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#AFtalks Special Edition: App Success Story – Albert, with Co-Founder & CTO, Daniel Bruce

Welcome to our #AFtalks Special Edition recap – App Success Stories!

The goal behind this series of success stories is to share, not only the journeys of fellow developers but to also motivate and provide resources for our developer community for their own apps.

The story & guest this week was Daniel Bruce, the Co-Founder and CTO of Albert, an app that puts the freedom back into freelancing by taking the hassle out of invoicing, expensing and bookkeeping. Below you’ll find his answers, as well as some relevant resources:

Q1: How did you come up with the idea for your app?

A: My co-founder Ivo and I had both been freelancing most of our careers and had been dealing with the headache of staying on top of all our invoices and expenses for a long time. We’d led the design and development of the RBS and NatWest mobile apps and spent many an evening in the pub, frustratedly critiquing the current apps that claimed to help freelancers with their finances.

A couple of years later we were reunited when working together for a Mobile Payment Startup in California. This made managing all the paperwork even tougher as it was now spread across 2 continents. I even got fined a couple of times for being late with my tax returns for this very reason. After one of these trips, we were sat in Los Angeles International Airport waiting to catch an 11-hour flight – not looking forward to trading the sunshine and beaches for rain and paperwork, might I add – when we set ourselves the challenge of prototyping the app we wanted to use as freelancers, on that flight.

The day after landing we showed the app to some of our freelancer friends who loved it and begged us to build it. Not long after that, we quit our freelance work and started full-time on Albert.

Q2: Did you build/design it yourself or outsource? Why?

A: Absolutely everything has been done in-house. We knew the problem with current apps that claim to help freelancers, were that they felt clunky, required domain knowledge and talked about Profit and Loss, Revenue and other terms that are vitally important but also sound quite scary. Albert has an experience closer to apps like Mailbox and Sunrise, it is more of an everyday consumer app than a business app. Back then we knew in order to make a difference to freelancers lives, we needed complete control of the design and the development.

This obviously had tradeoffs, as the output of a two-person team is incredibly constrained; but 1,000 5-star ratings and 3 different features by the App Store later, we feel we definitely made the right choice.

Q3: What sort of challenges did you face when building the app?

A: As with any startup, the biggest problem was resourcing. We have a HUGE vision of what we want to build; but for the first year, we were just a designer and a developer working every hour we had, to deliver a product and experience that would change the financial lives of freelancers. It all comes down to resources, money, time, teammates. Like most startups, we are attempting to challenge a status quo by outpacing competitors with more funding and bigger teams. Fortunately, our progress and product started to get noticed and it wasn’t too long before we had the opportunity to hire brilliant people that were passionate about Albert which has really helped us move faster towards our vision.

Q4: Marketing is a crucial element of an app’s success. What does your current marketing plan look like, and how has it evolved since launch?

A: Our current plan is very much focussed on optimising a small number of channels to get as many sign-ups out of them as possible. We measure every aspect of the funnel of each of our marketing channels and are constantly tweaking our campaigns depending upon our measurements, the time of day, the day of the week and where we are in the month.

Part of our marketing strategy is also to try and bring some humour and whimsicality to a subject which we feel is often treated rather seriously or just plain overlooked. The idea or the word ‘finances’ doesn’t have a fun ring to it – but that’s what we are continually trying to challenge. We want freelancers to have a lighthearted attitude and approach to managing their finances, and to see it as less of a chore and more as a positive experience that allows you to be productive and organized with as minimal effort and input as possible. We want people to know Albert’s got their back. This is the type of communication we try to convey through our brand regardless of what the specific campaign or channel is.

Q5: Which marketing channels do you rely on for promotion?

A: Most of our attention is shared between social media ads and ASO. The two channels work well hand in hand, as an increase in installs brought around through our social media campaigns has a positive effect on our App Store rankings – which then leads to more organic installs through App Store search which also feeds into better App Store ranking.

We also spend significant effort building a positive feedback loop through social channels and customer support. We have a wide variety of types of users, with freelancers from almost every type of occupation you can think of, so we try to make sure that we are accessible from as many of the touchpoints that freelancers may use, as possible.

Q6: What kind of challenges did you encounter marketing the app after launch?

A: Neither myself or Ivo, my co-founder, are marketers by trade; so just knowing where to start was difficult. There is so much conflicting information on how to get your first 100 users, what metrics to track, etc. The whole thing was a steep learning curve for us both. Fortunately, we now have a brilliant marketing team that has helped us reach 400% growth this year!

Q7: If you knew back then what you know now, how would you have approach marketing?

A: We would definitely start sooner. Like most startups, I think we were naive in assuming that just because we had a great product, freelancers would come beating a path to our doors. This wasn’t the case early on, and we had to employ a lot of techniques that didn’t scale – not just to acquire users but also to get feedback. We ended up giving a lot of talks. In fact, one of the talks was where the name “Albert” stuck. It was a live demo of our early product at a Google Campus, and from the moment the announcer introduced us everybody was intrigued by the name and the product. I’d most likely tell young Dan to do more things that don’t scale, and also not to be disheartened if one strategy in an unscalable channel isn’t working, we perhaps gave up on some early channels too quickly.

Q8: When it comes to apps, users play a major role in providing feedback through reviews. Do you incorporate user feedback into planning new features for the app? If so, how do evaluate suggestions?

A: Massively, yes. It’s important for every member of our team to understand exactly what our users or potential users think of us, as well as to be able to think like a user themselves or be able to easily put themselves in the user’s shoes. Most of our team members are or have been freelancers in the past and it really shows through in the success of Albert, 9 times out of 10 we have a good feeling of what will resonate well with our audience, but we start every week with a team meeting where we run through our customer support requests, to help guide us.

It seems with this approach we might be doing something right: we were just featured by Apple amongst some of the top apps to come out of Silicon Valley (such as Slack) in the ‘Work Anywhere’ category.

Q9: Starting something new requires making hard decisions. Were there any decisions that were particularly hard?

A: I have heard this a lot but starting Albert felt like the easiest decision in the world, it was something we had wanted to do for a long time.

Q10: How do you measure success? Are there any particular metrics you focus on?

A: We tend to define success in many ways. There are the obvious metrics, growth, and retention which really are our bread and butter. Our aim is to improve upon them, month to month. There are also more fun achievements, such as the brilliant feedback we get from our customer support, or the cool tweets and Facebook posts that keep us all smiling day in day out.

Q11: What was the first success you remember for the app?

A: The very first success, was launching the app. I have always admired anybody that has the bravery and drive to launch their own product; so launching to our very first handful of users is still a milestone I am immensely proud of and will never forget. There are other moments too, such as getting featured by Apple a few times. One time a friend went to play football in the park wearing an Albert hoodie. Somebody approached him and asked if he worked for Albert and told him how much they loved our app.

I think there are a lot of different ways to measure success in a Startup ranging from hitting big goals down to hearing that somebody loves the product you are making. It’s important to realize that all wins are special.

Q12: How do you plan on evolving the app and growing its user base?

A: We spent a lot of time iterating on helping freelancers send and manage their invoices as quickly and easily as possible, and we’ve just launched expenses/receipts to feature that is showing really strong engagement. This has put us in a great position, as we are the only completely free solution that enables a freelancer to manage all aspects of their business. We are already receiving masses of positive feedback for combining the two.

The data storage side of Albert (sending invoices, uploading receipts) is mature and has great traction, but we are most excited about building up what we call ‘Albert’s intelligence’. Albert will soon be able to automate the management of a freelancer’s finances and only ask for assistance when needed. This will fundamentally change the way freelancers interact with their business: it will be a series of minimal effort, micro-interactions, rather than having to sit down all weekend to get back on top of the week’s admin.

The future of Albert will be about automation, we wholeheartedly believe freelancing should feel free so our goal is to have Albert automagically handle all the financial hassles freelancers face, so they can get on with what they are good at.

Final Thoughts:

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Huge thanks to Dan and to all those that were part of today’s discussion! Join us for our weekly Twitter chat every Tuesday at 2pm ET (bring your friends!). See you all next week!