Mobile Growth Hacking
Steve Young and Prabhjot Singh talk about automating apps for growth in the Mobile Growth Hacking podcast.
Steve: What is up App Nation? It is Steve P. Young, I should probably stop screaming it. But what is up? I’m excited! This is the podcast where I bring on awesome, intelligent, brilliant folks in the mobile space to tell their story so that we can get action-packed—so I can actually grill them and get action-packed content that we all can use to grow our app business.
Today I’ve got a great guest for you. He’s done millions of downloads in the app stores and now he’s got a brand new company that I’m excited to tell you about call Pyze. His name is Prabhjot Singh and he’s a cofounder and president at Pyze.
Prabhjot, welcome to the show.
Prabhjot: Thanks, Steve, it’s great to be here. I’m a big fan, so I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
Steve: Awesome, awesome. I’m excited to be talking to you because we did a little pre-interview chat, so it’s one of those things I do just to make sure that I can formulate the right story.
Let’s start off your journey, before we get to Pyze and all the great apps that you’ve already been a part of. Tell me about that low point in your entrepreneurial career, what happened?
Prabhjot: Yes, during my first start-up—and this is the infancy of the mobile revolution—we had this great idea for developing an app gift-carding platform for feature phones and Android phones. Smart phones were just starting at that time so we thought it was a killer idea; it was going to kill it.
We started working with a wireless company—a large wireless company—that was going to help us with commercialization because they had all these great partnerships and relationships with telecos. It is really hard for a start-up to do business with telecos, right? So we spent a year building this platform with amazing provisioning of applications and we were able to deliver apps to feature phones, smart phones and right when we finished development and were ready to commercialize, the entire division that we were working with basically got shut down.
We pivoted to do something even bolder using some of the back-end app delivery platform we built to try and address poor quality of education in low-resource environments and wound up building a really successful company. But definitely learned a lot of lessons from that experience around building the right partnerships and diversified go-to-market plans and all that stuff.
Steve: Was this Pixatel, like you started Pixatel thinking that it was going to be something else and it kind of turned into something else?
Prabhjot: That’s right, that’s right. Most start-ups pivot and there’s nothing wrong with pivoting and that’s how you define a successful start-up, one that can solve a real problem for customers before it runs out of resources.
Steve: Yeah, and did you guys start creating apps of your own, too? Because I’m looking at one right now that’s got over 5,000 reviews on Google Play.
Prabhjot: That’s right. You’re probably looking at Ultimate Notepad.
Prabhjot: Which is one of the most downloaded productivity apps, probably the most popular notepad app on Google Play. We built Notepad to kind of just learn how to code in Android at that time.
In the early days, we got a lot of traction by using app store optimization. It wasn’t really as popular as it is today. We also created an interesting distribution channel by working with tablet manufacturers. Again, these were traditionally feature phone guys that were now moving into smart phones and tablets and basically preloading Notepad and some of our other apps on their devices, so we were able to get tremendous distribution very quickly.
Steve: Wow. You said you started the company trying to do some more intelligent—why create apps? I’m looking at Pixatel right now. What did the company end up becoming?
Prabhjot: We are now focused on solving the problem of quality education in developing countries, so building adaptive learning apps for mathematics that can get deployed in villages.
But really to get there, we had to gain experience building apps. I’d never built an app before, so trying different apps like Notepad and other apps that you see by Pixatel was a great way to get our toe in the water, as they say.
Steve: You know, you had a fantastic job, so before you started Pixatel, VP of Marketing at CA. What got you to leave finally? You built up this storied career, what made you say, “All right, I’m going to go in to entrepreneurship?”
Prabhjot: Yeah, I know, CA was great. I was an early employee at a company called Wily that was tremendously successful. We got acquired by CA, I was running marketing for the division and yeah, had a tremendous amount of responsibility, but I wanted to work in smaller teams. I think you can always have a bigger impact in a smaller organization than you can in a 15,000-person company.
That was really my motivation and once you bite the entrepreneurial bullet, there’s kind of no going back, as they say.
Steve: Yeah. I know a part of me, it took me a while, because I always sort of had that entrepreneurial spirit for a while. I sold cassette tapes when I was in elementary school, I did a drop ship business in college, I did this decal business when I was like in early twenties, but I never actually fully took the leap, like fully, fully took the leap until finally I kept hearing that I was—other people say they were afraid, like really top entrepreneurs saying they were afraid to take the leap, that was holding them back. I said, well, I think I’m actually afraid. I never thought I was afraid, because I was like, I did all this stuff, right?
But I finally figured out that I was afraid and then I started doing this podcast and it allowed me to leap, but what made you finally take the jump? Was there a pivotal moment that you remember?
Prabhjot: I wanted to make a bigger difference than I was making. I think that’s really what it was. It’s been something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Like you, my entrepreneurial spirit goes back to early childhood as well. Whether it’s selling candy bars that I bought from Sam’s Club in elementary school cheaper than the local store, or my parents having this business on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and my brother, sister and I would help out on the weekends and summers and learned a lot about customer service, sales, negotiation, all that stuff very early on.
Steve: I want to get into Pyze and what you guys offer to developers. Before I do, you said something brilliant. Your parents were entrepreneurs. What did you get, what did you learn from that experience, seeing your parents go through the entrepreneurial journey?
Prabhjot: What I learned was, A) relationships matter in life and there were people that my parents had done business with for a decade or so. The second thing is, it requires perseverance. My dad probably—we’re immigrants, moved here when I was 10 years old, and basically my dad started from scratch and my mom right there with him every day working 7 days a week every week. So perseverance is a key aspect of entrepreneurship. You have to have the willingness to succeed and if you do, you will.
Steve: Did your parents say anything when you said you were going to leave and leave this great job and go do your own thing?
Prabhjot: [Laughs] They were like, “What?” No, but they’ve always been supportive. In fact, look, any job I’ve ever done, I actually sort of treat it with the same entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, I think when I was at Wily, I was thinking about business school and I remember our CEO at that time saying, “Hey, you should go run a sales territory and carry a bag, basically you’re a mini CEO of that territory and that’ll give you a lot of experience.”
Yeah, I think it runs in the blood, so to speak.
Steve: Yeah. I remember my dad—I have a similar story, immigrant, came here when I was six and when I told my dad, “I’m leaving, I’m leaving my job, I’m going to go do this thing on my own,” he’s like, “Don’t do it, what are you doing? What about health insurance?” I was like, “I’m already leaving, what are you talking about?” I told my boss maybe like a week before my final day, so to speak. He’s like, “Don’t do it, don’t do it.”
Now I’m sure he was supportive but that immigrant mentality of like, “Hey, we came here, we took a big risk so that you could be safe, why are you now taking the risk?” I felt like that was what he was trying to impart on me.
Prabhjot: That’s right. “Yeah, but Dad, I learned it by watching you,” right?
Steve: Yeah, exactly, exactly. All right.
All right, Prabhjot, let’s talk about Pyze. What are some of the challenges that you are seeing from just creating your own apps that you said, “Hey, we need Pyze, we need to build Pyze.”
Prabhjot: Yeah, the two biggest challenges I think any publisher has and certainly I had, so the first is retaining users, it’s really, really hard to retain users because it’s a very crowded space. There’s like three million apps out there.
The second is adding and removing features. What’s resonating with the market, what’s not, so that you can keep growing and you can keep stickiness for your application.
The problem is, like most solutions out there, analytic solutions, marketing, automation solutions, they all require a ton of work and manual effort to get set up and you got to take data from one place, process it, put it somewhere else, then run a campaign, then try to correlate it back. It’s really hard and they’re not helpful in developing sort of deep relationships with users.
My friend, Dickey, had been building an app that was actually eventually acquired and he asked me, “Okay, what are you using for marketing solutions?” I gave him a list of the 12 things that I was using. We drilled deep into those things and it became clear that you could simplify set-up usage in an integrated solution and also use the advances in machine learning to automate meaningful user engagement, which today is all very manual and hard to do.
That was kind of the genesis for Pyze.
Steve: Okay. Tell us, what is Pyze? What do you guys help us with?
Prabhjot: Essentially Pyze helps app publishers automate app growth. We help a publisher develop meaningful relationships to users by engaging with users at the right time.
What happens today, people download an app and 20-30% of people will never use that app ever again, after a download, the first time. The stats are kind of all over the place but something like 60-80% of app users stop using an app in the first week after they download it.
The reason for that is the apps don’t have the ability to develop relationships with users. If you look at the companies and the apps that dominate our screen time, they’ve built these huge big-data platforms to understand users, target users, retarget users. Most indie developers or even Fortune 1000 companies that are building apps, they don’t have the ability to invest in those kind of infrastructures or hire the data scientists that cost gazillions of dollars.
They’re at a disadvantage, they’re at an inherent disadvantage in not being able to both interact with users, automate that interaction, or figure out what’s working and what’s not working so they can iterate on the app itself.
Steve: Got it. Do you have an example because I released an app right now and we got featured in China and the retention was, I think it was around 20% for the first day and then I forget what the exact numbers were. We were working with somebody who said, “Why is it so low?” She was a big fan of the app and she worked for a big publisher. She said, “Why is this so low because I love the app, why is it so low?”
Do you have an example of maybe somebody that’s using your platform that you’ve helped retain users?
Prabhjot: Absolutely. There’s a couple of different aspects there in terms of how do you actually retain users. One is understanding your user base. If you’ve got a million or ten million users that download the app and use it, what makes a user who has high engagement different than a user that has low engagement?
We actually use machine learning to cluster users across different attributes, things like engagement or things like where they’re coming from or group them according to the types of screens that they’re using or their attrition risk. You can start to drill into, hey, which users are actually the app, so you can find more people like those users, first of all.
Secondly, developing meaningful touch points with your users at the right time.
If someone downloads the app and you can automate taking them to a tour or sending an in-app message or a personal notification so they get an understanding of sort of the key features that you think are useful, that’s going to want them to keep coming back and once they use the app once, twice, three times, they’ll keep using it.
Or let’s say someone uses the app for seven days in a row, clearly they like your app. Maybe it makes sense to ask that person for a review so they can maybe help you spread the word.
We can automate meaningful touch points with users based on their actions. It’s helpful both for the publisher because you’re developing that relationship with the user and it’s actually helpful for the user because they’re going to understand which aspects of the app are going to be useful to them.
Then we have this whole exploration aspect of the platform that lets you kind of analyze different user sets so you can precisely target specific users.
Steve: Do you have an example of somebody who—like your example of maybe I went through the tour but I dropped off, hey, Pyze knows I dropped off at this certain point and the right thing to do next—and this becomes, if I’m understanding you correctly, it’s all automated so that hey, because I know you dropped off after the tour, I can send you a push notification that says, “Hey, Steve, want to create your first photo?” if it’s a photo app, now that you know how to do it. Is that how it works?
Prabhjot: Absolutely. That’s how it works, so you can really define the right touch points that are specific to your application and also some general best practices that we provide.
Let’s say someone is using the app a lot and then they stop using it for seven days. Well, it makes sense to send them a push notification to remind them why they started using the app in the first place.
To do that across millions of users is a non-trivial exercise, but with Pyze, it’s just point and click.
Steve: Wow. What are some other ones? How people have used your platform?
Prabhjot: The goal really is to increase a user’s engagement with the app. Because regardless of what an app’s objective is, whether you’re trying to monetize the app and monetization happens through in-app advertising or through in-app purchase, people have to use the app. Or if you want to build brand loyalty, that also happens through constant engagement with the application.
We’ve helped a number of publishers through automation, develop those touch points so we actually are seeing uplifts in engagement upwards of 20%, 30%, depending on the type of application it is, which automatically translates into revenue. People are using the app more, they’re going to buy something, they’re going to click on an ad.
Our core motto is how do we help publishers increase that engagement time in a meaningful way? Of course, the easiest way for an app to get uninstalled is to start spamming users, right? For sure on my phone. We built in safeguards that make sure that there’s spam control built in, that we don’t give you rope to hang yourself, so to speak. So only the right messages and the most meaningful messages go out.
The other thing that we do is we know when the best time to reach every single user of the app is, based on a number of different criteria that we collect from when they use the app. You might use the app at 4 AM in the morning, I might use it at 4 PM. Location, context, bunch of other things. We can actually ensure that messages get delivered at a time when the user is most receptive to them.
Again, it’s these types of tricks that, of course, the big guys have lots of data scientists and big systems that can help them do this. We enable it for everyone else.
Steve: It almost seems like they install it and then, like an SDK, and then forget about it, in a way.
Prabhjot: Right on. Of course, the system learns and get smarter as it goes because we actually will learn what’s working and what’s not working and bubble that up to the publisher. But yeah, absolutely, that’s what I say, automate your app’s growth and then sit back and see users engaging with your app.
Steve: What’s the pricing on this? I’m looking at it right now, but just so the listeners **** [0:22:05.1]
Prabhjot: It’s free. We spent a lot of time building really heavy tech on the back end, using all open-source components that allow everyone to have access to these services for free. There’s an enterprise tier, you know, we’ve got to make money somehow.
Prabhjot: But most publishers will never need—most developers will probably never need those enterprise features, like back-end access to data or 24/7 support, custom dimensions. That’s things that we offer but yeah, anyone can go on the website and get started for free.
Steve: I love it. Okay. Let’s move onto this. You got deals for Ultimate Notepad, you got deals with OEMs, amazing, very hard to do. When I asked you what’s a course you would teach, you said how to build the right relationships that grow your business. Talk to me more about this.
Prabhjot: Yeah, so it’s surprising how many people get that wrong in life. I think there’s two keys rules of success that I subscribe to. One is, don’t be a jerk. The second is, try avoiding working with jerks if you can. [Laughs] It’s really that simple. If you treat people the way you want to be treated, you can create an environment built on trust and everyone works.
Look, there’s nuances on how this translates to real life in terms of relationships with coworkers, with customers, with partners, with investors but yeah, I think that I would really enjoy teaching that course and I’ve got a unique philosophy that I think has helped me in life.
Steve: A few follow-ups on that. What’s the right way to start a relationship with somebody, especially when you don’t—let’s say I admire you, Prabhjot, and I’ve been wanting to build this relationship with you, what’s the best way to start that initial relationship?
Prabhjot: I think it’s true transparency, like why do you want to build a relationship? There’s an objective, obviously, for why we do anything. Is it friendship, is it business, someone you want to ask on a date?
Steve: Let’s say the OEM, let’s go back to that example. Look, we want our apps on your devices, so how would you go about approaching these OEMs, because you want something from them, right?
Prabhjot: Absolutely. You want something from them and they’re busy people. Everyone’s busy these days, we’re busier than probably any of us should be, but we are busy.
The way we did it is really developing a value proposition that spoke for itself. So, “Hey, Mr. OEM, look, you’ve got to compete today with Apple and Samsung who have these huge software platforms that they’ve built and they’re eating your lunch because you used to be in the feature phone business that didn’t require you to really know a whole lot about software. Now you’re moving to smart phones and tablets and we can give you a stack that includes really amazing applications that’ll provide value for your customers. We’ll give you a custom app store that has your branding on it so you can deliver more apps to your customers and you’ve got the advantage of being local instead of sort of being sort of an outside company. People know your brand, they trust your brand, so let’s put your brand front and center.”
Then of course we have to do the hard work of reaching out to those OEMs, whether it’s sort of cold calling, a lot of cold calling, working with partners, making sales calls. I went to Vietnam and Indonesia and Taiwan and China and actually met with these manufacturers and developed these relationships. There’s no substitute for hitting the road. You’ve got to be present, you’ve got to engage and then you’ll get some percentage of people that convert, like any funnel. But you’ve got to put your best foot forward and have a value proposition that really resonates.
Steve: I like that. Now, I don’t know if I put this in there or you told me, but did you say how to build the right relationships?
Prabhjot: The right relationships, yeah.
Steve: What do you mean by the right relationships and how do you know when it’s the right one?
Prabhjot: A lot of practice. [Laughs]
Steve: [Laughs] It’s almost a gut call. I feel like that, too, where it’s just like, look, I can’t tell you but you just know that it’s right because you’ve gone through so many.
Prabhjot: That’s right and you know when it’s right. You definitely know when it’s wrong. I mean, I’ve walked into meetings and like the first five minutes, oh, the mojo is not right and this is going to go downhill. Then you try and do what you can, but yeah, I think it’s like with anything in life, it’s all about practice. Going back to the Michael Jordan poster—and I’m showing my age—but you got to just keep practicing.
Steve: Yeah. Let me ask you this. Let’s try to make it practical to the user. Are there any questions that you like to ask to make sure that you find the right relationship? I found the right relationship with my business partner where we do events and I said, “Wow, he’s very passionate about things I don’t give a crap about,” but our visions were aligned. Meaning we want to put on events that really connect everybody, but he cared about food and where it was. I was like, “Why do I care about that? I care about the people and making sure the format is good and we’re sort of fostering these relationships.” I was like, “Dude we got to work together.” We did it and it’s just like—and I can’t stop complimenting this guy.
But how do you figure out if this is the right relationship?
Prabhjot: I think it’s important to dip your toe in the water and then wade into the water and then swim to the deep end. If you’re going to cannonball into the deep end of the relationship—it’s just like marriage, you don’t just go and propose to someone on the first date. You have to build relationships, see if you’re compatible, see if you actually are complementary because even though you might be complementary at the surface level, week two or three into the relationship, you might be like, uh-oh, I got to get out of here.
It’s really important to sort of feel out the other person, make sure that like you were saying, your visions are actually aligned the way you think they are, and then take it from there, take it slow, there’s no fire, and then you build from there.
Steve: I love it, I think it’s the best way to end it.
Prabhjot, this has been absolutely amazing, but let’s go to the big finish. What is one app we definitely have to check out?
Prabhjot: In terms of apps, the big focus right now is bots. There are lots of bots out there, something like 2,000 bots out there. I’ve been thinking a lot, I don’t have time to work on this, so I’ll throw it out to anyone who’s got time and interested in working with us.
Steve: Hold on, Prabhjot, do you have an app that you want to recommend? This is not that part of the show. I’ll ask you about that one later. Do you have an app that you recommend, that you say, “Hey, you have to check out this new app or old app?”
Prabhjot: Yeah, well, hey, my favorite app, it might sound a little trite, but it’s Uber. I use Uber so much and what I really like about it, simple idea, executed really, really well. No wonder every other industry is looking at Uber right now. I was just in India recently, I was able to use it there. They’re killing it and I think rightfully so.
Steve: Okay. Now, just for fun, give us a half-baked idea for an app, something you wouldn’t mind someone else working on.
Prabhjot: As I was saying, bots are the hottest thing right now and there’s something like already 2,000 bots available. I’m thinking that a bot discovery app, that’s based on context and content would be really, really useful. For me, for sure, and I think for a lot of people out there, everyone from Slack to Facebook, I mean, Amazon, Apple, series of bot, echoes a bot. They’re developing these platforms for us to interact with these bots.
Discovering the right bot for the right use is a challenge and it’s going to become a much bigger challenge as we go. Just like finding the right app for the right use case is a challenge today because there’s so many, there’s an explosion of apps.
Anyone that can address that problem today, I think would be in a pretty good place. If you want to build it, get in touch with me, I’ll help you grow it.
Steve: Nice! Love it, love it.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Prabhjot: That’s a tough question, whew! I’ve received a lot of good business advice over the years. I think the best one really is, treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, it’s something that I use as a core in my philosophy and business attractions and it’s something that I really recommend to people.
Steve: Love it! If the audience wants to learn more about you and Pyze and say thank you so much for coming onto the show, the website for Pyze is Pyze.com. Go check out Pyze, but if they want to say thank you for coming on the show, what’s the best way to start building that right relationship?
Prabhjot: Well, hey, send me an email, PSingh@Pyze.com and you can twee-dot me, the handle is PSinghSF, for San Francisco.
Steve: All that is in your show notes, especially the Twitter profile, so if you got anything on this, find a way to thank the guests publicly build these relationships. It’s something that I did with this podcast, it’s allowed me to do everything that I’ve built so far.
Prabhjot, thank you so much for coming on and doing this.
Prabhjot: Cool, my pleasure. Thank you for having me, Steve. This is an awesome discussion and I appreciate it.
Steve: Thank you and thank you all for listening. We’ll see you at the next show.