Most apps fail.
80% of new users abandon mobile apps within 3 days.
And, Gartner reports less than 0.01% of consumer mobile apps are considered a financial success by their developers. Some apps screw up the launch. Some don’t know how to scale. Here are two keys to handling both, and doing it well enough to beat the odds.
1. Embrace strangers
Friends and family will never tell you the truth about your product
Every product owner has a vision, but not every product solves a problem.
At some point, you’ll tell your friends and family about your vision, and that you’re quitting your job to bring your vision to life. Even if they “fully support you,” they’re not going to give you the honest truth about your product and its prospects. They can’t. They’re biased.
The truth is your product likely won’t solve their problem, or any problem. My friend, a startup founder, recently confided to me, “I lost $80,000 building a product because I was listening only to my friends and family.”
Avoid feedback from friends and family at all costs, especially when you’re establishing product-market fit. Validate your product concept by talking to people who need your product — aka “strangers.” Then, go build it.
After my founder friend realized that bad feedback had poisoned his product, he discovered that a handful of early users all shared one specific problem. He scrapped his original concept, doubled down on this problem, and raised a substantial seed round.
2. Nail your First-time User Experience (FUX)
Only scale your product when you know your FUX meets or exceeds new users’ expectations.
You’ve talked to some strangers, identified a problem they share, and built a product to solve it. It’s very possible that you built your product as it’s supposed to work, but forgot to design your product to deliver immediate value to new users. (thanks to Julie Zhuo).
If you’ve focused 90% of your attention on designing a product when it works, then you’ve ignored the First-time User Experience (FUX).
Every new user needs an “aha moment” to buy into your product. Signing up for an account is not the same as buying in; users should get value from your product in their first use, not their tenth.
This is a common and fatal mistake. Users are more likely to adopt your product if you nail your First-time User Experience (FUX), and more likely to abandon your product if your FUX fails them.
Your product is ready to scale if your FUX exceeds expectations for most users. Products fail to reach their potential when the FUX consistently fails to meet user expectations. If your FUX disappoints, you risk spending thousands of dollars and countless hours acquiring and retaining users who will ultimately abandon you.
Adoption rate in apps that deliver immediate value and apps that don’t is diametric: For the top 10 Android apps — 70% of users return after 3 days. For lower-rated Android apps, only 20% return.
Many organizations try all sorts of strategies to drive usage — strategies that rarely pay off. Often, companies pay attention to retaining users who’ve abandoned, and ignore the truth — the FUX doesn’t deliver value.
Usability testing can show you how someone uses a product, but not whether they will use a product. Funnel metrics and usage data can tell you how many people leave, but not why they left. Re-engagement emails and notifications are tuned out. Every user had a reason why they tried your product and had expectations for how it would work; it’s your job to understand these reasons.
The solution is simple: to improve your product, ask users whether the FUX met their expectations — and why.
If you ask this question, you’ll identify people who will champion your product and people who will churn. And crucially, you’ll know the moment they decide to stay or go.
Let’s use an example. Here’s a common first response to the Uber concept…
So, you’re telling me I could use an app to get a stranger to come pick me up. I get in their car, and they take me where I need to go without me paying them cash? Weird.
Here’s a scenario where the first Uber ride exceeds user expectations:
I was pretty skeptical, but my friend recommended it. I opened the app, put in my credit card info, and saw that driver, Kevin, had 5 stars. He called me when he arrived, offered me free water, and I just got out of the car when my ride was done. It was easy. I’ll do this all the time.
And a disappointing first Uber experience:
San Francisco is notorious for not having taxis, and I needed to get to the airport so I signed up for Uber. My first driver canceled when he found out I was going to the airport. My second driver was texting while driving, and I had to pay $95 for a $50 ride due to “surge pricing,” which I didn’t even know existed.
Knowing stories from delighted and disappointed users, Uber can change its pitch to reflect the voice of its champions. It can also improve its product experience by increasing the chances that every user’s first ride is successful.
There’s one big challenge to this simple framework:
Asking if you met expectations is simple, but it’s incredibly hard to get feedback from the users who churn and to understand the moment they made this decision.
You identify churn through funnel metrics, but a user abandons your product before your funnel metrics indicate they’ve left. You need to intercept churners before they forget the substantive reasons your product didn’t live up to their expectations. And users forget products fast.
To get the responses you crave, ask users to express their expectations of your product before they actually use it. Advise them you’ll follow up later to see how it delivers. Then, shortly after using your product, ask each user how their first experience compared to their expectations.