Habitify started as a habit tracker that donates $1 of every purchase to provide water for African children

January 25, 2020

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Peter Vu

Maker of Habitify & Summerian

Location:

Please introduce yourself (name, age, country, job before starting a company) and what you are working on

My name is Peter (27), co-founder of Habitify and Summerian. I’m a Vietnamese and all my team is located in Hanoi.

Before this startup, I was the lead developer at an SME providing web solutions. I spent 5 years there before I founded Habitify.

Describe the process of starting and launching the business.

First, I took a look at myself: What is my strength, what I can do right now.

Then, I thought of my vision: What kind of value do I want to create? Who needs it?

Shortly after my self-reflection, I did market research and landed on Habit Tracking as the niche to invest my effort in. I crafted the idea, presented it to 2 of my friends who later became my co-founders. Together, we completed the prototype and began building the product. It took us 6 months to have a functional app because we didn’t have any prior app development experience.

We first launched on Product Hunt soon after we finished building and submitting the app to Apple. But it was not until 6 months later did we have the first revenue. We suffered during those 6 months, because we did not have any salary, and still had to pay for infrastructure costs. It was really painful.

Did you ever doubt yourself or face any significant challenges along the way?

Challenges, yes. Doubt, no.

I decided to quit my stable job to follow my own dream, so that’s something I never regret. The first few months were rough, admittedly, but I believed I was doing everything right so it gotta be “right” at one point. I just had to be patient.

The biggest challenge I faced was to find a profitable marketing channel for the company’s product. Building it is one thing, but marketing it is a whole different story. You know, it’s not easy just applying all the traditional methods like taught on the courses, because each product has distinctive characteristics. Mine is both in a small niche that has little to no case studies and is targeting very specific segments of users.

Finding the right channel is the result of intensive experimenting and analyzing results, so as you can guess, it’s a matter of balancing your spent bucks with the ROI. Sometimes the ROI was unclear, but I had to reach my pocket anyway because the insight from my customer survey said so. Sometimes the ROI was a little bit clearer, but long-term, so I had to battle the impatience in seeing my dollars going away without almost nothing in return.

I think my solution at that time was to stop doing everything and rethink about my long-term goal for the product. That helped me prioritize which experiments would be run first, and what I should expect out of it. While I’m betting on some short-term tactics which burn a lot of cash, I’m still backing up the plan with investment in long-term solutions in case things don’t go my way.

My mom is a typical Asian mom, who values dinner together and more “traditional” jobs at state-owned companies. Seeing me going heads over heels about this startup made her worried and she couldn’t stop complaining to me and asking me why I’m so late for dinner every time. The family pressure was rising every day when I started working on Saturday once in a while (which is abnormal here in Vietnam) and when I become more stressful with unsuccessful campaigns.

I decided to have a heart-to-heart talk with her and started explaining every bit of my job in mom’s language so she could somehow understand what I am doing and how important the role is to the company. Things got quiet down, but I know, deep down inside, she’s still worried. But now at least she doesn’t exert pressure on me every late dinner.

How are you doing today and what does “success” look like for your company five years from now?

It was a huge leap compared to 3 years ago, both in terms of financial status as well as user count. Habitify is slowly reaching 1 million downloads and there are more and more people that know about it through word of mouth, which is a good sign because we do not spend much on advertising or marketing.

I think “success” is when everybody who needs a habit tracker thinks of Habitify as the first thing that comes to mind. My ambition is to have people talk about it like a must-have app on their phone, an app as important as pre-installed apps on any manufactured phone existed. There’s no specific number of profit or MRR, but I believe if the ambition can be achieved, profit and MRR will be completely different from how they are now.

In terms of customer acquisition, what is working? How do you attract and retain them?

I think the greatest disadvantage of the Habitify team is market understanding. We’re targeting Japan and the US, the two largest economies in the world with completely different cultures and social norms. When we were launching campaigns, there was a part deep inside that keeps wheezing because we are not completely confident about offering the “right” thing for our customers. I also see that this disadvantage kept us from innovating the product and being robust in our marketing.

Our worst mistakes were to invest in short-term growth hack tactics, to which I think the lack of market understanding attributes largely. Instead of building sustainable foundations, we spent too much time expecting quick results and crying over spilled milk. Admittedly it was me who was obsessed with some quick numbers that I did everything at the disposal of the company’s brand. This did cost me a huge load of money, but more than that, it was the loss of time and the damaged brand that have a more profound effect.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I would invest in long-term strategies for the company, naming; analytics and content.

We refrain ourselves from investing in well-rounded analytical tools to track user attributes and all the touchpoints they have been through, which later led to our insufficient understanding of our own loyal users.

Regarding content, it’s something I wish I started at the beginning of my journey. Content is more valuable than any lead-generating method I have tried. The LTV of the traffic from content is at least twice as high or even 3 times as that coming from direct store search. In the long-term, evergreen content still produces tons of traffic without much effort.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I use Firebase as the server, Google Analytics, Amplitude and MoEngage as the analytical tools.

What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

I would invest in long-term strategies for the company, naming; analytics and content.

We refrain ourselves from investing in a well-rounded analytical tools to track user attributes and all the touchpoints they have been through, which later led to our insufficient understanding of our own loyal users.

Regarding content, it’s something I wish I started at the beginning of my journey. Content is more valuable than any lead-generating method I have tried. The LTV of the traffic from content is at least twice as high or even 3 times as that coming from direct store search. In the long-term, evergreen content still produces tons of traffic without much effort.

Starting alone is very scary and sometimes demotivating. Your friends and families sometimes don’t understand the hardship you’re going through. Therefore, talking and sharing with other people in the same field really helps.

Advice for professionals who want to get started or are just starting out?

Be patient and consistent with your choice. I see many people change directions when they’re just half-way through their product’s life cycle, because it’s not profitable. I cannot tell when is the right time to switch, but from my own experience, if I have tried everything I know and I could and things just don’t work out, that’s when I know I should.

Where can we go to learn more about you and your business?

You can visit our company page here, Habitify blog posts here, my Medium page where I share some learnings, my Growth Lead blog where he shared his learnings while working on Habitify. Let me know if you need anything else from my side!