Don’t use downloads as a measure of success, app pioneer Cody Bunea says

Mobile app developers and businesses need to stop focusing on downloads as a measure of success and instead build something that people will want to use repeatedly, Carnival Labs co-founder Cody Bunea says. 

 

Bunea co-founded the first iPhone app company in the world in 2007, and was “making apps before the App Store existed”.

 

He’s now the CTO of Carnival, a Wellington-based mobile marketing automation startup that has worked with the likes of HBO, CNN, Oreo and One Direction.

 

Speaking at the Lean15 conference in Wellington, New Zealand, Bunea likened the emphasis on downloads without trying to retain users to trying to continually fill up a leaky bucket instead of fixing the actual holes.

 

“Measurements of mobile apps are still a little bit in the dark ages,” Bunea says.

 

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a meeting with an agency and asked what success looks like for the app and the answer is, ‘oh, we want 250,000 downloads’.”

 

“But downloads can be a bit misleading. It’s just a historical number, you can’t do a whole lot with it, you can’t tell too much from it.”

 

A vanity metric

Getting someone to download your app is like receiving a ‘like’ on Facebook, Bunea says.

 

“It’s someone that has done one thing at one point in the lifetime of your app,” he says.

 

“It doesn’t measure the impact on your business and it doesn’t mean you’re making money. When used in isolation it can be a bit of a vanity metric, a show-off metric.”

 

Success should instead by measured by active users and engagement, meaning developers and marketers have to create a product that makes people download it and go back to it, he says.

 

“You can buy downloads but you can’t buy loyalty,” Bunea says.

 

“Work on the quality of the app to ensure your users actually stay around.”

 

Snowballing to success

At the conference, Bunea also discussed the early days of app development and Carnival’s rapid growth.

 

The startup has “snowballed” since its launch, and has now developed 15 number one apps and has offices in New York.

 

The company was bootstrapped until a $2.4 million investment round in 2013, something which Bunea says was necessary to rapidly expand the business.

 

“Bootstrapping was hard and slow,” he says. “I’d recommend bootstrapping for as long as you can and I’m glad we bootstrapped as long as we did.

 

“But we came to a point where we believed there was a window of opportunity for this startup and we were just taking too long.”

 

StartupSmart attended Lean15 as a guest of Positively Wellington Tourism.

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