How We Achieved 500% User Growth In Our First Month [Task Management App]
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi all! My name is Grant Oganyan, and I am the founder of Finale To Do - a mobile task management app that helps you organize everything in life.
The mobile productivity market is full of various applications, none of which are perfect. Some are overpriced, some are limited, and some are just featureless.
Meanwhile, Finale To Do stands out from the crowd by offering a highly customizable, flexible, and aesthetically pleasing experience, while breaking the norm of charging monthly subscriptions. We want to own software, not rent it.
Of course, we are far from reaching the levels of highly established productivity applications, but our growth in the first months showed a promising trajectory!
Our user base grew over 500% just in the first month, and so far we’ve received great feedback from the audience. Finale To Do is netting around $4,000 per month, and we’re hoping to grow to $10,000 in less than half a year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve always been in the market for productivity apps, but I could never find anything that perfectly suited my needs. So, I just decided to build it myself.
Finale To Do makes sure that completing tasks is, mostly, fun. The user slides the task away, and with it, they are also sliding away all the real-life work, struggle, and effort that went into this task.
Last year I launched our first application - Finale: Daily Habit Tracker - which quickly became one of the top 20 productivity applications in the US. This quick success showed me that to make great products, you have to make them for yourself in the first place.
I am a perfectionist, so, when building a tool for my use, I make sure to get every detail perfect (and if not, then it's not worth releasing to the public at all). Hence, when I am satisfied with the result, I can be sure that my user base will love it too.
I was searching the AppStore for a good task management app, but the best options required users to pay monthly subscriptions - a monetization model that I detest. I want to own my applications, not rent them. I don’t trust the idea of having to constantly pay for the same functionality.
Furthermore, no other app would suit my aesthetic requirements, by either being visually boring, or overloaded with gimmicky features. Hence, I decided to create my task management app, and run it as a business that strays away from annoying subscriptions, but rather offers great software at a single symbolic price.
Unfortunately, though, an event that provided the final push to start Finale To Do was the war that my home country - Russia - started in February 2022. When Russia invaded Ukraine I was forced out of my home and sought refuge around the globe for two months, until I was finally able to settle in the US.
Having little savings, no job, and no prospects of getting a job as a Russian refugee, I took this “opportunity” to fully invest myself into running my own business. It’s a risky endeavor, but I had no choice if I wanted to keep eating each day.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I consider good software as art, and any art has a piece of the artist’s soul.
At the core of any task management tool are… well… the tasks. I knew that to make our app satisfying to use, the tasks view must be clean, simple, and engaging. I also worked in game development, where our primary goal was to make mundane processes more interesting to perform.
“Completing a task” must be an engaging experience for the user, motivating them to do it more and more. Hence, instead of just ticking boxes (how most ‘to do’ apps work), we opted in for a more satisfying “slide” action that provides haptic feedback and visual animations, making the experience much more satisfying.
In game science, there is a whole concept of “how do you make people press a button that does nothing? Make it fun”.
So, Finale To Do makes sure that completing tasks is, mostly, fun. The user slides the task away, and with it, they are also sliding away all the real-life work, struggle, and effort that went into this task.
In addition, we’ve added a plethora of features to gamify the boring experiences. With Finale To Do, when users complete tasks on time, they receive points, level up, earn achievements, and unlock in-app perks. This way we make what is usually mundane and boring (ticking off tasks) into something that provides immediate feedback and rewards the user.
I worked closely with the designer to bring my gamified ideas to life. After about a month of thorough feature research and design concepts, we finally created something worth building. Next followed two months of pure development, at the end of which we got exactly what I was envisioning from the beginning.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Luckily for me, launching a mobile application business is straightforward with all the tools that are currently available by Google and Apple.
I am a software engineer, so I take on the role of both CEO and Lead Developer for our company, eliminating the greatest cost most tech start-ups face - the development team. Hence, except for my own time and effort, we barely had any expenses at the beginning.
Having launched my first application over a year ago, I’ve built ongoing relationships with creators and saved up enough capital to fund launching Finale To Do. Our real expenses, however, started piling up as we went into marketing at scale.
We quickly built and released our website - finaletodo.com - and immediately started our promotion strategy - working with productivity influencers to showcase and promote our app. I know we’ve built a useful tool, but now it's only a matter of showing it to the world.
To help us work with influencers, I hired a sales associate, who finds, contacts, negotiates, and manages online influencers. Currently, we have a growing list of productivity and self-improvement creators who periodically create videos showcasing Finale To Do, driving our primary traffic.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We tried almost everything to promote our app: online ads, reviews, articles, posts, influencers, marketing agencies, and more. Yet, the most effective model so far proved to be our influencer affiliation strategy.
It's hard to foresee which marketing efforts will pay off until you try them. In most cases, we lost money on ads. However, through this process, we were able to pinpoint things that work and throw away failing strategies.
Our pricing model is simple - we charge a one-time fee to download the app - so is our revenue share model with creators. To each influencer we work with, we pay a portion of the app’s profits coming from their audience. Having two apps in our portfolio that we promote similarly, proved that the revenue share is the best way to push our apps to the public, because:
It was cheap. By paying influencers a portion of profits from the app, we can easily control our CPA, making sure it never exceeds the lifetime break-even point per user.
It's a great motivator for the creator: they can easily manage expectations, plan videos, and the level of return to expect from our collaboration. Affiliation is a beneficial partnership for both parties - we get our target audience at a compelling CPA, while influencers have a direct correlation between their effort and income.
So far our Day-7 and Day-28 retention rates are at 31% and 8% respectively, which is slightly above average for mobile applications. However, I think we are still too young to claim any success with these numbers.
Our primary goal right now is to build a community of like-minded users, making sure that their needs are fulfilled and our app is serving its audience to the fullest.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Grow, grow, and grow again. With our static CPA costs, so far the limit is nowhere to be seen. We are reinvesting all profits back into the business, expanding our marketing efforts to different channels.
We tried to peek into traditional brand awareness efforts with marketing videos, and general online ads, and so far these efforts are all at a loss. While our affiliate system works so well, I don’t expect to find a better and cheaper short-term customer acquisition strategy.
We are working on adding new features each day, and we are pushing updates to the AppStore every week, gathering feedback from users, and improving the app.
Our next goal is to double the monthly revenue, so we could hire a full-time marketing manager to dive deeper into social media marketing. Since we are working on building a loyal user base, social media channels are crucial for us to stay in touch with the audience.
In the long-term, we are planning to expand to more platforms beyond iOS, with the web-app being first in line. Within iOS, we already offer multiple-device synchronization, so it's a natural extension for us to launch a web/desktop version of the app, tapping into a much larger audience of young professionals.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I would say my biggest mistake was trying all marketing efforts at once. I’ve spent a considerable budget on promotions which did not yield a reasonable ROI.
It's hard to foresee which marketing efforts would pay off until you try them. In most cases, we lost money on ads, paid posts, promotions, and other motivated traffic. However, through this process, we were able to pinpoint things that work, and throw away failing strategies, so on the third month after launch, we can focus solely on influencer affiliate marketing, which has done wonders for us so far.
Another factor that played against us was the timing of the launch. A big portion of our user base are students who use task management apps to help organize school projects and general studies. Launching at the end of the semester certainly did not help us capture that market. Going into June, most students are on summer breaks, which drastically removes the demand for task management tools like ours.
That said, it is a good opportunity for us to prepare for the back-to-school season in September, and pierce the student’s audience with a better and improved productivity tool.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For us it's a standard toolset of software development companies: Google Workspace for shared documents, Google Firebase and Analytics for in-app tracking, Figmafor design work, Github for version control, Xcode for app development, and AppRadar for ASO optimization.
Our small struggle is managing all influencers in one place, so we are looking into simple CRM solutions. The current sales assistant is organizing everything in google sheets and Gmail, which cannot be optimal, but at least it's simple.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am afraid I don’t have any valuable resources to share with you guys. Personally, my inspiration was always the people around me.
So, my greatest advice is to surround yourself with people who you admire and can learn from. It is better to be a loser within winners, rather than a winner within losers.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and its spirit was embedded in me since childhood. Throughout my adult years, I always tried to launch something successfully: I ran a small game-dev studio for a couple of years, I launched an online pet brand, I tried to launch a watch brand - all that failed, but provided me with great experiences that boost the progress that I am making right now.
They say you only fail when you give up. Yes, I lost money and time on ventures which eventually died, but those experiences stuck with me forever as invaluable lessons.
Keep banging against the wall even if it might seem like you are making no progress. Slowly and steadily the concrete will crack and you will go through life victorious.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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