How These Two Founders Created & Monetized A Therapy iPhone App
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
We are Elena Zaharova (CEO) and Anfisa Savchenko (CPO, CMO). We are the women behind Purpur App, a therapy-game app to develop relationships through talking. We help partners and friends discuss challenging topics to deepen their connections.
Our sales of printed card games (on which the app is based) had previously exceeded $300K. We launched the app this spring, added a subscription option in August, and hope to hit $3K monthly revenue by mid-October.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Anfisa: We met each other working at a major skincare company, where we were tasked with launching a new brand. We're both from a marketing background: Lena was the Creative director and I was the Digital Brand Director.
We used to do a lot of copywriting together, and once the text got too "steamy," one of us would joke about starting a sexual wellness company. Today, it is no longer a joke, but a startup where we both work full-time.
We believe that sexual wellness is a big thing. A lot of brands focus on technical aspects (how to stimulate your erogenous zones, achieve an orgasm, and so on), whereas our approach is all about communication. If you feel free to talk to your partner and ask questions, then technical aspects will follow. It’s more important to be in sync with your partners and understand your individual and mutual desires.
Before launching the Purpur app, we made printed card games. It helped us to test the product market for hypotheses and find our customers. We sold over 20,000 copies of the game and got a waitlist for the application with over 1,500 customers.
Lena was working full-time for the first six months of the project, while I started as a part-time co-founder and later left my job as well. We had some savings, for at least six months of rent and food and some money to invest in our company (about $7K).
Don’t spend your time thinking whether your idea is good enough/big enough, or whether you are suitable for it. Just try as fast as you can. You will have all your answers from there.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product, and then creating this app.
Lena: Our first product was a card game about sex and relationships that was meant to bring you and your partner(s) closer and spice up your sex life.
This game is based on real people’s sexual fantasies and interests in various taboos. We've made an anonymous survey and used its results to create a game. The survey taught us that people want to talk about sex, they just need is a safe space for that and a conversation starter. So this game became an ice-breaker, an instrument to use to initiate intimate discussions with your partner.
It became a bestseller with more than 20,000 copies sold. Eventually, we created three more games, but the first one is symbolic in so many ways. It helped to define Purpur as a communication company.
These card games motivated us to raise our first round and develop the app.
By October 2021, we raised $220,000 to build our Purpur App. The goal was to hire a developer and a UX-UI designer. It was early December, and I was stressed that if I didn't close this position by the end of the year, a slow January would put the project on hold. We lined up around 15 interviews through personal connections and searching around.
The first hire was Nicholas, our lead designer, and a total match. He has a solid corporate background and a few startups in his portfolio. As an employer, I think that this is the best possible mix for an employee: I can be sure that the person can work within a company structure but craves more liberty and fun projects.
Vitaly, our current lead developer, and potential CTO came to the Zoom meeting with a real chicken on the shoulder. The chicken has a name, and Vitaly has everything we needed: he can do iOS (we've decided to do native and started with iPhones), backend, and a little bit of Web development. So we didn't have to hire more people from the start.
In terms of timing, we were close to the initial planning: in May 2022, we released the app’s beta version. In August, we added more product features and reached the point where we can promote the app.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Lena: We've been selling these card games for over a year and received many requests for an online version. Once a customer sent us a desperate text that he was at a romantic getaway and needed a pdf of the cards immediately. Happy to say, we saved that man and his romantic plans.
In spring 2021, we decided to raise funding for app development. By then, Purpur became a self-sufficient business with a small team of four. We needed to boost our growth, and an IT product requires more funding and has a longer timeline to become profitable.
We've pitched using our connections and scouted for more contacts everywhere. There was a soft commitment and a term shit with an angel investor. We've done a lot of work to formalize the deal. Overall it took us five months to settle it.
When you start your business, you most likely go down in salary and up your workflow: you wear too many hats, and do more hands-on work than managing. Investments help scale your business up but extra funding also helps you to challenge yourself and grow personally. That's the number one lesson we received.
After setting up the app team, we made the plan for the next year: product features pipeline, the projected P&L, deadlines for next hirings, and fundraising.
The app is subscription based. Customers pay for the access:
— to extra cards to play in offline mode and online mode with a friend when the app is installed on that friend's phone.
— Discussion Passes to reach an agreement on specific topics such as family budget, living together, family planning, etc. It’s a set of expertly curated cards in certain order to navigate the discussion and help come to an agreement.
— Monthly updates from experts with new cards, Discussion Passes, and special tips and hints implemented in the chat.
We acquired the first 1,000 users by launching Product Hunt. Since we want to achieve our business goals through organic growth, this August, we hired content and PR teams to build brand awareness.
This fall, we're planning to do wild posting in several big cities.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Anfisa: So far, our main channel of sales is Instagram.
We nurture it as media about sex and relationships. Our great success has been to attract people who generally you wouldn’t see talking about sex. They are not big influencers of bloggers, but people like ourselves.
These days, we see Reels as a huge trend. Impressions from reels are generally 7-12 times higher compared to a static post. Therefore we are constantly searching for reel creators to collaborate with them. For now, we have three couples working for us. Our aim for September is to find more creators to make our Reels house as diverse as possible.
Speaking of the US market, we are at the very start of our journey. We've just hired a great team: PR professionals and an Influencer manager. The plan is to get as many interesting stories as we can and use them to up the traffic on our Insta page.
We also plan to launch a wild printing campaign on the streets of US cities. We're not ready to share the concept but it covers all those things that people in a relationship deal with every day. Stay tuned!
Our second major channel is word of mouth. That's how the product works for us. People just tell each other about it. That is our favorite part of working at Purpur — positive feedback and organic users.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Anfisa: We have just introduced in-app purchases and expect to see the first results in the fall.
We're starting to raise a second round, so you can take a look at our pitch deck. We're stable and good for the next six months. I am mostly focused on pitching and scouting.
Our offline business is doing well with new products coming through the pipeline every month till the end of the year. The revenue covers all the team members who work for the offline part of the business.
Eventually, we want to set up a US-based production for printed games. The next fundraising would help us make the necessary arrangements.
This September, we’ll be literally "playing Purpur" in-house and going with the app team to Istanbul to have a four-day retreat and meet each other in person. We're a communication company and care about the team vibe a lot. Hopefully, we'll be able to organize the in-person meeting for all the team members.
Thinking about big goals, I dream of making Kim Kardashian play the Purpur app. Lena is less publicity obsessed but looks into the future where Purpur is an international business with fancy offices in several cities and its name is what comes to your mind immediately when you hear “communication.”
And we say “Yes to the office,” we need to see people more often.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Lena: Something that I tell myself several times a day is that chaos doesn't mean failure just as the order doesn't mean success. If I like the order of things, it only determines the best workflow for myself, not for other people.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Lena: Google Drive for editing, and file storage. We scan all the docs, trying to go paperless as much as possible.
We use Notion for the company's knowledge base, and as a planner and task tracker for different departments.
Figma is used for app design and social media visuals.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
My choice is lectures from the YC startup school. They make me believe that sky’s the limit. Rewatching them, I understand how to improve the current business situation and what my future goals are.
As for books, it is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It’s a book where science meets fantasy — my favorite mix. The book shows how the environment around you shapes your way of thinking and your life.
However, I believe that the most valuable knowledge/inspiration comes in the form of words from the people you meet. So my energy source and source of inspiration are people, city markets, communities, and other forms of social interactions.
I read a lot of fiction. I love people's stories and get bored with the first page of a fantasy book. Sometimes I go off on a limb into something like To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara (fantastic a bit, but still realistic). But mostly I'm into fiction and memoirs.
My top 3 would be:
- A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
- Just Kids, by Patti Smith
- Walk Through Walls: A Memoir, by Marina Abramović
I rarely listen to any podcasts. I prefer reading so I can fully immerse myself.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t spend your time thinking about whether your idea is good enough/big enough, or whether you are suitable for it. Just try as fast as you can. You will have all your answers from there.
Never be shy to follow up.
Less research, more action. We prefer testing in real life rather than running marketing research. I believe that sometimes it's less expensive just to try.
Team up with people who are the opposite of yourself — people who have the personality traits you lack. Learn to appreciate the differences instead of nagging others about them.
Praise people. Take care of people. Determine what they are good at and lead the way so they can use their strengths.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Lena: Yes! We're looking for Reels heroes to shoot viral videos for our Instagram.
We are always searching for top talent all over the globe. Contact us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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