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I got 22k app downloads in one weekend with a $0 budget (jerseyfonseca.com)
66 points by vuciv1 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments



That's a cool app. But just having a cool app and posting to social media doesn't work 99% of the time in my experience.

For instance, I made a free open-source iPad calculator app with no permissions, no ads, no in app purchases, nothing. If you search "calculator" on app store, you get garbage calculators w/ popups or big ad banners, and limited functionality. So surely this one would do well. So I did the social media thing.

Not only did I get very few downloads, but I usually can't even find my app on the app store if I search "calculator". I get apps that aren't even related before I see mine! Although I did get ~1k downloads a few weeks ago, because I think someone influential blasted it.

Anyway, app store is a shit show for discovery, but I guess sometimes you get lucky.

Here are my PAGE VIEWS for the first week or so:

Date Product Page Views

6/27/18 1

6/28/18 7

6/29/18 4

6/30/18 4

7/1/18 9

7/2/18 7

7/3/18 3

7/4/18 6

7/5/18 2

7/6/18 6

7/7/18 2

7/8/18 3

7/9/18 0

[0] https://github.com/breeko/opencalc

[1] https://apps.apple.com/us/app/opencalc/id1403173317


It's not really all about luck, it's simply that people are usually not very passionate about calculators. You'll have to find the those who are and that's marketing. You should try exploring math and engineering forums and other places where people who are into calculators spend time.

You can also improve your App Store Optimisation, write to the editors of the AppStore or publications that can be relevant for a calculator app.

"I wrote some code and made living of it" is only possible if other people are taking care of the rest of the business.

I also wouldn't be too focused on the aspects like "no tracking, no permission, no ads". These are popular topic around tech circles but they are not product but features of a product. Good to have them of course but they don't replace a great product.


I don't even expect people to be passionate about it. I don't care that it goes viral or not. I just feel that my product was superior than the terrible calculators on the market, and it was free, no permissions required, and small.

Maybe I'm biased or the calculator market has changed, but I don't think calculators should have pop-ups and its a shame that all the top calculators on the app store are spammy and terrible.

The value prop is huge. If I can't get this visible or downloaded, I doubt I'd be able to get any traction on my monetized app ideas.


Welcome to the real world - being good at something or making something good is only half the battle. Marketing is the other half.

But note thats yours is not the only high quality free calculator out there, it may come across as harsh but I think you need to reevaluate the value / importance of your calculator and also keep this in mind for future projects.

I write this as somebody who has also written a completely free (with source code on GitHub) IOS calculator, currently with 10,000+ active users. It took some time to get the users, but it was a great learning experience regardless.

These days I write articles and do not get as much exposure as I would like, marketing is an issue in every aspect of life ;)


Half? Are you joking? Entire industries are nothing but marketing. Practically anything that's an established out-of-patent commodity product is just built down to a price and then wrapped up in marketing.

It's depressing, and I'm slightly exaggerating to make a point, but really, so much is just marketing, completely detached even from the separate company that designs and makes the thing.

Even my Marantz microphone shows up as 'Blue Snowball'.


>Entire industries are nothing but marketing

Marketing is not a dirty word, it means connecting the product with its consumers. There is of course an industry revolving about that practice.


I'm using industry perhaps a bit too broadly, but still within its standard remit as 'a vertical'. Marketing (as engineering) is not an industry, it's an occupation within many.

What I mean by 'entire industries are nothing but marketing' is less hyperbolically something more like 'entire product categories' or 'entire companies'.

So much is possible to be completely 'farmed out' today that a given $company's $product can easily be presented as something unique through marketing/'connecting the product with its consumers' without any other activity from $company with regard to that $product, and of course that can happen from several or all companies 'making' $product, or be the sole way $company operates in 'making' all of the products that it 'does'.


I was being polite, I agree with you sometimes its much more than 50% :)


You can feel however you want, what matter for downloads is how other people feel about it.

To make people feel anything about your product you will have to find ways to bring it in front of people and intrigue them. That's a billion dollars industry. Ad placements, collaborations, creative writing, graphic design, branding...

These don't come for free, you can make it yourself or pay someone to make it for you.

You say that your value prop is huge but I failed to see the value, it looks like the stock calculator in iPhone and the description doesn't tell me anything because the stock app is already ad free etc.


There's no stock calculator app on iPad. That was the reason I made the app.


I keep forgetting that but the core value prop of "here is one" is valid only if there are no other calculators instead of yours.

You'll need to do more than that. It's not a conspiracy against your or there's no some shady unfair stuff going on. You'll need to make great product(which you say you did) AND get it into the hands of those who would care about your product(which is called marketing).

You know what I do when I need a calculator? Type it into Spotlight. So I am not your market but I am sure there are people who need a proper calculator and you will need to find ways to make them aware of the existence of your app.


It’s obvious that you’re trying to avoid shameless self promotion here, so I’ll be the guy who asks:

What’s the App Store url for your app?


Why would anyone download a calculator in the first place? Doesn’t the phone already have one?


iPad doesn't have one because Jobs thought it would look ugly with the numbers stretched out. So now we're stuck with these monstrosities instead, with pop-ups to boot

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/1*F1EtkiGY0DkyafpRzU...


The calculator on iOS is awful.


Especially when the OS includes an app that performs the same function just fine. With no tracking, no permissions, no ads.

You do need to differentiate, why is your app better than the alternatives?

edit ah, apparently iPad does not have the calculator app.


I’m one of those users! When I got an iPad a year ago, I couldn’t believe a) there wasn’t a calculator app on it, and b) there were no calculator apps I could trust except yours. So disappointing coming from a Linux and open source background, so at least one person is hugely grateful for devs like you - thank you. :-)


I just installed it. Thanks! I never had a calculator on my iPad because I wasn’t willing to install any of the trash that shows up in search.

It would be nice if there were better discovery for quality apps. I’m thinking something like alternate app stores would do the trick because I would pick one with a “no ads or unnecessary permissions” policy.


Nice and clean interface. Not busy

Suggestions just as a user, not that mine is successful as well:

1. Use the title calculator somewhere. No Ad Calc, or. Not sure other than programmer who know what open meant for user point of view. OpenCalc ... not understandable.

2. Compared with competitors (or at least why I download a few):

- hex/dec/bin ... - memory ... - paper tape (history) ...

(or extra rpn ... command stack ... just a small lisp calculator that has a few file I store for useful simple calc)

We all swim up against the tide. Hope you do it better than me or him. Good luck.

P.s. he failed in any case “ I Made A Mobile App for my Significant Other (And She Won't Use It)” in his other article. :-)


Apple is not incentivized to promote your app given that their percentage cut of "free" is $0.

Why are you giving this app away for free? You know that various other indies like James Thompson are trying to SELL alternative calculators and you are undercutting them with no discernable benefit to yourself.


>you are undercutting them with no discernable benefit to yourself.

GP does have a discernable benefit. It's just not discernable to us because it is not monetary.


I actually use opencalc and found it by looking for open source calculator.

Some thoughts about how you could boost traffic:.

- Do more keyword stuffing - Add the word calculator to the title maybe free also "OpenCalc - Free Calculator" - Have many people download the app to boost it's ranking


When I got my iPad I searched for a calculator and as you said, all the ones I found were ad filled. I have found the App Store store search to be quite poor at finding new apps.

I’m glad I can now have a clean calculator for my iPad atleast, thanks!


> I guess sometimes you get lucky.

I'll assume in good faith that you didn't mean it this way, but this comes across as incredibly insulting to OP. OP didn't get lucky at all. He created something that would appeal to a large audience, he found that audience and he told them about it. End of story.

Frankly, it's about the idea, the size of the audience, and the sales pitch. "Tinder for movies" is a way easier sell for most people than "iPad calculator." I'm not even sure who the audience is for the latter. The subset of people who need to do calculations on their casual web-browsing device but can't use the calculator on their phone or one of the many calculators online? That has to be a very small group.

The craftsmanship and the experimentation are great, but it's easy for us devs to stay inside our heads. "This operating system doesn't have a calculator" by itself just isn't a compelling reason for most end users to want one. My washing machine doesn't have a calculator, but that doesn't bother me because the kind of work I do with it doesn't call for a calculator. If it does, I reach into my pocket for my phone. So I think we're doing a disservice to our own understanding of how marketing works if we attribute this to luck.


Could part of it be that Apple prioritizes apps with in app purchases?


I had the same experience with my app. Once I started running ads in the app store I jumped up to the 4th or 5th position within a couple of days. shrug


But how is someone supposed to justify running ads for a product with no revenue?


Oh believe me, I’m not trying to justify it. The App Store‘s search capabilities seem not so good and a bit exploitive even.


app stores are not the place for software that generates no revenue


google play is the same. that's why I love f-droid, you can usually find alternatives to the spam that are built for the sake of making the app in question, not as a vehicle to try and squeeze money out of people


Is 22,000 downloads, a million actions on the site and 15 dollars in donations a success?

It feels like it is missing the part where he sold 2,000 memberships or made 2,000 in ad revenue.

I guess if three angel investors are calling there might be a path.

Building traffic is hard but only half of it.


Yeah, just wanna echo the other comments. It was fun, and honestly, even if I don't profit from it, it was fun to build, I'm learning a lot, and it really is bringing people joy.

Would it be nice to be rich from my app? Yeah, of course. If that doesn't happen, that's okay too, though. I'll find another way.


it sounds like an unconditional amazing success given the original project motivations and goals. building a thing and delivering joy is a reward in and of itself.

whether or not this is or should be a business is a separate matter. not everything that works as an idea will work as a business.


22k is nothing on a free app. I’ve been there, but with a higher number. You can make a “profitable” exit (so I guess calling it nothing is a bit harsh) but not really profitable when you really consider costs (especially opportunity costs).

People are impressed by that kind of number though, usually people who’ve never built anything marketable or investors who have little to no experience in the space.


Yes please think about monetization next time!! All that attention is nice, but in the end you just gotta charge for your work, at least a little. We all just want to give away freebies, but success is hard to come by. These are rare opportunities and money gives you the freedom to focus on what you want to work on in the future.


Noted :) I have strong monetization plans for the future, and plan to expand!


If the app turns out to be sticky, he can explore proper monetisation. I don't see why the negativity, after all the codes are not written into a stone.

I don't see a problem. There's always a joy in having people use your product, if it is not a capital intensive project the money can come later.


Its not so much about the money as it is about making the world a better place.


If you have more money, you will have more power to make the world a better place, multiples times over as opposed to having no money.

Money is a tool to scale your influence whichever direction you please. If all the good doers ignored money, bad doers would have all the influence in the world.


I think 22,000 downloads on an app only built to work out how the technology works definitely qualifies as a success.


22,000 downloads of a free app at launch is no big deal. It's free and he's having to pay for hosting for the backend. I can stand on the corner and give away dollar bills too.


Neat! Though the title of "$0" budget is misleading. He explicitly mentioned cloning a $5 digital ocean droplet, which brings us up to $10.


Oh, thats fair. I guess I was trying to note that I didn't have to pay for marketing, but you make a good point!

Sorry about that


OP probably meant "$0 marketing budget".


You're being overly pedantic.


I don’t think they are. The title of this submission literally says OP got 22k app downloads with a $0 budget, meaning that anyone with a $0 budget could be getting the same, if lucky. When, in reality, OP spent $25 in Google Play Store fees, $99/year in Apple App Store fees, and $5 in Digital Ocean fees. That is /not/ a $0 budget.


Is it lucky? Yes, but so is everything else, the great part here is you took advantage of the opportunity and I hope you keep doing that.


had a similar experience here on HN :D my one and only post about a poor list of apps to copy did blew up and i gained 23k visits in one day https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27007767 not sure it was so popular, maybe because it was very raw and hackisch but still interesting.




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