Here’s What To Do To Build A Successful Mobile App

Author: Arvind Padmanabhan

Learnings from Mobile Growth Bangalore Meetup


If you’re a beginner to the world of mobile apps, you may be looking for someone to guide you. Developing an app and getting it out on the app store is only the start of a long journey. Many questions will hound you from the start. Why are so few users downloading my app? Why do many users stop using the app within a few days? Why are users not making purchases via the app? Why are users not using the app as often as expected?

Obviously, all these questions cannot be investigated at the same time. Where exactly should you focus your efforts and budget? How should the issues be prioritized? Is it a matter for developers, digital marketeers, product managers or customer support staff? Wouldn’t it be nice if there’s a community of mobile developers to share and exchange best practices? That’s exactly what Mobile Growth provides.

Mobile Growth is a community of over 25,000 members who meet and discuss via 56 meetup groups worldwide. Founded in 2014, it’s an initiative of Branch, a company that enables mobile conversion and retention. Last evening I had the chance to attend one of their meetups in Bangalore. Speakers from Swiggy, Ola Cabs, Rentomojo and Flipkart were part of the panel. While many things were discussed, I can summarize the event with three points that stood out for me.

Ask if You’ve Built the Right Product

This may sound like a senseless repeat of what has been heard and overheard countless times at startup events and tech gatherings. The fact is that many developers still end up creating apps that no one wants. Even if you have identified the problem you’re trying to solve, perhaps your perspective of the problem is wrong. Consider framing the problem differently. Talk to potential user groups. Release a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Get feedback. Get a sense of the market. The idea is to get to the root of the problem, not just how you perceive it from the outside.

Product managers talk about product-market fit. Perhaps the product is right for some market segments (rural, teenagers, Hindi-speaking) and not right for other market segments (urban, professionals, English-speaking middle class). Precise articulation of the problem and user testing with an MVP can help in figuring out the product-market fit.

Some go to the extent of claiming that marketing is really to give sales a boost because “a good product will sell itself.” Not everyone will agree with this, particularly when today’s app stores have millions of apps and choice is near-unlimited. Moreover, organic growth is slow at infancy and will pick up only when the network effects kick in. There’s however some truth in it. A badly designed product will not last no matter how much effort is put into marketing it.

Retention is More Important than Acquisition

You need to start talking about growth only after product-market fit has been ascertained. Growth itself is a word that cannot be accurately defined. Growth to Swiggy may be number of active orders per month. For Rentomojo, it may be total value of orders per quarter. For Flipkart, the number of repeat purchases per user per quarter. The fact is that what growth metric to use depends on the vertical or even the product you are selling.

What’s becoming clear is that growth metrics that once reigned high are losing their sheen. You should not be looking at number of downloads or installs. You should be looking at repeat visits and user engagement on the platform. The app has only a few minutes to make an impact. User’s attention is at a premium. What’s the magic moment? When the user has a need, does she turn to your app to meet that need? That’s retention.

A detailed article by Gabor Papp points out that the AARRR funnel is giving way to RARRA (Retention, Activation, Referral, Revenue, Acquisition). Note that acquisition that was once so important now comes last.

Someone pointed out that not many Indian companies offer loyalty programs even when they recognize that retention is important. Loyalty programs are not yet proven in the Indian market. There will be those who misuse them. When margins are already thin, it’s tough to launch such programs. Programs that entice new users will also benefit users who are already loyal, which implies an overall loss of profits. Perhaps the best solution then is to look at the numbers and take a call on a case-by-case basis.

Balance Daily Operations and Long-term Strategy

What does it mean to say “look at the numbers?” It simply means that today decision making is data driven. Experience can take you only so far. Stakeholders will ask for data and you need to back your claims with data. For Swiggy, data may show that app is working well in North Bangalore but failing to retain customers in East Bangalore. For Flipkart, data may show that having only a mobile app route may be bad for business: they may do better with a Progressive Web App (PWA) for easier acquisition.

Data leads to hypothesis but experiments have to be made. Such experiments will give more data to either validate or denounce the hypothesis. Product changes cannot be made on a hunch. More and more companies are adopting data-driven decision making and scientific methodologies. For example, if someone suggests to add AR/VR or voice interfaces to the product, R&D effort must be estimated and ROI has be calculated. Product changes must be analyzed from a UI/UX perspective.

This brings us to the topic of balance. Product managers can get caught up in the daily grind of issues, meetings and customer calls. There has to be time allocated for planning the long-term strategy as well, be it for the next quarter or year. Strategy takes its inputs from goals, technologies, market, competition and so on. Long-term sustainable growth can happen if the right strategy is in place. For example, there’s no point aiming for 3X growth within the next quarter (in terms of acquisition) if retention strategy is not in place or if backend systems are not designed to scale up.

Author: Arvind Padmanabhan

Arvind Padmanabhan

Arvind Padmanabhan graduated from the National University of Singapore with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. With more than fifteen years of experience, he has worked extensively on various wireless technologies including DECT, WCDMA, HSPA, WiMAX and LTE. He is passionate about tech blogging, training and supporting early stage Indian start-ups. He is a founder member of two non-profit community platforms: IEDF and Devopedia. In 2013, he published a book on the history of digital technology:

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