June 4, 2023
Indie Dev Diaries #8: Söka: Launch Retrospective

After two-and-a-half months of development, I launched Söka to the App Store! In this post, I’ll share more about what I did in the run up to launch, and what I’d do differently next time. I’ll also share details about Söka’s launch week discount, so read on to find out more!

For those who aren’t aware, Söka is essentially a bucket list app. Users can create their bucket lists, add any kind of goal to them, and then celebrate their achievements in the app. Further, they can use the in-app AI to discover new activities based on a location that the user provides, and the kind of activities they’re looking for.

I always try to “scratch my own itch” when it comes to making apps, and Söka is no different. My wife and I travel a lot, and there’s so much more we want to do, so it’s very exciting to tie two of my interests together.

Now, let’s dig in to how things went! For those who work in an Agile team, I’ll be doing this “retrospective” style.

Went well: TestFlight

For the first time, I decided to run a pre-launch TestFlight program. I started development of Söka in mid-March, and the first beta build went out in mid-April.

I’ve seen a lot of indie developers successfully create a buzz about an app on social media, and I wanted to do something similar. Initially, I reached out to a select group of about 20 people who I’d handpicked, most of them iOS developers who I knew through social media. For the first week or so, only they had access to the app. I received some really good feedback in this time, including a few nasty bugs that proved difficult to reproduce - but we fixed them in the end!

After, I opened the TestFlight up. I began sharing screenshots of the app on social media, with a link to the TestFlight. Some of these posts were reposted by people with a large following, which brought in a lot of new testers. Many of them opened the app just once and then never opened it again, which is to be expected, but just as many submitted feedback in some form. By launch, Söka had just over 270 beta testers.

To help transition TestFlight users over to the main app, I created a screen that would show up to TestFlight users once the app was launched. It provided a link to the app, and a link to the launch week discount code for söka+ (Söka’s paid tier). I don’t have any statistics to see how useful this screen was, but I’ll be sure to add telemetry next time!

Not so well: Product Hunt

A lot of founders for new products (and apps) use Product Hunt to share their creations with the world. There are folks on the platform called “Hunters”, who have a large following, and so they can get your app in front of a good number of people. I’ve been aware of Product Hunt for a number of years now, and have seen my fellow app developers use it to varying degrees of success.

When you launch, you’re essentially competing with all of the other products that launched the same day, in a bid to make it higher up the leaderboard. Being higher up the leaderboard means more visibility, and more potential downloads. However, my experience wasn’t great.

After my launch went live, my comments were filled with spam by new accounts coincidentally created the same day. There were a few “positive” comments, talking about how Söka was a productivity booster (???), but also some negative comments such as “full with lies” from accounts that were also amping up another product that launched the same day.

Most of the people who “upvoted” Söka were people I already knew through other social media, so although that helped slightly with the app’s place in the rankings, there was no indication that the number of downloads I received increased by having Söka on Product Hunt.

From what I can tell, there was no real benefit to using Product Hunt, and I probably won’t bother with it again. I have no time to be fighting spambots nor do I want to pay to boost my app’s ranking on the site.

Went well: Marketing on a budget

I relied heavily on social media in the days and weeks leading up to launch. This was also the first time not relying on Twitter for my app’s launch - I was pretty much all-in on Mastodon this time around - so I wasn’t sure whether I was making a mistake by including Twitter in my launch plans.

Initially, I shared basic screenshots and videos of the app to show off some of Söka’s features. I then began transitioning to sharing marketing material, which were essentially fancy screenshots with a call to action and stood out really well in a social media feed. These posts did really well, and played a huge part in getting people to follow Söka’s Mastodon account and join the beta.

After launch, again I received a healthy number of boosts and shares on Mastodon, getting the app in front of a lot of prospective users. I even created a cheesy promo video for the launch (gosh I hate the sound of my recorded voice!)

I also shared the app heavily on my personal, private social media such as Facebook and Instagram. These accounts mostly have family and friends, and previously due to the nature of my previous apps, I didn’t ever really share my apps there. However, with Söka’s broad potential user base, it felt appropriate to share the app widely there. I was surprised at the number of people who shared the app to their feeds, including friends I hadn’t seen or spoken to in several years. Without spending a single penny, Söka had over 300 downloads in the first two days, with the source being mostly from social media. This was my most successful app launch yet in terms of number of downloads, and the number of trial starts for paid tier of Söka.

As a side note, I’ve noticed that I get much better engagement from ~400 followers on Mastodon than I ever did with ~3000 followers on Twitter. I’m sure there’s many reasons for that - I don’t want to dive in to them today - but if you’re an iOS developer hesitant to join Mastodon, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Reach out to me personally if you want some tips on how to get the most out of Mastodon as an iOS developer.

Not so well: Press

I probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to launch an app. With WWDC just around the corner, press outlets are literally only covering WWDC rumours. Nevertheless, I still created an elaborate press kit through ImpressKit and contacted about 20 journalists ~3 weeks before launch, informing them of the app’s upcoming launch date, what the app does, and a link to the TestFlight. On launch day, I circulated a press release that essentially announced the app’s launch, and again covered the app’s features.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised that Söka didn’t get any press coverage - not even a paragraph - but I still felt immense disappointment. I’ve read so many posts and asked for advice from several app developers who have been featured about how to get the press’ attention, yet my efforts had no reward. I’ll continue to contact the press about major updates for my apps, but the longer it goes without a feature, the more it will feel like a necessary chore.

Next time I launch an app, I will try to consider the launch date, and trying to launch during “quiet season”, which is pretty much late October through February when there’s not much coming out of Apple.

I should talk about my motivation for launching the app just before WWDC, and it really just boiled down to two things:

  1. If I didn’t launch before WWDC, the app wouldn’t be launched until at least iOS 17 was available. I’d want to incorporate all the shiny new things that were announced in WWDC, and then I’d still not get much press coverage due to the iOS 17 launch buzz.
  2. This is the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere! A large number of goals that people have on their bucket lists are travel-related, and if I were to delay Söka’s launch until after the summer, I’d have missed a key opportunity to tap in to what people are excited for.

Went well: Launch week discount

I decided it was worth creating a discount code for people to use during Söka’s launch week. söka+ is Söka’s paid tier, which removes limitations on features such as the number of bucket lists and goals you can have in the app, and the total number of times you can use the AI generation tool. söka+ also unlocks widgets for the home and lock screens. I had a healthy uptake of users using the promo code and until June 9th, you can too! Either click this link or enter the promo code FIRSTYEAR50 when you see the paywall inside Söka.

The Verdict

What I didn’t get in press coverage, I got with reposts, shared, boosts on various social media platforms. I’m quite happy with my social media strategy for Söka, and my hope is that I can continue with as I update the app with new features. To truly grow the app, I’ll need to work on other avenues too. That may include paid ads, collaborating with influencers, and press coverage. Having a good combination of these three along with my own social media content should set the app up for success!

I’ll be sure to share some of the longer-term metrics from the app, including number of subscribers and MRR, as well as a look at how far along I am to achieving my goals for 2023.

In the meantime, I’ll be soaking up all the goodness that Apple will be sharing with the world at WWDC, and thinking about how I can incorporate these new features in to Söka, Classifier, and Ceramispace.

Until then, ciao! 👋

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