An App Store Experiment

June 20, 2013

Update : You can also read part 2 here.

I've tried to write this blog post a few times. The essence of the post was always going to be:

  • How important it is to create a story around your product.
  • How the actual coding takes a back seat.
  • How hard it is to market your app.

Two things inspired me to commit to finishing this blog post:

Is that really all journalists and reviewers want? I wanted to find out. I wondered what would happen if you made an app in a few hours, stuck it in the App Store and didn't bother telling anyone? So I tried it out...

The Idea

When I set out on this experiment the 7 Minute Workout was getting a lot of press (If you're interested in the underlying research and history, check here). Everyone else on hacker news seemed to be building an app for it and I was doing the workout as a way to start exercising (boy do I need it). Using the existing web apps my iPhone would lock in the middle of the workout, which I found frustrating, I wanted a decent native solution.

I had a couple of key goals for the app:

  • Explaining the 12 exercises (I had been digging around in Google, I had no idea what a plank was).
  • Adding a voice prompted timer for when it was time to swap exercises and to tell you and what was up next.

Many other ideas and features ran through my head, including:

  • iPad support.
  • Adjustable durations.
  • Randomise exercises.
  • Adjustable repeats / sets.
  • Log book.
  • Social sharing.

Given a short time frame all this had to be cut (for now).

The Build

So I sat down at 7pm one night with the aim of having the app submitted for review by 12am. 5 hours of hacking is actually my idea of fun.

Five hours later I emerged with a couple of screens (dynamically filled with different data) and some text to speech. I'm no designer so there were no graphics, all flat views—thanks in most part to the awesome FlatUIKit.

Screenshot 1

Screenshot 2

Another hour (yep I went over) was spent throwing together an icon (again a flat colour with the number 7, as my design skills are limited) taking some screenshots and writing up a basic description.

I was amazed that the name "7 Minute Workout" was still available, I assumed there were other apps waiting for review, I was right.

Built and submitted in 6 hours. The wait begins.

Version 1 Approval

After 6 days and a couple of minutes review time it was approved. Nobody else knew I had made it (I didn't even tell my wife).

The app

By this time there were several other 7 Minute Workout apps in the store. So the aim in the first week was to just let it run without telling anyone and to make no attempt to get press.

I was expecting very little, but was surprised to see that it actually sold a few copies with a steady rank.

Version 1 Ranks

Version 1 Sales

Nothing world changing, but still not bad when relying 100% on people discovering it via the App Store.

Version 1.1 - Marketing

So version 1.1 was all about marketing. I added social sharing when a workout was completed (Twitter, Facebook & Email) and a review nag on the third completed workout.

Following the guide for the perfect press release above (except I attached 4 promo codes each) I sent emails out to ten of the biggest app review sites.

Guess what happened? Absolutely nothing, not one reply, one site gave away their 4 promo codes on Twitter, the only 4 promo codes used. So it appears none of them even installed it with the promo code.

So for the next week sales basically ticked along pretty flat.

Version 1.2 Sales

That was 3 hours wasted! What I learned from that confirmed what I already believed — you need to sell your app with a story, preferably to people you have built up a relationship with previously to get noticed.

Version 1.2 - Universal

The next stage of the experiment was to expand the market size by adding iPad support.

Again keeping it really simple exactly the same views were used within a split view. So this only took about 2 hours, another 30 minutes to create some screenshots and submit the update.

Again it made almost no difference to sales.

Version 1.3 Sales

Going Free

It was time to go free. Late one night (I am in Australia), while the US was waking up I set it to free and went to bed. Wow did things get interesting!

I think the chart says it all.

Going Free

Going Free Per Day

I was floored. 216,718 downloads in 3 days, an average of 72,000 per day, up from an average of 28 per day at paid, or over 2500x.

It became the #1 fitness iPad app in 68 countries. The #1 fitness iPhone app in 49 countries.

And top 10 overall in 12 countries. It even made top 5 overall in countries like Netherlands, here it is on the front page:

Top 5 Overall

In the US (where the majority of downloads came from) it made the top 25 overall.

Top 25 in US

It also lead to some amazing reviews (tracked thanks to my service AppBot).

Ratings Reviews

This lead to many, many emails from 'free app of the day' sites as well as companies trying to sell paid installs. One of my work mates came up with a good response).

I'll admit at this point I couldn't keep it in any longer, four people knew about the experiment and promised to keep it quiet.

At this point I am staring at the stats not knowing what to think. I still have no idea why it has done so well at free. It definitely wasn't me promoting it and it wasn't the press covering it.

The Competition

My app wasn't the first to market, it wasn't the first free one either.


Lessons Learned

  • Simple can still do well. Build something topical that solves a simple problem, preferably something that you'll actually use.
  • It doesn't have to take a lot of time to test out an idea. I've spent 12 hours so far.
  • You don't need to be first to market. There were several other 7 Minute Workout apps in the store when I launched. Many were free when I launched.
  • Keep focused. Don't try and solve every problem you can imagine or implement every feature that might be wanted.
  • Marketing is hard. It's not just a matter of sending off a simple press release, you need to build contacts and a story (again, get Bernadette's Book).
  • The App Store is an amazing marketing channel.
  • Try and get a really descriptive name.
  • It doesn't have to be perfect. Take a risk.
  • Anyone can do it.

The Sales

The profit from the period the app was paid stands at $440.90. I want to give this to charity. I'm open to suggestions but cancer is something that has affected people close to me recently, obesity is an obvious one. Got a suggestion? Tweet me @stuartkhall.

Where To Next

So I guess this is the official coming out party. My friends and family are going to be very (very, very) surprised that I made a fitness app—I really need it.

I've just submitted a version with an in app purchase as the next stage of the experiment. I'd like to get an icon designed and test that out. I’ll continue to experiment.

Does The 7 Minute Workout Work?

I've been doing the workout almost every morning since. It's a great way to kick off the day, and I'm 3kg down. That's a big win for me.

To Be Continued

I'm going to keep writing about my experiments with the app, so if you'd like to know how it goes follow me on Twitter.

Want to try out for free?

The app

Read part 2

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