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 Many of us live in our email inbox, and the experience that we have there is really out of date.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!

Final iOS 9 Checklist For Your App

Tomorrow we will witness another great keynote by Apple, where they will release the latest and greatest products. The reports say that we should expect iPhone 6S (also a new Rose Gold color), iPad Pro, Apple TV, iOS 9 and a few more things.

Is your app ready for iOS 9?

Let’s go thought a quick checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

Apple wants to see these iOS 9 features in your apps asap:
– App Search (CoreSpotlight, Web Markup)
– User Activity
– Multitasking (Slide Over, Split View)
– New HealthKit quantity types/ HomeKit
– Metal

If you add these, it’ll improve your chances of being featured on the App Store as iOS 9 compatible apps.

Multi-Tasking is one of the biggest features for productivity apps and where context matters.

-Slide-Over (iPad Air) -it’s like a tall iPhone app design with 320×1024 resolution.

-Split-Screen (iPad Air 2) – more details below.

multitasking-size-classes_2x

-Picture in Picture (iPad Air)

Search is going to be big. It adds this extra layer of contextual knowledge and removes friction. The new Search will include User Activity and Core Spotlight – make sure you’ve added that.

Other iOS 9 features that are nice to have:

  • Open In in Place
  • App Thinning (Slicing is very easy to implement, On-Demand Resources mostly make sense for games or content heavy apps, Bitcode)
  • Coalesced Touches / Predicted Touches
  • New Extensions
  • Web Markup
  • Universal Links
  • Support for Right-to-Left languages

You can find more info about iOS 9 at WWDC 15 talks:

Once you are done with technical part, don’t forget to tell all this to the world.

Educate Your Users.

Your users will be the first people in the world to appreciate all the hard work you’ve done for them in iOS 9 update. So don’t forget to add What’s New description on the App Store App page. I think it’s not enough, so we also added a quick note inside our apps, so every user will be able to see the new features. Moreover, we’re doing a huge email campaign and educating our users why iOS 9 is cool and why split view is such a big deal for productivity apps.

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Let Apple Know.

App Store team should be your best friend and ally. If you don’t know anyone from the App Store global team – you really should hustle and get in touch with them. As soon as you are done with the updates, let them know about each app and what kind of iOS 9 features you’ve added. My guess is that there will be a huge feature on the iOS 9 compatible apps – you really have to be there to get recognition, karma and millions of eyeballs.

Get Press.

Journalists and bloggers who use your products are the best advocates. Once you add useful and shiny features to your apps – they will gladly share this with their readers. So drop a quick note to them and tell them what’s up. If your stuff is cool – you are going to be covered. Also, use your blog and social media to spread the word.

I can add more technical details that are useful for devs (especially on Search and Multitasking) – so feel free to ask.

Did I forget anything ?

PDF Expert 5 is #3 on the App Store. Wonder how many downloads it takes to get there?

People tend to exaggerate when it comes to the top charts of the App Store. We all hear about quadrillion revenues and multi-billion exits. But do you know exactly how much developers earn? That’s why sometimes it’s better not to earn anything. :)

The Mac App Store in super tiny, #8 position in top paid charts with just 94 downloads gives around $450 a day, according to Sam Soffes.

iOS App Store is slightly bigger, but it seems to be the playground for huge titles and freemium monsters. I’m happy to share some numbers from the top paid charts of the App Store.

This week our flagship product – PDF Expert 5 – went on a 50% sale to celebrate Teacher’s Appreciation Week (hosted by Apple) and got into Top 3 Paid iPad apps in the U.S.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 01.53.52

Wonder how many downloads does it take to get there? Only 700-800 downloads will grant you a place in the Top 5 chart for sure. But bear in mind that App Store ranking system is somewhat more complicated than just plain number of downloads, it also takes into account factors like rating, timing, usage, and god knows what else. So if you do the maths and give away 30% Apple cut you’ll see that the revenues are that hefty.

While being #3 Paid App with $4.99 price tag, it only gave us #160 position in Top Grossing chart. Once again we are witnessing the rise of freemium apps and content.

Welcome to the real world.

Never underestimate: A great case how PDF Converter reached the top of the App Store.

Here’s an interesting story how PDF Converter, one of our apps largely underrated by us, got to the top of the App Store worldwide.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 10.51.57

PDF Converter was originally released as an iPad app in 2011. It got quite a good coverage in press and media, with a good feedback from the users. The app itself does what it supposed to do – converts any file into a good looking PDF. (Tip: it’s much easier to market and sell products that do just one thing).

Truth be told, after the launch we never put too much effort into PDF Converter, however we did release a few upgrades with amazing iOS 8 features. There was always something preventing us from making it universal – flagship apps got all the love, huge updates for PDF Expert 5, release of PDF Office and so on. Nevertheless, recently we’ve got our hands on PDF Converter to make it a universal app. The new version had a slightly revamped interface, a few new features, improved stability and, most importantly, it became universal (available for iPhones).

It got a quick approval on iTunes Connect and I was about to hit “Release” button, we didn’t want to make it a “big” release with all the marketing activities at first, because  the campaign for newly released PDF Office was in full swing. However, I decided to wait and release it the week after, so we can prepare for a proper launch.

The marketing campaign for this launch was quite standard: e-mail newsletters to our subscribers, press and media coverage, social networks and blog. I already wrote how to do a great launch. We also decided to do a limited 50% price drop campaign to get more volume, which  helped us to reach the top charts (the regular price is $6.99).

Surprisingly for all of us, the results next day were outstanding! I woke up to check the charts and found that PDF Converter became absolute #1 business app almost in every country on both iPhone and iPad. We sold more than 6,400 copies that day. It was picked up and welcomed by the press all over the world . What’s more, is that our e-mail newsletter did show the best conversion rates. There was a waterfall effect all over.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 13.03.09

Trying to analyze what happened and why, I draw a few important lessons and conclusions.

1. Never underestimate products in your portfolio. Sometimes you are just not doing enough to make some of your apps/ products/ services successful.
2. If you are multi-product company, do not focus solely on your flagships. Sometimes, making 20% of efforts might bring you nice financial return, halo effect and good karma.
3. It is much easier to market “simple products”. While it’s obvious for many of us, sometimes developers struggle to explain what their app does in a few words. Keep it simple. You’ll see the benefits of it right away.
4. Give love to your existing users. They are your best bet while introducing new products. This group of loyal customers will more likely to buy new stuff from your. So work on their retention, suggestions and always listen to their feedback – this is how you earn loyalty. When your release a universal version, notify your existing users that they can get a freebie on their iPhones – they’ll be thrilled.
5. E-mail marketing works! I told this already, but once again, e-mail marketing is more than alive. You just have to be smart about it: localize your e-mails, craft different message for different audiences, send it first thing in the morning for various time zones.
6. Press is still powerful. I love working with press. Get in their shoes and understand what they are looking for. Craft your message accordingly and reach out when it’s time. Press has always been a great channel for us, since we don’t use paid user acquisition (a.k.a. advertising) at all. So press would be your best bet for organic traffic of early adopters. (Tip: make sure you have a great service or product, before showing it to public).
7. iPhone market is much bigger than the iPad one. If you have an iPad only app, consider making it universal. You will be surprised how many more potential customers your’ll reach.
8. Take advantage of bundles. Get additional exposure and up-sales by creating bundles with the existing apps. PDF Converter goes well with PDF Expert 5, so it make total sense to create a PDF bundle, where people can convert files into PDFs in PDF Converter and then edit/ sigh/ annotate them in PDF Expert 5. Tip: this will also increase your chances to be higher in the App Store search results.

This case basically indicates that you should always improve your product and let the world know about it. If it is good – the results will pay off.

**Bonus**: Statistics on the app download numbers.
You know that I like sharing numbers. Here’s the most recent numbers of app downloads you need to reach certain positions of paid app charts in different countries. Numbers with “#” indicate rank in business category, and numbers in “()” show absolute rank in this country.

US #1 (23) – 2919
Canada #1 (16) – 284
Germany #1 (12) – 711
France #1 (10) – 202
Spain #1 (5) – 172
Italy #1 (1) – 328
Brazil #1 (4) – 378
UK #1 (31) – 273
Russia #1 (19) – 187

Interesting, that German market is almost 4 times bigger than in France. At the same time, Spain is twice as small compared to Brazil. Almost 3,000 app downloads will grant you top 20 in the US, while only 330 people have to buy your app in Italy to make it #1.

If you have any comments and questions, I’ll be happy to answer them below.