How I became an Appreneur and the $50,000 dollar vocabulary app: Part two

Spencer Zeke Depas
Jun 23, 2018 · 9 min read
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Hi. My name is Spencer. I am a mobile indie dev and freelance mobile consultant. I aspire to be a full-time indie dev. This is a series about me becoming a full-time indie dev. You can find the first entry in my adventure here.

It has been 6 months since my last post. I have made a few subscription sales. Woop. I have transitioned from aspiring indie dev to indie dev. One more transition to go. Even though I only made a few sales it is a good feeling. Before I start making millions(joking) I thought I would make an entry to keep track of where I am and where I am going. There is still lots to do and I am far from my end goal but I have also come a long way and learned a tun. I also wanted to remind you, that my dream lives and every day I get closer.

Several times I have considered giving up on this particular app, not the goal. My first commit was 9 months ago. One month ago I made my first sale. I have had several battles in my mind about whether or not I am being delusional in thinking I could make VL(Vocabulary List) a success. Now I have made some sales I am more confident. Prior to sales, I was very conflicted. I concluded that with VL I have at minimum a semi-functioning product. I must persevere. I need to complete the process of finding product market fit, even if the monetary stakes are low. I will continue the battle to make VL reach product-market fit. Then I will growth hack. Then I will have completed the whole process and then.. I can replicate.

When I posted my last article I had a chat with Steve P. Young. He gave me some insight on App store optimization and answered some of my questions. I also watched some of his videos and learned the basics of ASO. I now have a general idea of how to do ASO. I have a stream of new users, about 600 a month, which is all I need for now. My priorities are not growth. Before the macro, I need to nail the micro. When I reach product market fit I will focus on acquisition.

“the key to knowing when it’s time to start the high-tempo push for growth is simple: Can you identify an aha moment that users love?” Hacking Growth, Sean Ellis

I intensely searched the internet looking for and messaging people who might be interested in the closed beta and customer development interviews. I interviewed a number of English native speakers who were interested in increasing their vocabulary. I am not sure how helpful the customer development interviews were. It was hard to find these people, a bad sign, and hard to get them on a call, another bad sign. The power of the closed beta is having the users email. You can communicate with them directly. I have made some mini relationships from the closed beta and the customer development interviews. There have been a few times I needed help from my users and I have contacted them directly on hangouts and asked them for help. I added a contact me button to my app. This has given me a flow of emails with feature requests, and feedback. This has been very helpful and I recommend this for all apps. I have created two email lists, one from the closed beta people and the other from people who email me for feedback. I will occasionally send them an email about VL.

A significant amount of my dev time has been spent on, fixing my broken business model, adding in-app purchases and making my app GDPR compliant. I ended up removing all my other apps because of GDPR. These long tasks do not really improve the user experience of VL, which is a shame. Now I can focus on making the app better.

My main achievement is making a few sales. I have not had time to focus on increasing sales conversion, I hope when I do I will see a jump in sales. As of me writing this, I have made a total of four subscription sales, all within 30 days. I have been live with sales for maybe a month and a half.

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I just released the 65th version of Vocabulary list

Lessons learned

About three months ago I discovered that my business model was not sustainable. The API I was using started costing a huge amount for a small number of users. With 100 daily active users, the API cost $61 a month. This is without generating revenue. I briefly thought my app was done. I changed my API to a lesser API. I have two subscriptions, a monthly with the premium API and a yearly which has the pro feature minus the paid API. Now the app is costing me nothing to maintain. With growth my business model is sustainable. The yearly subscription has no expense to me. The lesson I learned here is to analyze your costs and business model at scale before development.

I have subscriptions sales for a few reasons. My premium API is not sustainable without a subscription. The most important reason though is to maximize lifetime value. My favorite app of all time is Reddit is Fun. I bought the app maybe two years ago for $2.99. This transaction is complete and now the developer cannot easily make money from me. I would be happy to give the dev more money. The developer continues to work on the app and make it better yet I have only paid him once. If you reach download saturation on an app that has a one-time payment it will cease making money. If you turn the same app into an app with subscriptions, you have a sustainable business. I think in most cases a one-time payment is not sustainable.

I have a forever growing monster to do list with hundreds of items of how to make VL better. I added sprints to my work process. I will not go back. In trello I have four categories. Current sprint, 2nd, 3rd and backlog. This is a great way to prioritize what I need to do. Before sprints, I found I would just keeping adding items to the current build. Sprints solve this problem, they also make it easier for me to strategize my prioritization's. My priorities change frequently. I am experimenting with adding a goal to each sprint. For example, increase first launch word added count or make people join the facebook group. To make sure I am on task, I ask myself, “does this contribute to my goal?”. I am trying to focus on what will give me the largest return.

I am working on nurturing a facebook group for Advanced English Vocabulary. I hope this will increase external app triggers, increase retention and create an additional acquisition channel. The facebook group is connected by deep links. The group is yet to have any significant effect on VL.

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Click for a deep-link into Vocabulary List adding the word Wanton

This is helping me reach my goal

  • I have become a moderator of /r/appbusiness. We are actively seeking more members if you use reddit please subscribe.
  • I have started taking a data science class. What I want from this is to make data-driven decisions. I want to know how what I do affects my app’s performance.
  • The Appreneur mastermind group has started and we have had our first meeting. It is very good to talk to people in a similar situation. We all have different experiences but are roughly in the same situation. I look forward to having another meeting with them. Will is working on 9 letter jumble and Craig’s indie dev blog can be found here.
  • I have started writing app business articles. I think app business is fun and interesting. I just got my first guest post piece published on GDPR. I plan to continue writing about app business.

I removed Answers because of GDPR. Without Answers, I do not have a clear picture of some basic metrics. I am using the free tier of Mixpanel. It is very frustrating. My retention chart only shows me two months of retention. At least now I am not drooling over vanity metrics. I hope the data science class will help me in making more data-driven decisions.

I want to capitalize on all my users. I did briefly add ads. I removed them because I got so little money that I thought it was not worth the aggravation of my users. I have an idea for how to monetize all users but right now it is on the back-burner. My current priority is to work on retention. Retention is king, even if I have the business model I need the retention. I want my app to have badass retention and an awesome business model. At scale right now my app is not lucrative.

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Retention charts


  • My app has no end game. It does not grow that much in value with use
  • I would like to improve my retention. I would like to be in the top percentile in app retention on the Play store
  • I need variability
  • I need a social element
  • I need to capitalize on all users
  • I need to know how to measure stuff

Current Tools

  • Mobile Action. I have the free indie dev account. Which you can find here. I am a Mobile Action fan. It has been very helpful in getting started with ASO.
  • Mastermind group — We are three and we can ask each other questions in a more private way.
  • App Marketing Facebook Group — this group is my favorite thing about Facebook right now. Lots to learn, share and talk about.
  • I found a local Entrepreneur Meetup. It is great when I am stuck on a problem. I will go and talk to people and ask them what they think. I have yet to be given an answer but I usually find the answer from talking to people
  • Mixpanel
  • The daily overpass — my favorite YouTuber who talks about app related stuff.
  • Trello

Plan of Action Actionable / GOALS

I would like to achieve these items before my next post.

  • Understand retention better and increase retention
  • Find product-market fit, understand my product, get an awesome business model
  • Capitalize on all users
  • Finish the data science class and start making data-driven decisions
  • Increase my “app business” personal network
  • Learn and write more about app business
  • 10,000 downloads for VL (This was a yearly goal from last year)

Current stats

Here is everything I think is relevant.

  • Total Downloads 2659
  • DAU I think is around 150
  • Current installs 1106
  • Reviews 42
  • Current rating 4.62
  • Money earned > $25.62
  • Money Spent $150.34
  • Number of releases > 65
  • All the money spent was on the paid API


If you want to start a journey as an indie dev this will help you. Learn from your peers. ASO, will get your free downloads. Iterate, I have made over 65 app updates adding features and improving the app. Planning, I should have looked at my costs and expenses at scale when planning the app. Communication, having a closed beta is a great way to keep in contact with your users so you can learn and ask them for help. Caring, I have tried to make an awesome app. I worked very hard for petty financial gain. Persistence has helped me get here.

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any questions. If you can help me, or if I can help you, send me a message. Please follow me on Medium. I have a goal to get 30 followers.

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