John Driscoll of Naked Development on How to Increase Mobile App Downloads | Podcast

John Driscoll of Naked Development on How to Increase Mobile App Downloads | Podcast

Interview by Joanna NodadoJoanna Nodado
Published: May 25, 2023

Who Is John Driscoll

John Driscoll is the founder and CEO of Naked Development, a leading mobile app development company and creative agency in Irvine, CA. He is also a consultant, speaker, and growth hacker with extensive experience advising tech start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Driscoll has lectured at esteemed institutions and worked with clients such as Bank of America, Hyundai, and the American Red Cross.

Amidst the fast-paced and ever-evolving realm of app development, few individuals have played a significant role in shaping the tech industry. One of them is John Driscoll, the mastermind behind Naked Development.

In this exclusive interview, we delve into his early experiences, the challenges encountered during the nascent stages of the App Store, and the strategies he employs to drive app downloads and enhance user engagement.

Driscoll also shares his personal journey, starting from the early stages of becoming a mobile app developer and the challenges he faced in getting people to use his apps.

Spotlight: Tell us a little bit of your journey in app development, like how you started out, especially even before the App Store existed.

John: So my first startup was a financial firm that I started in sold around 2006. That was a year before the iPhone. At that time,  the reason why my firm did really well is because of my ability to market on the Internet. That was really kind of one of the real secrets to our success at the time. So yeah, my plan was to always go into consulting of some kind, but the market kind of was not doing great. So I got out a little faster than I wanted to. 

They always say, you know, new things grow out of a bad market. And I actually really believed that. so. So I, yeah, so I got into consulting; I was doing internet consulting, marketing consulting. 

And March 6, 2008, happened - The first day of the app store. 

There was this presentation that Steve Jobs gave; it was all about how we would be able to make apps. And at the time, the only apps on your phone for a whole year, were only the apps that Apple gave you. There wasn’t that much; I think there was only 12. So they came out and they said, you could be a developer. And I said, that sounds awesome. I signed up the first day, I had no idea what I was doing. But I figured it out. 

I must stop doing everything. We've got to change everything we're doing; we're gonna make apps.

What was the first app you guys started working on around that time?

So the first one, you know, it's funny, there was one I worked on for a church, it never went live. But I made it and I showed it and I tried to sell it to them. But at the time, people didn't know they needed them. 

It was really hard to convince people that their company or their organization needed an app. I know that sounds crazy now, but back then people weren't convinced. And so then we made this restaurant app. And then we made this golf app – Kevin Costner funded that one. It was very early stuff. And they were clunky and not very good. But we worked it out

We got into the top 20 on the first day with no marketing. It was nuts. It just kept getting downloaded. And we had 10,000 downloads the first day and without any marketing. I don't even know if we had a landing page.

You guys now had this opportunity to be developers for Apple. You're designing apps for them and all the stuff. What were the major challenges back then, and how did you overcome them at that time?

Some of the first challenges is even finding programmers who worked in that language. The first product we release was another golf app. And at the time, not enough people had iPhones, so that was a real challenge, because some of the apps required a lot of people to use it.

So yeah, it was that. And then I think, when I was working with bigger companies, the CEOs in that  just didn't see the benefit. 

It was kind of like trying to convince them to use Facebook in the early days. And we did that, too. They just, they were like, “Why do I need to know what somebody's eating that day?”

That's how they saw Facebook. They didn't understand it and they didn't see it as a marketing opportunity. And CEOs are, a lot of times, very late to the game on this stuff. And that was one of the challenges because my job was really to convince people to do it. It was really challenging just to get people to see how their company could utilize this technology.

The first introduction of the App Store must have changed the landscape of the tech industry. How was the industry like during those times?

We were doing a lot of web applications and mobile optimization. Because that was the big thing that people needed. They needed their websites to show up in mobile view. Because we started to see the traffic on the internet changing from 10% mobile to 50%, like it was fast. That part was pretty crazy. 

So we were tracking where people's traffic was coming from, whether it was desktop or mobile. That was the first big jump. 

And we started doing a lot of HTML5 stuff. Because we weren't sure if native was going to hold up. It's funny to say it now. But man, that was a big debate in those days. We're at war. So there was so much going on, and you just had to like pick a battle where you were gonna go.

What are the key factors that entrepreneurs need to consider when preparing for an investment in mobile apps?

Investors want to give you money, I think people don't understand that. They are dying to give you the money. The problem is that they're looking for a specific thing. And most of the time, you are not that thing. And that's, that's the challenge. 

And that thing that they're really looking for is they're looking for a person. Most importantly, it's way more important than the product. Because we can fix a product but we can't fix the person. So the person is the most important thing.

Does that person [startup owner] have realistic expectations in a vision of where this thing's gonna go? Or do they just kind of live in the sky?

I think most people think that they need to be tech-forward, people actually suggest that they're not most of the time, I would rather see them be marketing forward. I'm more of a salesperson or marketing person as opposed to a tech person. 

You can have a partner who's technology-driven. But a lot of times, a tech person has a different there has to be somebody selling it right. And if you look at that marriage of, like, probably the most classic one is Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, right? 

You had this tech guy, and then you had this great sales guy. And you had you put these two guys together. But Steve was also Jobs was also a product person. So he understood people in psychology, and he understood all of that. And so when you get to people that do that, well together, you have this really wonderful marriage and that makes for a great investment. 

You have a good chance because you have the executor and you have the idea salesperson and I think you see, most of the time, that relationship works out better than being a straight-up Mark Zuckerberg or somebody like that. 

I don't know if that’s ideal in most cases, although that seems a good investment.

Let’s talk about your company, Naked Development. Can you give our listeners an overview of the services you offer to your clients?

When people ask us to describe ourselves, I'd say we're a consultancy firm, but we are almost like an incubator. So people come to us with ideas. And we can design it; we can develop it right here in the United States, we build all of our stuff right here in Irvine, California. And we design it all locally then we market it all locally, we have a film production, group, we do all of it. 

So it's a very seamless experience. For marketing it, the whole vision and strategy are all with the same people. That's a really unique situation to be able to pull that off and then provide, you know, try to provide funding. We have investor events, and we do stuff like that, that guarantees someone that they will get in front of investors. I don't know anybody else making that claim in the market. I never thought I could be able to do that. But we do it.

You've achieved an impressive 300 app launches and 3.7 million app downloads. Can you share some of the strategies that your company has used to drive app downloads and increase user engagement?

So funny, we had our team meeting yesterday. And we were saying, the thing we have to do well is launch apps like that's what we focus on launch apps, you have to get them into the world, you know, and that is big, it's a very difficult feat — from idea all the way to actually launching something properly into the world.

So to me, I think one of the things that we do very differently than a lot of companies is we don't see anything as a one size fits all. I think there are a lot of one size fits all strategies out there. And to me, it's just not honest andI don't think it's realistic. 

So every strategy has to be different. 

I'm in every single marketing strategy meeting. I write every strategy for marketing personally because it just, it has to be thought through and you have to have a very unique strategy for each piece of software. 

If you're going to disrupt, if you're going to really get people's attention, you have to create a movement. You can't create just a product. Many people are trying to create products. People don't want to buy products anymore, they want to be a part of something they believe in. And that's the thing that really gets people's attention.

Can you share some of the most effective ways to attract new users and retain existing ones in today's highly competitive app market?

I think it starts from that message. It's a narrative that you have to tell. You can't shy away from people hating you too. 

By the way, let me just say that if you're going to pick a side in this polarising world that we have, you have to pick the side of who your user is, you know, and I don't shy away from controversy either. 

I don't really care what anybody thinks about me and that, that by having that mentality you Have you really bolster that, that following that you have, right, like, so if people really believe in you, they're gonna believe in you even more that you don't care. 

You know, that whole, you know, insecurity caring so much about what people think that is just a, it's a terrible path, right? So as a company, that's true. It's not just for people, it's for companies, right? 

If there's a group of people that hates you, well, if they're not your customer, who cares?

Focus on the people that really love you. 

And so some of the apps that we've done, that I've advised, on marketing, I tried to tell them to lean into who they are into who their customer is, instead of shying away from it. Because the tendency is to try to be down the middle. I don't want to alienate anybody. But when you do that, you're basically saying I want to be ignored. 

How does Naked Development measure the success of its apps, and what are some of the key metrics that you track to evaluate app performance?

Well, obviously, daily active users are the most probably important metric in that there is out there when it comes to apps. It’s about how often somebody opens up and looks at that app.

However, if it's a banking app, that might not be as important as a social media app, right? Like we're daily active users is everything. So I would say each KPI is a little different when it comes to analytics and stuff like that. But probably, to me, the growth of the user base is everything. Downloads? not so much. 

We don't really care about downloads; it's more about the user base growing, you know, for that specific app. And I think that it is the company itself growing, you know, not just user base, but as a company growing is their valuation, doubling and tripling, each year. 

And so we've seen some crazy valuations and stuff we worked on. We have one company go from zero to a $200 million valuation within three years. That's a crazy number, right? They got $30 million in funding.

So, how can developers use data to increase downloads and improve user engagement from there?

Oh, it's such a great question. Because the data is everything. I don't really care what your family says about it. It's the data of people that matter. And you should be obsessed with that data. 

Know what the data is and what does it say. Ask yourself, what is this data implying to us? And so, it’s understanding the flow of the app itself, and where people are falling off, where they're spending their time, even in the before they download it, you know, the funnel itself before that, like understanding how all that connects, and seeing where the user is leaving, is everything. 

And if you're not constantly making those tweaks, people want to do it all at once they want to make an app perfect for the first time and they want it to be used, that is just not a realistic world, you, you have to make something small, and you need to perfect that flow. 

Then you need to build on incrementally. 

And as you do that, you maintain what was working, and you add and take little risks as you go. And if you keep doing that, you will have a wonderful product that people love. If you try to do it all at once, you may end up with a mess, and it will never go anywhere. 

That's probably the hardest thing founders don't really understand that they want it all to happen at once. Instead of patiently understanding it's going to take time, you know, to get there. You might get users fast, but you still might fumble their experience once you get it.

So, like you have this initial idea. You create the app and you start tweaking and you're like, Okay, shoot, this isn't working, I need to kind of adjust here, just there. And so you get something perfect. 

Slack is one of the best examples of that, right? They started out as a game, right? And then they built this amazing chat inside the game. And as the chat was doing really well, the game wasn't so great. 

They went, “Oh, let's build this, let's use this chat rebuilt. And people seem to love it. And we'll just make that available to people.”  And $30 billion later or whatever, you know, it was a huge success. And, and he did that twice, by the way, the same founder. It's interesting how they're listening to the people a lot.

I see a lot of people make pivots based on their own emotions. That's not a great pivot based on what the market is doing makes a lot of sense. So I think if you're listening to the user, and you see the users doing this thing, and you're like, well, maybe we should just do that thing. 

And that's kind of what I will say, I'll go, “Hey, have you noticed that we have this, this really cool thing that they love? Let's just really lean into that and then get rid of all of our dreams.” It's kind of narcissistic to only want to build what you want to 

What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes businesses make when trying to increase app downloads, and how can they avoid these pitfalls?

One of the biggest principles I use comes from Jim Collins, the writer of Good to Great, and he has a principle that I really apply to marketing in a big way, and that is fire bullets before you fire cannon balls. I use that to how you spend money is very important in marketing. 

So I love ads. I love using influencers and I love throwing money at these things. 

However, you don't know what's going to work in your particular situation. So many times people try to buy success, they want to, because it's a quick thing, right? Like, if I just, if I go into this big contract, these guys are gonna kill it for me, and they'll buy success even with us, you know, we can't do that nobody can. You will spend make a huge risk, and you don't know if it's going to pay off. 

So as you start to try things I think you want to focus your attention on one thing at a time and spend small amounts of money before you spend big amounts of money. So to me, that's, that's a really important thing to focus on. 

For example, if we were trying to move furniture out of a room, and there were two couches, we would never go, “Hey, you lift that couch, and I'll lift this couch, and then we'll get out.” And I think often people are just, like, trying to shotgun through a lot of stuff. And they're throwing money all around, see what sticks, as they say? 

I like to focus piece by piece, methodically. And to me, that's one of the Yeah, that's one of the things you have to do. And you have to be patient, you have to let the advertising or whatever, whatever it is that you're using. Allow it to either succeed or fail. You don't know if you had a bad day, the first day you didn't fail, you need more data. But people bail so quickly. They're just like, “Oh, I tried that. That didn't work.” And I'm like, “Wow, that was quick!”

You know that DesignRush has a directory of the top mobile app development agencies globally. How can businesses benefit from outsourcing their app development needs to a professional agency, and what are some of the advantages of working with a specialized team?

I think the thing that we really do is reduce the amount of mistakes you'll probably make. So a lot of people think that hiring mobile app agencies are expensive, or whatever. Because, you know, we're obviously one of the higher-priced ones. But I think we reduce the amount of mistakes, and we reduce the amount of time, because you already are a team that works together. 

When you try to go find lots of different little pieces and ou got to bring [people into] a team together, that's a really hard thing to do. And it takes a lot of time for that team to work well together. 

So we kind of just like you call us, and just plug and play. You have a design group, a marketing group, and a development group that all love each other and spend time together. We're all getting beers later today. So you know, so like, that is a very hard thing to find. 

You can just hire that and have a great team right away, a world-class team immediately [when outsourcing agencies.] So you're going to reduce the amount of mistakes. 

I always ask this question when I talk to founders, I say, if this goes well, in three to five years, what will this company be worth? And they always inflate the number, right? It's always waited. So oh, a billion dollars. It's $100 million. And they might be right. Because I've seen it, it definitely happens. Right? 

So they'll say that and I'll say, “So are you really going to decide your success or failure over $100?” Like we're talking about big numbers. And so if you think you're going to just outsource that to a place that gave you rock bottom prices, and you're somehow going to be successful. I don't know. I just I'm like, That's pretty risky. I try to hire the best possible people. To me that's you want to stack the deck on talent? Do you have the best best possible people? Because now you have a really good shot at being successful? Because it's hard enough out there to try to do it on substandard people. 

Let’s say, for instance, someone has a great idea for an app, but they have no initial investment capital. What advice would you give them?

I tell people to spend your time and effort on marketing first. I know it sounds backwards. But I actually I think what happens is you're trying to create a narrative from the very get-go, I am a person, and I want to raise money. I'm going to I want to build this thing. I think it's cool. Start to gather a bunch of people that actually believe in what you're trying to do, try to do that if you had an audience, investment would come your way.

Design something out, do your best, I've seen somebody raise a million dollars with a terrible-looking design before, you know, like, if you can do you can do it. 

But you have to be a go-getter, you've got to put all your energy into it. And it can't be like one of the things you're kind of doing; it's got to be your mission. Get the distractions out of your life. 

Let’s say, I want to be an Olympic athlete. Well, think of the sacrifice that an Olympic athlete goes through. Do you think that being a startup owner is any different? No, of course not. It's not you're trying to change the world. How do you think you will do that without using the disciplines of an Olympic athlete as an example?

How do you think AI is going to affect the app development industry?

 Change everything. It already is, yeah, it already is. We're already used to utilizing a lot of AI in the office. To do certain processes, we've created certain IPs that we own now that we don't release to anybody else. That is speeding up the process of building apps. 

Watch for it, where you could come into our office and we could spend a day with you. Because we do a two-day thing. We work on your product one day, and we work on your marketing the next and fly from all over the world to come to our office to do that. So what I want to be able to do is have you stay a week, and maybe we're delivering your app by the end of that week. Done. I actually think we're gonna get there. And I think we will do it in the next year or two. I think we'll be able to launch apps within a couple of weeks. 

Now, it's still going to take a lot of people and you'll still have to be intensively working on it. But I think we're speeding up and seeing the speed of processes happen. Or we're going to be able to do it much, much faster. And so I'm excited about that. 

Because I think the period of time it takes to go through building an app is very painful for people. I mean, there's also a lot of like going back and forth, you know, especially when you're working with clients. So that would really be super, really revolutionary to do in a week or two.

I'd like to talk more about the UI and UX design. What would you say are some tips for designing an app that's both functional and aesthetically pleasing? 

It's all about the architecture of simplicity. And that's really the whole reason for the name behind making. It's about simplicity and the architecture around simplicity and the workflow around that is so critical. 

What I see a lot of young founders do is that they go and design their own app, and I have nothing against them given it a shock. But I can tell you, it takes a tremendous amount of experience to do what these designers do, about how to make something as simple to use as possible. 

I downloaded an app yesterday. And it was one I heard on a podcast and I downloaded it, I was like, I tracked my macros on my food every day, and I weigh all my food, I'm stupid, so and so I do that. And so I heard of this new app, and I got on there. 

And I thought about leaving my Fitness Pal for this. 

So I got on there and that experience was so confusing that I immediately got rid of my trial. And I was like, it was such a good idea, but poorly executed, that I was like, “Ah, that sucks. I really wanted this to be good.” 

I just think people think that [their app is] easier than it really is. It's simple as hard. Simple as not easy. So watching people go, “Oh, this will be really easy. It's simple.” To me, that's an oxymoron. That's not simple as difficult.

We always want more, we always think more is better. We hear founders use the word “robust,” a lot. Like nice, robust. That, to me, spells founder insecurity. I call it app insecurity. 

It's like if my app doesn't do enough, it won't be successful. It's so there's this discipline of saying no, that is so critical that people don't have it's not intuitive at all. It's it's counterintuitive. But you think Amazon; they call it Amazon, it was huge. That's a big thing, right? The biggest river in the world, right? So he clearly had a big vision. But what was his first product used books? So that takes a lot of discipline. 

What are the key elements of a successful app logo, and how can developers create a logo that stands out in the market?

Logos, to me, is one of the most arbitrary things there is in the process because I don't hear people go, “Oh, that's a good logo,” or “This is a good logo.” And I'm like, “Really?” 

Have you looked at the logos that you that are the most important companies in the world? They're just a font. They're a font. That's all they are. 

People, they have this, you know, logo insecurity, almost. It's like, it's got to have all these elements and do all these things. And I'm like, really, most great logos are just a font. So I would just say, and I do think an icon it's important for now. It is good. 

So I love branding. And I love that process. But I wouldn't say it's everything at all, I would say you should do it, you should go through the process. It's more about what you believe and what your values are. To me, that's more important than the logo. 

The logo will become something if there's meaning behind it. You take our name, the criticism I got for calling a company Naked. From the get-go, you have no idea how the other kind of craziness of the things that people said, like, why would you call a company that you know, but after we had a name, nobody cared? 

It just sounded provocative. So we've had, you know, you know, people thought I did it to just be provocative, and I was like, No, that's not the whole point. Listen, you didn't hurt that it is. Yeah, it did. Yeah. It didn't hurt, you know. Yeah, exactly. So Wink, wink. It could be in there somewhere. But for the most part, it had more meaning than that.

Keep up with John Driscoll through his LinkedIn and read more exclusive Spotlight interviews here

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