Going Viral with a Referral Program: Role of Micro-influencers, Payout Challenges, Monetisation (P3)
Updated: Jul 6
This is the third and final post in the series of three blog posts on AppBrowzer’s Viral Referral Program.
Do you want to see how going viral looks like? Have a look at this.
As you can see in the heatmap, users were downloading and using AppBrowzer from all over India. I was especially surprised to see users from Jammu & Kashmir. I was like — “how did we reach there?”
The answer to that question lies in understanding the segment of Micro-influencers in India.
Micro-influencers as an acquisition strategy
I had no idea about micro-influencers and their network until May 2018. While interviewing for the position of marketing manager — I learned how he has helped few popular mobile app companies to reach out to Indian YouTubers (with 10,000 to 1 lac subscribers) and get them to review the apps on their channel.
The strategy looked appealing to me. These YouTubers also had telegram channels with a very good subscriber base. However, I was concerned about the quality of users as these were run by school/college students, working professionals from Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities.
Our focus for AppBrowzer was mainly metro and Tier-1 cities where people are used to booking cabs using Ola/Uber, ordering food on Swiggy/Zomato, shopping on Flipkart/Amazon/Snapdeal, paying their Gas/Electricity/DTH bills online.
We were basically targeting tech-savvy users who would be able to easily understand the value that an all-in-one app like AppBrowzer had to offer.
Nonetheless, Vikash (the guy who I was interviewing) convinced me of his strategy with an interesting and valid point. He talked to me about the social proof and said — “Any user would first look at the number of installs and reviews before installing your app. The more the number, the better the chances of her installing and giving it a try.”
Learning from your people
AppBrowzer had more than 1.5 lac users during this time. The challenge was that the PlayStore listing showed 1 lac downloads (100K+) and it would change only at the next milestone which is when we cross 5 lac users (500K+).
So, we hired him as a consultant for 6–8 months. And I have to tell you this — I learned a lot from him.
He quickly formed a team under him for reaching out to micro-influencers, negotiating the prices for each video, app store optimization, etc.
Building Acquisition and Monetization channels simultaneously
While the other members of the team were busy in their respective work, we — Vikash, Sunny (my co-founder) & I were planning on how to speed up the acquisition.
During the same time, we had also reached out to almost all mobile phone companies to talk about a strategic partnership as another source of faster acquisition. However, none of them moved forward as our PlayStore numbers were too small for them to consider (at least that’s what we assumed of their non-responsiveness).
Exploring Monetization channels
Also, another challenge before Sunny & me was how to recover the acquisition cost as fast as possible. We had been monetizing e-commerce apps like Flipkart, Amazon, Myntra, and others but they weren’t enough to fund our acquisition.
So, we added the Games category by sourcing games from various partners to monetize using Ads. This turned out to be one of the best decisions.
Finally, 25th December 2018, we launched our new scratch cards based referral program &
rewards system. We didn’t promote it as we found bugs in production and were fixing them.
At that time, I was tracking the campaign at the backend (database level), would extract the report on an excel sheet, and mail it to Vikash to process the reward payouts manually.
We were integrating API from Cashfree to automate the reward payouts to UPI/PayTM/Bank Account. However, their service was new at that time and we had several issues during integration that required a lot of back and forth.
Within two weeks of the soft launch i.e. 8th January 2019 — the campaign went viral and broke our servers. This happened because the Youtubers and Telegram influencers that we had been in touch with were using AppBrowzer on a daily basis.
They started inviting their friends and family. Once they successfully redeemed their rewards — they started putting videos on their channel with payout proof and also posted it to their subscribers on Telegram.
This also started chaos — support emails piled up. The frustrated users started leaving negative reviews on Playstore.
The office landline rang endlessly and the phone number that our team used to speak to influencers got 1000s of Whatsapp messages. You now know what to expect from a viral referral program.
Our biggest challenge was ₹35,000–₹40,000 worth of rewards payout requests daily. We had set aside ₹8,000-₹10,000 a day for this campaign for the month of January.
We had to do something or we would run out of money.
Unexpected Revenue to the rescue
We decided to increase the minimum redeem amount from the current ₹100 to ₹200. Also, limited it to one payout per account per week. The payout decreased to less than ₹23,000.
Then on the afternoon of 10th January 2019, I got a report from my Games provider that our Ads revenue from Games was $165 (approx. ₹12,000) for the previous day — which we had not expected at all!
The payouts suddenly looked fundable and then it took us 4–5 weeks to organize everything. We also started integrating Google Admob in our app to increase revenue from Ads.
Transforming into a Browser for both — Apps & Web
If you look at the bottom right in the screenshot below, you will find an icon that shows — Browser (beta).
In December 2018, we had planned to add a full-fledged browser that would make it extremely easy to search the web on mobile.
You check out this video to see it in action. This went live on January 19th, 2019, just 11 days after our app had gone viral.
Deal with a Smartphone company
Two weeks later, after we had crossed the 1 million mark on Playstore, we started reaching out to smartphone companies again, and this time one of them agreed to a meeting in Delhi.
We flew there in the first week of February 2018 and cut a revenue-sharing deal with Gionee to be pushed as a default system browser into their existing and new smartphones.
In April 2019, AppBrowzer was pushed into their existing devices as a system update which was a big booster for us as many other companies started approaching us for strategic partnerships.
We started working with some of them and still continue to do so. Over the next 6–8 months, I learned a lot about the mobile apps market, ad networks, smartphone companies.
Perfecting Referral & Rewards System
During this time, we were also perfecting our new Referral & Rewards system. There was less visibility for the product/growth team on the performance of the campaigns and they had to depend on the backend guys or me for the data.
So, we decided to build a complete dashboard to create & run campaigns, extract reports, increase or decrease rewards, approve payouts, etc. We automated almost all the time taking tasks.
A new business is born
Towards the end of 2019, we started exploring the possibility of extracting our Referral & Rewards system as an independent SaaS product for other mobile app companies.
We reached out to over 100 product/growth managers and asked them if they would use something like this for their app and would they be willing to pay for it.
58% of them said YES and 23% wanted to use the tool and then decide. This motivated us to release our Referral & Rewards system — Flyy for other mobile apps in the form of SDK.
It comes with a complete Dashboard to manage the referral program and other rewards
programs in your app. (check out the screenshot below)
It has been a really exciting journey so far — we as a team have been able to overcome most of the problems and turn them into opportunities.
As we come towards the end of this last blog post of AppBrowzer’s viral referral program series — I would like to say that I and my team at Flyy look forward to working with other companies to solve their product growth challenges.
I will continue writing about my learning here. DM me on Linkedin if you would like me to write about something specific.
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