Anatomy of an App Launch: Success and Failure of Loose Leaf’s First Day

You only get one chance at a first impression – and your app’s first impression is almost entirely dependent on what you do before your launch day even arrives. I first launched Loose Leaf on Nov 18th with only mild success, and I’ve learned an incredible amount since then. I want to use this post to share what I did right with Loose Leaf’s launch, and where I went wrong, and hopefully you can avoid some of the mistakes I made.

Phase 1: Leading up to App Launch

Your app’s marketing needs to start long before your app launches – even when the app is still in development. By the time the app launch day nears, you’ll already want to have reviewers lined up ready to write and a following of interested customers chomping at the bit to get your app. But how do you get from there to here without even an app to show anyone?

What I did right

I knew from previous apps that the most important thing I could do would be to start building an email list as soon as possible. I setup a teaser website for Loose Leaf and tied a signup form into Mad Mimi so that interested people could be notified when I launch. I also setup a @getlooseleaf Twitter account for the app to provide a face to the app’s development.

What I did wrong

Up until launch day, I was spending 100% of my time on development and QA – I wasn’t spending any purposeful time into marketing. So while I had a website, I wasn’t actively pushing much traffic to it. I also wasn’t actively posting and following folks on Twitter, so my reach there was limited. I’ll make another post later about better strategies for social media, but my pre-launch strategy was closer to sit-and-wait-for-people-to-talk-to than it was to reach-out-to-others-and-join-the-conversation.

By the time launch day rolled around, I only had about 100 people signed up on my list, and only 1 or 2 daily visitors to the site. Contrast that with Here, File File!, an app I launched many years ago, and I could see the writing on the wall. HFF launched with close to 5000 people on our email list; the list I had for Loose Leaf was barely 2% of that.

Where I placed all my hope

I ignored the problems I had with email and traffic because of one thing: WWDC. I didn’t have a ticket last year, but I did go to AltConf and met a number of press/bloggers throughout the week. My demo went well and I made some great connections, and I left believing I’d secured reviews on 5 high traffic blogs and Mac sites. In the next section I’ll describe where I went wrong and why these weren’t as secure as I’d thought.

Phase 2: Two Weeks Before App Launch

By this point, you should already have your app uploaded to iTunes Connect and passed through review. Don’t leave it up to chance! You never know what the reviewer might find. You want to leave plenty of time for your app to be rejected and re-reviewed before your target date. This is also the perfect time to start reaching out to bloggers and press about your app.

What I did right

I followed up with the press I’d met from AltConf, and I also researched nearly 30 more bloggers and press who’d written about similar apps in the past. I kept my email pitch short, included screenshots and links to the app promo video. I certainly didn’t expect all 30 to write, but I was hoping for a handful added to the 5 I thought I had.

What I did wrong

Up until two weeks before launch, I didn’t reach back out to the press from AltConf, and I didn’t make any effort to reach out to or find additional bloggers or press until now. I had put my full faith into only those original press, and I should’ve spent more time growing the email list and reaching out to additional customers and press.

Phase 3: Launch Day

The night before launch day I could barely sleep. No matter what happened, I was and am extremely proud of the 2 years I poured into Loose Leaf and what I was able to build. When launch day hit, I had just 1 large review that sent a fair bit of traffic into the App Store, but by the end of the day I’d barely earned over $500. That… is not what I’d expected.

Remember those press and bloggers I’d met during AltConf? Welp, AltConf was in June, and I launched in late November – that means I’d been nose in the grindstone for nearly 6 months and hadn’t reached back out. Those hot leads had turned stone cold, and it’s my own fault for not keeping connected. I’d be lucky if they remembered anything about Loose Leaf, let alone cared enough to write about it.

Phase 4: Post Launch

Here’s where the real marathon begins. I’m barely a month after launch, and instead of being focused 100% on product development like before launch, I’ve learned my lesson: I’m now 100% focused on marketing and sales. I’m definitely playing catch up, but the difference between then and now is that I actually have a strategy. I’ve started working with Madalyn Sklar on a proper marketing plan, and it’s already helping focus our efforts considerably.

The Plan

Step 1) Proper social media strategy. I’m reworking how and why I use the Loose Leaf twitter account and Facebook page. In addition to being there to respond to customers, I’m actively joining the conversation instead of just passively listening in. Madalyn has been a huge help teaching me how to use social more effectively.

Step 2) Proper marketing assets. Loose Leaf is an app about gestures – it’s the app that epitomizes “show don’t tell,” but at launch I barely had 2 videos showing the app in action. It’s a month later and now I have nearly 15. This ties back into the social step 1 as well, all of the marketing assets that I’m building for ads / tutorials / website we can also share on twitter/fb/instagram/etc.

Step 3) Advertising. I’m working on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Ads, and my priority here is optimizing those ads and also optimizing the sales pitch on the website. This step is essential, because it’s forcing me not only to very narrowly define a target audience for each ad, but also to define how Loose Leaf solves a specific problem for that audience.

Step 4) Opening up. Pre-launch I was buried alone in my codebase working furiously to ship, and my hermit-ness cost me on launch day. My new goal is to be open about my process on this blog, and even open up pieces of the codebase as I did late last month.

The Takeaway

Your app launch is only as good as your pre-launch. Make sure to put as much time and attention into your marketing that you do in your code and QA. I didn’t spend near enough time pre-launch on marketing that I should have, and now I have a lot of catch up to do. Focus on your email list – get people excited and keep them excited all the way into launch day. Bring your own army of customers to your launch, don’t hope and wait for others to do it for you.

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