Interview: Meet Stuart Hall Who Got 2.3 Million App Downloads on a Zero Marketing Budget

Developer Name Stuart Hall
App Name 7 Minute Workout
App Niche Health and Fitness
App Description Workout Coach
iOS/ Android iOS
Country Australia
Year Published 2013
Pricing Freemium
Revenue (per month) 3,000
Total Revenue (in US$) 72,000
Downloads 2,300,000
No. of people 1
Reason for success Picked up a trend, Apple feature
Social Media @stuartkhall

Tell us about yourself and what are you working on?

Stuart Hall App Developer AppBot             7 minute workout app icon

I have been involved in mobile as a developer, blogger, and entrepreneur since the early days of the App Store. I built the 7 Minute Workout app in one night and blogged the story of growing the app to 2.3 million downloads before exiting to a large fitness device company.

Previously I was the co-founder of the Discovr series of applications which achieved over 4 million downloads.

Currently, I am co-founder and CEO of Appbot where we help the world’s best app developers analyze their app reviews at scale.

How did you come up with the idea to build your app?

I wanted to build an app in one night, not tell a single person about it and run some experiments on it to see if I could get it to some level of success. My guess was maybe I could get a few thousand downloads and make a couple of hundred bucks.

For the experiment, I was looking for an idea that I had no domain advantage in at all, so what better for a chair-bound developer than a fitness app.

The 7 Minute Workout was popular in the New York Times and on Hacker News. I jumped on a trend I could see was connecting with people.

What was your strategy for app idea validation? Tell us more about it.

I’m a big believer in releasing early and validating with a product. With the 7 Minute Workout app, I built the initial idea in a night and released it. I got enough early feedback to start iterating until it was a product more and more people wanted to use.

Exclusive Bonus:  Click here to get access to the Full Story PDF of how Stuart Hall managed to get 2.3 million downloads without spending a cent on marketing, with 37 pages of super actionable insights.

How did you go about developing your app? What was your MVP?

I sat down and wrote out the essential things the app needed to do to be useful to me. There were a couple of key goals for the app:

  • Explaining the 12 exercises (I had been digging around in Google, I had no idea what a plank was).
  • Adding a voice prompted timer for when it was time to swap exercises and to tell you and what was up next.

Many other ideas and features ran through my head, including:

  • iPad support.
  • Adjustable durations.
  • Randomise exercises.
  • Adjustable repeats / sets.
  • Log book.
  • Social sharing.

I had about 10 features on paper and scrubbed out 8 because they weren’t absolutely critical.

After 5 hours, I emerged with a couple of screens (dynamically filled with different data) and some text to speech. Here’s how the version 1.0 looked like:

7 minute workout screenshots

7 Minute Workout App v1.0

I’m no designer so there were no graphics, all flat views.

My strategy was to make those couple of features and then get into the user’s hands ASAP.

What went into the publishing of your app on the app store?

After the 5-hour build, another hour (yep I went over) was spent throwing together an icon (again a flat color with the number 7, as my design skills are limited) taking some screenshots and writing up a basic description.

I was amazed that the name “7 Minute Workout” was still available, I assumed there were other apps waiting for review, I was right.

Built and submitted in 6 hours. The wait begins.

What was the initial response to your app?

There were several other 7 Minute Workout apps in the store. So, the aim in the first week was to just let it run without telling anyone and to make no attempt to get press.

I was expecting very little but was surprised to see that it actually sold a few copies with a steady rank.

7 Minute Workout App store rank

App store ranking for 7 Minute Workout app

7 Minute Workout App Store Revenue

App Store Revenue for 7 Minute Workout App

Nothing world changing, but still not bad when relying 100% on people discovering it via the App Store.

Did you get 2.3 million app downloads without spending a cent on marketing? How did that happen?

I never really had a marketing plan. I really like the line from YCombinator “growth is the result of a great product, not the precursor”.

A great product makes people want to stay around and share it with their friends. The best sort of marketing.

But still, people got to try your product first to know that it’s great. So, I tried a couple of things:

  • Added social sharing when a workout was completed (Twitter, Facebook & Email) and a review nag on the third completed workout.
  • Sent emails out to ten of the biggest app review sites with 4 promo codes each.
  • Expanded the market size by adding iPad support.

All of the above efforts didn’t make any significant difference in app downloads.

From Paid to Free

It was time to go free. I’d had some experience with price changes before and knew how effective they could be.

Late one night (I am in Australia), while the US was waking up I set it to free and went to bed. Wow did things get interesting!

I think the chart says it all.

Increase in downloads chart for app

Increase in downloads on going from Paid to Free

Table App Downloads Paid Free

Table showing downloads for app after going from Paid to Free

I was floored. 216,718 downloads in 3 days, an average of 72,000 per day, up from an average of 28 per day at paid, or over 2500x.

It became the #1 fitness iPad app in 68 countries. The #1 fitness iPhone app in 49 countries.

And top 10 overall in 12 countries. It even made top 5 overall in countries like Netherlands.

In the US (where the majority of downloads came from) it made the top 25 overall on iPad.

iPad App store chart US

App reached top 25 in iPad ranking on US app store

Writing a Blog Post

Another thing I did was writing a blog post, covering everything that happened up to this point.

The blog post did reasonably well, almost 20k page views, 220+ Tweets, 50 Facebook shares and number 2 on the front page of Hacker News.

Phenomenal blog post views for 7MW app

Phenomenal blog post views for the 7 Minute Workout app

Social shares for blog post on app story

Great social shares for the blog post

How does your app make money? Can you give some details about revenue growth?

I started with a paid up-front model of 99 cents. I then switched to a freemium approach with multiple in-app purchases. The later was far more successful.

In-App Purchase for 7 Minute Workout app

In-App Purchase for 7 Minute Workout app

After introducing In-App Purchase (IAP), my revenue went 3x from around $22 per day to around $65 per day. The IAP converts at approximate 2–3% of the downloads per day.

Chart for revenue increase after in-app purchase

Revenue went 3x after introducing in-app purchase

One thing that was continuously asked for in reviews from Appbot and from support emails was a workout log. So, I added one as part of the IAP:

This lifted the IAP sales to around $75 per day.

Chart for increase in app revenue after workout log

App revenue increased by 20% adding a workout log

Almost 70% of the profit was from the US.

Then there were other things that had an impact on revenue like:

  1. Apple featuring the app in Australian app store.
  2. New year resolutions are a big positive for fitness apps and during the first half of January revenue quadrupled from $50 to $200 a day.
  3. Adding additional workouts as an IAP helped increase the revenue by 40% from $50 to $70 a day.
  4. Bundling of in-app purchases was a huge success. It gave a 50% spike in revenue from $80 to $120 a day.
  5. Adding HealthKit support and App Preview video helped the app get an Apple feature and produced a bigger spike in revenue than even New Year

Finally, the app was acquired by Wahoo Fitness, a company that produces great app-connected sensors and were featured at the 2014 WWDC Keynote.

Starting May 2013, when I first had an idea for the app to the app acquisition in Nov 2014, it was an incredible journey.

Final Stats

Chart for total app downloads

The app ended up getting 2.3 million app downloads

2.3 million App Downloads!

Chart for total app store revenue

The app made a staggering $72,000 in total profit

$72,000 in Profit!

What’s next for you?

I’m fully focused on Appbot. We have so many exciting features coming soon, many of which have been inspired by this experiment like the new Sentiment Dashboard.

The excitement of an early stage startup, the highs of adding and serving a new paying customer, talking to customers and building what they want is amazing. It’s pretty addictive.

What’s your advice for app disciples who are just starting out?

My advice is don’t get too caught up in the details. Build a simple app, submit it to the store and learn the process.

Unfortunately, too many people learning app development don’t make it that far.

Also, sell your app with a story.  And to get enough traction, sell it to people you have built up a relationship with previously.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can reach out to me on Twitter at @stuartkhall.

To know more about AppBot visit our website.

What tools/books do you find indispensable for your app business?

Appbot of course.

I find Twitter and Medium great places to learn from others. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask others for help.

If you want to know more about storytelling and products read The Fortune Cookie Principle.

Exclusive Bonus:  Click here to get access to the Full Story PDF of how Stuart Hall managed to get 2.3 million downloads without spending a cent on marketing, with 37 pages of super actionable insights.

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