10 Tips on Promoting Your App (And how I got 75,000 downloads in one day)

When I first started a mobile app development company, I had no idea how to code.

I still have no idea how to code.

I took multiple courses on coding. I still don't get it. Some people just aren't born to code. I'm one of them.

And yet, along the way, I've built 14 apps and 4 of them hit the top 100 in business, lifestyle, entertainment.  One of my apps peaked at over 75,000 downloads in a day. Yup, you read that correctly.

I bet you don't believe me.

Okay, here's a screenshot of one of my apps when it hit #27 free in the Entertainment category.  Yup, right next to NBC and Talking Tom Cat.  It was called HairBooth HD and it would let you try on different hairstyles.  Trust me, it was revolutionary at the time.

Mobile Apps.jpeg


And yup, all of that happened under the leadership of a CEO who couldn't code.

And no, I'm not retired. Developing apps was a really hard business and I went through my share of ups and downs.

Here are the top 10 lessons that I learned along the way as a founder that will help prepare you for success:

  1. And yup, all of that happened under the leadership of a CEO who couldn't code.

    And no, I'm not retired. Developing apps was a really hard business and I went through my share of ups and downs.

    Here are the top 10 lessons that I learned along the way as a founder that will help prepare you for success:

  2. Be ruthless in your self assessment - Ask yourself the hard questions:
    1. What are you really good at? I know how to recruit people, generate excitement, identify customer needs and tell stories.
    2. What are you really terrible at? I can't code. I'm not technical. I have no idea how to screen for elite technical talent.
    3. The key is to be really honest with yourself. Be ruthless in your self assessment so that you can build the best team possible that gives you the strongest chance at success. And then focus 100% of your energy on your strengths.
  3. Going alone will go fast, building a great team will go far - Don't try to do it all on your own. Well, unless you're a super genius. Maybe it's possible then. But for most people, it's usually not. That's usually why you see a lot of co-founders at companies. For example, if you're not strong at technical skills, find people that are. There are a lot of different ways you can approach this such as:
    1. Finding a technical co-founder: Reach out to your personal network for recommendations whether it's in person, LinkedIn, Facebook or any other social network. Go to technical networking events or hackathons. Just make sure you're ready with your pitch. You'll need to bring your A game. I worked with a technical co-founder for my second startup.
    2. Leveraging an exclusive talent network: Toptal (full disclosure: I work here) is a great example of this. Toptal has a rigorous screening process that includes a comprehensive language, personality, and communication interview, timed algorithm tests or portfolio reviews, live screenings done by Toptal engineers or designers, test projects and continued excellence in terms of a track record.  At the end of the day, Toptal connects companies to the top 3% of talent and matches the best people to companies based on their business and technical requirements and needs. I wish I knew about Toptal when I was developing mobile apps. I definitely would have used their talent network. It's incredibly hard to screen effectively for developers and designers (trust me, I learned first hand) and Toptal makes this process seamless and easier for you.
    3. Hire someone but not at the co-founder status - It can be very hard to pull someone away from their existing full time job. Typically this can happen if you're really good at selling the vision. The hard part is that you're competing typically with a job that is probably more stable than what you're offering and competitive pay packages you may not be able to match.
  4. Ignore the talk about the "market being too small" -  Maybe the market is big enough. Maybe it's too small. Often times, great companies are built by focusing on a niche problem and then expanding from there. When I started my blog CEO Lifestyle, some people thought that a blog like this was too niche. Is it? I'm still finding out. I do know that it has over 13,000 subscribers now and I've now hit over 14M+ views on Quora. That's enough proof for me. So what's the answer here? The only way to find out is to test it.
  5. MVPs rule - I get it, you have the next big idea. That's what everyone thinks. Want to know the fastest way to find out? Create a minimum viable product and launch it. Let the market and the users decide. Once you launch a MVP, promote it on platforms like Product Hunt, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, (insert any social platform here), your personal and professional network (yes, email still works folks) and the key online media publications.  The last option is really hard. I pitched most of the big publishing brands and didn't get a single response back. Focus on your local networks. If you've built a great product, hopefully your existing network can help launch it to the next level by driving organic awareness.
  6. Make data driven decisions - When we launched our dating app, we thought we were really successful. After all, we hit the top 100 grossing in Lifestyle and had over 13,000 downloads in a short period of time and we were also monetizing the app. Then we looked at the data. And we realized we were failing. When we looked at retention, we noticed huge drop off rates after a few days of using the app. That's when we realized we had to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to really improve the user experience. Intuition is good. Data driven decisions are even better. Learn to respect the data.
  7. ABL - You've heard of ABC (Always Be Closing). Here's a new one for you: ABL (Always Be Learning). As you experience the ups and downs of start up life, make sure you always learn from your success and failures. Stay humble. Stay intensely curious. Stay hungry. When I created those 14 apps, I learned a ton of lessons. 50 to be exact. You don't believe me again, right? Okay, here's the proof: I wrote this blog post when I worked at Optimizely that highlights 50 tips for Acquisition, Retention, and Everything in Between. Here's the best part: I'm still learning. Every. Single. Day.
  8. Design matters - Design matters. A lot. Slack is such a great example of this (I'm in love with their UI). I noticed that my top performing apps were noticeably better in design aesthetics, whether it was the logo, the font, the login page or the main interface.  Design is incredibly powerful - it can stir emotions in someone. Does your app feel playful or incredibly serious? A great design can leave a lasting first impression. Don't cut corners on design.
  9. Have a strong why - Why are you building this product? Seriously, you better have an amazing answer for that. Because at the end of the day, those countless hours at night, influx of customer support emails and business costs will really push you to the edge. And the key to persevering is simple: Having a strong "why." If you have a strong purpose and mission around your product, that will motivate you to move forward. I'm not here to define what purpose is for you. Everyone has their own set of values and motivations. Discover it for yourself. Find your "why."
  10. Focus on doing one thing incredibly well - Better to be a master of one than a master of none. A jack of all trades is simply this: mediocre. Harness your focus to drive great results.
  11. Treat people well - Because at the end of the day, that's what a company is. It's made up of people. People that are funny. People that are hard working. People that are unique. Appreciate them for what they bring to the table and treat them as you'd like to be treated. Even though I no longer own the app development company, I'm still friends with my co-founders and will meet them for coffee or dinner. It's all about the people.


I hope these ten tips help you in your startup journey.  No matter what stage you're at with your company, just remember: it's never too late to be awesome.


Nelson Wang1 Comment