❌ Failed startup
✅ Successful startup

From $0 in 6 months to 1M downloads and $21,000/month - The story of Habitify, the habit tracker app

Peter wasn’t happy with his iOS developer job; he wanted to help people and change the world in some way. So he quit and in some months, he launched Habitify, a habit tracker app. First months were hard, with no sales. Nowadays, Habitify is used by 1M users, makes $21k/month and has a team of 20. Here’re the behind scenes!

Vietnam
App
Up to 50K

Alan Nguyen

March 1, 2020

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Hi Alan! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?

Hello! I’m Alan, growth lead at Habitify, the multi-platform app that allows you to build habits and focus on what matters.

I joined Habitify when it was only 1 year old, and when its marketing was a blank paper. Since then, I’ve developed and executed the strategies to help improve user acquisition, conversion, and retention metrics.

Please note that I started as a blank paper, too. I didn’t have any prior marketing experience and my major at university was economics. So, what you are looking at the moment, though not that marvelous, is what I’m really proud of.

Habitify is the first product in my co-founder’s vision to help better the world. The app is designed to help people form and track good habits in their life, hence achieve a better version of themselves in the long term.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’m telling the story of my co-founder, Peter, who started Habitify. 

Peter Habitify
Peter - co-founder and CEO of Habitify


Peter was an iOS developer who got promoted to project manager only 2 years after he had joined his first company. The salary at that time was attractive and generally higher than most of his peers. 

But he was not satisfied.

He has always had this dream of exploring life to the fullest, and improving people’s lives with his skills. The offered job might give him financial stability, but it wouldn’t be able to give him what he truly wanted. 

So he quit.

Spending the next few months at home doing nothing (actually trying to find inspiration for his new business) was quite a rough start. Peter was truly demotivated, now that his mom kept telling him to get out and find something to do (which Asian moms would typically do to their lazy children). 

One day, she reached the peak of her anger and said: “You don’t know how to appreciate this life. While you’re slacking off here enjoying all these luxuries, thousands of children in Africa are dying!” 

Eureka. 

Peter got an idea. He wanted to make an app to help improve the world. That app, he thought initially, must donate a part of its income to children in Africa. And so he set out to do market research and found the niche he’s in right now. That’s how Habitify started - a habit tracker that donates $1 of every purchase to provide water for African children. 

How did you build Habitify?

I was not present when Habitify was first launched, but a year later. Nevertheless, I felt like I had witnessed a baby’s growth since birth. 

Peter told me that in the first 6 months of Habitify, there were absolutely no sales. People downloaded it, but the app was too primitive to be sales-appealing. There were only 3 people at first: Peter (iOS developer), Dat (Marketing) and Son (Designer). They were living AND working together on the 5th floor of a poor-conditioned flat, with no air-conditioner under the 40-degree heat of Vietnam summer.

I came on board to help grow the apps when there was just Peter running the whole operation. We didn’t have an office and had to work in a co-working space everyday for more than 6 months.

At that point, we were one of the first habit trackers that strived to be multi-platform. 

Mac, iOS and Apple Watch as the the initial trio, then last year we expanded to Android and Web. Our core motto was to make tracking habits as easy as it gets. No matter what device you have on your hand, you can start building your habits.

Following this direction, we expanded the team in 2018 and 2019: from 2 people with no office, to almost 20 people working to push Habitify forward.

Habitify's team
The full team ready to take on 2020


Pricing strategy is a very interesting story. At first, we only priced the app $2.99 for a lifetime premium, and that’s that. When we started to grow Habitify to more platforms, the costs increased and forced us to change the model. We began to charge each platform separately $10 (iOS, macOS, Android), which led to a problem of premium synchronization.

That model was too troublesome for us to maintain, which drove us to our current model: A combination of subscription and lifetime packages. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that we’re stopping at $39.99 for the lifetime version, $29.99 for annual and $4.99 for monthly. People are still purchasing it! And in fact, our revenue has been higher than ever (and it keeps growing)! 

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

There is no absolute answer for this. I think our app grows from the trial and error of many marketing strategies, including both traditional and unconventional growth hack tactics.

One of the first solutions to the sluggish revenue stream was to localize the app and expand it to more markets. Then, we launched Habitify on Product Hunt to gain some traction. There we go, the first purchase after 6 months. The first month of salary for everyone in the team. 

Then everything changed when Apple featured us. It was a big hit. Millions of impressions turned into thousands of downloads each day. People started to notice our indie app, and spread the words around. News wrote about us. Apple featured us again. We reached 500,000 downloads in 2 years, and in the next few months from now, it will be 1 million. 

Habit Tracker App

On our journey from that critical moment of Apple naming Habitify as New App We Love, we tried a lot of things: from Facebook ads campaign, Instagram story ads campaign and lots of give-away, referral, special campaigns throughout the seasons...

Now, the marketing strategies that truly work for us were a strong focus on content marketing and affiliate marketing. One-off events like Product Hunt launches or advertisements were not worth our effort and are incredibly expensive. 

We haven’t grown our revenue significantly from our marketing strategies, but we know we’re on the right path. The LTV of traffic coming from our content campaigns far exceeds that from other campaigns, which is a positive signal.

So for 2020, content marketing will be one of our key focuses to grow the app in a sustainable way. We are committed to bring not only the best app on the market, but also a blog that delivers the most in-depth articles on habit tracking and goal setting.

Habitify's blog


What are your goals for the future?

Our goal is to make Habitify the best multi-platform Habit Tracker. To be more specific, when people need a habit tracker that is minimal and straight-forward, they have to think about us first. We believe profit is just the subsequence of this. We don’t have any fixed numeric number to strive for, but we’re looking to grow the revenue to the point that it can sustain other apps we’re developing as well.

To maintain and grow Habitify, more employees will need to be hired, and that’s what we’re going to do this year 2020. Building a strong, collaborative team is the key result for the aforementioned objective. We are pushing for a more polished presence for the Habitify brand: more designers, a UX/UI specialist to make the app and all websites even more enjoyable to use. Also, we are getting in-house testers to make sure the app is as ready as possible before any big updates.

Habitify's milestone
In October 2019, we reached 800.000 installs


As of now, we are planning for a major shift for Habitify this summer. We are in the brainstorming phase to see what features will really make a big difference in helping people stay on track and reach their goal. So yeah, big changes ahead in 2020 for Habitify.

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What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?

As a growth lead, the biggest challenge I faced was to find a profitable marketing channel for the company’s product. You know, it’s not easy just applying all the traditional methods like taught on the courses, because each product has a distinctive characteristics. Mine is both in a small niche that has little to no case studies, and is targeting very specific segments of users. 

Finding the right channel is the result of intensive experimenting and analyzing results, so as you can guess, it’s a matter of balancing your spent bucks with the ROI. Sometimes the ROI was unclear, but I had to reach my pocket anyway because the insight from my customer survey said so. Sometimes the ROI was a little bit clearer, but long-term, so I had to battle the impatience in seeing my dollars going away without almost nothing in return. 

I think my solution at that time was to stop doing everything, and rethink about my long-term goal for the product. That helped me prioritize which experiments would be run first, and what I should expect out of it. While I’m betting on some short-term tactics which burn a lot of cash, I’m still backing up the plan with investment in long-term solutions in case things don’t go my way. 

My mom is a typical Asian mom, who values dinner together and more “traditional” jobs at state-owned companies. Seeing me going heads over heels about this startup made her worried and she couldn’t stop complaining to me and asking me why I’m so late for dinner every time. The family pressure was rising every day when I started working on Saturday once in a while (which is abnormal here in Vietnam) and when I become more stressful with unsuccessful campaigns. 

I decided to have a heart-to-heart talk with her and started explaining every bit of my job in mom’s language so she could somehow understand what I am doing and how important the role is to the company. Things got quiet down, but I know, deep down inside, she’s still worried. But now at least she doesn’t exert pressure on me every late dinner. 


Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?

I think the greatest disadvantage of Habitify team is market understanding. We’re targeting Japan and the US, the two largest economies in the world with completely different cultures and social norms. When we were launching campaigns, there was a part deep inside that keeps wheezing because we are not completely confident about offering the “right” thing for our customers. I also see that this disadvantage kept us from innovating the product and being robust in our marketing.

Our worst mistakes were to invest in short-term growth hack tactics, to which I think the lack of market understanding attributes largely. Instead of building sustainable foundations, we spent too much time expecting quick results and crying over spilled milk. Admittedly it was me who was obsessed with some quick numbers that I did everything at the disposal of the company’s brand. This did cost me a huge load of money, but more than that, it was the loss of time and the damaged brand that have a more profound effect. 


If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?

I would invest in long-term strategies for the company, naming analytics and content. 

We refrain ourselves from investing in a well-rounded analytical tool to track user attributes and all the touchpoints they have been through, which later led to our insufficient understanding of our own loyal users. 

Regarding content, it’s something I wish I started at the beginning of my journey. Content is more valuable than any lead-generating method I have tried. The LTV of the traffic from content is at least twice as high or even 3 times as that coming from direct store search. In the long-term, evergreen content and still produce tons of traffic without much effort.


What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

For me, I learned best by joining online and local communities and getting in touch with other founders/indie hackers. Looking at my own project from their perspective gives me a lot of new realizations and ideas that I never could have thought of myself.

I would suggest Indie Hackers and Hacker News as great places to start. Some subreddits are also valuable: r/startups, r/entrepreneur, r/business… 

I love looking at websites and services of other people. From a marketing perspective, I can always learn something about copywriting, or their marketing strategy. I think this gives me a rough understanding of the world out there, and also tons of new ideas for my product.


Where can we go to learn more?

Well, a lot of places to go to:

  1. Under the name of Peter, I wrote a few stories about our journey in his Medium account.
  2. I also shared some marketing learning on my own bog.
  3. Check out Habitify’s Twitter and you’ll see how we engage with our users. 
  4. Check out our blog page, where we shared the success stories of our own users and the articles that we have been writing our heart. You’ll see a growing focus on content via this channel.

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