had like two people, myself and James. When we first launched the app, inside of the Chinese one, we were making about $200 a day. With that, we’ll feature the app store was one of the top-grossing apps within the first week. And then we decided, “Well, we’ve made this amount of money already, let’s have more apps and let’s do it on more platforms.”
So, we created a Spanish app within and did like an English app as well, and we thought at the time, “We’re making this amount of money mostly in Australia, let’s try and go for the US market and have the Spanish app in there. It should be like 15 times bigger.” And then we’re also on other platforms like Amazon as well, so we were actually quite stretched at the time. If I look back at it, we probably could have concentrated on just one of the apps, whether it was Spanish or the Chinese one which is doing quite well at the time.
You know, when I first started, I thought we could get this done in three months and then be done, and then that would mean I could do one of these other things.
David: Same old story. [Laughs]
Matt: Yeah, I was pretty much used to all this like startup environment and that was my expectation at the time. [Laughter]
David: Yes. Well, that’s the wonderful thing about being an entrepreneur. You’re kind of hopelessly optimistic and you get burnt….somehow after about 38 different lessons of that night, you realize “Oh, I need to actually just pull back and focus.”
Matt: Yeah.
David: So I guess that’s the clear takeaway, that just basically you were too ambitious in terms of, you know, cookie-cutting across from one thing that was working and trying to do it in multiple languages.
Matt: Yeah. If we could have just focused on one of them, I think that would have been really good.
David: Yeah. So Spanish was doing okay, Mandarin was doing well, but you just were too ambitious too soon..
Matt: Yeah, that’s right.
David: That’s great. Well, thanks for that. It’s been great to get your insights on that and look forward to getting an update from you. Just tell us a little bit about what’s next for you guys. Is there anything we should look out for?
You know, I had a look at the blog post you did 19 hours ago, I think on Twitter, just to do with emotions and things like that, and it was really interesting. You were talking about flappy birds at the end and that kind of balance between tension and fun, and it reminded me a lot of that stuff by that professor called “Mihaly”. Do you know flow? Have you heard of that? There’s been lots of TED talks and things like that, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Matt: I have heard of it but I haven’t actually seen or read that one.
David: Yeah. He talks about, you know, surfing is kind of like the perfect balance between tension and pleasure and that sort of tipping point that you can go either way. That seemed just what you’re talking about that with Flappy Birds there’s that kind of balance with stress and fun.
Matt: Yeah. When I first played Flappy Bird, it was the most frustrating game I’ve ever played but it was just so addictive [laughter]. We kept playing it and we’re competing with other people in the office as well. Yeah, it had that right balance, and we’re trying to incorporate that into like a new app that we’re developing which probably we could segue. It’s an app that’s called “[Haha]” and it’s about creating a social network where you can share a lot with another person. It’s similar to that app, “Yo”, and so it’s just a quick way for you to send a laugh like to a loved one or to a friend, and there’s like a category of laughs that you can choose from.
David: That’s great because I’ve got some friends with some killer laughs. [Laughter]
Matt: Yeah. So you can actually record your own laugh; you can submit it to us and if we like it, we can add it to the gallery.
David: Okay. [Laughs]
Matt: So everyone can have like David’s laugh or Matt’s laugh.
David: [Laughs] Classic. Now I think I’ve got some other people I’d like to submit for that laugh. [Laughter] I can see people running around doing kind of like Instagram steal snaps of people’s laughs and they’re posting them, so that sounds like a great one. So when can we expect that one to be out?
Matt: Most probably in a couple of weeks. So if you get to our website, tapmint.com, there’s like an email signup field; sign up there and you’ll be notified when it comes out.
David: Awesome. Okay. That’s terrific, Matt. Thanks for your time, really appreciate it.
Matt: Thanks, David.
David: Cheers.
Matt: All right, see you.
David: You’ve been listening to the mobile engagement podcast where you hear learning from experienced mobile entrepreneurs so you can apply them to your own mobile apps.

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