We recently pivoted away from our consumer facing iPhone application at Rockerbox. It was a difficult decision to make, but the right one. It came roughly halfway through our accelerator program (ERA) which also added many other dimensions to the decision.
Lessons learned :
- Your app needs to be perfect : This is obvious when you think about it, but wasn't top of my mind coming from an adtech world where bugs are endless (or features if you ask some). Consumers won't put up with bad products. They have no patience for bugs, crashing, slowness or ugliness. I don't blame them - I have the same expectations for the apps that I use so I don't know why I expected differently from my users.
- MVP doesn't mean nonfunctional : We're so ingrained to just get a product out and see how it's received. This doesn't mean though that the product can be ugly or crashing. It does need to function fully. It just means the scope of what the product can do needs to be limited. Example : Spending a week adding another feature - bad idea. Spending a week tightening up all of the features you already have - good idea. Spending an hour removing a partially working feature - great idea.
- Distribution is the biggest challenge : This one is obvious but it's hard to get downloads. There are definitely strategies here that can help (search optimization, good keywords, timing of release with events) but overall, it's still difficult. Facebook advertising worked best for us - we were able to get CPIs to around $1.70 through regular FB ads. From what I hear, you can get this down to ~.80 cents with mobile app download ads (we made a mistake not doing that much earlier).
- Social features need to be authentic : We tried adding an "invite a friend" screen after every X number of swipes. These just failed. As before, this makes sense. I would never invite a friend just because it's asking me to. I wouldn't really even do it if they offered me something (except for Dropbox where I've done this). If you want people to share content, you either need a workflow that's inherently social (e.g. snapchat) or a mechanism that's genuine (for us, it'd be something like "share an outfit that you think a friend will want").
- Your story matters : Rockerbox is founded by 2 ex AppNexus employees. We had spent years in advertising. We had never made an application before, never made a consumer facing product before and had no background in fashion. This doesn't mean that we couldn't succeed (in fact, our usage numbers were pretty good). It just meant that the story that we told (to potential customers, investors or mentors) didn't really make sense.
- Getting press is hard : It's doable, but takes a lot of work. I now give more credit than I used to to PR / marketing people.
- FOCUS : For us, all that really mattered is building the best product we could have because that's what actually gets users. Everything else that I did was a waste of time.
I believe Rockerbox could succeed. Our usage numbers tell me this (some people would go through thousands of products in one session - obviously, an extreme, but on average we were seeing good usage too). Our users were reaching out to us and saying how much they liked our product (tweets like 'Just started @getrockerbox and no one can make me stop'). However, it wasn't the best place for us to be given the opportunity we're currently in with our accelerator program.
Final product :