Launching A Desktop App With No Existing Audience to Make $520 in 13 Days
Last month, I launched a new desktop app, Presenting, and I thought it would be helpful to share my experience launching it without being able to rely on an existing audience.
The app made $520 in the two weeks after the launch, made possible by marketing it to several channels in that period, which I detail later in this post.
But first, it started as an idea...
The Idea Phase
In my work as an indie hacker, I struggle most with marketing.
At the same time, I was showcasing my apps using screen recordings. However, they often came across as flat and boring.
Having seen some fantastically well-made demo videos, such as Later by Alyssa X and Things 3 by Cultured Code, I thought about if I could build an app to enhance that dimension of my marketing.
Building the Product
The app was initially just a prototype cobbled together in the web browser.
I wasn't sure about creating a video-based app, having never extensively worked with video before, but once I managed to get a proof-of-concept working, I knew I produce something.
From there, I thought it would have been quick to build, which influenced my decision to invest time in it. However, I ran into several stumbling blocks that severely delayed launch. I ended up spending close to 5 months building Presenting, at first expecting a 1 to 2 month task.
Looking back, this was largely due to my inexperience in the area, which I failed to factor into my estimates. I had to spend time doing the required legwork making mistakes and learning the best way to solve complex, technical problems.
For instance, I must've rewritten the video export code at least 5 times — it was so slow in my early prototypes that exporting a 1-minute video took 30 minutes to render — utterly unacceptable. I just couldn't in good conscience take payment for a lousy product, so I spent several weeks (even months, I think) refining and optimizing export durations, which I'm now happy to report is pretty quick!
So the app's finally at a point I'm happy to launch with, and I even managed to create a pretty snazzy intro video for it, using the Presenting app itself (check it out above in this post, or at the website).
I first posted my app to Product Hunt, preparing drafts for it a few days before that. Within a few hours, I managed to get my first sale!
Alarmingly, a few bug reports also started to surface in the comments, and I managed to diagnose and fix one or two issues pretty quickly.
The majority of my sales (77% of the $520) occurred in the 6 days after posting to Product Hunt and before posting to /r/macapps.
This was where I thought the app would shine, because I could showcase and dogfood the app by posting the intro video to the subreddit.
I was right: the post has since climbed to within the subreddit's top 5 posts this month, which I'm satisfied with.
The app however didn't register any sales the period between posting here and the next part, posting to /r/Apple.
Four days after, I prepared to make a step up to the much larger /r/Apple subreddit, and put in quite some effort into drafting my post there.
Presenting was however less naturally suited for succeeding there, because the subreddit has rules for requiring developer promotional posts to be in textual format. This meant I couldn't post my intro video upfront, and only link to it instead.
But what I feel did myself in the most was posting before being ready — many of the first visitors to the post encountered new errors with the app download, and I imagine they also simply downvoted the post having had a poor initial product experience (which I absolutely do not blame them for, I would've done the same).
It took me till the next day to diagnose and fix this issue, which meant that my post was handicapped that entire time, leading to it having zero chance of taking off.
The remaining sales transactions (23% of $520) occurred after making this post, but I don't know if I can attribute them to it.
After receiving a comment about it on Reddit, I also posted Presenting to HN, which performed abysmally. Admittedly, however, it was a low-effort post that was more of me trying my luck there.
Emotions & Mental Health
I used to antagonize over launches, incessantly refreshing the page to check for new upvotes or comments. Each would affect me greatly, so I experienced great variance of emotional states throughout a launch.
For the record, I'm a rather emotion-less and stoic person, yet I suffered for many years with anxiety and nervousness during product launches, sharing my work and myself online. Probably also why I don't use like using social media.
Anyway, I now employ the tactic of occupying myself with some kind of activity during launches, such as cooking. Ideally, the activity will allow you to check in every now and then on your launch and reply to comments, while taking your mind off it for the most part so you're not obsessing over it. Also, it's really important to keep your development machine available and close by, in case you run into any bugs to be fixed on the spot.
Besides that, I've also learned to temper my expectations and see things over a longer-term period, so any one event can't affect my mental state too much. I'm much better at taking things in my stride and working with reality as it is.
This has been fortunate for me, seeing as I was expecting better results from this launch — I thought revenue would be in the thousands like my last desktop app (WriteMapper IH Interview) made taking a similar approach, instead of only hundreds. The difference was probably largely due to the bug mentioned earlier.
But it's alright, I'll continue to work hard and try again next time! 🙃
What I Might've Done Differently
On hindsight, I would've liked to been able to be part of a debugging/testing group with other indie hackers, and weed out any random bugs possibly overlooked — which are inevitable seeing as I'm the sole developer of my apps.
Desktop apps are furthermore sometimes tricky to debug, which I encountered a lot during this launch. Issues could be local only to the user's machine, and not reproducible on my development computer. Users sometimes wouldn't be able to provide adequate information about how to replicate the bug, which is understandable but frustrating from a developer standpoint.
All in all, I ended up coding and publishing 11 updates during the launch period, 10 of which were to address various bugs in the app which my users reported to me (some of which were guesses at a fix, hence the quantity of updates), all thankfully now fixed. This was highly stressful and absolutely not recommended.
More Launch Marketing
This writeup is also part of my further marketing efforts to spread the word about Presenting. I'll be posting it to Indie Hackers, Hacker News (again, why not) and also tell my tiny email newsletter audience about Presenting, after publishing this!
Future Product Updates
On the product side, I want to bring Presenting to Windows, as well as improve the app's usability and utility in the future. I've received a bunch of excellent feedback during the launch so far, and have good sense of what to work on next. Let me know if you also have suggestions!
Solving My Marketing Problem
Launching Presenting hasn't resolved my struggle with marketing, and I want to build more solutions to help myself solve that problem.
The key aspect of this I need to work on is sustainability: launching is one way of marketing, but it's only a one-off solution, and I need to find more ways to be able to continually reach customers and build an audience.
And on that note, subscribe below to get updates on what I do next! 😁