Going to #1 in the App Store

Plus, the importance of investing in blank space

Hello and welcome back to Let Go & Haul. This newsletter started as a way to document my journey as a founder logbook style, stay connected with the people I care about through the intensity of founder-life, and share hard-earned learnings with my community because I believe in giving back.

Many of you have reached out to say how much you miss this email, so I’m bringing it back in an updated format similar to the first series of them. One practical learning, one personal story, (maybe some fun links and culture recommendations if I have ‘em). I’m keeping this experimental and iterative as I find the next chapter of this writing, and as always, I would love your feedback! 

I Got One

Practical share

This week I experienced something truly insane. VSCO went to #1 in the App Store in the US. Though I have tried to make this happen many times in every possible way, never before in my 18 years of doing this career has this happened.

Because I know y'all want the secret, I'm not going to bury the lede. My assessment is it's about 50% making something that's simply delightful and 50% luck in culture.

VSCO is a decade old brand with a history of connecting creators to quality mobile tools. The day after Memorial Day I woke up to notifications and texts on my phone that we were charting in the App Store, by the next day we hit #1 and stayed there for five days. That morning (and for the rest of the week), the messages were urgent. What was happening and why? My amazing colleagues were already on it that morning sifting the stats (you know who you are!)

It was a perfect storm. This is the 50% luck in culture part (and any b2c founder or product person worth their salt should be able to admit this – Apps don't pop without a near impossible-to-replicate cultural moment). We had an App Store feature across Africa, a video trend in South East Asia, a holiday in the US where many people had recently been vaxed and were going out, and a TikTok trend using our slo mo tool. It was the last one that really got my attention. 

Why our slo mo tool? I asked myself as I downed coffee tapping on the TikTok hashtags to figure this out. Plenty of apps have slo mo… VSCO’s slo mo tool – massive shouts to the team that built this – is simply delightful. It does some things that other tools don't. This is where the 50% making part comes in. It’s simply delightful, and if you haven’t tried it you should ;-) For you video nerds out there (hiiii) it can slow a 30fps video down with a smoothing feature that is extremely slick. The “smooth” feature became a key part of a TikTok meme with people posting their process vids of the VSCO UI.

#vscoslomo

As my colleagues and I continued to dig into what was happening and rapidly respond to the downloads (this week was a blur), our response plan organized around four principles, the first being curiosity. The most fundamental part of building product in my opinion. (More on the other three and how to rapidly respond in my next issue!) It’s curiosity that drives us to experiment in weird and wonderful ways to create delightful experiences in the first place, as well as dig into these moments with vigor to figure out how to make the most of them. B2C apps are like music or movie hits. You have a lot of fails and some occasional wins. It’s less of a repeatable process than building B2B – though like any pop song or blockbuster film – there are repeatable patterns and formulas. The longer you spend doing it, the quicker you can be to spot what might have the making of a hit.

Staying at #1 for 5 days is no small feat, so, more on how to execute rapid respond to hits in the next issue. It’s an excellent problem to have, though one that the vast majority of us (including myself) are unprepared for.

Taking it to the Blank

Personal share

Sometime last year, I can’t remember when, the intensity of being a founder took over my life completely and I had to give every minute of my time to my company. I paused this newsletter (and many other things) to reach my goals.

Trash was acquired at the end of 2020 by VSCO and I immediately started a new role as their director of product. The day I put all the announcements about the deal live, something snapped inside me. One by one I worked through our announcement checklist, tweeting, sharing, messaging. In a state of extreme exhaustion from the intensity that working on a deal will bring, I got to the very last one on my list: my personal instagram. Thankful for a picture my friend Cheraé told me I should take (because you always need content) a couple months prior, I wrote the caption, added all the damn hashtags, posted it and then, threw my phone across the room. I felt more done with social media than I’ve ever been in my life, burned out from feeling the obligation to be present 24/7 on social. Plus, without the purpose of founder hustle, I had a big new question in my life to confront: what am I doing on social media anyway now, and of the many voices in the world worth listening to, why does mine matter?

When I was in college, I studied visual art alongside design. The way our painting classes were set up is that we all got a “studio” which was a small partitioned space in a large room. The partitions were white cork board material. Frequently, my studio space would be covered in material for whatever I was doing – my sketches and studies but the work of others too. Other times, when I hit a creative wall or roadblock, I would take everything down, finding the sensory input too much, too distracting, and blanking it all out just think, be with myself, and go within. Blank walls.

That last founder post on Instagram was a moment of extreme going within. I took a 5 month break from most social media for my mental health. At first, I just enjoyed not having to  do the grind. Then, I started to miss it. I asked myself the question why – why does my voice matter and what am I trying to do? Something that’s always been important to me is sharing what I’ve learned, especially lessons in making products that are less accessible. Giving back to the community with free resource to even the playing field for this generation and next of makers, however small my bit is – is important to me, which is a big part of what this newsletter is about. Shortly before Memorial day it also struck me that maybe it’s also not that deep, and what about sharing just for connection with others. Just for fun? Kinda wild that I never viewed it that way from being in this industry for so long, (and definitely more to unpack there with the purpose of creating content), but right now… 🤷‍♀️ Let’s find out together :)

–  Han