mobile app

Use This Ultimate Growth Strategy to Get Your First 100,000 App Users

Even if you’ve landed on a winning idea for a new app, you’ll need a strategy to get downloads and regular, sustained usage in a highly competitive market. We’re here to help by sharing the growth strategy we followed when we developed our successful driver’s education app in 2018 — an app that’s still seeing strong growth three years after launch.

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Here’s a growth strategy that’s proven to work in the competitive app market:

Develop an app you would use

You’re not just an app developer; you’re also an app user. You know what types of features you think are useful and what frustrates you about the apps you use (or the ones you’ve deleted). Keep that in mind when you’re implementing your growth strategy and creating a new app.

Of course, the app you’re developing should appeal to the users you’re targeting, so it’s crucial to learn as much about your target users as possible, and approach app development from their perspective. 

For example, one of the main target users we used in building our own driver’s education app was by understanding teen drivers in Arizona, a state where over 60% who take the permit test fail. Therefore, we knew there was a massive need there to not only teach better driving habits, but also to provide practice test material that helps teens and students prepare properly beforehand.

This is the key: inhabit the mindset of your target customer while also relying on your expertise to create an app that functions well and lives up to its promises. 

Related: Building a Mobile App? Here’s Why an MVP Will Benefit Your Business in the Long Run

Provide value

If you take just one piece of advice from this article for your growth strategy, make sure it’s this one. Unless you can demonstrate that your app is going to make your users’ lives better or more productive, they’re going to stop using it and maybe even delete it from their phones.

At Zutobi, we discovered over half of teen drivers fail their permit test, so we developed exam-like online permit tests to tackle that problem. Develop a deep understanding of who your target users are, what frustrates them and which of their problems you can solve through your value proposition.

Start by creating a user persona — a representative picture of who your ideal customer is and what they need. This model will be your guide for developing the features that users find valuable and for constructing the marketing strategy for generating awareness, encouraging downloads and keeping users engaged month after month.

In an effort to provide value, you’ll also need to know which existing apps you’ll be competing with. Explore how well those apps are serving their users, and find ways to fill gaps they’re not addressing or improve upon what they’re doing.

Just keep in mind that customer needs are always changing, and new apps are introduced every day. Make it your mission to stay on top of emerging information so that you’re always aware of how well your app satisfies users’ needs as the market evolves.

Define your marketing strategy for every phase of the user journey

What if you develop a great app but no one knows about it?

Marketing is essential for communicating your benefits and persuading people to download and use your app. But apps — like any other product — have a life cycle. Your message and the way you deliver it during the pre-launch phase will differ considerably from the methods you’ll use to encourage downloads (acquisition) and keep users engaged (retention).


The period before you launch is all about creating awareness of your upcoming app and generating interest and buzz about its benefits.

Here are some great strategies to achieve those goals:

  • Find industry influencers who are not only credible and trustworthy but who also have a large number of followers. You’ll want to reach as many people as possible during this phase.
  • There’s strong evidence that your brand’s website is highly effective at driving app downloads. Paid ad campaigns on search engines and social media should direct those who click to a dedicated landing page that persuades visitors why they should save the date for your exciting new app.
  • Use your personal and company social media pages. Since social media is built for sharing, it’s a great platform for spreading the word about your upcoming launch.

Active user acquisition

During launch and in the weeks immediately following it, the goal is to encourage downloads, and since you can’t download an app without first visiting the Apple iOS or Google Play app stores, make sure your page is optimized to push it to the top of search results when people are looking for an app like yours.

Research the keywords that are most relevant to your target users and study your competitors’ keywords to see how you may be able to leverage them. Then, then insert those words in your app’s title and description. Known as app store optimization (ASO), this approach is the best way to make your app visible among those who are using keywords to search for a new app. 

You can also use paid advertising in the app stores to reach potential users, and in some cases, your PR team may be able to pitch to get your app featured. It’s not an option available to many apps, but it’s worth a try since it could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of downloads.

Additionally, you should continue to use paid advertising on search engines and social media. Lead those individuals who click to a different landing page than the one you used during the pre-launch phase, and present a more direct sales message.


If you’ve managed to get a decent number of downloads during the acquisition period, congratulations! But your work is just beginning. In order to achieve sustained growth, you have to keep those people who downloaded as active, regular users. Considering that it’s much more expensive to find new customers than to retain current ones, app developers and marketers need to put a lot of emphasis on holding onto their users. Retention is so vital to growth that we’ve given it its own section, directly below this one.

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Use in-app incentives to bring users back

As an entrepreneur, you hope your current customers continue to use your app based on its own merits, but consumers are often easily distracted and may need to be reminded as to why your app is so useful. In-app incentives are incredibly effective for increasing app usage or bringing back users who may not have signed in for a while.

What type of incentives should you use for your app?

The incentives you use should have great appeal for your users, so carefully consider items or services that will benefit them. Maybe it’s bonus content that’s not available for other users or a free item or service for completing a series of actions in the app. 

Perhaps a one-time, time-sensitive reward will be enough to encourage regular usage, but if you want to give consumers more reasons to keep coming back, it might be worthwhile to implement a loyalty program. Clearly define the rules for accessing rewards by assigning point values to specific actions taken within the app or allow each action to have equal value. Then, create reward levels for each point threshold achieved.

How should you notify lapsed users about incentives?

Push notifications are the best way to inform those who have previously used the app that an incentive or award is available. For those time-sensitive rewards that will disappear if not used by a specific date, push notifications create a sense of urgency and seed the idea that if a user doesn’t act quickly, he or she will miss out.

Be careful about how you present the offer and how many notifications you send out. Time-sensitive rewards can either motivate a user to take action or produce feelings of guilt or anxiety if they don’t follow through. If you can personalize notifications so that users feel you care about them, your message won’t come across as strictly promotional.

Keep updating to continue providing value

As mentioned earlier, consumer needs change, as does your industry. Stay informed about your users, your competitors and your app’s performance by using tracking data that is integrated with your app’s software. Knowing how well you’re meeting goals — and where you’re slipping — is information that should constantly be within your reach. Update or tweak your app so that you continue to provide value for your users. A great user experience is key to keeping current customers happy and establishing word-of-mouth promotion that makes it easier to acquire new users.

Originally published July 2, 2021.

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