How to get a million store downloads – a MyCoach story

Both mobile developers and startup founders seek the answer to the question: how to get a million users to use an app? Today the CEO of BLAKIT, Alex Korolchuk, will dive into the past for a little while and will present you the story of how he and a couple of like-minded people created MyCoach – a fitness app that made over one million downloads on Google Play as of today. Without further ado, let’s give the stage to Alex:

This story is, strictly speaking, about the unpredictability of life and about how much unexpected can happen in business – i’m talking about both good and bad surprises here. Let’s start, then.

In 2013, at one of the startup conferences I met Vadim Makovski (Mycoach founder, currently the CEO of AppsCrunch) – absolutely by accident, of course. I have pitched my startup idea at the open mic (it was a game-like travel service with achievements and levels). During the break Vadim came up to me and shared his thoughts on the project, gave me some advice. Vadim himself was creating his own startup – an analogy of Airbnb for post-Soviet countries. His project has already attracted investments, Vadim was doing Android development and marketing for the app.

Vadim turned out to be a great guy – as a more experienced Android developer, he consulted me on some of my projects, gave valuable advice regarding store app promotion, and was generally a nice person to talk to. At that moment I was a programmer at a large company, but understood this couldn’t last long – I’ve always wanted to do something on my own.

And, finally, at the beginning of 2014 I left my job to become a freelancer and accumulate some money for my own projects. And just at that time Vadim called me with an offer I couldn’t refuse – to take part in custom software development in the office of an online accounting startup. This project was also well-funded, hence our office was situated in a large cottage with a real startup atmosphere – informal friendly conversations and tons of idea discussions included.

One of such ideas became MyCoach app in the end. It’s tough to imagine now, but at that moment there was an obvious lack of high-quality fitness apps on the market. There was a very good and popular Runtastic, but I don’t recall any other options for physical activities. And here’s where we find the first lesson for your apps to succeed:

Find your niche

It’s getting harder and harder every year to do it, but there’s only one option: if you want to achieve success – do something new.

The main principle MyCoach was developed on is simplicity. The app was made with minimum resources – at the beginning there were just three people who discussed all the ideas and coded in their spare time. A bit later the team was expanded with a couple more people. Due to the small size of the development team, the decision was made to implement the very basic workout functions, in order to avoid mistakes in complex code. All the unnecessary functions were excluded from the concept, the only things left were the exercises, divided into several difficulty levels, and the leaderboard. The user-app interaction was also completely straightforward: you finish a set – push a button – go to the next level; couldn’t finish the set – other button – level repeat. Besides that, the app regularly sends notifications when it’s time to exercise again.

The simplicity and accesibility of MyCoach came to users’ liking, and immediately after the release the app started quickly gaining organic downloads. Parallel to the free version we’ve launched a paid one, without ads. The Freemium model was just gaining pace at the moment and was more suitable for games, it was more common for apps to be released in two commercial versions. In-app purchases were also not widely spread at that time.

App rating boost

In autumn of 2014 we started developing a new version of MyCoach, with new design and leaderboard. Also we tried to implement new tools for sharing and viral effects. At this stage some of the project’s issues started getting vivid.

First of all, all the project’s co-founders, including me, were busy doing their full-time jobs or freelancing – the necessity to earn for a living left so little time for MyCoach efficient development. During this period there were constant talks with potential investors and it seemed we’d get all the necessary funding soon, but the final steps were constantly postponed.

Second of all, the app’s team didn’t have an established structure, which lead to difficulties in discussing and implementing new functions. Taking this into consideration, here’s a couple more lessons for those, who want to make an app with more than a million downloads:

If you believe in a business idea and experience first hints of success, devote yourselves to it  – you can deal with being poor for some time.

And one more:

Clearly distribute all the responsibilities and duties within your team – it’s easier to work with your friends in many cases, but business is still business.

Nonetheless, MyCoach app also had considerable success at that time. For instance, we’ve added “Say Thanks” and “Share” buttons after the finished sets, which led to significant jump in positive reviews and, accordingly, downloads on Google Play:
Downloads boostThis function seems obvious now, but at that moment not that many app developers did that, and we, frankly speaking, were introducing features according to our inspiration rather than the experience of similar projects.

Unfortunately, during the second stage of app development we could come up with unanimous solution about the direction we should choose for our project to succeed. Besides that, we failed in talks with potential investors. As a result of that MyCoach project was frozen at this stage. It remains in the state of late 2014 now, although users keep downloading the apps and use them. The number of downloads has recently crossed the mark of 1.1 Million. I’m not going to dive into technical details of the app, just want to mention, that the server side was implemented on PHP, with user authentification via Facebook and Vkontakte. The rest you can witness yourself, just download MyCoach:

Pro version
Free version

And here’s a couple of follow-up lessons that i learned from MyCoach development:

  • Startup team has to have a development strategy for at least a couple of releases ahead. Even though everything is evolving quite fast, it’s important to understand, where you’re going with your project and what you want to see in the end. We, for example, spent a ton of time to create perfect interfaces for various displays instead offering users new interesting features. The interface, by the way, still came out not perfect.
  • Use analytics to the full. Wisely choose the necessary KPIs – they will be your guiding light on the way to your project’s success.
  • Keep looking at your competitors. It’s much easier to keep track of all the trends and innovations this way, instead of learning from your own mistakes.
  • More users – more trouble. As soon as your app becomes widely popular, smaller problems start to emerge everywhere. Take good care of your users, but don’t get distracted with less significant things – there are much bigger goals in front of you.

All things considered, take your risks: it’s possible to achieve a million downloads with your app. Most importantly – find your own niche, care about quality, and love what you do. The results will come sooner or later.

 

P.S. There’s still hope MyCoach will be eventually revived. We still have a lot of ideas, and it would be great to implement these ideas based on workout apps. Time will tell.