70% of the apps today fail before they reach their first 5,000 users. In this post, we’re going to talk about the most common mistakes that app developers and marketers make while strategizing for user acquisition in a competitive market.

The app market is growing at a tremendous rate and by 2020, App Annie suggests that it could potentially generate over $101 billion from smartphone users across iOS, Android, and other platforms.

But with apps failing like the dot coms, we set out to investigate ‘why’ they never worked. The problem lied in the core element of an app’s growth – the user acquisition funnel.

An ideal user acquisition funnel is nicely described by Ruchi Thukral, in this post here. She talks about how the funnel is actually broken into 3 simple parts – see, think and do.

user acquisition funnel ruchi thukral

Now let’s take a look at the most common mistakes that lead to an app’s failure across the funnel:

1. Failing to focus on ‘see’

You’ve made an app and you loosely have an idea around who is going to use it. But have you created your ideal user personas yet? Right from who they are, what they could be looking for to stumble upon your app to what will actually nudge them to interact with you, have it all listed down. Treat each persona as an individual with distinct interests and behaviour.

Once you have your personas in hand, it’s time to spread awareness about what you’re offering. Use partnerships, different types of content, paid ads or do an email outreach. Spread the word out, but focus on addressing the ‘problem’ you’re addressing or how you’re different from the rest while doing so.

2. Not ‘thinking’ it through

This is where it is all about getting all the information you can gather about your users and finding a way to engage them with your app. It is the point when a user is thinking about downloading your app and what it is going to do for him – so being ready with some answers is your only hack to acquiring them.

Think from the user’s perspective at this point – how are you going to nudge his interest to a download and how you’re going to engage them right after.

And now for when the user downloads your app. This is where you define if you’re going to hit the 5,000 users mark or die trying!

3. Not strategizing the ‘do’ well

Here’s when you have a user downloading your app, but what you do next with the user is what defines if you’re going to become a part of his break time or be deleted from the phone in less than a day.

a. Focus on user onboarding

Right after a user downloads the app, he needs to have a look and feel of what you promised him at the see and think stage. Focus on offering a personalized onboarding experience to instantly hook the user’s interest and drive him towards wanting to explore more features of your app.

Like you want to get the people in, the second step (after Acquisition) in the AARRR-funnel for maximizing user value is Activation. That is not said that these steps are unrelated. The activation will be much more successful if you fully understand which type of users are more likely to engage and keep using the App.

Likewise, to optimize the effectiveness of your lead generation tools, you want to target these super users (more about your superstars later) and people like them. This means using your onboarding to get to know your new contacts and turn them from anonymous downloads into valuable users with a full profile. Once you know who you are dealing with, it will be easier to boost word of mouth and reach that point of critical mass and a higher number of positive reviews and upvotes in the app stores.

For instance, Kim Kardashian’s game is all about living the character and the city life and having to work for it. A lot of her following instantly downloaded her app on its announcement, but what kept them hooked was a custom onboarding process that walked the new user through 70% of what the game did and kept 30% away as a surprise element that they would want to keep looking for.

b. Instantly gamifying their journey

Your ideal user is on the app. Now what? If you don’t gamify his experience, you’re most likely going to lose his interest in the first 2 sessions. This is why apps like Castle cats use Activity Feeds. It’s like a social media feed that lets you know what others users have been up to, what more you can explore in the app and can be used to challenge them to achieve a milestone in the app.

For example, a user on Castle cats will see all the updates on his Activity Feed. This helps create a sense of community, which is proven to keep the user hooked to the app for longer. You can read all about the importance of having an in-app community, here.

CastleCats activityfeed

c. Having a viral loop of referrals

If you have a referral program tucked away in a menu for a user to explore on his own or accidentally stumble upon it , then your organic growth is destined to FAIL. To create a viral loop of referrals you need to make inviting friends a part of the user’s journey in the app.

Putting the invite/ share option in a prominent place, ensures the invite process can be initiated in just 2 clicks. The share option too should be placed along the app’s shareable content, making it easier for a user to share your app’s content. See how Doomsday Clicker clearly asks the user to share their in-app content.

doomsday clicker referral campaign

But here’s one hack that most app developers don’t incorporate – including the invite process in your app’s tutorial or onboarding. It is proven to show a 2.5X increase in referral participation.

Also read: Best practices for Referral Marketing Campaigns using Smart Invites

d. Leveraging from all channels

Talking about referral campaigns, there is only 1 app in 10 that makes use of all the popular social media or messaging apps. If the idea is to make it easier for the user to invite his friends and family to the app, it is important to incorporate all those channels that they are making use of regularly.

In fact, as per the Mobile Growth Stack 2017, including messaging apps in the referral channels has become a mandate. If you want your users to invite more friends, include mediums that they are the most active on – chat apps.  

GetSocial’s Smart Invites, makes it seamless for your users to invite or share content with their friends using popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Wechat, FB messenger and more, apart from the usual social channels.

For instance, PikPok used Smart Invites to fuel their referral campaign in Doomsday Clicker. WhatsApp was used by a whopping 61% of users in the app to invite their friends, resulting in 19% conversion on referrals – much higher than all the other channels combined. The lifetime value of these users was also 15% higher.

pikpok case study

Also read: Why WhatsApp Needs To Be Your App Marketing Hack This Year  

e. Rewarding your power users

One of the important aspects of a viral referral campaign, is keeping the user motivated. If you want him to invite more of his friends, you need to reward him with something that adds value to his in-app journey. While you can’t be possibly rewarding users for every invite they send, make sure they get appreciated on every successful install that the invite results in.

Clearly highlighting the reward and the condition to get it, can boost the participation as well. 

Front line Commando rewards

But a reward isn’t everything. You need to ensure that the invited friends remain ‘connected’ to the user in-app as well with custom onboarding (like we mentioned before).

The GetSocial Social Graph generates an automated graph for your app that connects your users with their invited friends – irrespective of the channel used. This enables you to ensure custom onboarding and instant gamification in the app. You can read more about it here.

f. Customizing and personalizing

Your job doesn’t end at making the referral prominent. It is about how well you’re able to make it look like a part of the app’s flow. That’s where customization and personalizing the referral program comes into play.  

Customize the look and feel of the invite to match your app and work on how well you can personalize the invite, based on the channel the user chooses to invite his friends. The sharing and invite text needs to have relevant content, and should possibly incorporate localisation (languages).

One of the most common mistakes we have seen is that most apps (the 1 in 10 apps we mentioned above) utilize these messaging apps via the native share sheet available on Android and iOS. These share sheets are cluttered with apps that are not relevant for sharing e.g. notes, dropbox, google drive, evernote, reminders app etc. and has a tremendous impact on user experience.

You want to ensure that you provide your users with an optimal user experience by natively integrating with popular social media and messaging apps. Having such native integrations will further allow you to gain insights on the performance of each invite channels and optimize your invite funnel.

On the other hand, utilize deep linking to bring new users directly to relevant content in the app. It enables you to further personalize their onboarding experience.

See how you can use deep linking to boost your referral campaign performance.

Also read: Why You Need Deep Linking For Your App Growth

g. Staying in touch

When your users are not in the app, they are more likely to explore the other options they have. That’s why you need to ensure you have their attention at all times – and by no means do we say that spamming is allowed!

To keep a user engaged with the app, send out push notifications on his friends’ activities, encouraging him for another session or reproducing similar behaviours to that of his friends. Since these notifications are personal and sent only when there is a relevant update, users are more willing to opt-in for them as well!


Simply put, when your user acquisition funnel focuses on following the hook model, there are lesser number of churns over the first 3 to 6 months, that define an app’s success in the market. After all, that’s not something you can take a chance to mess up with!  



Where else do you see apps creating leaks in their user acquisition buckets? What else should they be keeping in mind while creating it?