Anatomy of an App Launch: Success and Failure of Loose Leaf’s First Day

You only get one chance at a first impression – and your app’s first impression is almost entirely dependent on what you do before your launch day even arrives. I first launched Loose Leaf on Nov 18th with only mild success, and I’ve learned an incredible amount since then. I want to use this post to share what I did right with Loose Leaf’s launch, and where I went wrong, and hopefully you can avoid some of the mistakes I made.

Phase 1: Leading up to App Launch

Your app’s marketing needs to start long before your app launches – even when the app is still in development. By the time the app launch day nears, you’ll already want to have reviewers lined up ready to write and a following of interested customers chomping at the bit to get your app. But how do you get from there to here without even an app to show anyone?

What I did right

I knew from previous apps that the most important thing I could do would be to start building an email list as soon as possible. I setup a teaser website for Loose Leaf and tied a signup form into Mad Mimi so that interested people could be notified when I launch. I also setup a @getlooseleaf Twitter account for the app to provide a face to the app’s development.

What I did wrong

Up until launch day, I was spending 100% of my time on development and QA – I wasn’t spending any purposeful time into marketing. So while I had a website, I wasn’t actively pushing much traffic to it. I also wasn’t actively posting and following folks on Twitter, so my reach there was limited. I’ll make another post later about better strategies for social media, but my pre-launch strategy was closer to sit-and-wait-for-people-to-talk-to than it was to reach-out-to-others-and-join-the-conversation.

By the time launch day rolled around, I only had about 100 people signed up on my list, and only 1 or 2 daily visitors to the site. Contrast that with Here, File File!, an app I launched many years ago, and I could see the writing on the wall. HFF launched with close to 5000 people on our email list; the list I had for Loose Leaf was barely 2% of that.

Where I placed all my hope

I ignored the problems I had with email and traffic because of one thing: WWDC. I didn’t have a ticket last year, but I did go to AltConf and met a number of press/bloggers throughout the week. My demo went well and I made some great connections, and I left believing I’d secured reviews on 5 high traffic blogs and Mac sites. In the next section I’ll describe where I went wrong and why these weren’t as secure as I’d thought.

Phase 2: Two Weeks Before App Launch

By this point, you should already have your app uploaded to iTunes Connect and passed through review. Don’t leave it up to chance! You never know what the reviewer might find. You want to leave plenty of time for your app to be rejected and re-reviewed before your target date. This is also the perfect time to start reaching out to bloggers and press about your app.

What I did right

I followed up with the press I’d met from AltConf, and I also researched nearly 30 more bloggers and press who’d written about similar apps in the past. I kept my email pitch short, included screenshots and links to the app promo video. I certainly didn’t expect all 30 to write, but I was hoping for a handful added to the 5 I thought I had.

What I did wrong

Up until two weeks before launch, I didn’t reach back out to the press from AltConf, and I didn’t make any effort to reach out to or find additional bloggers or press until now. I had put my full faith into only those original press, and I should’ve spent more time growing the email list and reaching out to additional customers and press.

Phase 3: Launch Day

The night before launch day I could barely sleep. No matter what happened, I was and am extremely proud of the 2 years I poured into Loose Leaf and what I was able to build. When launch day hit, I had just 1 large review that sent a fair bit of traffic into the App Store, but by the end of the day I’d barely earned over $500. That… is not what I’d expected.

Remember those press and bloggers I’d met during AltConf? Welp, AltConf was in June, and I launched in late November – that means I’d been nose in the grindstone for nearly 6 months and hadn’t reached back out. Those hot leads had turned stone cold, and it’s my own fault for not keeping connected. I’d be lucky if they remembered anything about Loose Leaf, let alone cared enough to write about it.

Phase 4: Post Launch

Here’s where the real marathon begins. I’m barely a month after launch, and instead of being focused 100% on product development like before launch, I’ve learned my lesson: I’m now 100% focused on marketing and sales. I’m definitely playing catch up, but the difference between then and now is that I actually have a strategy. I’ve started working with Madalyn Sklar on a proper marketing plan, and it’s already helping focus our efforts considerably.

The Plan

Step 1) Proper social media strategy. I’m reworking how and why I use the Loose Leaf twitter account and Facebook page. In addition to being there to respond to customers, I’m actively joining the conversation instead of just passively listening in. Madalyn has been a huge help teaching me how to use social more effectively.

Step 2) Proper marketing assets. Loose Leaf is an app about gestures – it’s the app that epitomizes “show don’t tell,” but at launch I barely had 2 videos showing the app in action. It’s a month later and now I have nearly 15. This ties back into the social step 1 as well, all of the marketing assets that I’m building for ads / tutorials / website we can also share on twitter/fb/instagram/etc.

Step 3) Advertising. I’m working on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Ads, and my priority here is optimizing those ads and also optimizing the sales pitch on the website. This step is essential, because it’s forcing me not only to very narrowly define a target audience for each ad, but also to define how Loose Leaf solves a specific problem for that audience.

Step 4) Opening up. Pre-launch I was buried alone in my codebase working furiously to ship, and my hermit-ness cost me on launch day. My new goal is to be open about my process on this blog, and even open up pieces of the codebase as I did late last month.

The Takeaway

Your app launch is only as good as your pre-launch. Make sure to put as much time and attention into your marketing that you do in your code and QA. I didn’t spend near enough time pre-launch on marketing that I should have, and now I have a lot of catch up to do. Focus on your email list – get people excited and keep them excited all the way into launch day. Bring your own army of customers to your launch, don’t hope and wait for others to do it for you.

Step by Step: Making an iTunes App Preview Video

Possibly the most exciting piece of building Loose Leaf was making the App Preview video that’d show in iTunes when I launched. Making this video was the culmination of over 2 years of work, and symbolized it’s completion in a very tangible way. It was my final step before I could finally submit to Apple!

Working on an App Preview video took a surprising number of tools, and in this post I’ll walk through all of the steps I went through to create the final 30s video for Apple. Before we jump in, be sure to read over what Apple has to say about App Previews and review the specs.

Step 1: Optionally Show Touch Locations

 Apple encourages only in-app footage to be used in the app preview video. For most apps, it’s enough to simple record the app without any modifications, but for certain gestures or features it can be helpful to show the actual touch locations on screen. Loose Leaf is almost entirely gesture driven, and for some gestures (copying a scrap in particular) it’d be impossible to know what was going on without seeing the touch points on screen.

I posted some code earlier that makes it incredibly easy to add blue dots at every touch location. Watch the demo video here to see the dots in action, and grab the code at

Step 2: Write Your Script

I’m using “script” here in a pretty loose way, you won’t have any voice over or words in your video, but you still want to plan out exactly which screens and gestures you want to show off. Your target length is between 15 and 30s, so there’s not a lot of time to show off your features.

A great way to make a first pass on a script is to assume each “scene” will be between 5 and 10 seconds, so you can only budget to show between 3 and 6 features. The Loose Leaf preview showed only 3 scenes, each scene showing 1 or 2 features.

Step 3: Record the Footage

The only apps I used:

screenflow  backdrop  quicktime

Apple recommends recording your app with Quicktime, but I had trouble with dropped frames. Instead, I used Quicktime to only to mirror my iPad’s screen to my Mac, and then I used Screenflow to do the actual recording. I’ve no idea why that would help, but it did – I’d recommend you do your own experiments to make sure you’re getting the quality you need. I also used Backdrop to make sure the edges around the screen were crisp.

When you record, don’t worry about how fast or slow you go through your script, you can adjust the timing and transitions later when editing the footage. Just get all the footage you’ll need, even multiple takes if necessary. One reason that I love ScreenFlow: 1 keystroke to start recording, 1 more to end recording, and 1 click to add to my project and start editing – nice and simple workflow.

Step 4: Find Your Music

To keep the pace moving in your video, you’ll want some catchy music. There are some sites dedicated to short music loops and songs, and two I’ve found particularly useful are PremiumBeat and Melody Loops. I’ve used Spread Your Wings from PremiumBeat for the Loose Leaf promo video, and used Feeling Positive from Melody Loops for the many feature demo videos. There’s lots of great music between the two sites, spend some time tracking down something that’ll fit your theme.

One other option is to reach out to independent musicians themselves. I’ve previously licensed music from Esbe, who makes some great electronic music. This is the road less travelled, but can lead to fantastic and unique music for your app. Find great music, reach out and be friendly, and you’ll be surprised the music you can find.

Step 5: Edit the Footage

And now you bring it all together! Apple has info on using iMovie or Final Cut Pro, but I love the simplicity and ease of use of ScreenFlow.

First, import your footage into one track, and import your music into another:

Insert footage and music

Next, you’ll want to crop the video down to just the iPad screen. Click the crop button in the lower left and set the frame size to match the size of your iPad screen – when i recorded it was 768×1024.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.20.49 PM

Next, clip your audio down to 30 seconds, and add fades in/out as necessary. You can also double click on the audio track to view it’s properties, and speed it up if necessary. For my app preview video, the loop downloaded with a slight fade at the end which made it longer than 30s by default -after a quick speed up, it fit perfectly.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.09.33 PM  Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.10.53 PM  Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.13.07 PM

Now that you have your audio the correct pace and length, it’s time to chop the video down to size as well. Use these same “Split Clip at Playhead” on your video to slice out any footage that you know you won’t need and see how short your actual usable footage will be. Remember, you can easily speed up or slow down your footage by double clicking on any clip.

Sometimes I’ll need to extend a frame of the video by just a fraction of a second – maybe I was a bit too quick between gestures. This is also extremely easy to do: just set your playhead at the frame you want to extend, right click, and choose Add Freeze Frame.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.17.02 PM

Lastly, there are places in Loose Leaf’s app preview where I cross fade between clips. To add in a transition, simply drag a clip to overlap another clip – a transition will be made automatically! Then just right click the transition area to choose the effect – I’m partial to the simple Cross Dissolve.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.18.52 PM  Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.19.07 PM

You’re almost done! After a bit of editing you should have an app preview edited down to 30 seconds and ready to upload to Apple.

Step 6: Format for Apple

Apple has specific requirements for uploaded App Previews. In particular, the resolution of the video must be at least 900×1200. When you’re ready to export, choose File => Export from the menus, and set a custom export size of 900×1200:

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.24.18 PM

Step 7: Enjoy Your App Preview Video

Then export your file and upload to Apple! Congratulations on your freshly minted App Preview video! This is exactly the workflow I followed for Loose Leaf, feel free to check out how it turned out!

Check out Loose Leaf on the app store:


An Easy Way to Show UITouch in App Preview Video

One of the most important pieces of any app launch is the app preview video that’ll show next to your screenshots in the App Store. With Loose Leaf, nearly every feature and all of the navigation is through multi-touch gestures, so it was incredibly important to be able to show those touches on screen when I recorded the video.

The Preview

Watch the Loose Leaf preview to see the touch dots in action – it’s a small animation when the touch begins, and the blue dot follows each finger for the rest of the touch.

The best part is how easy this is to add to any iOS project, just some simple code that will show dots at each UITouch location, no matter what UIView or UIGestureRecognizer is receiving them.

The Code

The code to add these dots is available at To add it to your project, just add these few lines into your App Delegate when launching the app.

- (BOOL) application:(UIApplication *)application didFinishLaunchingWithOptions:(NSDictionary *)launchOptions {
    // create the blue dot view
    MMTouchDotView* dotView = [[MMTouchDotView alloc] initWithFrame:self.window.bounds];
    // optionally set the dot color, defaults to blue
    dotView.dotColor = [UIColor blueColor];
    // optionally set the dot width, defaults to 20
    dotView.dotWidth = 40;
    // add the view to the window to make sure it's always visible
    [self.window addSubview:dotView];

    // Override point for customization after application launch.
    return YES;

That’s it!

The App

More Loose Leaf dev blogs to come! Find out more about Loose Leaf, and watch all the app demo videos.


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