Launching Launched

After launching my new podcast Launched last week, I'd like to share basically everything I did to design, structure, and plan the launch of the podcast. This will probably be overly long so, uh, buckle up.

I'm not pretending to be an expert at this. I just want to share everything I tried with the hope that it may help others in the future (and so I don't forget πŸ˜…). Check out my previous post outlining the week 1 stats to get a sense of what kind of results I ended up achieving with my approach.

I'm also not going to be talking about the technical aspects of recording a podcast. The purpose of this post is to talk about designing and launching the podcast, but I would really like to write about my recording set up and editing workflow at some point. If that sounds interesting to you let me know on Twitter and I may bump that up on my priority list.

The Idea

Let's start at the beginning. Last year while building my first app Dark Noise I ran across a series of interviews that Heidi Helen Pilypas did after launching her app When Did I? that I found extremely useful in preparing my own launch.

A few months later, this four Tweet thread pretty much kicked off the show in my mind.

Launched Beginning Tweet Thread

The idea of an interview show that could feed off of the constant stream of interesting new apps coming out was really intriguing. I wanted this to exist, and I thought I might be able to actually pull it off.

Why tho?

Any project that's going to require a significant investment of your time deserves to have this question answered: Why? For me, there is one "altruistic" answer and two selfish ones.

  1. I want this to exist and genuinely think other devs and creators would find it beneficial.
  2. I think it could help me raise my profile in the community which would help with future app launches and all the nice benefits of having a strong network.
  3. I'd get to meet and talk to a bunch of interesting people who's work I really respect.

My understanding is that the vast majority of podcasts fail to reach a substantial audience, so 1 and 2 may never happen. But 3 is a benefit I get either way, so in the end I felt it was worth giving it a shot.

Choosing a Name

Naming is hard. I think this is a truism in basically every discipline (except Sony game consoles πŸ˜‰).

For this show, I wanted a very simple word that conveyed the idea releasing an app. I knew early on that I didn't want it restricted to only app developers, so I wanted to keep it a little more vague while still conveying that idea. Here's my note with the names I was considering:

Launched Name Ideas

Launched fulfilled all of my checkboxes. It was one word, vague enough to allow for interviews with people in all sorts of industries and disciplines, and it wasn't already taken in Apple Podcasts (though "Launch" was). It also just sounded cool.

Logo

Once I had a name, I needed a logo. I think the logo for a podcast is actually really important. It's basically your one shot at convincing someone to try out the show, and it's your only real visual connection you get to make with most of your audience once they subscribe. It also gives me something tangible to hold on to while developing the project that makes everything feel more real.

A name like launched immediately conjured up images of rockets but I felt like that wouldn't stand out as much as there are a lot of space podcasts with rocket logos that seem to overlap audience with the technology category. I also toyed with the idea of a shipping container but couldn't find something I liked.

I landed on the idea of a paper airplane. I liked the idea of it being a smaller, handcrafted item as I knew most of my guests (and audience) would be indies. And while there are a million email apps that use a paper airplane icon, I didn't see any other podcasts using it as their icon.

I started by sketching some ideas in the wonderful Linea Sketch app by The Iconfactory.

Icon Sketches

Early artwork concept sketches made in Linea Sketch.

After asking for feedback on Twitter I got an unexpectedly strong positive reaction to the "sketch" look. I was originally thinking of going with a cleaner style, but I thought a rougher look would actually fit with the theme of the show being about people creating something new.

I also really liked encasing the icon in the iOS squircle. I knew I was going to want to make custom artwork for each episode (we'll get to that later) so I figured this would give me an easy spot to place custom assets.

I wanted a strong color rather than black and white sketches, so I started playing around with a blueprint look. This would still fit the rough sketch style but also give me a strong pop of color to hopefully stand out in podcast apps.

Icon Drafts

Different variations I tried of the paper airplane artwork design.

I ended up going with the simple clean outline with various sketch marks on it (top right). I don't really have a good reason other than it felt the nicest.

Custom Episode Artwork

I love shows that make custom artwork for each episode so I wanted to do the same for Launched, but I knew I'd need to come up with a system that allowed me build them quickly. If it was cumbersome to make, I knew I'd be angry at myself in 4-6 months when the novelty of the show had worn off and it started getting overwhelming.

Custom Icons

Some of the custom icons I created for Launched episodes. The "Beta" artwork is used for the draft episodes I send to guests to let them listen and ask for edits if they want. The glass of ice is used for the "Ice Breaker" chapter in each episode.

The iOS icon provides a nice frame that I can swap in a hand drawn style of an app icon or symbol that represents the guest of that week. It's also extremely fast for me to create these using Photoshop on my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I can just duplicated my existing Photoshop psd file, grab an image of the icon from the internet, and trace over it with the pencil.

Timelapse of my process creating the custom artwork for each episode using Photoshop for iPad.

It only takes a few minutes to put most of them together and I think the style looks really interesting and fits the whole theme of the show. It also could make for an interesting custom app icon if any developers that I interview wanted to sneak it in their app. πŸ˜‰

Note: It's important to point out that I'm asking everyone if it's ok to use their logo. Most people have been fine with this, but there are cases where people aren't comfortable or even legally can't for trademark reasons so keep that in mind if you ever want to try something similar.

Structure

With a name and logo out of the way, I was ready to start putting together the structure of the show. Starting at the highest level, I needed to pick a schedule. While I might be able to sustain weekly for a short amount of time, the complexity of scheduling new guests in different timezones every episode is too much for me to attempt weekly. So I landed on a target of every other week.

Side Note: The app CalZones by David Smith has proven to be extremely useful scheduling all of these interviews across many different timezones. I've also been told Calendly is very good for this as well but I have not tried it yet.

I don't actually listen to a lot of interview shows so I wasn't sure what the best approach would be to structure the episodes themselves. I knew that I wanted them to be conversational in tone but I wasn't sure how to keep things from feeling too stiff since most of the time I would be speaking to people for the first time.

I happened to be chewing on this problem while listening to an episode of Upgrade where they start each show by asking one of the hosts, Jason Snell, a random question given by the audience. They're often off the wall questions like "When putting in AirPods which ear do you put in first?" This often leads to a funny conversation that get's the episode going with a fun energetic vibe.

I decided to co-opt that idea as an ice breaker question and so far (5 episodes in) I feel like it's succeeded in building a little rapport with the guests before getting into the episode.

The bulk of the episode is outlined on a per episode basis using research on the particular guest and letting the natural flow of the conversation guide me from section to section.

At the end I'm asking each guest for a person who's been an inspiration for them that they want to shout out and recommend others follow. This serves two purposes:

  1. I want to use this podcast as a way to elevate people making cool things and this is a way to add to that.
  2. I selfishly want to find more cool people to follow and potentially try to get on the show. 😏

So this leaves the general show template like so:

  1. Intro
  2. Ice Breaker
  3. Guest specific stuff
  4. Guest's inspiration
  5. Where to find guest (Twitter/website/ect)
  6. Outro

It'll be interesting to see how this changes over time, but so far I've been happy with the balance of structure and loose conversation.

The Launch

My understanding with podcasting is that consistent output is the best way to grow an audience. If you don't have a big pre-existing following (which I did not) launch day is not really that important. Despite this, I figured I'd try to come up with something to make as big as a splash as I could at launch hoping this would help boost numbers which would make it easier to occasionally book bigger guests, which in turn would help boost numbers... ect. ect.

A few years ago, a motion designer named Joey Korenman started a series of After Effects tutorials called 30 Days of After Effects where he posted a brand new After Effects tutorial every day for 30 days straight. Tutorials are really difficult to put together so this wasn't something that I had ever seen before and it's always stuck with me how quickly that intense burst of output catapulted his brand, School of Motion, into the limelight.

I decided to try a similar approach with Launched but at a smaller scale. Not only was 30 episodes in a row way more work than I could manage, but I don't think most people would actually want 30 episodes clogging up their podcast queue that quickly. So I settled on 1 business week of 1 episode a day to kick off the show. This would hopefully generate some buzz as well as give listeners multiple episodes to hear in a row to decide if they liked the show, rather than one and done.

On the advice of Matthew Cassinelli I also created a short teaser episode and released it a month before launching the show. This ensured the podcast was properly set up in all of the major podcast directories and players, and also gave me a small list of subscribers who would get the first episode immediately after release.

I also Tweeted a lot about the journey leading up to the launch of the show as has apparently become my thing. πŸ˜… This may not be broadly applicable advice but I do think it helped build up a sense of excitement around the launch, and helped make more people invested in its success.

Wrap Up

I'm really happy with how the launch of the show turned out. I'm proud of the episodes released so far and I'm so excited to keep making more and develop the show over time. Hopeful this post was helpful or at least interesting for you. If you'd like to talk about anything related to this you can find me on Twitter at @_chuckyc.

Launched Week 1 Stats

Last week I launched my new podcast Launched and I wanted to share a little bit about how I went about creating the show similar to what I did with my posts about designing and marketing my app Dark Noise.

But before I write that up I want to share some stats about how week 1 went. I'm very happy with how it's been received so far, but honestly I don't know the podcast world enough to tell you if these numbers are good or not (though they are significantly better than my previous podcasting efforts πŸ˜…).

As I'll explain in a later post, I released 1 episode a day all week, so there are 5 episodes included in these stats. Here's the quick rundown:

  • ⬇️ 5,727 total downloads
  • ⬇️ 1,047 average downloads per episode
  • πŸ“– 13 Reviews
  • ⭐️ 22 Ratings

Downloads

Because it's an interview show, there is expectedly quite a bit of variance betwen episodes. I don't think it's fair to guests to share stats attached to their names, so I'm not labeling which episode is which.

Week 1 Top Episode Downloads

Total downloads per episode after week 1 (in order of downloads)

Episode Lifespan

Downloads per day per episode

It's really hard to make to many assertions based on this data so far. There's a lot of variables from the guest down to the day of week the episode went live.

Demographics

Let's look at some demographics.

User Agents

Apps used to download episodes. Spotify not listed here but only has 119 "starts" which sets it between Breaker & Firefox

Locations

Where episodes were downloaded from.

Two things stand out here. Overcast is dramatically over represented compared to my understanding of the industry average. This makes sense given the more tech (and Apple specifically) target audience, but that's still pretty striking. It makes me happy that a large portion of the audience is using a player that supports the chapters and custom artwork that I put a decent amount of work into. 😊

I'm also pretty pleased that the rest of the world just edged over 50% vs the United States. It really makes me goofy smile to know that there are people all over the world listening to something that I'm making.

Wrap Up

The only other metrics that may be interesting are the social network numbers. The podcast's Twitter account has 395 followers which I'm pretty happy about. And the subbreddit r/LaunchedFM has 63 members which... isn't much in Reddit terms. I'll talk about this more on an upcoming post, but I'm not sure Reddit makes as much sense for a show of this size as I was originally thinking it would.

If you're curious about any other metrics please don't hesitate to ask me on Twitter. I like to be as much of an open book as I can on this stuff.

And hopefully I'll get a post up relatively soon walking through the development and marketing process of Launched!

Introducing Launched

Launched Thumbnail

Today I'm really excited to be releasing the first episode of my new podcast Launched. Here's the pitch:

Launched is a fortnightly show where I interview app developers and other creators about their experiences releasing their creation out into the world.

Last year while I was working towards the release of Dark Noise I found that listening to developer interviews on podcasts was extremely helpful in preparing me for what to expect and giving me ideas on how to build a marketing plan around the release. My hope is that Launched can be a resource for aspiring creators by providing a platform for people to share their experiences launching something into the world.

I'm pretty excited to see where this goes! Rest assured I'll be posting updates with stats and I'll try to do a post outlining everything I've done to try to market the show similar to what I did with the Marketing Dark Noise post.

If this sounds interesting you can find links to subscribe here. And if you enjoy it please consider giving me a rating or review in Apple Podcasts

You can also follow the show on Twitter at @LaunchedFM and check out the dedicated Subreddit /r/LaunchedFM to talk with other listeners about the show.

And if you're a creator who's recently (or soon to be) launched something and would like to tell your story, you can apply here to potentially come on the show.

Dark Noise 1.2

Today I'm releasing the first update to Dark Noise bringing new iOS 13 features and adding a few new sounds. With Dark Noise 1.2 I've brought 3 main feature improvements:

Dark Mode

Dark Noise already has multiple themes, including a pure black mode, but I still wanted to take advantage of the new system-wide dark mode in iOS 13. In Dark Noise 1.2 you can now select a separate theme to use for the system dark and light modes.

Dark Mode Theme Settings

This will allow you to quickly switch to a darker theme by hitting the switch in control center, or automatically switch themes based on the time of day using the new system appearance scheduler.

Parameterized Shortcuts

In iOS 13 Apple added a new feature to Shortcuts that allows users to set parameters for actions provided by apps. For Dark Noise, this means that you can now create a shortcut action that sets a timer with a user specified time set directly in the shortcuts app.

Dark Mode Parameterized Shortcuts

There's a few unfortunate caveats that I need to address however. Shortcuts with parameters cannot run audio without opening up the app first (unless you're Apple Music πŸ˜’) so any of the new shortcuts will not be able to run in the background.

For this reason, I'm also including the old style shortcuts that will allow you to run the audio in the background. The old style shortcuts all begin with the word "Play" and have a toggle for "Show When Run". Unfortunately there is a new bug (feature?) in iOS 13 that only allows me to add 10 of these so you will see the most recently played noises as options in the shortcuts app.

On top of this there is also now a "Play Pause Noise" shortcut that will pause the currently playing noise. This will work even if the "Mix Audio" setting is turned on which prevents the system level "Play/Pause" action from working.

Siri

Dark Noise is now integrated with Siri in iOS 13! This means that without setting anything up ahead of time you can say "Hey Siri, play distant thunder in Dark Noise" and Siri will start the sound.

Dark Noise Siri

In the current version of iOS 13, Siri integration is still a bit rough around the edges. It frequently gets the noise name wrong and will fail to play. It's also not currently working on the HomePod since, as of the time of this writing, the HomePod software still hasn't updated from iOS 12. These issues should improve as Apple releases updates throughout the year, but I wanted to make sure I called them out.

New Sounds

Last but not least, Dark Noise 1.2 has 4 new sounds, each with custom animated icons of course! This first batch was based on the most highly requested sounds since launch, but I've been collecting all of your suggestions and will keep adding more over time so don't worry if your request isn't included.

Here's the new sounds for Dark Noise 1.2:

  1. Cat Purring
  2. Spaceship Engine
  3. Frogs
  4. Distant Thunder

New Sounds

What's Next?

By far the most highly requested feature since launch is the ability to mix multiple sounds together to create your own personal soundscape. Now that my iOS 13 update is out of the way, this is my top priority.

I'm a slow, deliberate developer and this is not my full time job (currently 😏) so it will take some time to do this right. I've already started playing around with the design and I would love to hear any feedback or ideas from you all through Twitter, Reddit, or Email.

You can find the app (as well as a spiffy new app video preview) on the App Store today!

Marketing Dark Noise

It's been 1 month since I released my app Dark Noise in the App Store. The release went very well, and I've had quite a few people ask how I marketed the app. I wanted to post this right away, but first I wanted to let the launch stats settle down so you can get a better picture of what the actual results are.

Let's start with some quick 1st month stats.

  • πŸ“ˆ 4,545 Downloads
  • πŸ’° $19K Sales
  • πŸ’΅ $12.6K Proceeds (after Apple cut)
  • ⭐️ 212 ratings with a 4.8 avg
  • πŸ“ 43 reviews

I'm really happy with these numbers, but they definitely don't paint the entire picture. Let's look at a graph of unit sales over the first month.

Dark Noise Month 1 Unit Sales

Metrics from App Store Connect

I think launch week went exceptionally well for a first time developer, but sales have settled down to averaging around the 20-30 downloads a day range. I'm sharing this to give some context around what the marketing of Dark Noise produced.

Alright, now that the context is out of the way, let's get to the goods. Don't think of this as advice as much as it's a document detailing everything I did to help market Dark Noise.

Private Beta

Once I had a usable app that could successfully play a few white noise sounds and I was confident enough that I was actually going to release the app, I enrolled in the Apple Developer Program and opened up a private beta through TestFlight.

Initially I targeted a single user, my sister, and made sure it had a sound I knew she listened to at night. Her first request was for a timer, and almost immediately it was helpful talking to a real person using the app.

Over time I slowly added people to the beta, collecting feedback and bug reports. It was surprisingly difficult to show people the app at this early rough stage, but I cannot express how valuable it was.

Getting early feedback allowed me to make some design changes before I went too deep in one direction. Just as importantly, it helped me squash a lot of little embarrassing bugs before opening the beta to a wider audience.

There was also a higher level of engagement per user at this stage, since everybody was either a person I knew, or someone who had to explicitly ask for an invite through Twitter.

Public Beta

Once I had the app in a state I felt was worthy to really start showing off, I opened the beta to the public. I sort of treated this stage like a soft launch of the app. I had a lot of work I wanted to do, but I treated these users as if they were customers and I created an app Twitter account to tweet out updates and respond to user feedback. I launched the beta on July 9th, so about a month and a half before the actual launch.

Opening the beta to the public early was definitely one of the best decisions I made. The feedback from users was invaluable, and I built up an excited audience, who was invested in the app by launch. This really helped build up some pre-launch hype, and I received a lot of reviews and tweets on launch day from people that started with "I've been on the beta for a while...". I believe this lent an air of credibility that I wouldn't have had otherwise as a brand new developer.

The last note I'd like to make on the public beta is that I really tried to show beta testers how much I appreciated their help. I tried to respond to emails quickly, but also conversationally. If they sent me an idea I didn't plan on implementing, I tried to explain why. And when people sent bugs or features I used, I tried to express how thankful I was both in my response, and also by adding a little personalized thank you in the beta release notes.

Twitter

Probably the biggest contributing factor to the successful launch of Dark Noise was the excitement I built leading up to the launch through Twitter.

While working a feature I'd usually tweet about the progress and hype up the next beta release if there was something coming. Frequently people would chime in with feedback or suggestions that I could incorporate immediately. This both made the app better and also gave those who engaged on Twitter a little slice of ownership in the app. This is one of those things that only an indie app can pull off, and I think it's part of what makes people love them so much.

One feature that really blew up was the custom app icons.

Tweet about custom icons

Open tweet in Twitter here

Earlier this year I saw David Smith add a tribute to Myke Hurley in his app CalZones by creating a theme called #MykeWasRight (the name of his old Tumblr blog) as a thank you for some help in the early stages of the app. I love Myke's podcast Cortex that he hosts with CGP Grey so I thought it might be fun to add a similar tribute to my app in the form of a custom icon.

This idea really excited me and I ended up running with it and creating a bunch of custom app icons for a lot of tech podcasts I really like. When I tweeted about it, it seemed to really strike a chord with my fellow Apple tech nerd followers and generated a little buzz, enough so that it even came across the radar of Federico Viticci, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of the incredible MacStories. I don't actually know this for sure, but I suspect that this is what led to Ryan Christoffel finding the app and eventually writing up a review on MacStories.

I'm not sure what the lesson here is. In my case using social media to build up an audience and hype up new features really paid off. I think attempting to fish for "influencers" attention is something that will almost certainly backfire, but if you're excited about what you're making and you talk about it enough in a genuine way, you might eventually get the attention of someone who can really make a difference.

Press Kit

I don't have a whole lot to say about this. I made a press kit. You can check it out here. I don't know if it's a good one, or a bad one. I do know that it was helpful for a few people who ended up writing a day one post about Dark Noise, specifically the screenshots and hero images.

I also made this little promo video. To be honest, this was an indulgence for me as I love motion graphics and needed a break one evening. I didn't really make it for marketing purposes, but I did end up using it in my "official" announcement tweets for the Dark Noise Twitter account and pinned that tweet. I've gotten a few comments from people that it lends a credibility to the app since it looks pretty professional.

I also should add this to the top of my website, but I still haven't gotten around to that. 😬

Contacting Press

I don't think I did the best job with reaching out to the press, but I did end up getting a few articles written about Dark Noise. Here's a quick list of launch articles from both traditional tech websites and some personal tech blogs:

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that I selected a release date about a month beforehand. Not only did this help me with forcing myself to stop adding features and drive towards polishing up what I had, but it also allowed me to give the press a hard target for when to expect the app to come out.

Once I had the app in a state I felt wasn't embarrassing, and I set up my press kit and website, I started contacting the press. Basically I just went to a bunch of websites I like, and found the emails of writers there that had covered apps before. I started doing this about 3-4 weeks before releasing that app, but continued pretty much up to launch day as I thought of different publications to reach out to. I emailed them with a short pitch of the app, a release date, and a link to the press kit.

Example email to press

Here's an example of an email that I sent out to the press.

I received a few "thanks I'll check it out" responses, but that was basically it. I believe pretty much all of the press I received on launch day was due to attention and relationships I made during the months of development through Twitter and the public beta.

While writing this article I reached out to a few members of the press and asked them if they had any advice for app developers. The main takeaway seems to be that you should make your pitch short but clear, and then include relevant information like price, release date, and a link to your press kit with all the assets and images a writer would need to make your app look as good as possible if they do a write-up (specifically high resolution app icon was called out more than once). This quote from Victor Marks really sums it up well:

Basically, I need 650 chars to 400 words telling me who it’s for, what it does better, and images and icon to work from with a link to your site and the App Store. Write like we’re friends or you want to be friends, not β€œprofessional pr voice”. For the love of god, tell me whose problem you're solving and why it wasn’t adequately solved before.

Looking back at my emails I don't think I articulated my sales pitch very well, and that may have contributed to the lack of interest. Talking to other devs, this seems to be a pretty common outcome, so don't get discouraged if you never hear anything back.

Pre-Order

About a week before launch day I submitted the app to the App Store and once it was approved, I released it for pre-order. My thinking was that I would build up a list of day one purchasers which might help boost my ranking in the store. I'm still not clear on whether pre-orders actually helps your ranking though.

You can also still submit a new version while pre-orders are open, so I actually made a few updates after I released for pre-order and submitted a new version before the real release day.

One interesting thing to note about pre-orders is that they release around midnight in the users local time. So customers who pre-ordered in New Zealand will have the app released to them the day before everyone in the United States. For me it was actually kind of fun watching the app make it's way around the globe through users on Twitter, but it's something you'll want to be aware of.

Launch Day

This may sound cheesy, but launch day for Dark Noise is a day I'll never forget. It was kind of a whirlwind but so much fun. I took the day off of work not really sure what to expect, and I'm really glad I did.

First thing in the morning I posted an article on my blog about the release and made announcement posts on Twitter and Facebook. Once the press coverage started coming in user feedback and questions on Twitter really picked up. I spent the majority of the day retweeting positive comments and answering questions on Twitter. I tried to do my best to make it feel like a big splash, so anybody who followed the app account or me would see a lot of activity on that one day.

Aside from responding to people and generally trying to make the launch as noisy as possible, launch day was mostly just watching. I kept waiting for some embarrassing bug to come up that I'd have to scramble to put a release out for, but it never came. And since Dark Noise is currently completely offline, I didn't need to watch over any servers.

Podcasts and Blog Posts

Everything I've talked about so far has pertained to marketing Dark Noise specifically, but there is actually another piece to this. Since I'm completely new to the iOS dev scene, I wanted to establish myself with this community. The bulk of that was done through engagement on Twitter, but I also guested on multiple podcasts and wrote up a few blog posts like this one.

I didn't really do much active work to get on the podcasts, just tweeted out that I was available and accepted basically any invitation I got. πŸ˜† I'm not sure how effective these were at promoting Dark Noise specifically, but I still think it was worth it for the relationships it helped build and (hopefully) helping establish my voice in the community.

Odds & Ends

I tried out App Store Search Ads, but personally I didn't find them very effective. I'm just using the "Basic" ads, so I'm not really doing much work to make them effective, but just want to call that out.

I also posted to /r/Apple on Reddit which did very well and drove a lot of sales. They (currently) allow developers to post about new apps on Saturdays, but definitely read their rules before posting.

With regards to feedback, I've tried to respond to people as quickly as possible whether through Twitter, the Dark Noise subreddit, or email. I've gotten a number of 5 star reviews that specifically call this out, so I think it's paid off.

Wrap Up

Hopefully this is helpful for some of you. I think I've captured most of the marketing efforts I made for Dark Noise, but I may update this post if I remember something else.

If you have thoughts on anything I talked about here, or marketing ideas that have worked for your app, please reach out to me on Twitter at @_chuckyc. I love talking about this stuff!