Hacker News Re-Imagined

My app failed: 2 years building, $194 in revenue, 100% churn, 8 lessons

4 hours ago

Created a post 174 points @kylebolt • 1 comments

My app failed: 2 years building, $194 in revenue, 100% churn, 8 lessons

@henvic 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

I know this pain.

In my case, I spent most of my life around 18-23 years old living in my parents' working about 100% of my time on something of my own I had a lot of negative support from friends, colleagues, and extended family as many don't see entrepreneurship with good eyes in Brazil.

The last project I worked (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dML0FQIUcTY, I spent 2013-2014 on it), was heading to the right direction, but then my business partner (first and last one so far) always wanted more and more.

In the end I had other opportunities (go back to college, and start a new job), and we just ditched all our efforts. Of course, we both regret it. Especially each time when we see something similar sold for a couple of millions.

Good luck to us next time!

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@gumby 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

I appreciate that the author really did think about things that went wrong rather than making excuses.

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@tdaltonc 1 hour

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Great write up!

I wrote a book on habit formation in apps. https://usetemper.com/digital-behavioral-design/

I run a sub-reddit that get's at least 1 post a month from someone launching a new habit tracking app. https://www.reddit.com/r/Habits/

My last company made SaaS to help app publishers understand and strengthen the habits in their app. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/dopaminelabs

I'd add one item to your list: No one wants a habit tracking app. A lot of people could benefit from one, but when people have a problem in their life (sleep, diet, productivity) they almost never conceptualize it as a habits problem. They look for tools to "improve sleep," or "be more productive" but not a habit tracker.

My new company (https://usetemper.com/) is all about habits and behavior change, but that's mentioned almost no where on the website because that's not how our customers think about their problem.

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@bastawhiz 2 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

> I initially saw oh ok, there are a ton of people making these apps, it must be profitable.

If you look at a dense market and decide to join in because you see potential profit because the market is dense, you're already destined for failure. Everyone else already has a head start, which means you need some sort of differentiating feature to be competitive.

Why would I pay for blog software that's half baked or doesn't offer anything new? Or a to-do list? Or time tracker? Or invoicing tool?

The author dances around this, but it honestly sounds like the product they built wasn't remarkably good or novel, and was positioned against incumbents that were plentiful and often had existing success. The failure here seems to be a lack of business plan beyond "join the pack and make money".

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@asdev 2 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

This seems like a classic case of "build and they won't come". I feel like OP could've validated that the market for a product like this is too competitive quite easily before writing a line of code.

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@kranner 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Nice writeup! I see that the app is available only in English. In my experience with indie apps (admittedly not recent), localisation in at least Spanish and Portuguese can help drive a lot of sales. It can also be easier to rank higher with localised keywords, and it's easier to get featured in country-specific App Stores in non-English languages as well.

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@rexreed 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Good lessons. But so many common mistakes

To summarize:

1) Build something people really need, not a nice-to-have

2) Keeping customers is more important than just acquiring them

3) If you're not keeping your customers that means they don't want or need what you have

4) Changing people's behavior is really hard. Unless you have a significant amount of marketing budget, don't try to change people

5) "Distribution" is key. I have a hard time with the word "distribution" when often people mean "marketing" or "promotion" or "channels". That's what is usually meant. If you can't get an audience with the people you are trying to sell to, you might as well be invisible. I still don't get why people use the awkward term distribution for this.

6) You have to be better than what's already out there. If you're just as good, or worse, than the alternatives, then it's going to be really hard to make a sale. Alternatives don't mean direct competition. Anything that is an alternative for a customer to buy or use your product is real competition. This is especially the case if you're requiring the customer to change their habits to switch to your offering. You have to be MUCH better than the status quo and alternatives to do that.

7) Know who your customer is. Your user might not be your customer. Your customer might not have the itch to scratch even if the user does.

A lot of these are pretty common reasons for business failure but I suppose everyone has to go through their own personal challenges to internalize them.

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@bluedino 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

How was this product marketed/advertised?

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@kamilszybalski 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

For a second I read $194m in revenue, is it Friday yet.

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@smoldesu 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

The first red flag I see is that the app isn't multiplatform. I know there's plenty of iPhone/Android exclusive apps, but I will very rarely use (much less spend money on) something that is locked-in to one app.

Also, does anyone else find it ironic that a habit tracking app has a monthly subscription? Feels darkly ironic looking at the IAP block towards the bottom.

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@nowherebeen 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

> The app landed as the #4 product of the day on ProductHunt, had some good initial traction which proceeded to fall off a cliff.

This is why you don't post on ProductHunt. Your target market isn't there. Its nothing more than an ego trip for so many founders.

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@yoble 15 minutes

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Regarding lesson 4 (Distribution), the author links to a tweet by Justin Kan saying "First time founders are obsessed with products. Second time founders are obsessed with distribution".

Justin Kan posted[0] today a video of himself criticizing that very tweet, saying that it didn't age well and he now believes product is 99% of the work, and the reason that many unicorns are founded by first-time founders is they don't get distracted by thoughts about anything other than product, like distribution.

[0] https://twitter.com/justinkan/status/1418003365695418373

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@djrogers 1 hour

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

> The app landed as the #4 product of the day on ProductHunt

I honestly don't get this. I don't know a single smartphone user who looks at product hunt for new apps. None.

As far as I can tell, it's just an echo chamber of ego-seeking devs showing off their apps to other devs and spambots - that's not a market (I guess unless your app is targeted at ego-seeking devs?).

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@pacifika 1 hour

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Sounds like a good fail you clearly learned a lot.

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@bko 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

He mentions a false positive of paying customers. I have some personal experience of customers paying for a product and not using it. We're all guilty of it in one way or another.

What percentage of paying customers should be active? 100% is unrealistic, but 0% is troubling since they are not getting any value from it and its not validating your idea. How does this depend on price of the product or whether its a subscription or not?

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@tvirosi 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

This makes me wish there was a version of producthunt except where the culture was ok with brutally honest replies (rather than the forced encouragement on producthunt, which is nice and has its place too but you need to hear both voices).

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@bambax 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Slightly OT: I built myself a journaling app that sends one email every day to remind me to write about that day; I respond to that email and the response gets stored in a db as an entry for that day.

The system doesn't try to be clever in any way, it just sends and receives emails; it's proven quite effective. It's been running for about two years now and there are only a couple of days missing, if that. It's very interesting to be able to go back to any day in the past and know what happened, or what I was thinking about, that exact day.

The system can also be set up to handle different journals at different intervals; it helped me write a novel last year.

I'm the only user and it lacks many features to be called an actual product; but sometimes I wonder if others would find it useful.

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@kylebolt 4 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

So early 2020, I launched Rithm, an app that helps you build habits, reach your goals and stay motivated.

The 1st version was a chatbot app, think of it like an accountability coach that you text with to track habits and stay accountable.

Rithm landed as the #4 product of the day on ProductHunt, had some good initial traction which proceeded to fall off a cliff.

Here are the 8 lessons for a failed version 1, see video and blog post.

Hope this helps some makers out there!

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@carlgreene 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

This was really great and love the video with it as well! Best of luck on this new version

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@andreyk 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

I use this sort of app, have for years. The idea of using a chatbot as UI is completely unappealing. So I think it comes down to there not being a need for this new take on this concept.

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@JoeAltmaier 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Here's my take on selling:

1) Sell to people who can write the check, and have a budget to spend

That's my entire advice. It seems obvious. If you're selling to an individual, choose a demographic with money to spend. And charge a price to fit into their budget.

If you're selling to a team, don't. Sell to the person buying products/tools for the team, the one with signing authority. They make the ultimate decision. And they have a budget to spend, and will likely spend it all on something.

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@kfk 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

My own lesson is to crunch the financials, always. Truth is when I crunch the numbers I almost always end up with the same result: if I am going to invest my own time and money, I must go b2b and charge >=100k per client. I can never find a way to fund myself and the marketing/content experts by charging a few dollars per subscription. Of course you might have a big existing audience or might find a cheap channel to get your product across quickly, I am just saying I find it easier to convince a few companies to pay tens of thousands euros than thousands of people to pay one hundred.

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@JoblessWonder 2 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Stack Rank reminds me of a mistake our owner made... We purchased a tall Sprinter van for mobile work. When we went to purchase a second, he asked for feedback/complaints and heard it was "blown around in heavy winds." To compensate, the next one they bought was not a tall model. No one wants to use it because being able to stand up straight while in the rear is much more important than the few times we drive in heavy winds. Had they stack ranked the feedback they would have seen that the complaint was small compared to the new issues they were creating.

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@cpcat 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

From my experience, if an app takes more than a few months to build and launch, the risk is no longer worth it. Large companies also do this (years building before launching and i have yet to hear of a success)

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@allenu 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

I think the biggest myth with apps today is "if you build it, they will come". I think it was true 10 years ago when the iPhone App Store was getting started, but not today.

The thing is, having a ton of competitors in the space means you will have to work extra hard for your app to be seen and then picked. "Lesson 4: Distribution" in the post is probably the most important thing here. Marketing and SEO are huge in terms of getting people to know about your app.

I have an app of my own in the iOS app store and the times I've had jumps in sales have been tied to either me posting about it somewhere or someone else posting about it on their own. If I don't get the word out, nobody is going to know about my app.

Like the poster, my app is in a crowded space (flash cards), and so a search in the app store doesn't even show my app, at least not until you scroll for a minute or so...

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@tommiegannert 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Thanks for sharing!

> So the lesson is that while all businesses have a product, not all products are a business.

And even products that look successful may not actually be good business, if they have negative net income and surviving on venture capital that eventually runs out.

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@collaborative 1 hour

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

I prefer solving my own need and curiosity than focusing on market fit. This probably means I will never be game for investors but I also won't measure my success by the money I've made. It will be measured in passion and happiness

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@nicoburns 3 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

I've yet to see a single product that was improved by being a chatbot.

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@klausjensen 4 hours

Replying to @kylebolt 🎙

Thanks for the openhearted blogpost.

It is very important to also see some of these failures, where the stars did not suddenly align and sparkling rainbows started raining money.

I think I learned more from your post than from 10 success posts, honestly.

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