Nuzzel’s Adventures In The App Store (And How We Got Featured)

Four weeks ago we launched the much awaited Nuzzel iPhone app.  This was the culmination of over a year of hard work by the entire Nuzzel team, and we’ve been thrilled to have our app featured in the Apple App Store.

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This post will talk about Nuzzel’s experiences developing our iPhone app and how we got featured.

The Prelude

In March, Nuzzel officially launched out of beta, and this news was covered in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Verge, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.  Two days later, we were contacted by a representative of Apple Worldwide Developer Relations, who had read about Nuzzel in the press, and wanted more information about our upcoming iOS app and launch plans.  This put us in a very lucky position, to have Apple officials reach out to us about our app.  Many startups would probably love to have such good fortune.

After multiple phone calls and emails exchanged with both Apple developer relations and a News category manager of the App Store, we made changes and improvements to our app based on the feedback and guidance that we received.  One example of this was adding a set of “Learn more…” screens that a user could swipe through in our iPhone app if they had not yet logged in with Twitter or Facebook.  We had included the ability for prospective new users to browse through some featured celebrity feeds in our app (like Mark Cuban or Gavin Newsom), but had not initially thought to also include “Learn more…” screens.  We looked to apps like Evernote for inspiration, and this is what we came up with:

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We also talked to some other entrepreneurs whose apps had been featured in the app store, to get their advice on the process.  For example, Galen Ward, founder & CEO of Estately, was nice enough to walk us through his experiences with the Estately app and being featured.

In addition to feedback from Apple, we made many changes to our app before launching it, based on feedback from both our team and our beta testers.  A lot of work goes into building a great mobile app and getting it launched.  Of course there is a lot of coding and bug fixing in Objective-C and Xcode, but there are also the server-side API and back-end components that power the Nuzzel app.  For example, push notifications (more on that below) are actually initiated by server-side code (once the iPhone app requests the permissions and sends the device IDs to our servers).  Unlike a simple stand-alone app like a game, the Nuzzel iPhone app shares a lot of back-end software, servers, and databases with our web app, including the systems that access Twitter and Facebook feeds and analyze new URLs.

We also completely redesigned our iPhone app UI from an early version until we were happy with the simplicity and user experience.  And actually submitting the app to the App Store involves a lot of work including writing a description, choosing keywords, and creating screen shots.

We knew there were high expectations for our app, because we had been getting emails and Tweets for months, requesting a Nuzzel iPhone app:

News Alerts

One of the especially cool and innovative features of Nuzzel’s iPhone app are the personalized news alerts.  For users who want push notifications, Nuzzel will send real-time news alerts when their friends share breaking news stories.

Each user receives alerts only about stories that are relevant to their social filter, and they can control their own personal threshold.

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(Most iPhone news apps send notifications that are not personalized, they just send the same notifications to all users in the morning and evening.)

Sending push notifications to people’s phones is obviously something you want to do with a great deal of care.  So we put a lot of work into choosing default thresholds and testing this feature before our launch.

The Launch 

When we submitted the final version of our app to the App Store, we were excited and hopeful about the prospect of being featured, but we didn’t know whether or not we would end up being featured.  From what we have heard from friends, this is the standard process.  Overall, it’s a mysterious system, and deliberately so. We were never actually in contact with anyone at Apple who made the editorial decisions, so we relayed information about our plans, press, feedback, and fans to our contacts in developer relations and the App Store in hopes that they would be forwarded on to the editorial team.  In the end, shortly after midnight on the morning of Thursday May 15, one of Nuzzel’s lead engineers sent an excited email to the team with the subject “We’re featured!!!" and including a screen shot showing the Nuzzel logo in the App Store.  happy

The Response

Our iPhone app launch was covered by both TechCrunch and VentureBeat.

Anthony Ha from TechCrunch wrote: “… In my experience, at least, Nuzzel almost always succeeded in surfacing stories that were interesting to me. … Now that it’s on the iPhone, I expect I’ll be using Nuzzel quite a bit more, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on those alerts.

Tom Cheredar from VentureBeat wrote “… Nuzzel feels like it was made to be used on a mobile device. … I’d expect usage to increase pretty rapidly now that there’s a mobile version of Nuzzel for people to browse during downtime throughout the day.

We also got great responses from social media experts like Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Sacca, and Hunter Walk, as well as from many users via Twitter:

We also heard from many users that they had quickly moved the Nuzzel app to their iPhone home screen, a very good sign:

A week later, we did not know if we would stay featured for a second week.  Again the process was suspenseful, and we were very happy to be featured for a second, third, and fourth week.  We asked Matt Galligan, the CEO of popular news app Circa, for advice on being featured for long periods of time, and he said he didn’t know any secrets of App Store decision making either, but pointed to his app’s many 5-star reviews as his best guess for Circa’s prominence in the App Store. 

So far, the Nuzzel iPhone app has received several 5-star reviews, so we are off to a good start!

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What’s Next

In addition to the positive feedback we received about our new app, we were fortunate to receive many requests and suggestions from passionate users.  The Nuzzel app includes optional integration with both Pocket and Instapaper, but many people told us the Pocket integration was not clear enough.  So in our next version, we will include explicit Pocket and Instapaper icons to make the integration more obvious.  We also received several requests for Buffer integration, and we are adding this to our to-do list.

We’ve already begun working on an upcoming iPad version of our app, and we are excited to investigate some of the new iOS 8 features like Interactive Notifications, Widgets, Sharing Extensions, and Continuity.

Like I said above, launching this app was the culmination of a lot of hard work from the entire Nuzzel team (which is still only 4 people, full-time).  We’d also like to thank all of the other people who helped us, including our friends at Apple, as well as our amazing beta testers.

In one of our next blog posts, I’m going to talk about why Nuzzel was neither “mobile first”, nor Android first.

Download the Nuzzel iPhone app today from the Apple App Store:

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(Follow @Nuzzel and @abrams on Twitter.)

Notes

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Help make Nuzzel better!

Nuzzel is a small San Francisco-based startup, founded by the creator of Friendster, and backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, 500 Startups, IDG Ventures, SoftTech VC, and angel investors including Eric Ries, Gil Penchina, Max Levchin, Michael Birch, and Naval Ravikant.

We are looking for Ops Engineers, Web Engineers, Java Engineers, and Android Engineers who are passionate about social media and online news.

More info about jobs at Nuzzel