I'm Back — What I've Been Up To — Updates on Hashtag Expert and Like Expert

Consistency has never been one of my strengths

Hi, I’m Zach — I’ve built my app business to about $4m in annual recurring revenue. Building a successful app business is really hard. That’s why I write a newsletter about the things I’ve learned along the way. My goal is to help you grow your business and profit. If you want to learn more about the app business, I highly recommend subscribing.


Where I’ve Been + Trying to Focus — Too Many Apps at Once is Hard

How I run this blog is a metaphor for what I’m like as a person. I get obsessed with things, do them relentlessly for a period of time, and then my interest falls off a cliff. I go from one extreme to another - all at once and then suddenly not at all. Across everything I do, this happens quite frequently.

For example, I became obsessed with protein shakes for a few months last summer. Every single day, I made my protein shake. Banana, 2 scoops of protein, almond butter, and almond milk. Loved them. For maybe 3 months, I had one every single day. Now, I haven’t had one in basically a year.

Likewise with this blog, I started it, wrote almost every week for a few months, and now I haven’t published anything since January. Well, the hiatus is up. That is the thing about writing - it’s something I always return to.

So, what have I been up to? I started off the year thinking that the best way to run an app company was to build tons of apps. Internally, we have excellent processes for building, designing, and marketing apps. My thought process was why don’t we just keep building more and more? I dubbed this the TestFlight app strategy. In a nutshell, my company would be operating on two parallel paths. One, take each of our apps and update them frequently with incremental improvements. Two, build proof of concept TestFlight apps to try out new ideas. If the TestFlight apps get traction, actually spend the time to properly build them out.

This strategy became difficult to manage. Basically during February and March, I was splitting my time between Hashtag Expert, Caption Expert, and our newest TestFlight app Like Expert. The context switching was driving me crazy. Each app had its own backlog of features, customer support requests, marketing channels, analytics, etc. It felt like we were pushing forward on all fronts, but it was very difficult for to focus deeply on any one of them.

So in late March, we made the executive decision to stop investing time in Caption Expert. We gave it one final update, added a subscription, and said if it starts making solid money, we’ll give it more attention. Otherwise, for now we’re not worrying about it. Then, I gave basic ownership of Hashtag Expert to our product manager. With that, I was no longer personally in charge of the backlog for Hashtag Expert. I’m still available to help when needed - I’m present on the calls, giving feedback on designs, and helping oversee things, but the bulk of work is handled by somebody else. That freed me up to fully focus my time and energy on Like Expert.

Still, I do end up thinking about Hashtag Expert a lot. It requires significant restraint to focus on a new product that might make us a lot of money tomorrow, but is currently generating zero dollars. So in the back of my head, there is some short-term concern that I’m not worrying enough about the revenue-driver of the company. In many ways, it feels like running two companies at once. Like Expert and Hashtag Expert are so different. Luckily, our team has proactive, brilliant, and dependable people so I know Hashtag Expert is in excellent hands while I’m not thinking about it.


The Vision for Like Expert

Like Expert! This app is an idea I’m absolutely obsessed with. This is the aspirational future we’re trying to enable:

You’re an indy app developer. You’re making $4k a month from subscriptions on your app. You want to redesign your app store screenshots. You create 50 new screenshots and pipe them through Like Expert getting 100 votes on each screenshot costing you $100 ($0.02 a vote). From the 50 screenshots, you find 3 clear winners. You put those screenshots first in your new App Store listing and suddenly see your organic downloads jump by 30%. You’re now making $7k a month.

Like Expert has the potential to be an incredibly powerful tool and I’m so excited to try to make this vision a reality.

So where are we at with it? Right now, we’re changing a lot of the underlying logic. It started with only one type of experiment that users could create - a this or that experiment. There are two images - tap the one you like more. This is problematic mainly because how do you test more than 2 images at once? You’d have to make a March Madness style bracket if you wanted to test anything more than 2 images.

Now, we’re changing it so instead of voting on image A or image B, users will rate every picture on a scale of 1 to 5. This way, if we have users vote on 100 images, each image will have an average rating and that will be used to determine a winner.

Another big problem we’re having—it is hard to get people to vote consistently. That is why we’re looking to start paying users to vote via a revenue share model. A business pays $100 to make an experiment, some percentage of that gets distributed to users who vote and we take the remaining percent. Basically, users will be able to cash out coins. There’s a lot of problems and bad behavior that this kind of model could invite, but I’m confident we can build enough safeguards to prevent users from gaming the system.

Overall, a ton of really exciting stuff is happening on that app.


Web Signup in Hashtag Expert

With Hashtag Expert, one super cool thing we launched was the web signup and payment flow. So if you go to this link: https://app.hashtag.expert/ - you can sign up for Hashtag Expert and pay. Important URL parameters added to that link will be saved in an attribution dictionary. Once signup is completed, a unique login code is generated for you. Simply login with that code in the iOS app and your subscription will be linked.

The benefits of this approach are:

  • We get 97% of revenue because we’re using Stripe and not IAPs

  • We get full attribution tracking (for free) and don’t need SKAdNetwork or anything

  • We can refund users however we want

  • Higher trial conversion rates (41% on IAPs, 58% on Stripe)

  • Presumed higher retention rate on renewals

The trial conversion rates are actually 83%, but 25-30% of cards get declined. This is a new issue that is frustrating that we need to figure out. There are also some complications, like figuring out VAT compliance which we’re working on. We’re in the process of trying to scale advertising that goes straight to the website. This whole thing took a while to build, but now that it’s live, I’m so happy. I just don’t even care about the SKAdNetwork / ATT changes anymore - this solves it for us.

If you have the resources, I highly recommend building out a web signup flow for your app.


How have you been? I find sharing updates like these relaxing and easy. Was it helpful? Tap a button to vote and let me know :)

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