Mobile

What 100 million downloads taught me about growth hacking in America

Above: The massively popular Dolphin browser has succeeded -- even though every mobile device already has a browser. What is its secret?

Image Credit: Dolphin

The iTunes App Store is crowded, and it’s harder than ever to drive new, quality installs of your app.

So I want to share a few strategies that I’ve learned over the years that helped propel our team at Dolphin to over 100 million users worldwide.

This should serve as a basic “growth hacker guide” to help bootstrapped international developers better understand the U.S. mobile market, and provide specific strategies that will help build your brand and drive people to your app. If you can cut through the clutter of apps in America you will have access to a lot of quality users — the ARPU (average revenue per user) for America is expected hit $51 by 2015 and smartphone penetration is already at 62 percent.

For those of you who are not making money from your app yet, you should start with lower cost user acquisition channels. Please note that lower cost means you cannot pay to hire an expert, and therefore you must plan to roll up your sleeves and learn it yourself, which will take time and hard work. Here are some tips to guide you!

Note: I don’t want to touch on monetization here, as that warrants its own full article — but instead I will focus on user acquisition only.


Editor’s note: If you like what Edith is talking about here, check out our upcoming Mobile Summit – a two-day, invitation-only event tackling the biggest issues in mobile: monetization, marketing, and growth strategies.


1. Publicity

You have to start with a quality app. With Dolphin, we focused on building a great product and hit one million installs purely through Google Play.

Then one day, we saw a HUGE spike in installs and were able to trace it back to an article that reviewed the customization features of Dolphin Browser. The impact of the article lasted for more than a week, and our eyes were opened to the magic of media coverage.

In terms of outside help, there are a few great firms in the U.S., and feel free to contact me for any introductions.

To tap into the power of publicity yourself, start by researching the following:

  • Who wrote about your competitors?
  • Who wrote about your partners?
  • Who are the journalists that write about your app category?
  • What are the benefits (not features) of your app they may find interesting?

Bootstrapped startups should get in touch with reporters themselves. When doing this, I recommend you:

  • Send a short email (using proper English grammar!), and include a relevant narrative about your app and how it taps into current trends.
  • Ideally use a Gmail or company account. Everything else (@hotmail, @yahoo, or country specific domains like .ru or .cn) comes off dated or spammy.
  • Don’t harass reporters. If they pass on your initial news, let it go and get in touch later with a different story.

2. SEO

SEO (search engine optimization) is informed by a lot of factors. The easiest factor to control is which keywords you associate with your app — these terms allow searchers to find you more easily.

For example, for a finance app, some keywords to associate would be:

  • Finance
  • Personal finance
  • Money
  • Bookkeeping
  • Accounting

Make sure you include these keywords in your app description or even your app title to improve discoverability. You can research and analyze your competitor or partner apps to help you better identify keywords that are relevant to your app. SEO can involve many other strategies, but keyword optimization is a great place to start.

3. Exchanges with other developers

If you have a lot of users, you can approach another app developer and propose that you promote one another. Only partner with apps that you know you want to be associated with — and this should be based on research! The quality of the partner app and the overlap in terms of audience are important considerations.

I’ve found the most effective way to drive installs is via push notification, internal messaging, or small banner and overlay ads (you usually have to pay for this).

After you understand your monetization and business model, it’s time to spend some money to drive more predictive installs.

4. Customers who will pay

There are plenty of DSPs (demand-side platforms) and exchanges you can work with to drive substantial installs in the U.S. Depending on the season, you’ll typically pay from $1 to $10 USD per install. Yes, it is a lot more expensive than other parts of the world, but these platforms really work.

The key is you have to learn how to find quality users: essentially, the ones who will pay to buy virtual goods or coins, or who will upgrade to premium subscriptions. Unless you can measure and predict who the high quality paying users are, I would not recommend paying to drive installs in this way.

Once you are clear on your definition of a high quality user, you can then start to develop images, marketing copy, and conduct A/B testing via various exchanges and DSPs.

In conclusion

Some things that work well in other countries just simply don’t work at all or are too laborious in America. The following are strategies that should be avoided, or at least carefully considered:

  • Putting apps in third-party app stores: This doesn’t drive downloads. App sales are driven through the App Store and Google Play. Third-party app stores pale in comparison.
  • Partnering with smartphone manufacturers: Working with any mobile carriers and OEMs is really time consuming and almost not worth it — unless you have a dedicated business development team in Silicon Valley, China or Korea.

I hope this cheat sheet helps clarify the U.S. mobile market, and helps you develop appropriate user acquisition strategies for your app.

With creativity, tenacity, and smarts, you will be well on your way to achieving your very own American dream!


Edith Yeung (@edithyeung) is the VP of International Business Development at Dolphin, and is also the founding partner of RightVentures. Edith has helped grow Dolphin Browser to over 100 million users across the globe, and is based in Dolphin’s San Francisco offices.

More information:

Dolphin makes mobile browsing easy, adapting to the way you want to browse with customizable settings, voice and gesture control, and sharing features. With lightning fast speed, Dolphin blows the rest of the mobile browsers out of ... read more »

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