Four Ways to Grow Your App Organically

Spinach for your downloads.

I remember when Facebook launched mobile app install ads in 2012, a handful of mobile companies where at the right place at the right time (and with the right resources), scaling to a significant user base with ridiculous low CPIs. Unfortunately that didn’t last long, though…

Nowadays most startups can’t afford to build their initial user base with Facebook — or any other paid acquisition channels in fact. That’s why mobile startups have to spend a lot more time thinking about organic distribution from the start and the most successful ones are creating (accidentally or on purpose) an organic growth engine that is inherent in the usage of that product. So far, I have identified these four ways to boost your organic app growth:

  1. Native connectivity
  2. Hooks into other platforms
  3. Behavioural cues
  4. Power-up-experiences

Before we dive into each of them, it’s important to keep in mind that there is never one silver bullet. So even if you are nailing one of these strategies perfectly, it will in all likelihood not solve all your growth concerns. Yet I am convinced that designing distribution into your product will make all other marketing efforts 10x more effective.

1. Native connectivity

Examples: QuizUp, SnapChat, WhatsApp

How: These apps connect you with other people for better communication or just fun. Naturally, the value proposition has to be pretty big for people to force their friends to download an app, but once their circle of friends was successfully on-boarded, the lock-in can be very strong.

Challenge: As with any network, you will face the classical chicken & egg problem. Without any of your friends using an app, you will not get any value out of it. Think about how you can kick-start usage by penetrating specific niches or geographies before opening the funnel.

2. Hooks into other platforms

Examples: Instagram, Mailbox, Vine

How: While these app can be used on their own, they make it ridiculously easy to share something with existing networks. This can range from a simple tweet out (#InboxZero) to cross-posting of beautiful pictures that are catching people’s attention.

Challenge: Most social streams are super noisy, so the shared content has to be very relevant to result in any meaningful conversions. Oversharing can otherwise even be counterproductive.

3. Behavioural cues

Examples: Vivino, Shazam, Square

How: Because usage of these apps result in real world behaviours, like scanning a wine, other people will naturally perceive and often inquiry about the action. Especially in social settings, this can be very powerful.

Challenge: Because usage of these apps requires an interaction with the physical world, they are dependant on external factors or settings. Therefore it could be a problem when the need for it appears infrequently.

4. Power-up experiences

Examples: Freeletics, Kitchen Stories, DuoLingo

How: These apps get you to improve a skill or create a ‘winning’ experience that encourages sharing that ranges from friendly chit chat (“I made this delicious cheese cake…”) to straight out bragging (“I did 159 pushups last night, fuck yea!”).

Challenge: It’s pretty tough to make a user stick around long enough to get to this WOW-effect. But if you manage to get him there, chances are good that he will become a big ambassador for you.


If you are aware of more ways to growing mobile apps organically, I would be curious to learn about them!

One last caveat: The foundation of growth is always an awesome product. So before you over-engineer for virality, make sure that your users love you. As a wise man used to say: ‘No growth hack can rescue a dead horse’.