As app developers, we all dream of taking off and soaring among the stars. It is every app dev’s goal to rack up downloads and ratings. This is easier said than done. At the time of penning this article, our apps have been downloaded a total of over 640,000 times and 18 have surpassed the 10K download mark. Like everything else on the internet, this makes us an authority on how you can get downloads for your app too. Right?

Tease me. Please me.

A lot of app devs under-estimate the impact of generating hype while a product is in development. Keeping people teased and anticipating your product can eliminate zero-day launch pains. Nothing is more painful than checking your stats every single day and seeing zero downloads two weeks after launch.

This can be a double edged sword. Sometimes, talking about your app during development will leave you vulnerable to copy-cats. Sometimes though, it will generate much needed hype for your upcoming product. It is best to be careful where and when you share information about your WIPs (work in progress). Sharing too much information about your product that is still in ideation is probably a bad idea. Once you have an MVP and are well into final testing, you can blabber all you want because in a couple of days you will launch anyway.

Be Awesome. Stand Out.

Before you launch your app you need to tick certain boxes. Is your app good? Is it unique? Does it stand our from other apps in the same category? App stores have quite a low barrier of entry, more so for Google Play. Most devs simply create a lazy app and publish it but get surprised when they don’t get any downloads.

Truly speaking, an app that just calculates how many Zesa units you can buy without the feature to let you buy said units is not a great app.

Zesa Units Calculator

The Zesa Units calculator pictured above is not an app. It is a lazy attempt to spam keywords with a useless app that does nothing functional.

Sometimes both speed and being first is crucial. Back when Zimbabwe was gripped by election fever in 2018, ZEC released a pdf document with a list of polling stations. We started work on creating an app. We got wind that another developer was working on a similar app. We made sure we beat them to launch by days. When they launched, ours had been splashed all over online publications and we’d “taken the crown” of the elections fad. Our app was far from perfect though and we later added newer features.

Another example of overtaking the current leaders was when we launched our Highway Code app. This time around we sat down, studied the market, asked what they wanted and made a product to soothe their pain points. We came into a crowded market that already had over 5 major players, some with years in the game. Our app took over that space and is now among the top in the country. And we did that with a zero dollar marketing budget.

Create a Website for your app

One month before you launch your app, set up a website to market your app and also collect emails or phone numbers of people who wish to know about your app. This will solve the zero day launch horror and also get a conversation going about your app. Those ten people whose emails you obtain, will tell another person about your app. Within a week, you will be well above referral 50 downloads.

What’s in a name?

Local developers seem to have a major challenge with naming their products. Tools like are important in this regard. You can switch to the Play Store tab and check how high and by what volume your app name ranks on Google Play. If your app name only gets a few hundred searches per month, you need a new app name.

Go to where your users are

Talk to other developers before your launch and start milking your marketing budget. Also know who your users are, how they use their phones and how best you can reach them. For example, we have noted in Zimbabwe, we gain 40% of our new users from Google Play. The rest come from P2P apk sharing. That means we need to make sure our app is easy to share and easy to side-load. It is also wiser to advertise out in public and get people talking about our app amongst themselves. In Zimbabwe, referrals are your major user-acquisition mode. Make existing users so happy they can’t help but share your app to their social circles.

As you leave the country going north in Africa, the numbers say 60% of new users come from Google Play. The best way to get discovered and also retain the attention of browsers in the app store is to stand out. Work on App Store Optimisation; have a good app name, great app description, a unique icon and good looking screenshots.

This is what gained us some of our initial users and continues to gain us new users in high volumes. We appear first in several relevant searches not just in the Play Store but also on Google search as well. Our app store listings are well optimised, with unique icons for each app that stand our and clear in-app screenshots that give off a great first impression.

Use social media. It’s free

Where are you more likely to get maximum downloads for your Make-Up app? Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? Answering such questions is key to how you should maximise on your limited marketing budget. You should know who uses which social media platform and know how to target them with regards to your product. You also may not need a high following to gain the attention of people. There are several lists, groups and hashtags you can leverage. All for free too.

Back when we started our, we joined general Facebook groups that allowed posting free adverts. Each day, we shared a single, well designed and clear graphic of our app together with a download link in the text. Each post, when shared to ten groups would gain 2,000 views, 250-300 clicks and maybe 20-50 downloads. Do that daily, but do not spam or you will get banned. Below is an example of a banner we shared in Facebook groups.

Funda App Banner we shared in Facebook groups

The return may be low but do not under-estimate what 20 downloads a day can do. With good referrals, we’d end up with 100+ Google Play downloads for an app and 200 P2P apk shares. That’s a whooping 300 new users for a single app gained from a zero dollar marketing strategy. We did this for a whole year (all through 2018) before we stopped. We felt we had reached all the users we could with this strategy given that the number of people in groups was decreasing, not increasing.

Keep the updates coming

Our apps have an annual update schedule. At the start of each year, we overhaul all our major apps with a new look and new features. We do this to keep a fresh look with long-time users mostly, but also to entice new users with current trends. This does not mean if you have bugs or feature requests you cannot update at any other time.

Now that we have armed you with all our tricks, go out into the world young padawan and get downloads!