What does it take to reinvent email?

How Readdle made an entirely new email experience, that is completely familiar.

We live in the era of self-driving cars, rockets flying to Mars and AI. Many of us live in our email inbox, and the experience that we have there is really out of date. That is why, 2 years ago, we decided to change that and built Spark.

Spark for iPhone was launched last year and it was named by Apple as one of the of “App Store Best of 2015” apps with over one million people downloading it. Spark for Mac came out just a few hours ago and has already elevated the Mac email experience to an entirely new level for many people across the globe.

We are not done yet and have many great things coming soon but today I want to tell you the story of how Spark came to be.

The Why

My own experience with email was bad. Hundreds of people I know felt the same. An unruly and overwhelmed inbox that takes too much time to handle, especially if you manage a few accounts. Hundreds of emails per day have to be sorted, answered or trashed. Everything was too cluttered, not robust enough and had to be changed.

After building other products — including Scanner Pro, PDF Expert and Documents — that are downloaded by 50 million people worldwide, we challenged ourselves to push the boundaries and to solve a problem as big as email. That’s why, when, in 2014, Alex Tyagulsky (our co-founder) came to us and said: “ I know how to fix email!”, we said “Finally!”

The Challenge

Without a doubt, this was the most challenging product we’ve ever worked on. But, it allowed us to grow so much at the same time.

Email is an incredibly hard problem to solve: both technologically and from the user experience perspective. There have been so many companies who tried and failed, got acquired or never shipped their product. Yet, it was this challenge that we accepted.

Me and Alex flew to San Francisco during WWDC ’14 to interview over 60 people on how they use email. We were shocked! Almost everyone worked with email in a different way. How do you create a product for such a broad audience? Moreover, when we were saying that “we want to fix email” to Bay Area “influentials” , they just laughed at us, saying “yeah right, good luck”.

That was hard to hear, but gave us even more motivation to prove that we can do it!

What problem did we solve and for who?

When we talked with people at WWDC, we tried to understand the main issues they have with email. Because, once you know what’s broken , you can come up with a solution.

The main problem we identified was massive overload with email. Moreover, people didn’t always know what was important and required immediate action, and what can be done later. That’s why we had to create a way for people to see important things first, filter out the noise and provide tools to quickly act on both.

So, if you receive 30 or more emails per day, you should know two things . First, there are more than 100 million other people who have the same problem as you and second, we made Spark to help you.

Fixing an overwhelmed inbox

Out of every 200 emails arriving in your inbox, your attention is required towards maybe 15 of those. There’s too much noise.

Spark is intelligent enough to bubble new emails from real people to the top, and the rest are sorted into “Notifications” and “Newsletters” cards. Now, just glancing at your inbox gives you a pretty good idea of what’s important. At the same time, it’s now super easy to batch archive those newsletters you never read. Then, pin or snooze a few emails to get to them when the time is right, and you have an empty inbox.

Once I showed this to a friend he was like: “ Oh wow, I just trashed 1,900 notifications in a second and finally my inbox is empty”.

Here are some other things that we took care of:

  • natural language search
  • smart notifications that only appear when you get an important email
  • customization of swipes, number of emails in each card, etc.
  • integrations with 3rd-party services
  • actionable event invites
  • and much more

Also, we spent A LOT of time figuring out how an email should look to create a slick experience and be easy to read. We transform long email conversations with quotes, forwards and other junk into clean, readable messages that you can consume in an instant. Trust me, it was really hard.

Small details like this won’t make or break your product, but they make a real difference in how people feel when they use it. Of course, in many cases you have to choose between making a product useful or pretty. I think Spark strikes a good balance between being a product that does its job and a product that is visually appealing.

Where is Spark today?

Started as a product codenamed SmartMail more than two years ago, today Spark upgrades your email experience on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac.

Hundreds of thousands people use Spark everyday. All the major technology sites said that Spark is one of the best email clients for iPhone and compared us with solutions from Google and Microsoft.

But that’s just the beginning.

The future of email

Email is not going anywhere .It’s the best way to keep in touch with people outside your company or to update colleagues on some things (sorry, Slack! :).

We believe that the future of email looks bright as it finally starts to catch up with the progress the tech industry made over the last decade. AI, collaboration and assistants are just few keywords you will hear more and more in relation to email in the coming years.

Spark 2.0 is already in the works and it should reinvent the way teams use email. I cannot tell you anymore at this time, but if our vision is right, the chances are that you will be using Spark within your team very soon.

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You can still make $ millions by creating apps on the Mac App Store

Some products make millions of $ just on Mac App Store alone. So can you! Here’s our story.

Exactly a year ago we launched our first Mac app — PDF Expert. It quickly became #1 app on the App Store and won App of the Year Runner-Applater on. For those who don’t know, PDF Expert is a fast, robust and beautiful PDF editor.

PDF Expert in action.

More than 1 million people visited PDF Expert site, 150K trials were downloaded and over 50K units sold.

The journey

Over 5 million people were using PDF Expert on their iPhones and iPads, so having a Mac version for consistent user experience was a good idea. Moreover, we’ve looked around and realized that all PDF apps/ services on Mac are outdated and poorly designed from user experience perspective. So we thought “Hey, we are the guys who can absolutely nail it and create the best in class product in this category”. We’ve already done that with Scanner Pro, Spark other Readdle apps.

That’s why PDF Expert for Mac was born. We are extremely happy that we managed to build the best product on the platform. That is why it became #1 App on the Mac App Store and won all the awards.

Competition is good

More people and companies go paperless, fully relying on digital forms of documents. And here comes the PDF as the most popular file format.

Since PDF Expert is a newcomer to the PDF industry on desktop, we’ve had to be super fast adding features others spent years on developing.

Competition and Positioning.

The pace of updates was incredible: 8 major updates with over 30 big features added such as Readdle Transfer, text and image editing, outlines, new reading modes, redaction of sensitive info, better management tools and much more.

The virtue of creating a great product is to make it powerful enough, yet keep it simple and easy to use.

What makes it possible is our direct connection with our customers. We’ve conducted dozens of interviews and surveys, trying to figure out real problems people have. Thanks to you, we can improve our product to solve those problems.

There are many apps working with PDFs, but we entered the space and quickly became a leader in the category. But once you make a great product, create a loop for customers’ feedback and deliver frequent updates based on it — the growth is exponential. Apple editorial team recognition is probably the best proof.

The Mac App Store is not dead

Despite the mobile trend and rumors than Mac apps are dying, I think it is still possible to make millions by creating amazing Mac software. Look at Omni, 1Password, CleanMyMac, and PDF Expert. Yes, there are plenty of free tools, but if you create an amazing product that provides good value for money — people will buy it.

You can still make millions by creating great software for Mac.

The Mac App Store is great because there are fewer apps in there, so it is easier to be a dominant leader in the category. Once you make a great product you have a great chance of being featured by Apple editorial team, because you stand out.

Moreover, if your product supports the latest and greatest features and technologies that Apple provides — you will get even more love. Press was talking the whole week about the apps with Touch Bar support. Apple has even featured the early adopters of that technology.

Adopt technologies quickly.

Being “the best in class”

Our goal was always to make the best in class product in each industry, be it scanning, PDF, calendars or emails. Once you nail that from the product perspective — the rest is just execution. Make sure the product category is big enough so you can hit good revenues.

In our case, PDF Expert provides a great variety of use cases for a wide audience: edit, sign, annotate, read fast, extract and manage PDFs, fill out forms and much more! More people and companies go paperless, fully relying on digital forms of documents. And here comes the PDF as the most popular file format. Once you become the best PDF editor on the platform — the growth is exponential.

The Future

So what’s next?

We are dedicated to make PDF Expert the best solution for work with PDFs. It will evolve into a cross-platform product that provides the best experience for every user.

If we are talking about short term we are excited to add vital and innovative features. Here’s the roadmap that we can share:

  • PDF file size reduction
  • Split view mode for two files
  • OCR
  • Page numbering
  • Touch bar support

Hopefully Apple will bring more love to Mac App Store, by adding analytics and other things we already have on the iOS App Store.

I’ll be happy to hear your comments and thoughts.

How to make Web Summit Work for a Startup

We have been exhibiting at Web Summit for the last three years. This conference has grown so large, that some attendees feel lost and overwhelmed. After three crazy days here in Lisbon, I have come up with a good, manageable plan for the next year.

I am happy to share these tips, and hopefully, you will find most of them useful for next year’s meeting!

Set your goals

Every conference takes a lot of work, time and money. You must be very clear about what your goals are and what are you looking for at the conference.

If you write them down, they will become much more certain, and you will find a way to attain them.

Web Summit brings 50,000 people together. So you can find practically anyone you might need: press, investors, founders, potential partners, etc.

The main goals for us this year were:

  • Discover customers (making sure Spark 2.0 will solve real problems that users have)
  • Find the messaging that works best
  • Catch up with the people that we already know (press, other founders, investors)
  • Look at trends and where industry is going
  • Let the team talk to potential customers

Set up meetings in advance

Once you know your goals, it will become much easier to decide which people you need to talk to. Seek those people with similar interests and research who’s going to be there that could assist you..

Web Summit app is surprisingly good making it easier to find and message people. Make sure you will be useful to the people you contact too. Don’t just ask for something; think about what you can give.

It’s all about building relationships at the conference. The business part of it will follow.

Try to get into “START”

START package elevates you to a bigger league. You will have a good booth, tickets for four people and more credibility. Moreover, you will have access to a few Speakers’ dinners where you can meet a lot of speakers, investors and press.

I have observed that startup naming confuses people. Alpha (the startups in the very early stages) are often perceived as the ones with traction since people sometimes associate “alpha” with “dominance.” At the same time, I’ve been asked several times, “Oh, are you guys just starting your company?” when they see START on my badge.

Bring at least four people

We had a team of five people there this time, and it worked well. At any given time, there were three team members at the booth while two others were walking around, looking for interesting stuff.

Have we had brought eight people, all of them could have been busy talking to potential customers all day. Bear in mind, one proactive team member can effectively talk to 50–60 people per day. Next year I will bring at least six or seven people.

Exhibit for two days

If you buy tickets, getting a booth for two days will be much better. You will be able to talk to more potential customers and get more feedback and advice. You never know who might wander up to your booth. The President of Portugal was casually talking to startups.

Days 1 and 2 are the best ones to exhibit.

A lot of people leave on the third day or are just tired from a Night Summit.

Be proactive and approach people

Having a booth doesn’t mean people will stop to chat with you! They often feel lost and pass by.

Make a very short and eye-catching sign for your stand. I find it impossible to read all those long descriptions, that give me no idea what you do.

“Hey! How’s it gong?” is a good way to start a conversation, followed by a smile to send a good vibe. Or ask a person what he/she does rather than start pitching your product immediately.

Be positive, approachable and genuine. And don’t forget to smile! It’s really important.

Apply for a Pitch competition

Surprisingly, there were a LOT of people attending the speeches and the PITCH competition. Our SPARK 2.0 for teams is not ready for a prime time; so I didn’t apply to pitch. However, it’s a great opportunity to tell 300 to 500 people about your product and get feedback at one sitting.

WIN the pitch competition! That’s the only attitude you should have when you apply. The art of pitching is complex and requires a lot of training, but you are there to win. Go for it!

Become a Speaker or Media Participant

You have no idea how different the conference will feel once you are a speaker. Suddenly it’s easier to talk to anyone, you have more credibility, and better access to all the other speakers, lounges and events.

If you have an unusual story, you should share it!.

Try to get into chat groups

One last tip: There are people who organize group chats on messenger to coordinate activities after the official sessions. There are often cool people in those; so try to get into one, or create one.

Overall, Web Summit is a great conference that brings a lot of people together and provides wonderful opportunities.

As is so often true in life, it’s completely up to you what you get out of it.

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ditch Mac App Store

In the past few years, there has been a steadily increasing stream of indie developers leaving the Mac App Store for reasons like this, or like this.

I  believe that developers are able to make good extra revenue on the Mac App Store, as opposed to distributing apps via the web site alone.

After eight long years of being a mobile only (iOS only to be precise), we made a move towards Mac and launched PDF Expert for Mac last November. This detailed post tells a lot about the development, marketing and how PDF Expert became #1 app on the Mac App Store, selling over 1000 copies per day.

Unfortunately, that didn’t continue since our promo channels produced short time gains, and Apple’s Editorial Choice  did not last long.

Last week, we’ve launched PDF Expert 2. This app allows advanced PDF text/ image/ link editing and many more features. The Apple team once again featured our app which helped us  climb to the Top 5 Grossing Apps on the App Store.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 12.13.28

Why you should consider selling your app on the Mac App Store:

1. The Mac App Store is not tiny.

Although Mac software today is not as hot as mobile, I personally know companies that make tens of millions of dollars a year, selling Mac software. Based on the numbers we’ve seen with PDF Expert 2: if you manage to get to #5 To Grossing spot,your app will be making $10K a day.

Some people think that it is $3.6 million a year, but the in reality it’s hard to stay at the top of the charts when the featuring is gone and the hype dies down. Moreover, to create a great product you can easily spend $300-500K. You don’t need a calculator to compute this!.

2. The Mac Store is an extra channel of exposure.

I think of the Mac App Store as an extra channel for marketing that you can use to your advantage. I’ll bet that there are some people who would never see your product otherwise. 

If you make a good product, the chances of being featured by Apple are pretty high.  That leads to more eyes on your app. Make sure you nail the ASO (metadata, app name, keywords, screenshots).


3. Apple aims to improve the Mac Store.

It is rumored that Phil Schiller, who is  known to be in charge of the App Stores, will give much more love to the Mac App Store. I honestly hope this will happen sooner than later, since we’ve already witnessed some improvements of the iOS store.

I’d love to see the analytics of the product page to measure the effectiveness of the name, screenshots and the metadata. iOS App Store has it now and I can’t wait to see on its Mac counterpart.


4. The Mac Store has less competition.

Since it’s more difficult to create a great Mac app, and the trend has been to abandon the Mac App Store, there’s less competition there! If you manage to create a great product that you know people will love, you can be a stand out there.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 23.04.18

The entry barrier to be in the top charts is much lower too (compared to the iOS App Store) – 500 copies per day will most likely grant you a top position there. Take advantage of it!

5. Users Trust the Apple brand.

We see a lot of people downloading a free trial from pdfexpert.com and then buying it from the Mac App Store. People trust Apple and their infrastructure. Don’t lose those cautious people who for some reason don’t want to install your apps from the website. 

I hope that Mac App Store use will increase and become cool once again. Developers create great products and Apple can provide great discoverability tools  In the end, users will benefit and rejoice in downloading high-quality software.

PDF Expert is App of the Year and Spark is in the list of “Best of 2015”

Our PDF Expert is “App of the Year” and Spark is “Best of 2015” by Apple

I woke to amazing news yesterday!

Our first ever Mac app — PDF Expert won “App of the Year Runner-Up” on the Mac App Store! It’s the most prestigious award we’ve got to date!

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 17.33.14.pngPDF Expert is App of the Year 2015.

I want to thank the whole Readdle team who made it possible! Every single person, be it a designer, or a customer happiness officer, or a developer contributed to this big award.

I also wrote a detailed blog post on how we managed to get to #1 Paid App worldwide during the launch.

But wait, there is more! Our famous email client Spark made it to the list of “Best of the App Store 2015”, also by Apple! I was in awe!Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 15.59.45.png

A successful PR campaign a few days earlier made it very popular. It was actually one of the best reactive campaigns I’ve ever done.

Lessons learned:

  • It often takes much more than a great product to become “App of the Year”
  • You have to build a product that will resonate with tech community
  • Awards and inclusions in top lists can easily double your sales
  • It’s important to be able to react fast when the opportunity comes

I just wanted to say thank you who made this possible!

Mailbox, Evolution of Email and Spark

Today, Dropbox officially announced what many have been suspecting for some time — Mailbox, the first email app that truly tried to reinvent email, will be discontinued. Moreover, it will be shut down just two months from now on February 26th.

This is a very sad, even while anticipated, turn of events. Mailbox was a rare example of great product design. It had a true Apple-like approach: the Mailbox team took a very complex problem (email), stripped it down to the smallest bits, and then reconstructed it as a simple yet very powerful solution.

Email snoozing, short and long swipes on email, gradual rollout with the queue to join the app users — all of these things were pioneered by Mailbox. As developers of an email application ourselves, we are among the few who can really appreciate how many very complex product design problems the Mailbox team had to solve along the way. And as the appreciation of their skill, almost every modern email app learned something from Mailbox, including Inbox by Gmail, Microsoft Outlook and Spark by Readdle.

Only a truly amazing team could have done something like this, so it’s no wonder that they were bought by Dropbox only 37 days after Mailbox’s public release.

Building the future of email is hard.

But why did this happen? How can an email app with such a great team, one backed by a hugely successful company, ultimately fail?

The answer is simple — building the future of email is extremely difficult and requires multi-year commitment. After a great first step, which Mailbox certainly was, should come a second step on the road to define how email should be done in the modern, mobile and collaborative world we now live in.

Moreover, 80% of iPhone users are happy with the default Mail app from Apple. Email is a hard sell and the switching cost is often perceived to be high. We are creatures of habit, and it is incredibly hard to change the email workflow of a person.

Email is one of the most used communication and collaboration tools in the world. However, it was invented 50 years ago, long before search engines (Google), social networks (Facebook), messengers (Skype) and collaboration tools (Google Docs) became parts of our daily lives. The rise of mobile has given life to completely new ways to search, connect, communicate andcollaborate with others.

The reason why this is important is clear — these experiences are an integral part of email. If you use email daily:

  • You use email to communicate with people inside and outside your company.
  • Email is the most common tool to collaborate on documents, assign tasks or get reports about progress.
  • There is enormous amount of information in your mailbox and search is the only way to find it.
  • Email is the default tool to connect with people and brands (all these newsletters and automated emails).
  • For many people email is one of the essential instruments in getting things done at work and even at home

That’s why so many people are frustrated by email. Each and every one of these experiences is so outdated in comparison with what‘s possible on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Dropbox, Asana and other modern products.

Also, collaboration isn’t limited to people anymore. Now people expect all the tools they use to “collaborate” with each other. Just look at Slack and how many integrations they have had to build along the way.

With its first release, the Mailbox team succeeded at making email a better tool for getting things done. However, in the time since then, it failed to deliver a better experience everywhere else.

What’s next for Mailbox users? -> Spark.

So if you are Mailbox user, you have just eight weeks to find the replacement for the email app you use and love. But don’t worry too much. There is some great news, because many new things have been invented since the release of Mailbox. I may be biased, but I believe the two best alternatives to Mailbox are Spark by Readdle and Inbox by Gmail.

We’ve spent more than 18 months working on Spark. We wanted to build the best email experience out there and fix what’s broken! So, Spark is a great choice for any Mailbox user.

https://vimeo.com/128969440

 

I. Smart Inbox

One of the consequences of email being so many things to so many people is the enormous amount of incoming emails. The average US professional receives around 100 emails per day. That’s why the first problem we fixed with Spark was to deal with the overwhelming nature of email. Thus, Smart Inbox was born.

Smart Inbox makes you faster.

Smart Inbox rearranges incoming emails in your Inbox to surface unread emails first. Also, it separates emails from people from the less important automated emails and newsletters and groups them by email account. This gives you an at-a-glance overview of what’s inside your inbox, without the risk of missing something important.

II. Email Snoozing

Spark could snooze emails from day one, however our next update will bring it on par with Mailbox both in flexibility and efficiency . You will be able to customize snooze times as well as add new snooze options. Also, you will be able to set an alert to notify you when email goes back to your inbox.

Available in private beta this week, it will be released as a free update on the App Store on Thursday, December 17th.

III. Smart Search.

Search in Mailbox was always “average”. It let you find an email in most cases, but for something more than a simple search, you would go to Gmail on the web.

Just type what you are looking for.

Smart Search in Spark understands the context of email. It can distinguish personal email from automated, it knows about attachments and links and so on. Also, Smart Search understands Natural Language which means you can search by typing “Email from Alex with a PDF file last week” and Spark will show all email from Alex that contain PDF attachments that you got last week.

IV. Integrations.

Save and attach files from any cloud service.

Spark integrates with your favourite cloud services. We support Dropbox, Box, iCloud Drive, OneDrive, Google Drive and Evernote for saving or attaching files and emails. Additionally, you can save links to Pocket, Readability and Instapaper.

V. The Future of Spark

We are committed to making Spark the best email app for iPhone. And soon, we’ll be bringing that same determination to iPad and, later next year, theMac. Being an independent company gives as the unique ability to give you best email experience without tying you to Google, Apple or Microsoft’s ecosystem, unlike other email apps.

The iPad version is coming in a few weeks.
Spark for Mac mock-up.

Spark is completely free and available now on the App Store. Give it a shot and let us know if it’s the perfect email app for you!

We see Spark becoming a platform for the “Future of Work”. We’ll share more information about that, soon.

How To Launch a Mac App and Become #1 Top Paid App Globally

It’s pretty hard to put eight months of your life in a single blog post, but I’ll try to outline the most interesting and crucial facts behind how Readdle created our first Mac app and how it became a #1 top paid on Mac App Store globally.

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#1 Paid App Globally

Readdle is exclusively making great productivity apps for iPhones and iPads. We managed to build a sustainable business with 8 apps (Scanner Pro, Spark, Documents, etc) that are used by 45 million people, got numerous reviews and awards, and even pre-installed on demo devices in Apple Retail stores.

It’s been almost 8 years and now we finally released our first Mac app — PDF Expert. PDF Expert is a fast, robust and beautiful PDF editor.

After All These Years on iOS, Why Go Mac?

Good question. About a year ago, we started the conversation of ‘what’s next?’ What new challenges can we tackle, and what have been our top customer requests?

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Readdle’s first Mac app.

That discussion brought us to the Mac. Here’s why:

  1. PDF Expert grew to the point where we wanted to provide a consistent user experience across iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
  2. Readdle is now in a position where we have enough resources and a good base to launch a Mac app.
  3. Building a sustainable, profitable business around just one platform is getting increasingly harder.

Is It Harder To Develop a Mac App?

Yes.

According to our developers, it’s about three times harder, largely because it requires:
a) More input sources

b) More devices and OS versions to support

c) Mac Core Framework is much older its iOS counterpart

d) Developing two versions of the same app — one for Mac App Store, and one for distribution through our website

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Consistent user experience across platforms.

Although it’s harder to make a desktop app, we wanted to keep Readdle’s core principles: we want our apps to be lightweight and easy to use from the first glance, yet powerful enough to solve most use case scenario for users.

Using our core principles for design and user experience helped us to build a product that stands out. But it wasn’t easy.

Competition

Many people told me that it doesn’t make sense to build a product that already has some decent alternatives. But honestly, I like competition. Healthy competition indicates that there is a good addressable market out there. Having a superior product that does things better and is differentiated enough can lead to a successful and sustainable business.

Thanks to our research and preparation, we were able to position PDF Expert for Mac really well. It steps in where Apple Preview is too basic and Adobe Acrobat is too cumbersome. With PDF Expert, people can actually do their PDF work much faster and easier, including reading, annotating, form filling, and signing documents.

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The power of positioning.

But we didn’t just build for 1.0. We are already working towards the next destinations on our roadmap for PDF Expert, which includes more PDF editing tools, OCR, conversion to other formats, and much more. Once again, having a superior product is the key to a successful launch and marketing.

Distribution: Mac App Store vs Web Site

When the app was 90 percent ready, we had to decide which distribution channel to choose: Mac App Store or our site.

If you’d like to see our research and thought process, here’s a quick comparison table for Mac App Store vs site distribution.

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Mac App Store vs Site

After we weighted all of this, we decided to use both distribution channels, even with the higher overhead. So now we have to continuously support two separate versions of PDF Expert for Mac.

Ultimately, it proved to be a great decision. I’ll tell you why in a bit.

The Business Model

It was crucial to pick the right business model for PDF Expert. Since we are a privately owned company and never raised any capital, we have to make profit in order to developer great software — an expensive endeavor these days.

Consider these realities of the current software space: people don’t like subscriptions unless you give them a very good reason to subscribe, and productivity software rarely succeeds with freemium business models. At least for now, the choice was clear.

We decided to go with a paid upfront business model because it’s already working for us on iOS, and Mac seems to be a good fit for it as well. PDF Expert is available at an introductory price of $19.99, but that will rise in the near future to $60–70 once we add PDF editing and OCR.

The Hard Choice of a Trial

It’s hard to convince a person to spend $5 on software, how do we do that for $70?
Trial!

All the major players on Mac provide trials. But how do you pick the best trial terms that both convert people into paying users and demonstrate the ultimate value of the product?

I can make an entirely separate blog post about trials, but to keep it short for now: we decided on a time limited trial with full functionality. However, watermarks will be added soon.

Giving full functionality with a limited time window won’t convert users who are coming to do one-time task (say, fill out a tax form). Since they have completed that task there is no reason to pay for the product. And we know, that it’s better to ask for money when the need is high and the maximal perception of value is at its peak.

Since this is the very first version, I wanted to get the full version into customers hands for a full seven days. We may have gained millions of customers on iOS over the years, but remember that this is the big version 1.0 debut of our first Mac app. We need to test the waters and give customers the best opportunity for feedback.

Surprisingly enough, the conversion from trial to paid is about 20%, though it’s worth pointing out these are highly motivated users who know Readdle and probably use PDF Expert on their iOS devices.

Launch Preparation

So I had PDF Expert for Mac ready, and now it’s time to prepare for a big launch. But where do I start, and how do I launch on a completely new platform?

Research

It was crucial to see what other people are doing in this market. So I spent a decent amount of time learning and analyzing how people do business. A quick analysis of Clean My Mac, Waltr, 1Password, Fantastical, and other major players set the right narrative towards the next actions.

Backend and Licensing

Now, the App Store is a great distributional tool, but it’s also a great platform that empowers developers to focus only on making great products. I came to realise how powerful this is once I had to design and code the backend for our app to be distributed outside the App Store.

There were a few new challenges that Readdle has never had to deal with:

  • Distribution — hosting and bandwidth for an app that we have high hopes to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of customers
  • An update mechanism for easy delivering new versions to all existing customers
  • A licensing and activation framework
  • Payment processing
  • Security

Dealing with all this can be its own blog post as well. But for another short summary for now, we ended up using a combination of tools: DevMate for activation workflow and security, Fast Spring for payments, and our own system for distribution and updates.

Once I had the backend ready, I could design the process for how to put this all together.

9 Marketing Steps

Of course, if an app is released but no one is told about it, was it ever really released? This is when we started preparing the marketing.

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Schemes help.

Some of my friends call me “the launch guy”, and I believe they do it for the reason.

Let me share my secrets with you.

1. Figure Out Positioning

It’s vital for every business to position itself right and to establish a strong brand. Fortunately, with PDF Expert for Mac, we had a clear product vision from the start, so this task was fairly easy this time around — it’s a fast, robust, and beautiful PDF reader for Mac. It fits where Preview is too basic and Adobe Acrobat is too complicated and expensive.

Defining your core audience might be hard sometimes, but another advantage we had in this case is the hundreds of thousands of customers who already use PDF Expert for iOS. These are people who want a better user experience and advanced functionality.

2. Craft a Great Pitch

Once you solidify the position of your product, it’s much easier to create a compelling pitch that should resonate with its intended audience and media. This topic is outside the scope of my post, but there are many articles on how to make a great pitch. I personally recommend “Pitch Perfect” by my friend Steve Sande and Erica Sadun.

3. You Need a Video

People are lazy. Or at least, a lot of them are.

Watching 51 seconds and understanding the concept is much easier than reading a webpage or article, no matter how great they are. That’s why I strongly recommend shooting a professional video for your product launch. It should be simple, short, stylish, and engaging. Don’t forget about call to action at the end.

Every product at Readdle has a video. Some of them have over 220K views on Vimeo.
P.S. Let me know if you need a video for your product or app, I’ll get you in touch with professional guys who did this video for me in just 6 days!

4. Effective Site

Just like focus is absolutely necessary when positioning your product, you need it when building your site’s messaging about it.

An effective product site needs these core principles:
  • Simple
  • Stylish
  • Informative
  • Effective — it has to convert visitors into trial users
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Don’t forget about call to action.

This is what we kept in mind when building http://pdfexpert.com, and I think we did a pretty good job.

5. Emails

As I’ve mentioned before, email is an effective, but often overlooked, tool for communicating with your customers. While we are fortunate to have built a pretty good subscriber base over these past eight years, we had to start at zero like everyone else.

I absolutely recommend adding an email signup form on your site or apps for existing and soon-to-be customers, and make it clear what and how often you intend to share. The point is that there are people who want to hear from you and about your products. Newsletters about what’s new and tips for getting more out of your product can do wonders for your company.

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We did not use that Toy Story image :(

There are too many articles on the topic of what and how to write to your audience, so I won’t rehash them here. However, there is one tip I don’t see mentioned often enough: don’t forget to localize all your marketing materials! It’s vital if you are aiming for a bigger reach.

Not only did we do promotional emails when PDF Expert when live, we also send:

  • Informational email — On the 3rd day of a trial, we share some cool tips to keep prospective customers interested and show the value of PDF Expert.
  • Trial Expiration email — This mentions the 7 days trial is about to expire and suggests getting a full version to continue using advanced features.
  • Post-expiration email — This targets all those who didn’t get the full version and offers a one-time, 20% discount code for a lifetime license.
  • iOS emails come when a person asks to try PDF Expert for Mac either on his/hers iOS devices or while browsing pdfexpert.com from an iOS device

I am very careful with email marketing since it’s the most sensitive medium of communication, so it’s important to build trust and be relevant.

6. In-app Correspondence

Being a multi-product company sometimes helps! Since we have millions of users across our various apps, it made sense to cross-promote PDF Expert for Mac within our other apps by showing a friendly, informative message about it.

What’s interesting is that those banners were shown on iOS devices, so people were going to our web site. Since PDF Expert for Mac is a desktop app we had to come up with a smart way for the next action.

That is why, when you visit pdfexpert.com from your mobile device and click on “Get a Free Trial”, a pop-up asks you to leave your email. Once you do that, you will get an email with more info, video and a download link that you can use when you are back to your desktop.

Don’t forget to A/B test!

A/B testing — the practice of trying variations of content to see which performs best — can double your results. I highly recommend it, and as an example, I came up with two different versions for our email. Guess which one performed better.

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A/B testing gave me 20K extra clicks.

The dark one was 80% better, which generated 20,000 more clicks. Not bad, hey?

7. Apple Editorial

Apple is being very helpful these days, and they want developers to succeed. That is why you really should get in touch with  App Store Business Management team and keep them updated on what you’re building and when you’re getting ready for a launch.

I wrote an article on how to get featured by Apple, and those points are still relevant today. If you do it right , working with Apple can do wonders for your product. Of course, you can’t avoid the most important detail of all: make a great product that people will love.

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PDF Expert is Editor’s Choice on MAS.

This time, we were chosen as Editor’s Choice on Mac App Store. As you’ve heard plenty of times elsewhere, this gave PDF Expert a lot of traffic and downloads.

8. iOS Free App of The Week

PDF Expert for iOS regularly costs $9.99 on the App Store, and it is the most robust editor on the platform. Apple has long wanted to feature it on Free App of the Week, so I thought this Mac launch would be a good time to do it. There are two reasons for that:

* We would gain millions of new users.
* We can sell the Mac version to those users.

Apple wound up picking PDF Expert as Free App of The Week at the very same time when the Mac version went live. This is what I mean by communicating with your Apple App Store staff.

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Over 3.8 million installs in 7 days for iOS version.

We got 3,800,000 new users of PDF Expert on iOS in just a week, which means we got 3,800,000 chances to recommend PDF Expert for Mac to new customers.

I will make a separate blog post to delve further into when and how Free App of The Week can make sense for developers, even though we lost money for that week.

9. Talk to The Press

The best way to get covered by media is to make a product that they like and use themselves. Assuming you’ve done that and built good information resources, a video, and ultimately a great pitch, be sure to send your pitch and, to an extent, hope for the best.

Once you find the right media outlets and people to send your pitch, make yourself available. If they like what you’ve built they’ll have questions, and there’s a good chance you’ll need to get back to them the same day, if not the same hour (or sometimes less!). There are many great articles that go more in-depth into how to get your product or company covered by press, and they are still relevant.

In this case, we had excellent press coverage from iMore, 9to5mac, iDownloadblog, MacStories, and other great sites.

Don’t forget to set the exact launch time and date.

Assuming you’re talking to the press a decent amount of time before you launch (and you should), be sure to set a specific launch day and time. Publications usually don’t want to get scooped on something new, but you also don’t want news of your product going out before it’s ready. This way, you cut down on confusion and customer support issues. Happy press, happy launch.

The Launch Day

At 9 AM EST on Nov 12th, our embargo lifted and the official launch began. Millions of emails were sent. Press articles and banners were activated. Social media buzz and other beautiful aspects made this launch one of the biggest in our history.

Results:

Developers don’t often do this, but I’d love to share some of our launch stats if they can help the community and other developers:

  • #1 Paid App in the Mac App Store
  • 20,000 Free Trial downloads in 5 days
  • PDF Expert for iOS downloaded more than 3,800,000 times
  • Editor’s Choice on Mac App Store
  • 10–15 articles in Press
  • 1000 Retweets from our blog post
  • Great reviews from our users

Lessons Learned

It was one of the most exciting and exhausting periods in my life. Yet, we made it happen and there is a lot to reflect upon:

  • The power of branding — All those users who bought PDF Expert for Mac instantly are familiar Readdle and they are aware of quality of the products that we ship. It’s important to build a loyal and engaged userbase around your business. They are going to be the main driver of initial adoption and sales, your best advocates and marketing. Look at Apple, for an example. How many people queue overnight to get a new shiny product? Well, H&M and Ballmain did something similar a few weeks ago :)
  • Positioning is vital — As I mentioned before, it’s very important to come up with a compelling product offering and position it to the right audience. It could be a niche, or a niche of a niche. Once you make a great product for the core audience, you can expand.
  • Track everything — Don’t forget to track every click. Build funnels and test your hypothesis, further adjust them and optimize results.
  • A/B test! — Once you start tracking everything, be it banners, CTR, or open rates on your emails, you should start endless testing what works/ converts best without compromising users experience!
  • The Mac App Store is bigger than expected — I initially thought that Mac App Store is pretty small, but it’s possible to pull solid revenue just there. #1 position in Top Charts will give you 1000–1200 installs a day in the US alone.

The Future: It’s All About Scale

We are just scratching surface on what’s possible on Mac platform. Overall, I think we ultimately provide great experience to our users across platforms. So what’s next?

Improving PDF Expert

PDF Expert for Mac is already a great product, but our goal is to make it best-in-class. That’s why our PDF team is already working at full throttle on powerful updates that will move our user experience even further ahead. For a glimpse into our roadmap, full PDF text editing and OCR are on the roadmap.

What’s interesting is that we will give these features to all existing users for free, even though the price will go up from $19.99 to $69.99.

Setting a platform for scalable growth

Some companies I know make $5–20 million a year just with 1–2 products on Mac. This means that they’ve done something right. Usually it’s about the product, positioning, and scalable marketing.

To break the approach down in terms of costs: if the lifetime value of one customer is $50, you can spend $30–40 on its scalable acquisition.

Mac is different from iOS because we finally have a bigger Life Time Value, which means that it’s easier to acquire users at scale. Again, it has to be done right. Adwords, the Facebook pixel, retargeting and remarking, great funnels, and conversions are variables that help make the whole equation work. Then there are things like bundles, discounts, and cross promotions which are all great options for driving success.

I hope that you’ve found something valuable here for you or your business. I am sure that there are many people who have spent more time in the Mac industry and have more experience they could share. I would also like to hear your thoughts on Twitter about anything I missed!

Thank you.

Why iFixit Made More Harm Than You Think

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A few days ago Apple removed iFixit app from the App Store and banned their account. The reason for that was the fact that iFixit violated NDA of a pre-release Apple TV kit and published a detailed teardown.

All major media picked up on this topic about “angry” Apple doing the right thing. However, one important point is missing. This issue caused more harm to developers than initially thought.

New Apple

I can’t think of times when Apple was so open and cooperative with developers. They invite to special workshops, they give access to pre-release hardware (like Apple Watch and Apple TV), they put a lot of efforts into building relations with developers worldwide.

We see new Apple that is giving away pre-release version of their hardware.

And you know what? Actually Apple is listening to developers, their feedback and trying to make the App Store a better place to be. The ecosystem should create opportunities for anyone to create a sustainable business around building apps (but it’s harder to do as the ecosystem is now mature).

In Developers They Trust

Do you know why Apple wants developers to be successful? Because, truth be told, they want us to come up with great software and solution that will make it easier to sell iOS devices and also differentiate from Android.

We, at Readdle, always try to implement Apple’s newest hardware technology into our apps. Say, our apps were ready for iOS 9 on day one. Moreover, Spark and Scanner Pro support 3D Touch Quick Actions on the very first day of iPhone 6s launch.

It’s actually quite hard to do without having actual devices for at least a few weeks. Luckily, we have one of the strongest engineering teams in Eastern Europe, so our devs had to come up with a hack.

However, we were not able to make advanced use of 3D Touch technology within the apps, because there was no device. And if we had that, we would let our millions of customers know that our apps support this technology, giving them yet another reason to go and buy Apple devices.

You see where this is going? It’s all connected.

 Early access for hardware leads to better use of software, which in turn leads to higher Apple sales.

Is The Trust Broken?

And once the ice is melting and Apple is starting to give away pre-release hardware there is always someone who’s selfish enough to break this trust.

I really hope that this accident won’t affect Apple’s policy in the long term. I just think there should be a list of proper trusted partners/ developers that Apple previously worked with or the ones who might make difference to the platform.

Also, Apple can ask launch partners and dev teams to come to their secret labs and work there for a few days. This will be beneficial for both developers and security.

There Is Always a Solution

The launch of iPad Pro is right by the corner and Apple really needs strong launch partners to make this platform successful. That is why selecting category leaders and giving them early access to the device, so they can come up with new ways of use and innovative ideas, is important.

iPad Pro is not just a bigger iPad, it’s definitely a new form-factor for a mobile device, that is why it needs special advance software that will make it price-worthy. Products like PDF Expert and the like can actually make it happen. There’s is an ecosystem issue  which has to be solved – yes, it’s about sustainability again.

We are all in a same boat and everyone understands that. So let’s see what happens.