A Year In The App Store
A year ago this week, we submitted the first version of retickr to the Mac App Store. With this loosely labeled version 1.0, we expected to be denied, make changes, and resubmit. However, to our buggy product’s chagrin – Apple accepted us on the first attempt and retickr went live on August 24th, 2011. Just 5 days later we became the #1 news app thanks to Lifehacker.
We’ve just celebrated our 1st birthday, and we’d like to share a year’s worth of data, observations, failures, and lessons. We hope you find some valuable information here and enjoy the story of retickr.
1.0 Sales & Website Traffic
In the spirit of Eric Ries “the lean startup“, we launched with the intention of rapid iteration stemming from user voiced feedback. Early in our product cycle – we listened intently and updates occurred quickly: V1.1 on 9/3/11 (9 days), V1.2 on 9/12/11 (9 days), V1.2.1 on 9/28/11 (16 days), and V1.3 10/24/11 (26 days). V1.3 was our first attempt at incorporating stronger design elements and thus made our app significantly more attractive and user friendly (thanks to our designer Bekka).
You can see the client updates begin to slow as we hustled to improve our backend (and aforementioned design flaws). During this early phase we maintained an average daily download of 41 and average daily update of 63. Definitely not amazing growth, but even at this pace we were able to consistently hold the #1 or #2 spot in the News category of the Mac App Store – typically hovering between the top 150-200 total apps.
Thanks to the V1.3 update, Bekka’s design, and surviving two months in the app store – three days after the client update we would enjoy the best three weeks of growth to date. On 10/27/11 – we became a featured app in the Mac App store. [Interesting fact: this corresponds to almost exactly 2 months after our initial release. Also, (FYI) Apple features apps on a Thursday-to-Thursday basis, which allows you to have 2 solid weeks of sales reports (weekly reports are from 12AM Monday - 11:59PM Sunday).]
3 Weeks On The Front Page
The high visibility of the front page quickly drove us to the #25 spot in the Top Free Apps section, whilst simultaneously keeping our small team balancing between extreme excitement and panic. We were ensconced with the daily numbers – but we all knew our product wasn’t ready. Consistent design, a reliable backend, and most importantly – our secret sauce – were all still very much nonexistent a work-in-progress.
We hastily pushed V1.3.1 on 11/8/12 to fix a few heavily reported bugs and hopefully alleviate some user pain. Sales decelerated as retickr left the front page. This would be the last version with the “old retickr” design. We had mounds of feature requests, bug reports, and user feedback & data on “critical improvements”.
As stability faded, our update cycle would halt. We focused the team with a new intuitive design and goal of reliable backend [note: Using 2nd hand hardware, our product was consistently plagued by hardware restraints]. We adjusted with a new crawling system, removing Google Reader sync (a valuable feature), & worked to scour our blistering feed growth – which had crept from roughly 1,200 to over 115,000 RSS feeds in 3 weeks. Fears of instability, non-intuitive UX, and degraded service kept us up late at night. Over the next 106 days, our team – especially Dustin, Josh, and Adam – rebuilt retickr.
Period Of Sorrow – aka Rebuild Time
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Many startups may read or hear rumor of the “trough of sorrow” or “crash of ineptitude”, and confidently brush off the spoken wisdom of Paul Graham as if they are old wive’s tales of yesteryear. I can assure you: They are real.
What happened? We had just been on the front page of the app store, growing hand over fist, and now we were rebuilding everything. Starting over. It was hard. Post-hype we slowed to an average of about 20 downloads and 33 updates daily from 12/1/11 to 2/21/12. [note: These were sad, cold, desperate times]
February neared and our V2.0 beta was functioning well. We began to push it earnestly to industry experts and media types. Robert Scoble – one of our highest targets – tested the app and even blessed our young version with a tweet:
Unfortunately, we had hoped he would test, give us feedback, and then wait for our 2.0 launch to spread the message. Lesson: Robert Scoble waits for no man. On the day of his tweet, our site received a huge traffic spike and downloads of V1.3.1 tripled. Once again, unfortunately it would still be a few days before the release of the retickr 2.0 – and all of Scoble’s influence would be naught.
We decided to launch retickr 2.0 on Wednesday, 2/22/12. Wednesday is “historically” a better launch day due to the midweek news slow down – allegedly. We covered our press bases with betas in the hands of The Next Web, Read Write Web, LifeHacker (a huge early growth driver), VentureBeat, and TechCrunch. We had corresponded with multiple journalists testing the app, to overall favorable reviews. To heighten our launch story, we sent a small primer piece with more company news and info to each of the publications testing. Immediately, TechCrunch asked for an embargo if they were to break the story. Being youthful and full of excitement, we agreed.
The launch was positive; with 23% of our user base updating in week 1 and also gaining over 1,000 new users before the weekend. We also received stories in VentureBeat and Lifehacker, which also sent a few thousand new visitors to our site and we expect our app. [note: Both Lifehacker and Venturebeat outpaced TechCrunch in referrals]
2.0 Launch And Updates
Post launch, we surged back to the #1 Mac News app and back into the top 100 Free Apps. In the chart, you can see the beautiful blue download spike didn’t last forever – we soon leveled out to roughly 64 downloads/ day. Our solid update trend continued, as the red spikes show our updates, primarily focused on addressing bugs, stability improvements, and minor features. [note: We believe the app store is very 'gameable' - the algorithm heavily waits daily downloads, daily updates, and average app rating (to no one's surprise). Many times we conjectured that we were not the most downloaded app, but our 4.5 star rank and update frequency propelled us to #1 in News. We believe a 3 week update cycle works best.]
The Year At A Glance
Now comes the hard part. We’ve laid the data on the table, and you can tell, even through the shiny graphs, that our retickr product is not doing that well. We are often the #1 News app in the Mac App store, averaging only 110 downloads/ day. Will this type of growth sustain a longterm valuable company? No.
In May, we finally had a much-necessary “coming to Jesus” talk among the founders. Questions such as What are we doing? Why are we doing? Who are we and Why should a person use our product?
We care about how people receive and interact with news. We agonize about the signal to noise ratio of updates and posts. We dream of a better way. This is our mission.
We are taking the dream, vision, and best of retickr and building Fireplug. We are leaving the Mac App store to focus on mobile. We have failed constantly, and have thus learned constantly. We are taking the valuable lessons from a year of trial by fire.
Our last update to retickr was 115 days ago; it will very likely be our last. Today, shortly after the 1 year birthday of retickr, it is with heavy hearts that we announce that we will be sunsetting the retickr product. For our users, we are deeply grateful for you being a part of an incredible journey. We welcome your feedback and truly hope to hear from you, feedback [at] retickr dot com.
We have committed ourselves to solving a problem. To building a solution that changes the way people interact with, share, and discover news. We are confident, excited, and as motivated as ever as we begin our company’s next chapter. Thank you for an amazing year, and please keep your eyes open for Fireplug (we have a few beta slots left, if you are interested shoot us an email)
Here is Paul Graham’s startup curve:
It truly is an accurate depiction of the life of a startup.
If you have any questions regarding retickr, this post, the mac app store, or anything else shoot me an email and I’d be happy to explain/help.