Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, this is Paul Kemp. What I do with this show is I go around the world and I interview lots of successful app entrepreneurs. Today I'm actually recording this from Indonesia and I'm chatting with our guest, who is in Singapore, he has just driven there.
He is a successful app entrepreneur. You're going to learn a lot from our guest today. Do remember that if you enjoyed my content, a five-star review from you on iTunes would really help out. Also, you can leave any positive comments you like on other podcasting apps that you may use.
Let me get today's episode underway and introduce Kay Minglani. Kay Minglani is the co-founder of Mindvalley, and he has built several apps, many of which have become successful apps, with millions of users. He's done some really innovative stuff and has been featured many times. We're going to learn a lot from Kay. Kay, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!
Kay Minglani: Thank you, Paul. I really appreciate it.
Paul Kemp: Thanks for coming on the show. Let's talk about the successes, because we love to hear about success stories. How have you got on with attracting so many millions of downloads? What's the secret ingredients that you're doing to get this number of users?
Kay Minglani: I don't know, I don't think there is an easy way, for sure. With every year that passes by in an entrepreneur's life, you tend to lose more hair; I don't think there is any shortcut or any easy way. We've started in 2013 - that's when we actually started working on our first app, and we were one of the few lucky ones who actually hit it off in the first app. Usually it never, ever happens.
After that we went on, did several other apps which did not get any installs and were not even half as popular as the first one. The first app that we did was actually in the space of meditation and personal growth. It goes by the name Omvana, and at a given time we were number one top-grossing in about 37 countries in the Health and Fitness category.
How did we go about it? We actually gathered inspiration from a couple of people. 2013 was the year when Apple was just settling in the app market; they had about a couple hundred thousand apps, nowhere close to what they have right now. The book App Empire had just hit the bookstores, and we were the first ones to grab a copy. It's written by a guy called Chad Mureta, and the guy was creating emoji apps back then. We were like "I think we can create something better and more meaningful."
2013 was around the time when the Google guys were talking about Moonshot and toothpaste companies, which means something that a user would use day in, day out. That's where we wanted to merge what we learned from some of the other apps and try to create something that people would use every single day. That was the number one lesson that we learned, and we continue to work on that one - how can we create an app that people would use every single day?
We thought that meditation and personal growth was one idea, which was super niche; nobody was focusing on it back then... Only Headspace had started to emerge, and we were like "I think we can nail it." We went and spent a couple of months and built that app... So that's how we got started.
Paul Kemp: I love this already. In all the 500-odd episodes I've had, I've never heard the term "toothpaste apps." I guess that means that it's an app that we use every single day. We often overlook that.
Meditation apps - I've built a meditation app and it pretty much tanked, but you managed to get this phenomenal growth. Was there any particular point in time that you can look back on and say "Well, that was what achieved our success"? Was it being featured or getting a mention in a top journal?
Kay Minglani: So I actually think that a couple of things, and let me just give some of the people who are listening just a quick glimpse of how those things rank, in some way. If you are looking for spending an insane amount of money to build an app and launch the product, my suggestion is save your money and don't burn that for sure. If you want to spend $50,000-$60,000, build the best product and hope a lot of users would come in - that never holds true. Given that we have about 3.5 million apps on the app store, to grab that eyeball you will either have to have deep pockets, otherwise you're not going to get the users.
Coming back to your question, what did we do, some of those things that actually worked in our favor - number one is don't rely on PR. PR will only go so far in getting you that bump that you need in the app store. The only magic word here is the user. You have to, have to, HAVE TO address the user's pain point, and get that user at least logged back into the app at least three times, if not more.
I'll give you another couple of really strong examples, and we'll only focus on users as a concept and nothing else the next few minutes. We realized that a fear in the meditation space, or let's take an example, you're in the tourism space, or somebody is in the social media app space - you have to realize that when the U.S. is sleeping, Asia is awake, and somebody should be using the app here, and when Asia sleeps, somebody needs to be using your app in the U.S. That's the first concept, which is the toothpaste concept that we spoke about.
Second is you have to focus on not bothering the user and going straight to delivering the value. That means don't bother the user with 15,000 pop-ups and then deliver what your app has to say. Give the value first, and the user will 100% come back again. That's point number two.
Point number three is make sure that you have a lot of freebies in the stuff. And don't have too much freebies, because the user will only consume the free stuff and never get to paying you for it.
So point number one, we said look at a concept which users are going to use on both sides of the world, in the West and in the East. Second is give genuine value and give it as quickly as you can, without too many pop-ups.
Number three is make sure you have enough free content to keep the user engaged, and make sure the user logs in at least 2-3 times, because Apple uses 100% that as an algorithm, and so does Google and Android. The user needs to log back into the app and there has to be constant interaction with those limited set of users that you initially get in the first 40-50 days. Should I go on? There are a couple more things that I could add here.
Paul Kemp: Well, first of all let me tell you - I love this content and the experience you're sharing with us now. What I've just summarized from you is one, make sure the app has a worldwide appeal, so that it can be used around the world; when a part of the world is sleeping, the other part is waking up and using your app, whilst brushing their teeth.
The second is don't bother the user too much - and I think we overlook that so often, because we want to monetize our apps so quickly, and yet we kind of forget to give the value first.
The third point you mentioned is make sure we have enough freebies, but not too many to make it a free app and not attract any in-app purchases. What I've learned also is that Apple and Google do look at the number of times you actually have users log back into your app, not just your downloads. Wonderful stuff.
Kay Minglani: Yes, because in today's world it's super easy... I could give you $5,000 and you could show a Facebook ad to somebody, let's say, in remote parts of India or Thailand or Indonesia, and get like a cent or five cents or ten cents an install. Is that user going to use the app? No. And is Apple and Google sophisticated enough to actually filter that in the algorithm? 100% yes.
So if you are buying users that are not going to open the app and come back two times, don't bother. Don't spend your money on Facebook to get users that are not going to open the app and use it. You are actually doing a disservice to your own self by actually killing the app algorithm, and it'll be two times or ten times as hard to rank back up once you acquire traffic that's never going to use the app. That's one important point that most developers miss out. They think "Hey, I've spent $30,000 or $40,000 building this really cool app. Let me spend $5,000 more and get really cheap traffic on Facebook or on Google, or through AdWords and let me see what happens if I get 30,000 installs."
Chances are, if you're buying cheap traffic, they're not going to open the app. They're probably coming through playing a game and then installing the app just to get a free credit, or somehow they're coming through whatever sources. But if they are non-engaged users or they're not your target audience, do not waste your money on those installs.
Paul Kemp: Kay, one of the biggest challenges I think the listeners or the appster tribe have when they talk to me is the fact of spending a lot of money on an app initially, and then watching the app attract a few downloads a day and being kind of upset that they've invested so much, and then they chase the downloads. But what I'm learning from you I guess is a way of trying to reduce the upfront cost by doing an MVP (minimum viable product)?
Kay Minglani: I would do the other way around. I would actually pick up the phone and call two SEO companies and ask them to give me a quote of their services. In return, I would just say "If you want to give me a quote -- I might not work with you, but I want you to give me all the keyword research in this particular industry and tell me what's popular out there." Those are five calls that you would possibly make, and five companies who are really big giants in the SEO space or advertising space will come to you and say "This is where the magic lies, these are the keywords, this is what people are searching." That not only validates your idea free of cost, but also gives you reassurance that tomorrow you have third-parties vetting out that "Hey, there's enough traffic, enough volume, enough searches in that space", so you will not be the only ones trying to float out that.
Second, if you've spent some money or you have an idea on the app store, I think there are several entrepreneurs who will tell you the same thing - don't spend all the money that you have trying to build that fancy leather bag that you can market to somebody else. Always try and sell something that's really, really cheap.
I'll give you an example - we did an app just purely based on marketing. We probably spent $6,000 building that entire piece, and we called it "The World's Most Boring App." It was an app around sleep. Just by marketing it in that funny way, we got to test the audience. Because the initial response on YouTube video was phenomenal... We hadn't even made the app, we just made a video and asked people to say "Hey, this app launches in 30 days. Be the first one to actually figure it out!" and sub list size grew from 10,000 to 40,000 to 80,000, and that's when we were like -- before we spend more back-end money, put more servers on it - "I think there's something that's magical going on here", and that's when we actually pushed the app out.
So MVP - yes, do it. Get other companies in the keyword space, in the SEO space, in the marketing space to actually quote you. If you can find an app marketing company, pick up their brains for free, and then go ahead and build the app.
My suggestion is if you are looking at a paid app, spend good money on design; do not compromise on design... Whereas most people who are trying to build an MVP just go straight for hiring the top developer and building the app. I can go a little deeper in this concept, because I think this is super important.
Paul Kemp: Yes, please.
Kay Minglani: So just to go a little deeper on this one, I think design is the most prime thing, and design doesn't mean just how it looks and feels, it's the aesthetics, it's the look and feel, it's the navigation, it's the user experience, what colors you are using.
If you look at fitness brands like Zumba, or other companies out there who are let's say in the energetic workout or dance space, they are all about bright colors. Let's take an example like Color Run - you are playing with colors when doing your 5k: bright logos, bright images... Some of those things also add to aesthetics.
The most important thing, of course, is your UX and UI. If you can, read a book on the Google ventures framework of Tom Chi, who is the Google ex-founder's framework on rapid prototyping. The second thing you should do is do a discovery phase. There are free resources available out there on discovery phases, as well as on rapid prototyping, for you to be able to quickly sketch your app and test it, and spend more time in designing navigation, and the look and feel, and on what the user is going to be experiencing, than jumping straight to developing.
I think if you can delay the developing by three months and just focus the first three months on user research, you will see every single dollar that you spend on building it will actually give you back money, or will be a good ROI.
Paul Kemp: Yes, I think that's one of the biggest mistakes that I've encountered and trying to help people overcome - they want to invest the majority of their money in just getting an app ready. It may take a year developing it, and end up pushing it out. What I love to hear from you, Kay, is that it's better to actually just take your time, prototype and wait, then eventually have an app that is likely to be used.
Kay Minglani: Yes, I'll try to go deeper on this concept, Paul, since you asked. We just recently launched a really flagship app called Quests. It's an app around, of course, daily personal growth, but it's designed around micro-learning, and it challenges the user to actually complete a learning module of, let's say, some of the world's best teachers around the world. Robin Sharma is on the app or how to be that linchpin in an organization, or if you are an entrepreneur or a C-level executive, how to be that linchpin in the company. We have several other teachers from Howard, to Wim Hofman, to a couple others. We spend roughly four months just going back and forth with some of the actual users and designing this app, without even writing a single line of code.
We actually said "If this is the target audience, let's pick up the phone and call them with every single iteration we make of the app." We have literally dummy plastic boxes which we had taken colored printouts on - this was the actual app - and we actually placed them on our table and we actually did about 25 interviews, every single week, until we got that perfect navigation of why our user would consume, the way it would consume and what will the learning look like.
We literally spend three months - that's 90 days - before we even wrote a single line of code. That actually saved us not only really precious money, but actually we were able to get that initial 50,000-60,000 users and actually get the maximum value from them.
Paul Kemp: Kay, this is extremely valuable because again, in all these episodes we've recorded, it's very rare that we hear the concept of interviewing the first four months of your project, just interviewing the users and getting to know what they're really looking for. This is massively valuable, and I'm sure that pretty much 90% of the people listening do not do that step when pushing an app out into the app store.
Kay Minglani: Yes. If I had $100 and if I were to spend that building an app, I would save the $100 for the first 90 days, nail the design, spend the first $25-$30 just paying a really good designer in nailing the app for sure. I would have that designer question me as much as he can from a user journey perspective and onboarding perspective. The remaining $70 that I'm left with, I would spend about $25 more on a robust backend, and the remaining on developers.
I would be 100% certain that I've interviewed everybody. I cannot go wrong with at least the user base. I have spent enough money on the design, which means the user will have a phenomenal experience, and the remaining - my developers are doing a good job of actually building it out.
And I would choose one last thing, which is "What is my actual strategy? Can I test this concept on web, or can I test this on iOS?" I would make that decision before writing a single line of code.
Paul Kemp: Kay, I wish I'd met you earlier. When I pushed out my meditation app, I did everything completely opposite to what you're suggesting, and that's probably why it failed. It's lovely to go through all these steps and help everyone, trying to give them the best opportunity.
Are there any other steps that you have, in the last few minutes that we have for talking to each other, is there any other valuable insight that you can think of that could help others who are struggling to just get that hit that they're looking for?
Kay Minglani: I would say research. That's the number one thing I tell my marketing guy. If that marketing person, or if my partner - or if even me, for that matter - have not studied the app store enough, I would say just stop; there is no point in launching the app. Everybody on my team has desk devices in every single form or shape, either if it's a tablet or an Android or an Apple TV or an Apple watch, and they have to wake up and actually install 1-3 apps every single day, and actually experience them.
I'm giving them a budget of, let's say, $100 every single week that you can go ahead and even install the paid apps, just to see what's out there. Because 99% of the time if you think you have a great idea, the neighbor next door has an even greater idea.
So make sure you're studying the app store. Again, do not jump into it until you think you have total understanding of the U.S. app store, or the local app store that you are targeting. And even if you let's say you're in South-East Asia or Indonesia, you should look at the U.S. app store, as well as the app store that you're launching the app in.
Paul Kemp: Kay, we have a couple of minutes left... I just would love to know, from a successful app entrepreneur, what was it like, what was that feeling - can you give us that day when you logged into your developer account and you saw a huge spike in downloads, or you knew that you had a hit? What did that feel like, to know that you are on the road to success?
Kay Minglani: Yes, I think I just felt happy for the team more than the feeling, because I know they put in ten times the effort that I put in, and they were super passionate. We still have a picture where all of us were in the office at 2 A.M. That was the time we actually got featured by Apple on their top 10 apps in the Health category, and we were the first ones to actually feature on the iOS 10. That was a good feeling, and that actually speaks to the fact that you have to utilize the market space you're in. Listen to what these guys are launching and work with that.
The minute Apple came out with HealthKit, we were like "Don't worry, stop everything and just focus on what the HealthKit is all about" and be the first one to actually ship that product, because Apple is going to pick it up and feature you guys if you've done a good job.
Our only objective was "How do we repeat that feeling?" and when we had the first $100,000 in our account, we asked "How do we replicate that feeling by just being the best of every single feature that the marketplace (either Android or on the iOS side) actually gives that to us?" If iOS gives you a new app store, which is iOS 11, and you can have collaterals, you can have videos, make sure you're the first one on it; make sure you have spent enough time and you're shipping the right part.
So for us it's just about replicating that feeling all over again, and yes, it involves a lot of hard work, there's no doubt about it. I hope that answers the question.
Paul Kemp: Yes, absolutely. Another genius, golden nugget you've just given us - concentrate on those things that Apple are bringing out new on the iPhone, because that's the apps that are likely to feature. Incredible.
Kay, how best can people reach out and connect with you and Mindvalley? What's the best way of getting in touch?
Kay Minglani: They can just e-mail me, I'm super active on e-mail, even though I travel a lot. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'm more than happy to help out.
Paul Kemp: Wonderful. Kay, it's been an incredibly enjoyable episode to record. This is why I do this podcast - to meet people like yourself. Thanks so much for coming on.
Kay Minglani: Thank you for doing it, I know there are a lot of people who benefit a lot from this, so thanks for doing this job, by the way.