Slopes Diaries #12: Progress Check

Slopes Diaries is my ongoing journey to turn my indie app into a more sustainable part of my business. First time reading? Catch up on the journey so far.

What is Slopes? Think Nike+, Runkeeper, Strava, MapMyRun, etc for skiers and snowboarders.

Slopes 2.0, along with the my business model experiment moving away from a pay to download app to freemium, launched on Nov 10 exactly 4 months ago. With 4 months worth of data available I'm getting a good picture at how the experiment affected my business.

Let's dig in.

Paid Up Front to IAP: Worth It?

TL;DR: I'd say yes. I'm very happy with how the past 4 months have gone.

I've always said freemium isn't for every app, you've gotta find what works for you, but freemium seems to be working well for Slopes. In 4 months Slopes has been downloaded over 50k times. Having a free option that people can just download to poke around, without commitment, has proven very useful as word of mouth is very strong in the winter sports community (as with any hobby). I've heard from many users about how they're getting all their friends to try Slopes, which wasn't nearly as possible as a paid up front app.

Since I'm not selling my user's info, free users don't keep the proverbial lights on, so let's look at revenue.

To date Slopes 2 and its IAPs have earned $13.7k, about $110/day, after Apple's 30% cut. How does that compare to the paid up front days of Slopes 1? This same 4-month period last year saw $5.5k revenue (~$1.5k of that total was thanks to a 4-day sales spike from a nice mention in the tech press). To look at it another way: this season it took me just 3 months to earn what I earned in the entire 12 months leading up to 2.0's launch.

It'd be easy to click-bait say I 3x'd my revenue, but I can't quite make that claim with the data I have. One side effect to this new business model is that I expect my revenue to be even more seasonal than before. The IAPs are tied to usage; Slopes is no longer an app you might pay for in the summer so you can use it this winter, you'll just download it and wait until winter to pay.

I'm hopeful the southern hemisphere will keep some sales going during summer up here. Australia was the third biggest source of revenue when Slopes was paid up front, but I'm keeping my expectations humble for the summer months before I have data from the new business model. I do also expect I'll have much stronger revenue in the Oct - Dec timeframe for 2016 as resorts open up out west. The app's audience has grown a lot over the last 4 months, and I think its new visibility will pay off in the early season with much stronger sales.

I'm estimating I'll see around $20k (post-Apple) total for the one year trailing 2.0's (realistically closer to $25k but I like erring on the side of caution).

Even with a cautious estimate I caused a 100% revenue growth year over year, while also helping sustainability long-term by moving the revenue model to a recurring one.

Some App Metrics

My original napkin math for 2.0 included "if I can just get 1% of my downloaders to become subscribers", but that goal changed a little with 2.1. If you don't remember: originally my 2.0 business model was centered around acquiring yearly subscribers. My one month IAP existed as a trial where you'd lose all premium features if you didn't upgrade. With 2.1, Slopes started following more of a consumable model where buying a one month pass just to cover your big once-a-year trip to Colorado now made sense since the data for that trip wouldn't expire.

A one year pass is still the most compelling option from a pricing standpoint for many users, but this change opened up access to a whole other class of users. Even though I changed things up a bit, I still want to evaluate to that original goal: right now I'm sitting right at 1.1% for free -> yearly conversions, so I barely hit the original 1% goal. But jeez, the popularity of the one month plan took me by surprise and I'm glad I could change things quickly with 2.1 to take advantage of it. Including the one month option, Slopes 2 is seeing a conversion rate of 3.7% from free users to paid users. The one-month option is the most popular representing 62% of the sales (~45% of revenue).

In fact the back half of the season has seen a switch from yearly -> monthly purchases in terms of revenue. I think I would have lost out on a ton of revenue for February onward if I had not made this change, as many people only have a month or so left in their season.

3.7% conversion feels like I have a good initial balance of free vs paid features. I'd like to see that double over time maybe, but I don't think I'd be able to expect much more than that without extreme measures to make the free part basically useless, which I don't want to do.

I didn't get the time this season to really embrace a consumable model. I think there's an opportunity there for a one week plan that'd resonate with many more users than a month does (perhaps replacing the one month plan?). I believe a week offering would drive a lot of conversions, but I have to find the right price to make sure it has a positive impact on revenue too.

One other thing I want to look into next year is regional pricing. I have no idea how to tackle this nicely, but I'm noticing most of my price complaints come from Europe (or maybe they're just more vocal?). For comparison an average US download nets me $0.34, Germany: $0.16, France: $0.10. Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, and UK are closer to the US (at $0.30) but it feels like there might be something either with pricing or culture I should investigate as most of Europe is between Germany and France (not physically, in terms of revenue per download :P ).

Some other miscellaneous metrics worth follow-up: that newsletter signup prompt I added in 2.1? It's seeing a 7.5% opt-in rate, and the list feels pretty engaged even though I hardly know what I'm doing with a mailing list. That "what's new" notification? On days a new major version comes out 13% of my users view the what's new screen with 37% of those coming from the banner. I'm surprised so many people check the "what's new" screen on their own without the banner, honestly.

Where Does This Leave Me?

Since launching 2.0 on Nov 10 I've shipped 2 major updates and 7 minor updates. Dealing with support issues, building features, playing with advertising; I've been focused on Slopes nearly full-time over the season. It's been a lot of work.

$20k a year doesn't let me leave iOS consulting behind, but remember I'm all about having realistic expectations, so I never assumed that my first year with this experiment would enable that. I didn't bet the bank on creating a typical iOS launch-day sales spike followed by a long-tail crash; I'm looking for growth over time that you'd more traditionally see with a SaaS. My goal with this experiment wasn't just revenue, it was sustainable revenue.

What the results of this experiment do enable is to move the needle of time I spend consulting vs working on Slopes more towards Slopes. There have been a few things I'd love to add to Slopes but they'd cost me thousands of dollars a year, and I can now entertain those ideas with confidence I can afford them.

Next comes the hard part: growth.