A lot of time, money, effort, and discussion is put into marketing. When most people set out to build a product they always put it at the end of the list. Of course people will love it, tell their friends, cousins, co-workers, and dogs. It will spread like wild fire because of its pure awesomeness. When we started Smart Aisles, we were no different.
Marketing your product is hard, damn hard! Unless you have an entire department and budget to support it, marketing effectively is nearly impossible for a startup.
I’ll explain our story and how we solved our initial marketing hurdle, at least for the time being.
I quit my day job at a massive public space company 5 month’s ago to pursue the startup dream. We had internal buzz, everyone loved our product, raised a round of FF funding (friends, family), I thought we could make it happen. Sure, I’m all in.
Yah, 40k doesn’t last too long, and raising money is a pain in the ass. All I wanted to do is focus on the product, I wanted to make the complete product I envisioned. Boy did I fuck up. We were running out of money fast!
Starting Oct. 21st I was going to dedicate day and night to raising money. I had a 4 week window to raise the money until we were in real trouble. We had a few promising meetings, got some intro’s, great feedback (especially @bmann), things were ok. We had a decent commitment for a small amount of our round but no lead investor or major buzz. This was not going to get things done.
I made a promise to myself to focus entirely on fundraising. Well, that didn’t last long. I was back at the product again, this and that, making things faster/smoother; any excuse I could find to avoid fundraising. Oct 21 we were getting about 100 downloads per day and nothing but great user reviews. We were probably at around 6,500 total downloads in both stores, no bad.
If only we could get to the top of either store, our product would continue its success; we would take these new numbers and get funding right away. I looked into app ranking injection (advertising) but that ended when I discovered how much it would cost (probably 10k+). No Money.
I started playing around with Apple app store discovery and android discovery (Search Engine Optimization). Add a keyword for Target Deals, ok 10% increase in downloads. Rinse and Repeat a few times. Ok that worked well, 100% increase to 200 downloads. hmm, there is something here. I had to figure out something unique that no other app had, something users were searching on that nobody else had keyed in on. It was about Nov. 7th at this point, shopping season had almost begun. Then it came to me, the biggest shopping day in the US…. BLACK FRIDAY.
That was it! No other major shopping app could cater specifically to Black Friday. Shopkick and a couple other biggies tried, but most people already knew about them for not being a Black Friday app. These consumers were looking for something specifically for Black Friday. First experiment; add Black Friday keyword to our Android app. Wow 1200 new downloads overnight!! Two words were added and we had huge growth! If you searched Black Friday we were about 6-7th down in the list; first page. 1200 downloads for not even #1?? I have to get up to #1!
I watched the download numbers for a couple more days then decided to be bold. There was only one other app which had the name Black Friday in its app name. This app still displayed 2010 deals, lol. I knew people searching Black Friday wanted an app specifically for Black Friday. So I did it, changed our actual app name to Black Friday 2011-Smart Aisles. I added a disclaimer when people opened our app explaining we will have Black Friday deals on Black Friday and to browse our current selection now. The next day was incredible; 2000+ downloads in one day, crazy! We got positive reviews by the dozens; “love the app”, “exactly what I was looking for”, “can’t wait for your black friday deals”. Bad reviews were few and far between.
This is extremely encouraging. I was watching the download numbers maybe every 10 minutes, my eyes were glued. BTW, not focussing on fundraising. I knew that I needed to get this change into the iPhone version. Ok put it in, waiting to be approved. waiting..waiting.. The review took 6 days!! First approved day we had 3000+ new downloads on iOS alone. Even better than Android!! 5,000+ combined new downloads per day! Our user’s engagement was great, averaging about 11-12 min with 11 searches per user session. People love us.
We were scrambling to stabilize our servers and make sure we were collecting the right data about our app usage. Still not focusing on fundraising. Finally a few late nights and lots of redbull our servers are lightning fast and good to handle 10x more users. At this point we have real traction, sitting at about 50k users; displaying 1.2M+ product deals daily.
After doing some calculations at an outrageous ad provider estimate, $21CPM, we were not going to need funding, yes! I hated that stuff anyway. After some snags in the implementation of the ad network, we put it on hold until we could implement it right. I wanted to at least make enough money to pay our monthly server bills, so I put up adMob on Android for half a day; 500,000 impressions and $3.57 later. $0.01CPM, wow google how are you #1 ad network? Fail.
It’s now Sunday, Nov. 20th. Huge traction, happy users, little revenue, no investors, no money. Oh and I start a new full-time gig tomorrow to pay the backed up bills, offically no sleep.
Nov. 21 – First day at the new day job, great place actually. I emailed a couple of local newspapers to get some local press about our recent popularity. Major Vancouver newpaper picks us up (Vancouver Sun) and does a great piece. I get home to see our download numbers for Nov. 21—10,000!!!
Today (Nov. 22) we had 2 local TV interviews and another local newspaper article. I do not have final numbers for today but they are way more than yesterday. We also put our app in the Canadian app store; #crossbordershopping
Here are some numbers as of today;
-#2 Shopping app for Black Friday in the US (on both Android, iPhone)
-top 15 iPhone app in US (lifestyle category)
-top 20 iPhone app in Canada (lifestyle category). Happened overnight.
-#161 app in the entire US app store
-#191 app in entire Canadian app store
-top 20 Android app in US (shopping category)
-trending app for last 2 weeks on Android market
-10,000+ downloads a day on iPhone and Android
-73% of ratings are 5 stars(Android). Compared to next best Shopping app @ 58%.
-Ranked ahead or close to major shopping apps; Shopkick (20+ mil funding), ShopSavvy (10+ mil funding), Google Shopper (Billions lol)
-450,000 product deals from 27 major retailers
-display 3 Million+ product deals daily
Whats next? Hustle as much out of the two greatest words’ that exist, BLACK FRIDAY. We will milk as many happy users out of these words as possible. Next and most important; focus on fundraising!
We estimate this black friday
scamming hustle to bring us 100k+ users. @$0.35X100k=$35k. That will buy us 2 programmers for a year right?
What happens tomorrow, no idea..
p.s. If you happen to know of an ad network that is likely to generate > $10CPM for us. Let me know!
We have now surpassed 100k new users in a two week period. Hitting 150k before Black Friday hustle is over is in sight!
Top 5 Lifestyle apps in both Canadian and US app store.
Very cool spot we had on local TV.