Rego 2.0 decisions and country-specific download and conversion data

Rego 2.0, currently under development at Makalu, is going to represent a complete re-thinking of our popular locations app, and we couldn’t be more excited about how it’s turning out. But that’s the topic of a future article; this one’s about some hard decisions we’re grappling with.

Baseline decisions

In conceiving Rego 2.0, and based on our experience with version 1, we took two tough decisions:

  • No more IAP. Rego 1 is a free download, with an in-app purchase (IAP) of $4.99 to unlock the app. With Rego 2.0, we want to move away from the IAP model, making Rego for-pay up-front. The IAP complicated the app’s development and maintenance, and we believe ultimately led to less earned revenue than if the app had been pay-up-front (which certainly could be due, in part, to our own shortcomings in promoting the IAP.)
  • No localizations. Rego 1 is localized into several languages and we regret having done that, as it makes updating the app painfully slow and costly. We do not plan to localize Rego 2.0.
  • iOS 7-only. Rego 2.0 will require iOS 7. One of the biggest benefits of this decision, is that we should be able to offer reliable iCloud sync.
Update vs new app

Given these decisions, a dilemma we’re facing is whether to make Rego 2.0 an update to Rego 1, or whether to release it as a new app.

There’s no perfect answer to this question, but here are some considerations going into the decision making process:

  • If we move away from IAP to a pay-up-front model and release it as an update to Rego 1, then all the people who previously downloaded the app, but didn’t pay for it—about 90% of our downloads—would, after upgrading, find themselves with the full version, for free. That could be a good thing, for us, in terms of having a large user base exposed to future in-app revenue ideas we might come up with, but it would probably feel unfair to those who purchased version 1 of Rego.
  • If we release Rego 2.0 as a new app, we’re surely going to get pushback (as we’ve recently seen in the case of Clear) from those who have purchased Rego, and expected future upgrades to be free. (And that pushback would likely be correlated with purchase recency.) On the other hand, Rego 2.0 is going to be a very different app than version 1 of Rego. iCloud sync, for example, only scratches the surface of what’s coming in Rego 2.0.
  • If Rego 2.0 is iOS 7-only and we release it as an update to version 1, then we’re going to get some pushback from existing users who can’t upgrade.
  • If we don’t localize Rego 2.0 and we release it as an update to Rego 1, then we’re surely going to have some angry foreign-language users on our hands, who wake up one day to find an app they rely on suddenly displayed in English. (That’d probably be particularly difficult for our Chinese users.)

That last point—that Rego 2.0 won’t be localized—is probably the show-stopper to releasing it as an update. So more than likely, Rego 2.0 will be a new app, and we’ll have to prepare ourselves to deal with the unfortunate growing expectation that all app updates should be free (in addition to having cost nearly nothing in the first place).

Download and conversion data by country

As additional input to the decision-making process, I collected some data about Rego downloads and purchases, on a country-by-country basis. The results, displayed in the chart below, are potentially interesting to other app makers.

Table: Rego downloads, purchases and conversion rate by country, normalized to the United States.

Observations:

  • The United States is the single-biggest downloader and purchaser. No surprise there.
  • The bulk of our revenue comes from English-speaking countries, with the exception of Germany, where (from my personal observations) most people understand English. So the decision to skip localization in Rego 2.0 seems justified in that respect.
  • The conversion rate—i.e. those purchasing the IAP after downloading—is about 10% among North American and European countries. We felt that was pretty good. Very interesting is a doubling of that—i.e. 20% to 30%—in the nordic countries of Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden. Elsewhere it’s around 4% to 5%.
  • A big outlier in this data is China. The downloads in China are 65% of those in the United States, with the next country, Germany, at 20%—i.e. we’ve had a lot of downloads in China. But, nobody in China is purchasing the app!; the conversion rate is dead last at 0.3%. So it seems that the effort of localizing Rego 1 into Chinese didn’t pay off.
  • Finally, we need to keep in mind, before jumping to any concrete conclusions, that this data represents three versions of Rego and that the app has been featured in various country-specific App Stores at various times.

RaceSplitter invited to time the 2013 Vuelta Cerdanya Ultrafons

The Vuelta Cerdanya Ultrafons (or VCUF) is an endurance event organized each year by Eduard Jornet, father of the world’s greatest endurance athlete, Kilian Jornet. From the rustic town of Puigcerdá—nestled along the Spain/France border near Andorra—four trail running races take place over the course of a long weekend: a 14km race, a 35km race, an 87km ultra-race and the ultrafons itself, at a mind-boggling 214km!

Continue reading RaceSplitter invited to time the 2013 Vuelta Cerdanya Ultrafons

Rego goes viral in Brazil for the wrong reason

Yesterday we at Makalu launched our latest product — Rego, an iPhone app for bookmarking locations. It’s like Gowalla, but without the social part.

The good news is that Rego is doing very well, throughout the world. But then to our surprise, it went viral in Brazil. The unfortunate news is why it went viral in Brazil.

Turns out, Rego has an “special” meaning there, and Gizmodo Brazil covered the story in this hilarious article which got thousands of retweets and Facebook likes.

Here’s my version of the story:

As they say, “All press is good press”—so we’re looking on the bright side, or maybe better, where the sun don’t shine.

Update: After posting this video, I had an interview with Daniel Junqueira of Gizmodo, the author of the brilliant original post there. His colleagues then followed up with a second article on Gizmodo, about our interview.

Update 2: You know, our first thought about this was, “Oh what a disaster!” But at that point, there wasn’t much to do. And, to be honest, it’s pretty damn funny so we just rolled with it. Turns out the situation has been very positive — the meaning isn’t that strong, downloads in Brazil have gone through the roof! And since Rego is actually a pretty great app, the Brazilians are loving it (as is everybody who has downloaded it!)

Money for Something—One month after the book launch

My new book, Money for Something, has been out for about a month, and I wanted to post a note about my experience during that time.

Feedback

The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and in that regard I’ve been thrilled by three things:

  • The diversity of background. I’ve been contacted by people from all walks of life—including designers, engineers, executives, parents, grandparents, university finance professors, philosophers and even coaches of Mixed Martial Arts!

  • The diversity of geography. It was my hope to attract a global audience, and that’s happened. It’s really exciting to hear from people in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Germany and Mexico, who are all finding local ways to implement the investment strategy outlined in the book.

  • The success stories. One particular person in the United States, with whom I’ve been working closely has, as a result of learning about the devastating consequences of high-cost investments, rolled over his retirement investment account from something costing 2.5% per year, to one costing 0.5% per year. Over his expected investing lifetime and savings rate, that alone will save him literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. (I plan to write a case study about this guy soon.)

It’s a deeply gratifying feeling to have created something that will have a meaningful and positive impact in people’s lives. I’ve always been proud of our work, but I have to say this is a new, and special feeling.

User experience is about the whole experience

Apart from the comments about the book itself, I’ve also received several compliments on the design of the book website, and the simplicity and efficiency of its checkout process and follow-on gifting workflows. For that, I owe all the credit to my incredible teammates Alex Bendiken and Justin Driscoll at Makalu Interactive

Positioning of the book

My objective for the positioning of this book was the following:

It’s a first introduction to investing.

While there are some great books out there about investing, a selection of which I recommend at the book website, I believe they are more appropriate as follow-on books to Money for Something; books to be read once the reader is convinced that they need to invest, and are going to invest.

In fact, I believe readers of those books, who have started with Money for Something, are more likely to actually finish reading them, and less likely to get side-tracked by some of the complexities.

So what are the goals of a first introduction? In writing this book, mine were:

  1. Make it short and concise, so that the reader is likely to finish it without putting it down. I would say most of the effort in writing the book was on taking things out, and simplifying.

  2. Make it complete enough, so that if the reader only reads my book, they’ll have enough knowledge to understand why they should be investing, and to implement a solid investment plan.

  3. Focus on the essential concepts which are universally accepted, to avoid the risk of the reader getting sidetracked by issues which are contextual (such as taxation).

  4. Tell the story of investing in such a compelling way that the reader, upon finishing the book, will be motivated enough to actually start investing.

In short, I want you to read the whole book, start investing, and stick with it!

The feedback I’ve gotten seems to confirmed these goals. Folks appreciate the “no fluff” concise writing style, and those who’ve written me seem very motivated to get started investing (and many report they have!)

By the way, regarding those interesting follow-on books, one was just released today. In my book, I discuss the long-term importance of the asset allocation and briefly mention the particular one I follow, called the Permanent Portfolio. Today, Craig Rowland’s anticipated new book, which goes into great depth about this particular allocation, has been released in Kindle format.

The next phase…

Several readers have contacted me with questions that, while outside the scope of the book, lead naturally from it. I’m currently considering how to address this follow-on interest and need — whether pointing people to the follow-on references, providing some opinion and help, starting a blog in which I write about some of the common questions, etc.

Challenges

After a month, I’m absolutely convinced that Money for Something is uniquely positioned, broadly needed, and represents a tremendous value for its intended audience. That audience is itself very broad, and our challenge now is to reach it. For the moment, we’re relying on word-of-mouth — and let me extend a huge “Thank you!” to those of you who’ve beeen gracious enough to help! 🙂

So we’re searching for ideas about how to further and more broadly get the word out. If you have any, I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

Coming up next, I plan a series of articles about the process itself of creating and self-publishing an electronic book. It’s a topic of interest right now, and I hope to share the details of our experience.

The Making of the Catalog Choice iPhone App

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY that an opportunity presents itself to develop a product for an audience of 1.5 million people. That’s exactly what happened recently at Makalu, as we were engaged to develop the iPhone component of Catalog Choice’s new suite of premium services.

And we can’t wait to tell you about it!

The background

In 2007, Makalu was engaged by The Ecology Center of Berkeley, California to design and build a website that would provide American consumers with an effective tool to combat the growing number of unwanted catalogs they receive in the mail. The website — CatalogChoice.org — was launched, and quickly received the attention of nearly every large media channel in the United States, including a focus spot on “Good Morning America”.

Within one year, the service signed up more than one million members.

When Catalog Choice members receive an unwanted catalog, they login to their account, search for the catalog they received, and register an “opt-out” request. At that point, the Catalog Choice system acts as a powerful agent on behalf of the consumer to get request processed by the sending merchant. In this way, the consumer saves the effort of having to interact with individual companies, and benefits from the effectiveness the influential service has in getting their requests honored.

Through use of Catalog Choice, consumers reduce clutter and simplify their lives. And on the collective scale of millions, the service is helping the environment by considerably reducing the natural resources used in the production of unwanted catalogs.

Re-engaging with our friends

After Catalog Choice’s first year, when it was clear that a market existed for the service, a dedicated non-profit was formed, at which point The Ecology Center and Makalu handed the project over to the team that was established to manage and operate the service moving forward.

Five years later, we’ve re-engaged with our friends at Catalog Choice to:

  1. Redesign the website, harmonizing the contextual changes and features that have evolved over the past half-decade, and to

  2. Design and develop an iPhone app, which is the first in a suite of premium products known as, MailStop.

We’ll first take a look at the website redesign, and then look at the iPhone app.

Catalog Choice website redesign

Over the years, the service has expanded beyond catalogs, allowing consumers to opt-out of all types of unwanted mail — everything from credit card offers, to phone books. In addition, the service has established special relationships with local communities and townships throughout the United States, which are reflected in various ways throughout the site. Accommodating these changes, along with the introduction of a set of premium services, necessitated a fresh look at the overall site architecture and design.

The service is preparing to launch the new design, which so far has addressed the home page, and the purchase workflow related to the new MailStop products. We focused on simplification, higher sign-up conversion, and clearer communication of the service’s message.

We’re thrilled to show you three sneak-peek screenshots of the new look:

We’re really happy about the design, and looking forward to seeing its launch, and extended implementation throughout the site.

The MailStop iPhone App

The MailStop suite was conceived as a set of premium add-on services that both extend the ways in which consumers can be protected, and make using the existed Catalog Choice services even easier.

In that regard, Makalu was engaged to design and develop an iPhone app that saves consumers the effort of even having to login to the website. Having purchased opt-out credits (as an in-app purchase), users of the service can simply capture the relevant information related to their unwanted mail in images, and submit them directly to the service. Catalog Choice takes it from there.

With the MailStop iPhone app, it couldn’t be easier to opt-out of unwanted mail!

The design process

The experience of RaceSplitter and Rebalance (still ongoing) has taught us that it’s far more time consuming and expensive to change app code than design mockups (when, for example, you realized you’ve gone in a wrong direction), and so with the MailStop app, we went much further into the UI design than we have in the past, before starting the development.

The results were good. We found that a reasonable level of discussion and review were, in fact, possible around just a set of mock-ups, as opposed to playing with a working prototype. On the other hand, it wasn’t perfect. Although it was possible to satisfy all the requirements and constraints in abstract design, once the product came to life in the form of a prototype, we realized that no matter how careful you are, you can never completely appreciate the subtle interactions and frictions that make themselves apparent when actually using a product.

For example, during the design process we iterated six times on the workflow in which a user captures “up to” three images to capture three critical pieces of information (the catalog name, mailing label, and merchant data.) How do you efficiently communicate to the user that they can take up to three images, but that one is often sufficient? Given that they are to capture three pieces of information, the risk is that they assume they must take three photos.

As you can see in our screenshots below, our solution feels more described than direct, and that’s an important disctinction. The designed solution works, but it’s not perfect. We’ll take the opportunity in version 2 to design something which feels more direct and intuitive, and better avoids the potential correlation in the user’s mind of the number of photos available, and the number of information pieces we need.

The design and development process, however, was definitely an improvement over the experience we had with RaceSplitter (in which we built prototypes too early). We’re pleased with the results, but we didn’t yet hit the sweet spot; and so there’s process improvements still to be discovered.

A visual tour of the app

And with that, we’d love to show you the app, with this 10-image tour.

Look interesting? Why not give it a try right now? It’s free, and available today on the App Store!