Growing Up In Public

June, 28 2017

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Rowan Emslie
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Rowan Emslie

On July 1st 2016 we launched Priori Data 2.0. After a couple of years of working with a tiny team and establishing our product, this was our true commercial launch.

We made a big bet on opening up app store data to the entire market, not just the top publishers who dominate revenue rankings. Just 1887 app publishers hit $1 million in 2015. Our thesis was that smaller companies were being crowded out because they weren’t able to access the same data driven insights as the big players.

Success clings to the top apps because the app stores are not optimised for discoverability so big marketing budgets are necessary to purchase visibility. To build on access to timely, accurate download and revenue data, we knew that app marketers needed real app store optimization data - an organic toolkit to fight this trend. So we launched our ASO tool in December 2016. While that didn’t work out exactly as planned (see point 2) we learnt a hell of a lot from the process.

Internally, our team also went through a lot of changes. We realised that we needed to update a lot of processes and habits. We switched from an outbound to an inbound marketing strategy and focused on building a more robust and structured sales funnel.

“Bringing Priori to this point has been extremely hard work. This past year marked a step-function improvement across multiple areas of our business, and while there are still plenty of areas we can improve in, we are facing a great year ahead with a lot of new data points for our customers to benefit from.” Patrick, CEO

A lot of things went right for us in the last 12 months. We have 5x the number of paying clients. Our monthly recurring revenue is up 7x. And, perhaps best of all, we became profitable. All in just one year.

But, as with any company, we had some stumbles and had to learn some lessons along the way. Here are they are.

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aso tool1. Wrestling with our ASO tool

ASO is still one of the most hyped parts of the business. We launched our ASO tool MVP back in December. That included a simple tool for tracking keywords and the promise of many more features to come.

We spent a lot of time and effort trying to introduce a new angle into the ASO game: Keyword Downloads.

We figured users would be most interested in identifying how many installs each of their tracked keywords actually generated - why focus on search popularity when, ultimately, installs are what counts towards your bottom-line?

When we talked about it with customers, there was a lot of excitement. This metric wasn’t available anywhere else, so we made our own version and released it as a ‘beta’ tool back in February.

It was still in ‘beta’ four months later. Customers were confused by the numbers they were seeing and we were spending a lot of time a) answering their questions and b) trying to improve the algorithm behind the numbers. The customer facing team were having a hard time answering questions from puzzled customers and the data team couldn’t help:

“The problem was a disconnect between customer perceptions and what the data was telling us.” Michelle, Head of Data Science.

It was obvious that we had aimed too high. We tried to deliver something difficult to define, that customers couldn’t validate, and ended up casting doubts on the standard app store optimization tools we had already delivered.

“Customers wanted this feature, but there is just no validation number out there. Even though we have sound assumptions for how we estimate the data, every user’s perspective differs because downloads from keywords is a black box.” Patrik, Product Manager.

Ultimately, we had gotten too interested in the puzzle of keyword downloads and lost sight of the core ASO problems customers needed to solve.

Earlier this month, we decided to take keyword downloads off the platform.

“We need to answer people's basic needs before trying to do complex stuff that nobody knows how to use. But when we see that something doesn't work, we change it. Which is super cool.” Cécile, Customer Success Manager.

→ Lesson learned: Fundamentals win championships. [tweet this]

2. Processes matter - even for agile startups

Being a startup gives you a lot of advantages. There is no need to sign off with your supervisor and their supervisor and their supervisor... We can change our minds, develop ideas and rustle up new MVPs extremely quickly. If you have an idea that the team likes, you can to take control of bringing that idea to life.

But, as our team size doubled, the lack of structure led us into some problems.

“The big platform release last July was a super intense project where sequential weekends were spent working on hitting the release targets. Thankfully, it was also the last time that happened.” Janis, Chief Technical Officer.

Everyone recognizes the need to pull together for crunchtime, but we also know that's not a sustainable environment over the long-term.

After that commercial release we had a series of company wide retrospectives out of which new internal processes were born. Those allowed for more targeted, well-structured and feedback-driven planning, development and iteration cycles to take place. Since then we've been bringing features to our customers on a regular basis as well as thoroughly validating any new idea we have with our customers and industry standards.

Putting processes in place helped morale, it helped us stabilize a whole section of our team and, ultimately, allowed us to mature as a company. Reflecting on what happened before figuring out the next step seems like a simple thing but it’s easy to ignore.

→ Lesson learned: Fire fighting is no way to build a team. [tweet this]

3. Discovering our audience

This was the year we got serious about understanding not just who is using the platform, but who is looking at our blog posts, reading our emails and generally keeping their eyes on us.

The first issue of any digital service is getting enough people to visit your site. So we spent a lot of time and effort on SEO, testing and optimising. We focused on making sure that we could provide valuable information on every relevant app in the market. Today, users can visit Priori to understand the most recent month's global download and revenue performance for any app. Whether they are signed in or not, you can consume this snippet of information - which has also made it highly shareable.

It was a great success: our monthly visits went from 8k to 265k in 12 months.  We’re proud of that because we believe our traffic increase is proportionate to the number of people benefiting from our service and data.

But how many of those visits were people actually interested in buying access to our platform?

We had no real clue.

In the mountain of data we were tracking, it was difficult to pick out what the relevant data was. So we changed our approach.

“We switched to an inbound marketing strategy through a well defined and trackable conversion funnel and a better content marketing strategy. This allowed for much better collaboration between Marketing and Sales.“ Simon, Director of Marketing.

Who should our audience be? How can we serve them? How can we go beyond being a platform with products and establish ourselves as a real brand that solves fundamental problems for the market?

Rather than starting with every stream of data we had and eliminating information that isn't useful until we found the perfect KPIs, we took a step back. We decided to start with what we wanted.

Once we knew that, building our funnel was easy.

→ Lesson learned: You can have all the data in the world. It won’t help if you focus on the wrong KPIs. [tweet this]

What’s next?

Knowing the app stores inside and out won’t be enough. The mobile market is maturing fast. There are now 5 billion mobile devices worldwide. Mobile advertising is likely to be a >$100 billion market by 2020.

Device level data is the next frontier for app market analysis. What types of users are spending time in mobile apps? Where are they spending time?

Answering those kinds of usage related questions and integrating them with app store data is our next big challenge.

The companies that figure out how to integrate data streams from different sources and derive value from them are going to win their markets. We are looking forward to helping our customers do just that.

Bonus: Predictions from the team:

“We will get usage data into the platform. MAUs/DAUs... we can do it!” Ryan, Data Scientist

“Google Play Store will announce a major design overhaul.” Natascha, Full Stack Developer

“Consolidation in analytics and in the advertising space will weed out some of the chaff. Hopefully that will mean some of the dodgy players will be cleaned out.” Ben, Director of Business Development

“The market will see more ‘2nd time around’ entrepreneurs come back and succeed in the app stores. A lot of lessons have been learned, and the teams who are setting out to build apps today are much savvier and more professional than just a year ago.” Andy, Head of Sales

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