How to launch your app: Tips, ideas, and campaigns for a successful launch

Tips and launch tactics from apps like CardPointers, Nomorobo, and Opal.

How to launch your app: Tips, ideas, and campaigns for a successful launch
Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen

Published

Your great app idea deserves a launch strategy that’s equally well thought through.

No two launches will look the same, but studying the approaches of successful apps like TalkingParents, CardPointers, Nomorobo, and Opal can help you set a foundation for your own. Pay attention to the examples and models that are most similar to yours — whether in mission and vision, approach to monetization, or functionality and category — and consider implementing similar tactics.

Here are some of the questions we’ll answer along the way:

1. Conceptualization and market research

The journey of creating a groundbreaking app often starts with a spark of inspiration — usually a problem you’ve encountered in your own life or one that you’ve noticed affecting others. This was the case for Emmanuel Crouvisier, who, while navigating the complexities of credit card rewards, saw an opportunity to simplify a complex system that could benefit many. This observation led to the creation of CardPointers.

“I wanted to better optimize when I was using my cards and keep track of everything. Also to help my parents who were calling me pretty much every few days asking me which card should they use for a gas purchase and which one for a supermarket purchase! And I went over the top and built out this whole app to serve that purpose and help them out originally. It’s kind of grown from there.”

Identifying your unique value proposition (UVP)

At the heart of your app’s concept is its unique value proposition (UVP), the magic ingredient that sets it apart from the rest. Your UVP is not a feature list — it’s a clear statement that reflects how your app solves a problem, fills a gap, or provides a unique experience that no one else does. Emmanuel’s success with CardPointers hinged on his UVP of simplifying credit card rewards, transforming a personal challenge into a universally appealing solution. This UVP helped him go from $0 in revenue to a full-time gig in less than a year.

The critical role of market research

With a compelling UVP in hand, the next step is to validate and refine your idea through thorough market research.

“Market research” sounds very grand but in many cases this just means finding a way to talk to your intended audience. This step demystifies the process of turning a good idea into a great app by validating your concept against real-world expectations and demands, making sure you’re building something people actually want and need.

Example one: Surveying your target audience

Before the launch of co-parenting platform TalkingParents‘ mobile app, the team surveyed the existing customers of their web app. Asking basic questions like, “What do you want? What would you pay for? What features or functions do you like? How can this be better for you?” allowed them to understand the needs and desires of their customers. Despite the rudimentary approach, consisting of just a few team members brainstorming in a room, this strategy provided the foundational insight needed for the app’s development.

Vince Mayfield on the value of surveys early on

This mentality of asking their customers what they want through surveys has stayed with TalkingParents. For example, surveys give the team a constant gauge on what features are most asked for. Then, whenever they choose to raise their prices or introduce a more premium tier, they know what features to bundle with those changes.

While you’re unlikely to have an existing customer base to survey, the fundamental point stays the same: survey your target market to understand what they want and need. Such an approach not only validates your app’s concept but also builds a strong foundation for future development, ensuring your app is genuinely user-centric from the outset.

📺 Further watching: TalkingParents CEO Vince Mayfield on building the app and his lessons on raising prices.

Example two: Validating with a prototype

Adam Allore’s story of creating boat navigation app Wavve Boating shows the power of testing an app idea early. From his days working in marinas, Adam knew that people struggled with reading nautical charts. Recognizing the potential for a digital solution, he envisioned a simplified map that could indicate safe and unsafe waters for different types of vessels.

To test his concept, Allore took a scrappy approach by creating a basic map using free GIS mapping software and nautical data. This prototype, although simple, was a tangible representation of his vision, capable of demonstrating its potential utility to end users.

With his prototype ready, Allore seized the opportunity to gauge public interest by showcasing his digital map at a local boat show. He hosted the map on a webpage, displayed it on iPads as if it were a fully functional app, and even created a makeshift brand. This setup, despite its simplicity and the initial absence of a real app, allowed him to directly interact with his target audience.

Adam Allore exhibiting his prototype at a boatshow
“Pitching your app next to someone selling a birdbath is humbling” recounts Adam.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with boat show attendees expressing genuine interest and excitement about the concept. This immediate validation from potential users, coupled with their proactive search for the app in app stores, provided Allore with the confidence and validation needed to pursue his idea further.

Allore’s use of a prototype at a relatively low cost for booth space proved to be an invaluable step for the development of Wavve Boating. It allowed him to validate his idea without significant financial risk, showing him that we was on the right path.

📺 Further watching: Adam Allore shares how to make the most of strategic partnerships.

Wavve Boating’s rudimentary prototyping leads us quite neatly into the next section.

2. Building your MVP

Once you have a solid concept and market validation, the next step is to build the app, right?

Yes — and no. You do need a product, but you don’t want to spend exorbitant amounts of time and money building a fully functional app that might not be successful. 

The solution? A minimum viable product (MVP).

The MVP is essentially the simplest version of your app that still delivers your UVP. It’s not about having all the features but about having the right features that appeal to your early adopters and provide meaningful feedback for future development.

For Emmanuel and CardPointers, this MVP took shape as a Progressive Web App (PWA). 

PWAs blend the accessibility of a website with the user-centric features of a mobile app, making it an ideal testing ground for new ideas. This choice allowed Emmanuel to swiftly bring CardPointers to market, gauging interest and usability without the extensive commitment required for a native app.

The CardPointers PWA enabled Emmanuel to test his core hypothesis: that users wanted a straightforward way to maximize their credit card rewards. Reaching a user milestone of 5,000 on the PWA was the proof he needed, justifying the transition to the more robust (and award winning!) iOS application we know today.

This MVP phase is crucial for gathering insights directly from your user base, which can guide the evolution of your app. It allows you to iterate based on real-world usage, refine your value proposition, and gradually expand your app’s features to better serve your users. 

3. Pre-launch strategies

A successful app launch begins long before the app hits the market. A fantastic way to build anticipation and acquire users before your app is even available is to build a waiting list.

A prime example is seen in the launch of Nomorobo, an app designed to block unwanted robocalls. The app’s founder, Aaron Foss, caught wind of the Federal Trade Commission’s 2013 Robocall Challenge. The challenge was not just a call to action for developers and innovators but a pivotal moment that highlighted the pressing need for an effective deterrent against unwanted automated calls.

Aaron’s decision to participate in the FTC Robocall Challenge was driven by the low-risk, high-reward nature of the contest. He saw a chance to apply his telephony expertise to develop a solution that could have a significant impact on a widespread problem — with minimal financial investment. 

Aaron won the contest, and with the winnings secured and the app in development, it was time to start building interest to ensure a successful launch. To build that interest, Aaron focused his time and energy on a few key tasks:

  1. Capitalizing on media attention. The FTC Robocall Challenge victory put Nomorobo in the limelight, garnering significant media attention. Instead of letting this media attention fade, Aaron capitalized on this press coverage to publicize Nomorobo, highlighting its potential to alleviate the nuisance of robocalls. 
  2. Creating a waiting list. In anticipation of Nomorobo’s launch, Aaron began building a waiting list, ultimately collecting over 30,000 email addresses. In doing so, he not only gauged the public’s interest in the service but also established an initial user base eager to adopt the solution upon release.
  3. Prioritizing transparency. In the aftermath of the FTC Robocall Challenge, Aaron Foss adopted an approach characterized by openness and transparency to foster community engagement. This helped create a community of supporters who were invested in Nomorobo’s success even before its official launch.

Since its launch, Nomorobo has grown its community base to a staggering 2 million users and has blocked an even more staggering 3.5 billion robocalls. 

4. Choosing your monetization model

Deciding on a monetization model is a pivotal aspect of your app’s business strategy. The chosen model should align with your app’s value proposition, user expectations, and market standards.

Hitting the ground running with a fully-locked subscription-first model can feel counterintuitive. At launch, your app probably provides the least value it ever will. Why force users to pay at such an early stage?

However, Opal, an app designed to help users manage their screen time more effectively, provides a compelling case study for this approach. Opal is a a paid version of a function that comes for free on iOS and Android. Phase one of their launch — as founder and CEO Kenneth Schlenker tells us — was to “Prove the opportunity. Not only that people are willing to use a better screen time software, but also that they’re willing to pay for it.” How did they do this? With the subscription-model.

If you can get users to pay for your product in its early phases, “that’s a pretty strong signal that you have something that’s pretty valuable.” This bucks the old trend of building something that satisfies a use case first and figuring out monetization later.

Opal’s philosophy of “focusing relentlessly on how can we build something that people are willing to pay for” right from the start is compelling. Within just a year, Opal catapulted from nearly zero to $5 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR). 

The subscription model as a gauge for product-market fit

When selecting a monetization model for your app, consider how it will impact user experience and long-term engagement. For those of you reading this blog, you’re likely considering the following options:

  • Freemium, where certain high-value features and content are locked behind a paywall while some level of fundamental access is available for free.
  • Fully locked / hard paywall, where users must subscribe to access your app’s features and content. It’s possible that the app is usable to a very limited extent without a subscription, but only as an aid to push users towards paying.
  • A hybrid model, where you’re mixing your subscription with other revenue streams, such as non-renewable in-app purchases (IAP), in-app ads, partnerships, e-commerce, and affiliate marketing.

📚 Further reading: Find out more about using a hard paywall vs soft paywall.

5. Post-launch growth and user retention

After the initial excitement of the launch has subsided, the focus shifts towards sustaining growth and retaining users. But there are so many options available when deciding what to work on next, it can be overwhelming.

A practical approach is to follow Thomas Petit’s simplified version of the Mobile Growth Stack by Andy Carvell, tailored for small teams and app startups. This MVP growth stack is designed to help early-stage app startups prioritize their efforts.

1. Engage and understand your audience

Start with direct engagement to deeply understand your audience’s needs. Immerse yourself in communities where your users gather, like Reddit and Discord, and use simple tools like Typeforms for surveys (see our earlier TalkingParents case study). Personal outreach, such as direct emails or calls, can yield invaluable insights. This grassroots approach ensures you’re building solutions that genuinely address user problems, a tactic that’s as critical post-launch as it is during the development phase.

2. Continuously refine your product

Leverage user feedback to iterate on your product. Ask yourself: What makes your app unique, and why should users choose it over alternatives? Focus on features that drive retention, using feedback loops to refine and enhance these aspects regularly.

Coming back to Opal, a cornerstone of their strategy is to release a new version of the app every week — and they haven’t slowed down. This rigorous schedule fosters a culture of continuous experimentation and rapid improvement, allowing the team to quickly iterate based on user feedback and performance metrics. This approach not only accelerated the product development cycle but also created a dynamic environment where innovation thrived.

Opal's version history
Opal’s version history: consistent weekly releases.

3. Leverage data for decision making

Invest time in setting up a robust framework for data taxonomy and event tracking early on. Tools like Firebase (which integrates with RevenueCat) can offer both behavioral analytics and additional features like crash analytics, which are essential for understanding how users interact with your app and identifying areas for improvement. This data-driven approach allows for informed decision-making, ensuring efforts are focused on enhancements that genuinely impact user retention and satisfaction.

4. Optimize onboarding and activation

Focus on optimizing the user onboarding experience to ensure a smooth first encounter with your app. Prioritize clear, intuitive walkthroughs, and consider implementing early funnels that allow you to gather data on user behavior from the outset. This early focus on onboarding can significantly affect initial engagement levels, setting the stage for a more satisfying user experience.

Find out how: We teamed up with OneSignal to give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to build an onboarding campaign.

5. Monitor and adapt to churn

Understanding churn is crucial, especially in the early stages post-launch. Recognize that early users will churn at higher rates and use this as an opportunity to refine your app. Implement cohort-based analysis to gain insights into why users leave and what might keep them engaged longer. This approach will help identify patterns and strategies to reduce churn over time, gradually stabilizing your user base.

Find out how: Explore how RevenueCat’s churn chart makes it easy to measure churn as the crucial health metric it is.

In an episode of the Sub Club podcast, we asked entrepreneur and startup investor Eric Stromberg his thoughts about churn in early-stage apps. His response will change the way you think about churn.

“When I started my company Oyster, the first month after we launched we had about 15% churn.

That seems really high. I then checked it against what Netflix and other at-scale companies were and they showed (at the time) 3-4% churn. And I was like, ‘wow, we must have like a really high trend business on our hands.’

But that’s not how it works, right? When you launch, you have an influx of new customers. Those customers by definition are very, very early in their life cycle. Early users churn at higher rates than older users. It makes sense, right? If you see value, you stick around and you’re less likely to churn over time.

If you don’t see value, you leave early. And so comparing a business that is in the first month of launch to a business that’s like 15 years old and the majority of its subscriber base is older than 10 years is just a complete apples to oranges comparison. So I outlined this idea to help consumer subscription founders really understand that if you launch and see a high churn rate relative to benchmarks: that’s okay. Expect it.

What’s more important is that you reach some sort of asymptote, which basically means at some point that churn starts to level off. Maybe it’s 15% in month one, but by month two it’s 10%. Then maybe month three it’s 7.5%, then it’s 7% and it starts leveling out and doesn’t keep dropping at a linear rate.”

📋 Summary: Post-launch success hinges on engaging directly with users to understand their needs, iterating on the product based on feedback, and leveraging analytics for informed enhancements. Following Thomas Petit’s MVP Growth Stack, we prioritize practical steps such as optimizing onboarding and closely monitoring churn to refine our app. Opal’s example of weekly updates exemplifies the importance of continuous improvement. Embracing these strategies helps stabilize user retention, ensuring our app remains relevant and valuable to our audience.

Key takeaways

  1. Having a unique value proposition (UVP) is crucial: Your app must solve a problem or fulfill a need in a way that no one else does. Identifying and articulating your UVP is the first step towards creating an app that stands out.
  2. Conduct thorough market research: Validate your app idea by engaging with your target audience. Use surveys, interviews, and prototype testing to gather feedback and ensure there’s a demand for your solution.
  3. Prototype before full development: Prototyping allows you to test your app’s concept with minimal risk. Use feedback from prototype demonstrations to refine your app and better meet user expectations.
  4. Build a minimum viable product (MVP): Launch with an MVP that delivers your UVP with just the right features. This approach lets you enter the market faster and iterate based on real user feedback.
  5. An effective pre-launch strategy is key: Generate buzz and build anticipation before your app officially launches. Use media attention, create a waiting list, and engage with your future user base to ensure a successful debut.
  6. Choose the right monetization model: Your monetization strategy should align with your app’s value proposition and user expectations. Whether it’s subscriptions with a hard paywall, freemium, or in-app purchases, select a model that supports long-term growth.
  7. Focus on post-launch growth and retention: After launch, concentrate on retaining users and sustaining growth. Regular updates, responding to feedback, and enhancing your app based on user behavior are essential for maintaining engagement.

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