July 2, 2019

Unsure of next steps to take with app. Unclear path to profitability.

Valentin Hinov @ValCanBuild

A little backstory. Me and my cofounder have been working on our app, Curated for almost 2 years. It's a content-discovery app with social features where you get and share content suggestions with others. We've invested significant amount of time and resources bootstrapping it since we believe it has potential.

We've achieved some success with our Android version, being in a semi-permanent featured position in the Early Access section of the Google Playstore since the end of 2018. We got some nice press in the first few months of 2019 and that's pushed us to about 1k MAU (with a small group within of core users that use it a lot and love it).

Unfortunately our bootstrapping funds have started running out and both of us are now back contracting full time (we each have families and a mortgage so financial security is important to us). This has made us think more seriously about the future of this project and whether it has a viable path to start paying for itself (and beyond).

We are now on the verge of releasing our iOS version and have been discussing our options for making money from this:

A - Keep it free and try to grow it to a much larger userbase - then try to get funding with the idea of using an advertising model at scale.
B - Experiment in making it paid (small monthly subscription with trial period) - see if enough users stick around and we have at least some growth in numbers .
C - Keep it free with a monthly donation option if people want to give us money, Patreon style.

Option A was our plan for longest time but after having talked with some investors we've gotten the impression that social apps are not seen as a good investment and we'd need seriously ridiculous growth and numbers to even be considered. I also really want to sustain this project without an ad-model since I feel that would skew it's identity and priorities.

I have a feeling that the time is coming where option B might be viable. There's a backlash against classic social media that might mean enough people would consider paying for a product (and not actually being the product). It would also help in keeping trolls of the platform to a large extent (even at our current scale we have quite a few) since they'll most likely refuse to pay. The main risk here is loosing our core users which means we get less content which makes us unattractive for new users. We would also need to redo our entire messaging and positioning if we shift to this model in order to do it correctly, I feel. If this works it seems attractive - slower growth but each user a guaranteed paying one.

I've added option C just because it seems obvious. Knowing the percentage of a user base that actually donates, though, it would require a large chunk of users to actually reach the point of profitability so that puts it loosely equal to option A. And it involves almost constantly begging and reminding users to donate which I'm not a huge fan of.

I'm looking for some guidance and thoughts on these options and our situation in general, especially from people who've worked in the social app space.

  1. 2

    I think the best fit for your product would be a freemium model with an optional paid subscription. Call it whatever best fits your branding, its often referred as "Gold" or "Premium" or "Plus".

    Whoever pays gets additional benefits (a badge next to the name, exclusive forums, special features, dark mode, ...) but the regular version is always free. Maybe even add a curated section like the Apple App Store app. In that curated section you guys are taking the best/most interesting content of the community, edit it and present it beautifully within the app — only available for paying users.

    Another idea (on top of the Plus subscription): you could still go freemium, but people can only join with an invitation. Every user has like 5 invitations — check out Dribbble on an awesome execution on this strategy. It makes the whole experience feel more exklusive, even though it's free.

    Lastly (with the caveat that I didn't test the app, since I only have iOS) I think your platform needs something unique. After checking out your landing page, I wasn't convinced why I should consider investing in yet another platform. Why is Curated better than just following ppl with shared interests on like Twitter? The main difference is, I guess, is that on Curated there is less noise. It's highly focussed on the content, without any of the personal or marketing stuff.

    Two thoughts. First: in your marketing communication, go all in on the message "leave the noise behind, discover awesome stuff you'll like" (not the wording, but the core idea). Put the "save" and "share" part in a feature-list (because that feels like work), and focus mostly on the discovery part (here's your biggest value!). People are fed up by all the noise they have to scroll through in their timelines – talk to this specific pain point and offer your app as a fantastic solution.

    Second: realize that people will never move to your platform and only use it. Most users are active on many platforms at the same time. If I emphasize with this situation, I think it could help your growth to add a feature where they post something on Curated and it is shared automatically on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Also offer an API, so that users can add content to Curated via Buffer or no-code tools.

    Final suggestion: read the book "Hacking Growth" by Morgan Brown and Sean Ellis. This will give you a framework that enables you to iteratively implement and measure ideas to grow your user base.

    Actually one more thing: talk to your current users and listen. Understand why they are using your app and how. What do they like. Don't ask how you could improve or what is lacking. Nope: only ask what they like about it and for what are they using it. Then go 200% into those areas and make them better/easier to discover/put it into your marketing.

    1. 2

      Thanks for the detailed reply! The marketing communication (and overall positioning) definitely needs revisiting.

      Your ideas on creating a "Curated plus" and focusing on "discover" in the messaging have got me thinking - many thanks for that!

      1. 2

        Sure, anytime! If you add Curated as your product here on IH, people can stay up to date on your continued journey. :)

  2. 2

    Hello Valentin...So I looked at the landing page..several things stood out to me

    so this is a general

    1st Save share discover tagline was good..3 powerful memorable words

    However , I felt..in my humble opinion it should read

    Discover . Save . Share.....Because your users have to Discover something 1st...save it..and then think it worthy enough to share it .

    2nd.. Interested? Register for updates! is in the way of seeing the app graphics..It looks like your trying to hide something...On the page it says scroll the feed...would have been really cool to scroll the demo feed on the phone graphic to see a sample .

    3 Sign up now and stay up to date on the development of Curated
    This is confusing me...so does this thing work..or not..?

    I HATE SIGNUPS

    4 Whats your special sauce..why should I spend money with you guys every month ?
    ..I have sites I go to for podcasts , videos , articles etc...so I didn't see this as a site for which I would pay for...I pay for alot of stuff every month ...netflix..hulu , hbo..all kinds of stuff

    Why cant i just book mark a site instead of using you guys ?

    Whats so special about you..actually..now that i think about it..it seems like your trying to pander to all the demographics and be NONoffensively generic .

    as for generating income you could try

    In app purchases
    
    Advertiser ads
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