Alfread’s first sale while still in private beta. Learning where users come from. February’21 Update

Fedor Shkliarau
5 min readMar 1, 2021

This article is a monthly update about Alfread. It’s an iOS app that helps actually read saved articles. Or skip them. Previous updates can be found here.

Every time when a new update is due, I realize how quickly months go by. Usually, I have a short note with key events for the monthly update so I don’t forget anything but this month I didn’t do it.

So, let’s see what I can remember.

Progress

  1. First sale 💰💰💰

I didn’t think it was gonna happen sooner than we release Alfread to the App Store but it did!

iOS apps take time to build but they are very restrictive with monetization. Unlike web/Mac apps when you can start charging before you’ve built anything and slowly figure out your pricing.

But nevertheless, it was very exciting to receive an email from someone who wanted to pay us in order to get into the beta.

Since it was the first time someone suggested it, we offered to pay us what they wanted via PayPal. Boom! First sale. Felt good.

Of course, we offered a refund if the person isn’t happy with the app. But luckily they are, 3 weeks since starting using the app, so we get to keep our first revenue.

First sale came:
• 17 months since the first idea
• 10 months since the first prototype
• 8 months since the first build

2. First survey

If you’ve read any of the previous updates, you could notice me talking about feedback a lot. How to best ask for it in particular.

I was never a fan of surveys, to be honest. They always felt like too much work. But after asking in the MegaMaker community about how to request feedback, surveys didn’t seem like a bad idea.

In my mind, replying to an email with questions was easier than doing a survey. Great people of MegaMaker suggested otherwise.

So, I crafted a survey with 8 questions asking things like how happy are the users with Alfread, what could be better, etc.

And surprisingly, 5% of people that opened the email, actually completed the survey! It was a great discovery since it showed a much better result than asking for feedback in an email directly.

The feedback was super helpful and showed us the things we are doing well and not so much.

For example, bad parsing was a big complaint. Right now, we are relying on a third-party service to do that for us (to extract text, pictures, and tags from articles) but it’s not particularly amazing. A lot of links just couldn’t get parsed properly.

Unparsed links led to this “beautiful” alert:

Simply, not the best experience.

What we were able to change quickly with the feedback is to open a web view with that link directly in Alfread. It works even for YouTube links even though we don’t recommend saving videos to read later apps but it’s a whole different story.

In parallel, we were spamming the third-party parsing service with all the unparsed links, so they could improve it.

It was quite a detour, considering that this part was supposed to be about the survey. But it was an example of how feedback helped us prioritize and fix the part that hurt the most.

3. Shipped: web view and better notifications

The web view is covered above and another big part of the feedback was notifications. For us, notifications are a big part of the product. We don’t want them to be annoying or anxiety-inducing but helpful.

If the user wouldn’t open the app for a couple of days, Alfread would remind them of the same article every day. Less than optimal.

Sounds like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” which in our case, would lead users to ignore the notifications and the app altogether.

So in the recent update, we improved them dramatically. I don’t want to talk about how exactly to not spoil the surprise for the users ;)

Learnings

  1. Sending invites right away

The private beta approach for us been somewhat successful. It has allowed us to slowly onboard users, catch bugs, talk to people, etc. All without being overwhelmed.

You see, at the moment it’s a side project for us, so we can’t move, ship, reply as fast as some other teams for whom it’s a full-time job.

Alfread is kind of a full-time job on top of regular full-time jobs.

But anyway. In November’s update, I talked about an additional conversion from a signed-up email address into an actual user.

I’ve adjusted this approach slightly: we still invite people in batches but if I happen to mention Alfread to someone on the web, and they would sign up, I’d try to invite them right away. It allows us to build better relationships with our users and to receive more feedback than just “cold inviting” even with a welcome email. (Well, for us the welcome email is asking what made them sign up for Alfread).

2. How did you hear about Alfread?

This one seems obvious but we just started doing it. Better late than never.

So, as I mentioned above, 1–2 days before sending the invites, we would send an email to those people asking what made them sign up for Alfread. This way we learn more about current workflows and why they’re excited about trying the app.

In the last email, we added another question:

How did you hear about Alfread?

The answers surprised me. I always assumed the main acquisition channel but replies showed me how different it was from the truth. Also, helps us understand what (already working) channels to focus on more.

👀

Here’s a Screen Time screenshot of one of the most active Alfread users (not us):

Hard to describe how (pardon me in advance) fucking exciting that is to see! (I also wish my Screen Time was that short overall)

That’s it for February, see you in a month!

P.S. If you’re finding these updates valuable, consider following Alfread on Twitter for more. We have memes (and it’s our official growth strategy). (Maybe). (Who knows):

https://twitter.com/shkliarau/status/1360150746113712132

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Fedor Shkliarau

I help businesses design high quality digital products. Ex @ajsmartdesign @pandadoc. Working on something that gets people to actually read saved articles.