Today our Coupon Policy App is 9 months old and continues to bring passive income month-after-month. What started as a problem, then into a weekend project has grown into an actual product with over 25,000 users.
- Unique downloads to date: 25,000+
- Emails sent: 40 (November), 12 (July)
- Google posts on websites posted during launch week: 346,000
- Cost of gathering and listing coupon policies: $30
- Hours spent developing API: 10 hours
- Hours spent developing the app (version 1): 12 hours
- Hours spent uploading policies: 4 hours
Coupon Policy (iTunes) is a mobile app that allows consumers to quickly reference coupon policies on their phone.
The idea sparked after watching an episode of Extreme Couponing on TLC with family when my sister-in-law mentioned how annoying it was that she had to print store coupon policies when she went shopping because clerks, and often managers, did not know their own store policies.
After validating the idea with a few more friends and family who also shopped with coupons, we went to work. We already had a mobile app platform for rapid development ready to go, so other than creating the interface and modifying a few features to fit the context of the app, all we needed to do is gather the coupon policies into a central database and create an API to access with the app interface.
With the holiday shopping season kick-off (otherwise known as Black Friday) approaching in less than a month, we quickly set a drop dead date. Our goal was to have a soft release then a more official release the weekend before Thanksgiving – when we would reach out to to several popular coupon blogs.
I’m a big fan of utilizing open source software. So we put up a Drupal site to use as a backend so my non-technical partner could start uploading policies in a WYSIWYG editor. We came up with a list of about 100 stores we wanted in the app at launch, outsourced the gathering of the selected coupon policies to India for $30, and my partner started uploading them as fast we received them. In between uploads he also started making a list of the top coupon blogs to reach out to when we were ready to rollout our marketing strategy.
While he was working on the policies, I built a custom API to pull the content from Drupal into the app, allow searching, and clean up the content – all of which were not possible in the built-in RSS feeds.
Next, I moved to creating the actual app interface and functionality. Our goal was to make it as simple as possible so we went with two tabs (“Stores” and “Favorites”), a simple retailer search, and the ability to share the policies via email, Twitter, or Facebook. Using Best Buy’s infamous yellow price tag logo as inspiration, we settled on a yellow color scheme…plus both our wives like the color yellow (which was the actual reason. The truth shall set you free).
Lay-people assume that when you release a mobile app (or a website, whatever) you automatically get lots of downloads, make lots of money, quickly flip the product and retire on the beach of your choice. This is a highly unlikely scenario. As expected when we launched not a whole lot happened. We got a few downloads trickling in but nothing to brag about.
It did, however, give us the ability to get the product in front of real customers, and very quickly they found a couple of bugs that we didn’t. While I worked on ironing the bugs out, my partner started planting seeds with the coupon blogs we had prioritized. Once I pushed the fixes out, I joined him by emailing our list of blogs. Our message to the blogs was not a sales letter nor was it the same for each blog. We tried to cater to each publisher and relate it with the focus of the individual website, or even an article we might have read on their blog. That being said, we used the same call to action in each email which basically stated: “We’ve created an app for referencing coupon policies. Do you think your users might be interested?” and “We are running a special the weekend before Thanksgiving so people can make use of it in time for the holiday shopping season.” We also used up most of our free promo app download codes that Apple so graciously gives to their developers.
Notice how both statements above cater to the website owner and their readers? We didn’t just say “hey look at this cool thing we did, feature it on your homepage for us!” Likewise, while reaching out to each website, we didn’t just give them false flattery either. Everything we said or complemented them on was true: ”We like your design” or “this article was really useful the other day.”
The (Actual) Launch
Up until then we had only received replies from a handful of blogs; maybe 5 or 6 out of 50. Even so, most of those wanted some “cut of the action” or “exclusives”, both of which we explained that we couldn’t do because “Apple and Google already take 30%” and “that we can’t track downloads from a specific source right now.” So we didn’t really know what to expect. The first day of app discount came and not much happened. I signed off, had dinner with my wife and went to bed.
When I woke in the morning I did a couple of odds and ends then opened my email as I normally do. The first page of my inbox was full with feedback from the app. Page 2 – full. Page 3, 4, 5, and 6 all full. I immediately logged into my Apple iTunes Connect account to check my stats. Dammit! I’m on the east coast and Apple doesn’t update the numbers until 10 or 11am EST. So I called my partner and asked him if he had checked his email. He said no but that he had to turn off his cell phone in the middle of the night because it kept beeping. I told him what had happened and that I didn’t yet know how many downloads we got but I received close to 300 emails from app users in 8 hours.
I checked iTunes Connect a few more times that morning with little luck but when I finally saw our download metrics I must have been smiling from ear to ear.
I called my partner and told him the number. 12,963 downloads. He said “so thirteen-HUNDRED downloads isn’t bad.” I said “no, thirteen-THOUSAND. Add another zero.”
- Few more iterations
- Slight redesign
- Adding more coupon policies
- Updating existing polices that have changed
- meetings with a few major coupon and marketing companies
- much requested offline mode (and cached mode for faster loading)
Being a web developer by trade I have “built” lots of things. However, it is amazing the power of building something that actually solves a problem. So many times people get stuck on the “idea” instead of the “problem” and subsequently first build a solution, then try to find a problem that it would solve.
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