We were challenged to create an unconventional way to engage high school students in discussions around STEAM learning and career development.
We proposed, designed, coded, and launched an iOS app, Be - Career Discovery in 2016. Be is like Tinder but for helping students discover and learn about STEAM careers.
The app was recognized as one of 2016's best apps, featured on the Apple app store homepage, and achieved tens of thousands of downloads from high school students around the US. It proved that good design and gamification could be effective methods for reaching specific audiences for a good cause.
This product story was written by GoArchitect founder, Josh Sanabria.
My fingers are poised above the mouse, excitedly tapping the left key without actually clicking. I’m mentally running through the launch checklist... Review the app’s description for spelling errors. Check. Upload the app preview screenshots. Check. Open it up on my iPhone to make sure it still works. Check. Let's launch this.
The Be - Career Discovery app was ready to submit to the Apple App store. I simply had to click and it would be live to millions of users around the world and become my biggest foray into the world of software. This is the story of what happened after I pressed that button on May 11, 2016 and what I learned.
Be - Career Discovery is like Tinder for helping students discover and learn about STEAM careers.
Let's start with some context. This app was created for an educational design firm who wanted an unconventional way to reach out to school districts and engage students in discussions around STEAM learning. This app was designed intentionally for high school students who perhaps were curious about STEAM but didn't know what types of careers were available. We needed a way to educate the students but on their own terms, something that was engaging, bright, and spoke to current events.
At the time, Tinder was a big part of popular culture and the concept of swiping left or right was new and fresh. Building on this pop culture moment, I proposed an app that took this feature and used it to help students explore a wide variety of careers in a fun way. The student could read about the career, the educational requirements, the estimated salary, and in general become more aware of the options.
The app launched in May 2016 and was featured by Apple on the front page of the app store in June. This exposure enabled us to reach tens of thousands of students from across the country and hopefully inspired them to pursue a STEAM career.
Getting the news on June 3, 2016 that Be could be featured on the App store was incredible. According to Apple’s recent WWDC stats, there are over 2 million apps currently in the App store and 3rd-party estimates say over 1,000 apps are submitted everyday. This means that from the launch of Be on May 11 to June 3 about 24,000 new apps were launched, all of us competing for the coveted spots on the front page of the store.
At the time, Apple selected featured apps through a committee who met mid-week to decide on apps for the following week. After they have decided on a list of potential features, they message the app’s developer to request promotional artwork. After the artwork is received they perform some voodoo magic to decide who gets featured. In other words, it’s kind of secretive on how they actually determine who gets in.
I do have one theory however, on June 1, 2016 Be was featured on the influential tech site, Product Hunt.
For those unfamiliar, Product Hunt(PH) is a tastemaker in the internet community. Wired magazine has even equated it to another golden child of tech news, Techcrunch, for the glow that surrounds products featured on it’s front page.
PH was popular because it was an invite-only community, which gives the appearance of quality and exclusivity. I couldn’t post Be myself, I had to find a champion who was in the club, so to speak. I found mine in Tristan Polluck (@writerpolluck) of 500 Startups fame. I didn’t just choose him at random, Tristan was the top-rated participate in the PH Education category and came across as someone interested in making things happen.
After reaching out to him on Twitter a few weeks prior, he agreed to post Be on Product Hunt on June 1 at midnight.
I stayed up late on May 31, incidentally my wife’s birthday (shout out to her), to be online at midnight when Tristan would post Be. This was important because Product Hunt organizes posts by day and upvotes. The logic is, the earlier you post in the day the more upvotes you are likely to get and you won’t get buried beneath the dreaded “Show More” button.
Immediately after posting, the actual creator of the product comments first to introduce themselves and generally set the tone for the conversation. I stayed up for several hours after midnight, commenting, refreshing the page, and emailing people I thought would be interested to know Be was on Product Hunt.
The impact of Product Hunt was multi-faceted. The most obvious was the increase in users.
The web and download traffic from Product Hunt was a flashbang. Short lived but enticing. From the data, the largest spike in traffic came around noon on June 1. I don’t have data on why this occurred but it could just be a correlation between people eating lunch and browsing PH.
1,181 visitors to IW2Be.com
147 Be app downloads
12.4% conversion rate
174 visitors to IW2Be.com
91 Be app downloads
52% Conversion rate
70 visitors to IW2Be.com
42 Be app downloads
60% Conversion rate
The other side of success regarding the Product Hunt launch is harder to equate. Yes, we got a few hundred downloads but that’s not an astronomical amount and nowhere near the numbers needed for it to be a sustainable app.
So why bother with Product Hunt? Influence.
Product Hunt is currently a nice corner of the internet where entrepreneurs, techies, and Silicon Valley types hang out and keep coming back. I myself check it nearly everyday to see what has been hunted. Even though I have no quantifiable proof, I think someone from the Apple App Store review committee is a dedicated Product Hunter who is on the lookout for what’s new in the community.
You have to tailor your approach to where your customers are and what they are influenced by. Product Hunt may have been a small audience but it was an influential one.
The first day was an explosion of users and it hit me by surprise. Even though I knew Be was being considered by the committee, I didn't know when or if it would be featured. I only knew we had been approved because Google Analytics showed a gigantic rise in traffic. Within minutes of landing on the front page of the App Store, thousands of people had downloaded Be and were swiping through careers. They came from nearly every state in the USA and from dozens of countries around the globe.
Google Analytics is free but there are plenty of other powerful options. Without a built-in analytics service, I would have had no way to determine the app's impact or reach. I watched in amazement as the real-time user tracker jumped up and up with every new user.
With the sudden rise in traffic, I wondered to myself how the app was performing out there in the real world. I had done beta testing over the last few weeks and I had tried the app several hundred times throughout the development process. However, neither of those strategies were designed to simulate mass-simultaneous activity.
I first got wind of the storm clouds when I started to receive Instabug Feedback messages every few minutes. “My cards aren’t loading”, one person would say. “They keep switching on me!!”, said another.
I frantically pulled out my iPhone and started up Be to see if I would have the same problems. Sure enough, I did. I immediately climbed down into the trenches and hunkered down to figure out what wayward piece of code was causing these issues.
Be used Google Firebase as a real-time database. This backend-as-a-service handles everything from user authentication to the career card data in a JSON file.
When a user signs up, the app is continually listening to the Firebase database to get the information for the career card. Each career card retrieves information like the URL for the image and the text for the description. I turned out that this continual listening code method is bad mojo.
Because of this continual listening, when a lot of users accessed the same database location, the user’s device was processing the career card information faster than the database could deliver the card's data. This created a phenomenon where the user would swipe a few cards and then it would undo their progress and jump all the way back to the first card. Making the app a ticking time bomb until it would essentially erase everything the user just did. Not exactly a great user experience.
Since the error was caused by the continual listening of the device to the database, I changed the code to only listen to the database once per 1-3 cards. This change means that on startup, the device gathers the required data and then temporarily shuts off the Firebase listener until the user swipes the cards. After which, the listener starts up again, downloads the next cards worth of data and turns off again. This eliminated the sporadic performance.
Because this issue was only discovered with high simultaneous traffic, lesson 6 becomes pretty obvious.
Services like AWS Device Farm help with this by simulating simultaneous use by a variety of devices. After discovering the issue and re-writing the code, I submitted an emergency update to the App store just a few hours after being featured on the front page. Nothing like an adventurous first day.
Be - Career Discovery was featured starting at noon on June 6th, 2016. The impact was immediate. With a few hours, several thousand people had downloaded the app and were swiping cards.
Having an app featured doesn’t mean it will always be there on the front page. The time frame is about a week. Since new apps are featured every day, Be slowly moved down the list until, inevitably, it was pushed off the front page by newly featured apps.
For the sake of comparison I will focus on the first 3 days of being featured (June 6, 7, & 8) and the 3 days after Be was no longer featured. (June 13, 14, & 15)
At around noon on June 6, 2016 Be was featured on the front page of the App Store. The first 3 days brought the most users and exposure. Here are the numbers.
The comparison between impression and page views is pretty stark. Impressions are defined as the number of times the app’s icon was viewed by anyone on the store. Page views are the number of people that clicked on the icon and actually viewed the app’s screenshots and description.
The difference between page views and downloads was pretty consistent at around 8-9%. It is possible that June 7 and June 8 would have performed better without the initial performance issues Be experienced on June 6.
According to a App Store analytics study done by Split Analytics, the average conversion rate for the Education category is 6.75%. Be performed above average with about 8.76% for the opening 3 days.
Product Page Views: 27,968
Conversion Rate: 8.237%
Product Page Views: 85,014
Conversion Rate: 9.040%
Product Page Views: 35,352
Conversion Rate: 9.029%
On June 13, around noon, Be left the front page of the app store as other new apps were featured.
Product Page Views: 28,572
Conversion Rate: 7.577%
Product Page Views: 11,631
Conversion Rate: 10.153%
Product Page Views: 10,367
Conversion Rate: 11.941%
The Be app proved that we could drive engagement through well-designed, interactive, and fun digital products. We were able to engage a particularly challenging subset of users, high school students, while encouraging a positive message about education. We believe this strategy of focusing on dynamic interaction and design thinking could be used for many other audiences and we are excited to seek out new opportunities to make that happen.