Lessons Learned Developing a Mobile App for the Carnivore Diet

Background

Why did I decide to make an app for the carnivore diet?

Before Carnivore Coach, I never set out to create a product. My goal was always to build something cool, and if people found it useful so much the better. For example, I built Sitehiker with a friend because it seemed interesting and we were excited about the technologies.

A couple months ago, I decided I wanted to build something commercially viable. If it didn’t seem like a good business idea, then I wouldn’t build it. So I spent a few weeks thinking through different ideas.

Most of the ideas weren’t very good, but then I thought of one that seemed reasonable: I had heard of diet apps before, and I knew that the carnivore diet was new (and I suspected would get more popular in the future) so what if I build a diet app specifically for the carnivore diet? In some ways it was perfect - the idea had been validated (people were willing to pay for diet apps), but I wouldn’t have much competition.

I did a quick search in the play store and discovered that there was exactly one carnivore diet app and it was minimal and purely informational. I had 0 competitors.

The Plan

I downloaded a few popular diet apps for research. What features do they have? What’s their pricing structure?

I focused on Lifesum. It had a freemium model and a number of features:

  • Calories and macro tracking (you add food and it would calculate the results)
  • Weight tracking
  • Meal plan suggestions (premium)
  • Recipe suggestions (premium)

I decided to focus on a few features:

  • Track macros (by adding foods)
  • Track weight
  • Track notes (the carnivore diet causes lots of interesting changes, and this was a feature I would use myself)
  • Suggest resources to learn more about the diet

I wanted to build the smallest app that people would actually use.

I decided that I would build the app first, and release a free version with ads and a paid version for a couple dollars. Then, I would create a landing page that would advertise the app and draw traffic through SEO.

The Revelations

After I spent a few weeks building the Carnivore Coach app, I was ready to work on the website.

I wanted to drive inbound SEO, so the next objective was to find searches I could easily rank for. I used Keywords Everywhere and immediately discovered two things:

  1. No one is searching for a carnivore diet app.
  2. There were a few great candidates for inbound traffic via SEO.

On the one hand, I was extremely disappointed. I realized that I should have done keyword research before ever building the app. If people aren’t actively searching for your idea, then you probably shouldn’t build it. This is especially true the lower your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is (because you can’t run ads or hire sales people if you’re making very little per customer). So I had just spent a few weeks building an app that no one wanted. At this point, I decided not to bother with the paid version. I would release just the free version with ads, and if it was popular I could always release the paid version later.

On the other hand, there was SEO real estate out there ripe for the picking. After spending a few hours browsing through different carnivore/zerocarb keyword searches, here’s what I found:

Search TermSearches Per MonthCompetition
carnivore diet breakfast140Zero
carnivore diet food list1300Small
carnivore diet diarrhea320Zero
carnivore diet constipation260Zero

Yes, half of them are about bowel movements.

I decided to write an article targeting each of those search terms, and to set up a couple AdWords campaigns to see what happened.

One targeted the search term “carnivore coach breakfast” and pointed to my article on that subject.

The other targeted the 0/month term “carnivore diet app” and pointed to the main site.

The Results

The Site

I built the site and launched the ad campaign on January 20th, 2019. As of today (January 31st, 2019) I’ve received 81 impressions and 12 clicks on the “carnivore diet breakfast” search term and 0 for “carnivore diet app”. In total this cost me $13.25. I don’t have any inbound SEO traffic yet (that takes 5-7 months from what I understand), so the only way people are arriving at my site is through the ads. Out of those 12 clicks I received 1 email subscriber and 0 downloads of the app.

The App

I released the app on January 17th, 2019, and as of today there have been 17 installs and 12 uninstalls. Out of the 17 installs, 11 created accounts, 10 logged data, and 2 are active users.

Because Carnivore.Coach hasn’t driven any downloads, all of them are coming from the app store, which is interesting. It makes me wonder whether my analysis of the search traffic was incorrect. Maybe people are searching for carnivore diet apps - just not via Google.

The Cost

In total, I spent $60 (domain) + $65 (logojoy branding) + $25 (app store) + $13.25 (Ads) = $163.25. The domain is recurring every year, and I plan on continuing to run ads as long as I’m learning.

What I Learned

Honestly, I’m still curious to see what happens as more data rolls in. I’ll create some posts in the future as I learn more.

Still, I already have a few takeaways:

  • What I read about in The Lean Startup* and Start Small Stay Small* finally sunk in - don’t build a product until you’ve already validated it. If I took 5 minutes to check search volume before I built the app, then I likely never would have built it.

  • On the other hand, I’ve averaged over one app download per day even though no one is searching for a carnivore diet app on google. It seems that you can’t properly validate a mobile app idea using a google keyword tool, probably because people are largely searching for mobile apps via the play store.

  • Because I did build the app, I learned that there was easy SEO up for grabs. Even if what you’re building doesn’t work out, sometimes you might stumble upon some other viable idea.

*Affiliate links.

Next Steps

Going forward I’m going to:

  1. Continue to write articles on Carnivore Coach. It’s not much work, I’m genuinely interested in the subject matter (I’m on the diet myself), and it seems like a great opportunity to get a site with some SEO rep. Plus, one person already subscribed to my mailing list, so I’d feel bad if I never put out more content.
  2. Add additional google analytics reporting so I can see what articles drive the most subscriptions.
  3. Add a new ad campaign. Currently I’m advertising an article to people searching for an article, and an app to people searching for an app (which hasn’t happened yet). What happens if I advertise the app to someone searching for an article? I would expect a lower percentage of clicks, but surely people searching for information about the carnivore diet are my target demographic.
  4. Continue monitoring the app store for downloads. If people are actively using it, then I might add some functionality.

Closing Thoughts

This is the first project that I ever took seriously from a business perspective. At this point, I doubt it will turn into a profitable business, but I’m still glad I did it. I put a lot of what I learned into practice (SEO, landing pages, etc) which is the best driver for learning.

When I started Carnivore Coach, my goal was to build a product rather than a project. After Carnivore Coach, my new goal is to build a business. That means starting with the market and then solving their problems. I’ve identified where I want to start, and I’ll keep you guys up to date with the developments.

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