Please tell us a little more about Branch Metrics and the genesis of the company.
Branch is a mobile deep linking SDK and API at its core, but it’s more generally a technology that companies use to help grow their app base and enable it to fit seamlessly into a mobile user’s journey. Our technology actually allows you to carry data or context through the install process. So, say for example you have a user that downloads your app from a marketing email or from the mobile web – we can track where they came from, what they were looking at, or what they were clicking on when they decided to download your app, and we can pass all that data in. It really serves a couple of main purposes.
One, you can deep link new users through the install process so if somebody downloads your app because they’re looking at, say, a pair of shoes on the mobile web, after they install, you want to actually deep link them right to the shoes.
And then two, on the developer or the marketers’ side, you’re actually able to track more insights — you’re actually able to see where your installs are coming from, which marketing initiatives are working (or not working), and see who your influential users are. So let’s say you get 2,000 installs in a day. They may come from the App Store, but a lot of them are actually coming from user sharing, referrals, mobile web, or a marketing email, and previously you couldn’t actually track where those installs were coming from. But now you can actually track based on a unique link basis, where every single user is coming from, so you can see what’s working and what isn’t.
And just a little bit more about deep linking in case this is helpful — deep linking is basically the ability that takes somebody to a deeper spot within the app. So a specific page or view controller within the hierarchy of an app or a website.
Deep linking traditionally on the web is something that we see every day. You might click on a link that takes you right to a BuzzFeed article. When it comes to native mobile apps, deep linking has been broken up until Branch, because you couldn’t deep link through the install process, and there was no standard for mobile deep linking.
Even if you already have the app installed, deep linking is very difficult, because apps are constructed very differently than websites. So Branch makes sure that a user clicking on a deep link gets routed appropriately, and is taken through the most seamless flow, and even if they’re downloading app for the first time that they can still get deep linked.
You guys were app developers prior to Branch, and so you have a really personal understanding of the pains app developers face. What would you say are the top three to five pain points that most app developers experience today?
So a little background. We are app developers, we built a consumer facing app, got featured in the App Store, and we had some pretty good growth initially to a couple of hundred thousand users in the first three months. But then after the feature died down, we realized that we needed to grow organically, so we tried multiple growth techniques: we built in user sharing; we paid some people to write about us on their blogs, did a lot of marketing emails, and that’s really where the genesis of the Branch came from — struggling with the linking and the tracking of users, and being able to take them to the appropriate place inside the app in all cases, regardless of what device, OS, OS version, browser, or channel they came from.
That’s when we realized that we really wanted to solve that core problem nobody had solved before. When it comes it what app developers are facing today, we personally talk to hundreds of apps every month, so we hear a lot.
I would say there are three main issues that app developers are always facing: growth (or discoverability), engagement and retention, and then monetization. So the monetization piece is easy if you have a product that you can monetize — maybe you run ads, maybe you sell products, and that’s something that you can solve. It’s usually baked into the business model.
The retention and engagement piece is a big one, and I’m sure we’ve all seen these charts, where you see on average 90% of your app users drop off after the first month. So you spend all this time, and these efforts trying to get people to download your app, and then almost all of them drop off and don’t stay retained. This kind of ties into this problem of all these apps being on people’s phone, and the fact that people tend to use just a few apps every month, and all the other apps are just kind of sitting there not really doing anything because retention is really hard.
But before you can even care about monetization or retention you really have to care about growth, or getting users to your app. And especially if you’re a new app developer — you build this app, you invest your life into building this and launching it, and then you put it out there, and it’s really tough to grow. You might have a great app that really is compelling for a lot of people, but if people don’t know about it, it’s very difficult to get discovered, and this is partially what Branch thinks about a lot.
So it’s not just the deep linking platform that people can leverage for all these different features, but it’s about how you grow your app and convert those users so they stay engaged. When it comes to growth and discoverability, this is something that we really focus on, so let me talk about some of the challenges app developers face with growth and discoverability.
The problem is that these days 15,000 new apps launch every week on the App Store alone. The only way for people to really discover your app is for them to go to the App Store. For the most part, when they go to the App Store, what do they see? They see the featured apps of the week by Apple, the team at Apple has decided are the top apps they recommend. Now you either need to be lucky or rich, to get your new app discovered. Lucky in that you are picked up randomly (or through a personal connection) by the App Store out of the 15,000 apps, and you’re one out of the five that they’re going to feature that week. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s really, really rare. More often, it’s that you’re rich enough (that is, your company has enough money) to run a lot of ads to your app, but that’s usually tied to the larger players or the recently funded.
So if you’re a big company with money and you launch an app, you have the power to influence some of these charts. Or you may know somebody inside the App Store review team, and you can get in front of them, and convince them that your app is one of the ones that should be featured. The problem is that there are ten apps every week that are able to get featured — what about the other 14,990?
They’re almost dead in the water from the moment they launch, because there’s no good way to discover the majority of apps. And we kind of equate the app discovery problem in the ecosystem today to the way the web was, back in the mid to late 90’s before advanced search came around. (Where you would go into these user directories of other websites, where other people have chosen the top websites that you should care about). And then Google came along and said, no, we’re going to go scrape the content inside of websites, we’re going to understand what content is in there and how relevant it is to you, and then also how important it is, what kind of engagement it has, etc.
So they scrape these websites and they put PageRank on top of it, then put this advanced search on top of it, so you as a user could go and discover whatever it is was that was most relevant to you based on your intent. And what Google would return to you was content that was based on relevancy and intent, irrespective of whether or not you knew about the website before. What you cared about was the content.
So it wasn’t that you needed to go find the website domain first and then search around the website — which is by the way how apps today work, and how app discovery today works. You need to go to the App Store, find the app, and then download it and then look around to see if it has the content that you are looking for. Google with the web, said “no, no, no” that’s backwards, you should be able to look for the content you’re looking for, and we will return whatever that content is, irrespective of the website that it’s on.
And that is what’s broken with the app discovery ecosystem right now. You need to get featured in the App Store. If you can’t get featured in the App Store, you need to pay a lot of money for ads. Again, big companies are the ones that have the ad money. A brand new app that’s built by two people in their basement — they don’t have a million dollars to go spend on advertisements to go acquire users.
This is going to become more and more difficult over the next couple of years, as app install ads get more expensive, and as venture financing tightens up. Then really the third option is, you hope to get lucky and pray that somebody discovers your app, and then it spreads by word of mouth but that’s very, very difficult.
Paid User Acquisition is starting to get really expensive. Fiksu recently put out a report that said the cost of acquiring a loyal user was $4.23. Do you think this is the sustainable at all for paid User Acquisition?
I think it’s sustainable, but it’s going to be challenging. I think what’s going to happen is that it’s going to weed out the smaller guys, and it’s going to become a competition between the bigger guys — the ones who already have money.
When we had our consumer app in 2013, Facebook app install ads were still relatively new. We were able to acquire an install for anywhere between $0.60 and $1.50. It was amazing. We knew it was an arbitrage opportunity because there weren’t a lot of people that were doing it yet, so we ran app install ads on Facebook and it was helpful. But even at that price we were borderline breakeven. Because let’s say you acquire user, and they install at $1.00 – 19 out of 20 installs may not convert to anything.
So suddenly, you’re paying a dollar for an install, but you’re paying for 20 to 40 or 50 installs in order to get a user that actually buys something. So your customer acquisition cost is actually more like $40 or $50. Now, when you start thinking about your app install ads being 4 dollars or 5 dollars or 6 dollars, suddenly that grows exponentially, if you need 40 users at $4 an install in order to convert somebody to become a paying user, that’s $160 just to get one purchase. And so suddenly your cost of acquisition becomes significantly higher, not just for installs, but actually for paying users and for actual conversions. That is not really sustainable.
I think what we’re going to start to see is a little bit of disruption. You’re going to first see people stop doing that, then you’re also going to see new products and features that enable discovery of apps, either at a cheaper rate, or that are focused on acquiring more high quality users, so your conversion to purchase, or conversion to paying user is actually higher.
If somebody come to us back then and said, hey, we’ll charge you $10 per install but each one of those installs is going to be somebody that purchases something, we would have done it, because that would’ve been cheaper than paying for 40 installs at a $1 when only one of those installs actually converted to a customer.
Retention rates of that are below 20% for a user coming back to use the app after the first 7 days. Why do you think this is the case and are there any ways that mitigate these retention rates?
I think it’s a combination of a couple of reasons. I think first it ties into how well that user was onboarded and what kind of experience they got the first time. Also, I think this kind of ties into some of the things that we do with Branch, and some of the things we help with, but we won’t talk about that too much today.
Basically somebody that downloads your app just made a commitment to you saying, “hey, I’m going to give you my time, and download your app, and I’m going to try it out.” If they get dumped on the home screen, and then have to log in, and aren’t getting deep linked, users will just get frustrated and they leave the app. When they leave the app, they’re frustrated, and so they delete it or never come back.
At Branch, when people deep link users to content, we actually see a 2x on the retention and the engagement. And so it doubles the retention. We actually did a study across thousands of apps that proved this: what’s basically happening is people are getting a great first time experience, so they stay in the app longer. As they stay in the app longer, you capture more of their attention and they see more value in the apps, so they’re more likely to come back.
It’s crazy but true, that you can double retention just by deep linking them and giving them a good first-time user experience, which is the first piece. I think the second piece is that there are just so many apps, and a lot of people will download them even if it’s for one-time use. Let’s say you’re going to use Yelp, but you only need it your first time. You download the Yelp app, you might use it quickly, but the likelihood that you’re going to come back and use it again might be low, because you only had intention to do it that one time.
So it’s kind of this problem that there are so many apps out there, and a lot of people are pushing everything to apps. They end up with these users that download it temporarily, use it, and then maybe never use it again, and then clear it off their phone when they’re cleaning up their apps. In terms of way to mitigate it I already talked about personalizing the on-boarding experience.
Another way that’s kind of interesting is if you have a mobile web experience, you can actually consider keeping people on the mobile web a little bit instead of forcing them to the App Store right away. Then, if you see the user continue to return (say, they come back 5 times in a month), then you try to push them to the app store to download your app because at that point it’s clear that this person is repeatedly getting use out of your company. (Branch has a new product that does this for you, by the way).
So you might actually consider not pushing everyone to the app, and instead pushing them to the mobile web, if it makes sense — if they’re a first time user, or somebody just looking at the content for the first time.
Interesting. When do you think mobile will start becoming really important for brands, as they build out their mobile apps and start using deep linking. Are you already seeing signs of this?
Yeah, 100%. We’re already seeing signs of this. It’s funny because when we starter Branch in 2014, nobody knew what deep linking was, so it has been really incredible to see the shift over the past two years. Back then, it was maybe a few early adopters and that was it. And then we built Branch, and we launched it, and we started going to the market. Some other companies started talking about deep linking, and then TechCrunch started covering deep linking a little bit more.
And the timing kind of worked out, where we were already out in the market for about 6 months, and that’s when it became a hot topic. And just now (2016) we’re starting to cross the chasm. This is a business term, where you have the early adopters, and the early adopters are the ones that discover technologies before anyone else does. They’re a small subset, but they’re the ones that were using deep linking a year ago, two years ago.
And then there’s like the main chunk of adopters, like the 70%-80%. That’s the majority, it’s the main market, and these are people that are not early adopters. They’re not discovering technologies, but once they hear about stuff enough times, especially from early adopters, eventually they transition to that, after the early adopters have validated it.
Then on the tail end on the other side of that you have the late adopters. These are the people that wait much longer than everyone else, and are playing catch up all the time. Six years from now they’ll be like “Hey, what’s this deep linking thing? Maybe we should be doing it,” and most likely the market has already moved on to something else.
So we’re at this point where we feel we’re crossing the chasm when it comes to deep linking, because we’re talking to bigger brands, bigger companies that are not early adopters, ones that are just kind of like standard, right in the middle, that don’t adopt technologies early, or kind of use the core things that are already proven out. Those guys are now talking about deep linking, investigating deep linking, and it’s kind of becoming a priority for them.
What they’re realizing is – this thing has been around for a couple of years, they don’t know anything about it – but they know people have been using it. So we’ve already started to see signs of the big brands that maybe weren’t even mobile first, starting to use deep linking or think about deep linking, which is a really exciting time, because now it’s the rest of the market — that 80% of users that are aware of it, and are starting to use it.
What are some use cases for Branch deep links?
Branch’s deep links can be used in a variety of different ways, but really what it comes down to is being able to route your mobile users into your mobile app in the most seamless way, and also directly to whatever it is they care about. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Let’s say somebody is on their mobile phone inside the browser, and they’re on a website. They might be looking at either content, and maybe it’s a media article or maybe it’s a product. Maybe they’re on the Macy’s website and they see a pair of shoes. People will download from smart banners or interstitials regularly. A high volume of people will download the app from here.
Previously, if you just used the standard iOS or Android banner, you don’t get any tracking about that, and you also can’t take the user to that spot within the app after they download. With Branch, what you can do is when the person clicks and downloads, we pass in that information about where they came from, and what they’re looking at, or where they should get deep linked to. So post install you can take them right to whatever that content is.
Let’s say they were reading a Medium article, and they decided to download after that install, you can deep link them directly to that Medium article. Or, you can ask them to sign in, and then deep link them to the Medium article. Or if it’s the Macy’s example, if they’re looking at a pair of shoes, you can take them post install directly to that pair of shoes.
Now it also works if the user has the app, and obviously that’s the most seamless and easiest transition – the user has the app and they click on something, and it just deep links them automatically. That’s not the real technical challenge that Branch has solved. We do work in that scenario, but the core benefit of using Branch is being able to deep link new users through the install process and really make sure any user gets the most optimized flow. The second thing is we give you is attribution or analytics around what people are doing, what they’re clicking on, when they’re downloading, how many people are downloading, and why.
Previously you might be able to use something like a Mixpanel or Google Analytics to get information about pre-install analytics. Basically who is viewing my site, or viewing my emails, or clicking on these links. Afterwards you might be able to use a Mixpanel that way, to see when people are inside your app, where are they dropping off, or what stages are they converting at.
What was missing was this attribution or tracking technology that enabled you to couple those two together, so with Branch you can get this full-funnel attribution. What I mean by that is you can get every piece of information from when somebody clicks on a marketing email, a smart banner, or a shared piece of content and track the click, whether or not that user had the app installed already; if they tracked the click you can know if the app was opened, and if they didn’t have the app they can know where the user went after, e.g. if they went to the App Store which eventually led to an install. They also can track if each of these converting users reached a certain custom event, like a sign up, or a purchase.
You can do kinds of this full funnel attribution so you can see that, for example, “Hey, we’re sending marketing emails, or getting 100,000 clicks on our marketing emails. 50,000 of them have the app installed so they open it, and we’re getting 10,000 new installs. Of those 10,000 new installs, 5,000 are converting to sign up, and 2,000 are converting to purchase.” Full funnel analytics had previously been difficult.
What are the most common organic user acquisition channels and how can that developer best use Brach in each case?
There are a few different ones, and really the best user acquisition channel is going to be dependent on the size, and the type of the company, as well as the app. One is sharing – user-to-user sharing – and this is like content sharing. It might be app sharing through referrals, where user A might send some content like a Flipagram link to another user via SMS, or they might just refer somebody to the app because there is some type of referral bonus.
The second is social sharing – one to many type sharing – where people are putting things on Facebook, Twitter, etc. The third is the web to mobile app transition, which is taking users that are on the mobile web, and transitioning them into the app, and then into app users. The way that works is that somebody is on the mobile web, or hits your mobile web from a search result, or email, and taking those users via a smart banner or interstitial, to get them to download the app. This is one of biggest potential sources of installs for companies with a mobile website, and it’s being underutilized today.
The fourth that’s pretty common is the more advertising type user acquisition, that’s done with bigger companies. The cool thing with Branch is that you can show not only an ad for your app, but also you can show an ad for specific content within your app.
So let’s say your Airbnb, or Pinterest, or HotelTonight. Let’s take HotelTonight for example.
HotelTonight shows ads for specific hotels or cities that exist within HotelTonight. So let’s say you were to search for something on Google or you see an ad for Chicago hotels, and so searched on Google for “Chicago hotels tonight” or “hotel deals last minute”, and an ad pops up that says, “Chicago hotels with last minute deals”, and it’s a HotelTonight ad. When somebody clicks and downloads the HotelTonight app, Branch passes that information in, and HotelTonight can actually deep link them to the Chicago hotel, or to the hotels that are inside the ad — so you can enable very content-specific ads using Branch. That’s beneficial for people who have money for user acquisition more than anyone else.
The mobile web to app transition, taking people from your mobile website with your smart banner or interstitial to the app — that’s good for people with high volumes on their websites. So if you have people coming to your website through Google SEO search results, marketing emails, or other sort of campaigns, it’s really beneficial, and this is often the case with a lot of large companies.
They might see anywhere from 20,000 to 1,000,000 people daily land on their mobile website, and they can convert those people pretty highly into app users, by showing them some of our features. When it comes to the other stuff, especially user-to-user sharing and referrals, that’s great for small apps because it’s really easy to do, and it helps spread the viral growth of the app, and helps people discover apps that they otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and you can really incentivize people to share.
Flipagram does this with us. You can make a flip on Flipagram, share it with people, and people do share it quite a bit. When they share, you can get new installs from those shares, and that’s a real organic free way to spread your app.
Over 50,000 apps get submitted to the App Store every month and now they’re over 2 or 3 million apps total in the Google and iOs App Stores, will there ever be a point where there’s just too many apps for the market to sustain?
It’s really hard to tell. I think something needs to change.
The reason I say it’s hard to tell is because I think people felt this way about the web. They felt that there were just way too many websites back in the 90’s, and there was no way that it was sustainable so it had to reduce down.
I think what does need to happen, is that some things need to change. Let me give you some examples. We use this count for 3 million apps a lot. There’s a lot of apps in the App Store that are zombie apps — maybe they got submitted for a conference, and there’s a conference specific app that lasted two days. It might still exist on the App Store, but nobody’s going to use it, or will download it, and so there’s no real point to having that, but it gets included in the count. But there are a lot of like actual apps out there that are getting submitted, that are finding it really hard to get traction.
I think what needs to change is the permanence of these apps on their phone. What I mean by that, is it’s very similar to the 90’s, when people would have to download all their programs to their computer instead of viewing it on a website, and then everything went to the web and it’s very temporary.
I think what needs to happen with the apps is, instead of it being a permanent download on the phone, it should be more of a temporary download, where you have people that want to use something temporarily, but they don’t want to have it sit on their home screen. It might be something that downloads temporarily, they use it, it goes away after they don’t use it, and so it doesn’t persist. And then if they want to keep it persistent, they can keep it downloaded on there.
So I think we’ll start to see some things there. I think we also will start to see optimization around mobile websites, but I think mobile websites are going to continue to be challenging in the sense that there’s so much more that you could do inside apps, and there’s so much more innovation inside of apps, than the mobile web. The mobile web exists on old protocols, and is not going to keep up at the same pace that Apple and Google are developing their technologies for native apps.
Other than monetizing through Ad Networks and IAP, are there any interesting business models you’ve seen work for app developers?
I would say not really. It’s pretty standard how you make money in native apps. You do advertisements, or you make somebody purchase inside your app. Whether that purchase is a physical good, or it’s a subscription model, it’s rare to see something really creative done that’s outside of this.
One thing that I will say, is that I’ve seen some people do creative things to get around the cut that Apple takes. Let me talk about that a little bit. Apple and Google they take 30% cuts, some people feel that’s pretty significant and almost too much, and some people would argue that’s it warranted.
But, the challenge is they take your monthly recurring subscription — and if you sell something that’s $10 a month, and you immediately have to give 30% to Apple, you only get $7, and you still have to pay all your expenses. What I’ve seen people do that’s pretty interesting (whether or not this is allowed is up to Apple and Google to decide) is when somebody decides that they want to subscribe, they’ll actually kick them out of the app, make them register, and subscribe and pay in the mobile web. Then once they’re done paying inside the mobile web, then they’ll kick them back into the app.
The reason that’s interesting is because they subscribed or paid outside of the app, and so they don’t need to pay Apple their recurring 30% every month.
So if you are selling something that’s a subscription for $10 a month, and you can go out to the mobile web to get them to finish signing up and subscribe and pay, then all $10 just goes to you, and then you can kick them back into the app so that they’ll continue getting the user experience that you want. Then all you need to do is to make sure the person is registered, or they need to sign-in inside of the app, so that you know it’s the right user.
There’s obviously downsides to that too. For example somebody can sign in on a different device, that isn’t the registered device that Apple knows is associated with the user, but I think the apps care less about that because they care about keeping the extra 30%. That’s one of the more creative things that I’ve seen.
How does custom onboarding with Branch deep links work?
I won’t go too much into the technical details, but the basics of it are when a user clicks on something to download — maybe that was a referral link, or a link that was shared including some content, or a smart banner or marketing email — any of those have a link behind them, inside of that link is data. So there’s a JSON data dictionary, and that has key value pairs about where the user came from, who sent them a referral link, what product they were looking at, and so we store that data on our system, and when that user downloads an app and they open the app for the first time, the first thing that runs is Branch.
So we have some initialization code and it calls Branch and says, “Hey, this user came from this link, was there a data dictionary associated with this link?” And if so we pass that JSON in. And once that JSON is passed in, there’s a little bit of logic that happens — and this is all happening during the initialization so it’s you know, 20, 30, maybe 40 milliseconds — so the user doesn’t even notice it.
There’s logic that says, if the data includes a referral link, or if it links to a deep link for a product, then show a different view controller for this user based on that data. So in this case – let’s say it’s a product like a pair of shoes, we’ll pass the data in, and the logic might say if it’s a product ID, take them instead to the product ID page, rather than taking them to the main home screen or the main landing page inside the app.
It’s purely just the ability to pass in this data, and then to add a little bit of logic that redirects the user once they’re inside of the app based on what that data is.
A second example would be that somebody comes from a referral, and we know who sent the referral. We can grab the referrers name and even their picture, and then we’ll pass that data into the app, which will say that — if this person came from a referral, then show them the referral welcome screen, which can be a pop-up that says, the referrers name, their picture, and a custom welcome message.
It would say “Mike has invited you to try HotelTonight, get $25 off your first purchase”. So that’s a very custom on-boarding.
When they sign up from there, when people personalize the on-boarding experience, we see double conversion to sign up or activation for those users. We can talk a little bit about the psychology here, but it’s mainly because when that user feels like their app has been customized for them, and it has provided some sort of value, there’s this feeling of commitment that they have. They feel like “Wow, they’ve really gone the extra mile and I’ve never seen something like this before” and they’re much more likely to take the next step.
Do you ever see a future where apps function like websites with free and open linking between them? Is it your goal to have all these inner app links be Branch links?
Absolutely. I think we’ve already started this, and we’ll continue to see more and more of this where Branch, and other companies including Apple and Google, make it more seamless to link into and out of apps. With interlinking, things are more seamless, and there’s a higher probability that people are going to be more amenable to linking people to other things, and we see it every day in so many apps that we work with.
Let me give you an example with Yummly and Instacart. Yummly is a recipe app, and Instacart is a food delivery app. In Yummly, if you’re looking at a recipe, and you decide that this is the recipe that you want to make, there’s a button inside there that actually says “Get these delivered with Instacart”.
So if you click on that button, behind it is a Branch link, and inside that Branch link are all the ingredients to that recipe, and then it will link to Instacart, and open Instacart with a prepopulated shopping cart of all those ingredients. If you didn’t have the Instacart app that would be fine too, because when you click, you could download the Instacart app, open it, and Branch would still pass on those ingredients and which would automatically populate your cart with them. This boosts conversions to Instacarts’ cart purchase, which is really incredible. So we’re already seeing this happen between these apps.
We want to enable people to link as seamlessly as possible into and out of apps, and I think there’s no better way to do it than Branch. I could envision a world in which Branch links are used consistently going into and out of apps, and taking people through the most seamless flow. That’s all we think about, and that’s all we do every day – we make sure that we handle all the edge cases, all the scenarios, to make sure that users get routed in the most seamless way. If you use Branch you can do a lot of powerful things.
Why do you think an app developer be incentivized to link to another app?
There’s a couple of reasons. One is that there’s something complimentary to your app, and you just want to give somebody a great user experience.
What that might be is that you’re an aggregator of content. (I think Flipboard is kind of like this) You might want to enable people to view that content, and find the content inside of your app, but then go to some other app that the original content resides in.
Another way is if you have a complimentary app, and you think the user would benefit. Yummly and Instacart is a great example — there’s a few other examples that we can’t talk about unfortunately. You can link users because they want to do something inside another app, and the hope is that they come back. Pinterest and Airbnb could probably do fun things together. I think there’s a lot of apps that are complimentary that can really link back and forth to each other that would be really great.
The final reason is that some of those apps will pay each other. So if somebody sends somebody into their app they might pay that other app for that install, user, or view. Or if somebody converts or purchases something, they might give the referring app an affiliate type fee. So I think there are some interesting things that you could do, but I think one of the main challenges has not been competition, as much as it has been the technological challenges, of giving users a really poor experience as they try to link out of and into apps.
Are there any numbers you can share in the scale of Branch so far, like number of links, or total apps using it, or total users you’re seeing through these apps?
We have about 11,000 apps using us now, and we’re growing really quickly. Everything has been exponential so to give you a sense of scale, a year ago this month, we were in about 1,200 apps — so it’s been more than 10X growth.
The technology has only been public for about 18 months, and we started with 10 beta customers, but it has been growing consistently ever since then.
I think it’s because it speaks to the need that the market has for something like this, and we just happen to have a technology that works really well. On top of that, that growth is not coming from sales — it’s coming from word of mouth growth.
About 99% of our integrations are inbound, people coming to our website, people hearing about us. Which is awesome because if you build a technology and 99% of your customers are coming inbound, that means you’ve done something right in terms of finding a good product market fit.
Are there any growth tips you can share?
For our company growth, we grew really quickly. Again, we were very fortunate to be lucky, and to have the right timing to build a technology that solved the need for more people than just us.
But when it comes to growing a company, early on you need to do anything and everything to grow, and you need to monitor your data or your analytics, to detect what’s working, and what isn’t. Then you need to kill things that aren’t working and double down on the things that are.
Let me give you an example. When we were very early, we didn’t really know how to market this. We didn’t really know what was going to work and what wasn’t, we didn’t have money for advertising, and we didn’t have money for a sales team. So we were just doing things that didn’t scale, just doing anything and everything that we could. And one day I created a Meetup group for Mobile Growth, and I just said, “Let me just create this group, let’s get some people together, we’ll do a couple of talks, it should be interesting.”
And we invited some people and we end up having 70 people at our first mobile growth meet up. This was done in 3 weeks, and we just asked a couple of people to speak, and 70 people came.
We were blown away by how many people came, and we didn’t really talk too much about Branch and just focused on mobile growth. So we did it again in the next month, and a hundred people came, and that’s when we started realizing there’s a big need in the community – so let’s double down on this.
About 18 months after starting that, we have about 50 meet up groups around the world, where we do about 10 to 15 events or meet ups a month, and we have over 16,000 people that are in our mobile growth community. That was one of those things that we didn’t know was going to work but we tested it and it did.
We were doing 10 different marketing initiatives at the time, and that one just seemed to resonate with people. So we stopped doing some other things that didn’t make sense, and we just doubled down on that. We tracked the metrics, we tracked how many people we talked to, and how many integrations we got from that, and we started realizing the ROI for that was so much better than the ROI for some other things that we were doing.
That’s when we decided we were going to expand this group outside of San Francisco, and we were going to go to New York, we were going to go to LA, Seattle, Vancouver. We went to India, Russia, Serbia, Brazil — now we’ve expanded to all over the world, and have people running these for us in these countries, so that we could get brand exposure outside of SF, and the ROI for it is incredibly high.
But we didn’t know that that was going to work, and I think that what we needed to do early on is just try a bunch of things, see what works, and see what doesn’t, and then quickly kill what doesn’t.
What about growth for apps?
This is the most difficult thing I would say when it comes to apps, because when you’re an app, and you’re launching against 15,000 other apps launching in the App Store, how do you get eyeballs on it? You can do all the traditional things.
You can do referrals, you can do user-to-user sharing, you can do marketing emails, you can do growth hacks, you can run advertisements — but that’s not going to differentiate you unless you get really lucky. So obviously try to build a product that people love, and then do a bunch of growth hacks, and do whatever you possibly can to actually get people to download it — but that’s still challenging.
Think about it from eyeballs perspective – in order for people to download your app, you need the eyeballs to do it. Going from zero eyeballs to a million eyeballs, is incredibly, incredibly hard. Think about creative ways in which you can get your app in front of tens or hundreds of thousands of people at any given time.
I’m not talking about advertising, I’m talking about more creative ways. So whether that be, Bill has a blog that people really love and want people to come to, or that may be leveraging an existing website that you have and try to funnel those people into the app, or whether that be partnering with other people that can actually give you the eyeballs — that’s the way that you will be able to grow scalably. But that’s also challenging to do.
To what extent can you reveal how you think Branch will monetize in the future?
There are a number of different ways in which we will monetize. For the readers, Branch is a free open source mobile SDK and API.
All the features that currently that exist on our website are free — anyone can use it, you can sign up for free, and integrate for free and there’s no cost to it. We have some premium support SLAs that you can pay, for but for the most part it’s free.
In terms of how we monetize, that’s going to be based on a variety of different things. We will have some more premium features that we’ll be adding soon, that people can pay for, but then there’s also a massive market opportunity around the app discoverability environment.
I can’t talk about what those products or features are, but when you start thinking of the big opportunities compared to maybe the SaaS opportunity of a deep linking software, the SaaS opportunity is relatively small, and we’re building this to really build a big business and to help democratize app discoverability.
So there’s a number of different things that we’re able to do with our network, with the number of eyeballs we see, with the information that we have, that allows developers to get their app discovered in new and unique ways that will ultimately provide monetization opportunities for us.
Lastly, what do you see is the future of mobile organic user acquisition and retention?
Let me talk about the retention piece first. I think we’re going to have to see some major changes when it comes to how people are able to retain users. I don’t know exactly what those are, but I think personalized on-boarding is one. Making sure that you push people to the app that are high value users, but don’t push people to the app that are just general visitors might be another. On that latter point, the problem is that we might have fewer downloads, but the downloads that you have might be more valuable.
For organic user acquisition, I think there’s a few. Obviously user-to-user growth is really interesting, but I don’t think that comes with the volume or the scale that apps can really benefit from.
I would say there’s two other areas that are really interesting. One is influencers, and what I mean by that is there are a lot of people with massive social media followers, that can influence a lot of people. I don’t think that that has really been tapped into as much as it could be, and I’m talking about anything from like a fashion blogger that posts on Instagram, to the people posting on Facebook or Twitter. I think there’s a massive opportunity for those influencers to actually drive a lot of people to certain apps, for things that they’re using, that sort of stuff. For example let’s say there’s a fashion blogger, and she’s on Instagram. What happens when somebody wants to buy some of that whatever she’s wearing?
We’re starting to see it more and more in the partners that we talk to, where people want to take advantage of those influencers, who have a massive influence over their user base. So that’s one. But, again, I think that’s relatively small.
I think another big opportunity is in the affiliate model. It hasn’t been tapped into as much, and I think part of that is because venture funding has been so easy to come by, that a lot of people have instead gone out and raised money because it has been easy to raise and then spent that money on ads. But as the market sours a little bit over the next couple of years, and venture funding is a little bit harder to come by, people are going to have to get a little bit more savvy and creative with how they acquire users in a more organic fashion. And I think affiliate type markets are something that – while different, and while smaller scale – are a way for people to really grow their app, in a cheaper or even organic method. Whether that be app install trading, from app to app, or other affiliate type networks, I think are some interesting things that will be possible in the next couple of years.
Branch links pass referring and contextual data through install, allowing you to customize the whole app experience depending on where your users come from.
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Learn more at branch.io/why-branch/