Today on the podcast we have two guests from Big Sky Health: Vu Pham, who works on the product team, and his colleague Nick Robinson, Chief Business Officer.
Big Sky Health was founded to help people live healthier, longer lives with the help of technology. They are currently working on 3 apps: Zero, the world's most popular fasting app, Less, an app for more mindful drinking, and Oak, a meditation and breathing app.
In this episode, you’ll hear about:
David Barnard: https://twitter.com/drbarnard
Jacob Eiting: https://twitter.com/jeiting
Nick Robinson: https://twitter.com/njrconcepts
Zero Fasting Links:
[4:18] Quest was acquired for $1B in 2019.
[6:07] Zero helped create the “fasting app” category.
[6:30] Kevin Rose and Mike Maser worked together at Digg.
[7:55] Mike Maser sold FitStar to FitBit — one week before being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
[8:18] Pairing fasting with chemotherapy; new research by Dr. Valter Longo.
[9:17] How Zero is scaling health advice to millions of patients; Dr. Peter Attia.
[9:50] Apps as a new form of media; amplifying content delivery beyond TV, books, and radio.
[12:00] Zero’s transition from a free app with millions of users to a paid subscription app.
[13:13] Striking a balance between free features and paywalled premium content.
[19:54] The value add of Zero Plus: saving users time by delivering contextualized, reputable health advice at exactly the right moment in their health journey.
[22:49] Feature differentiation; personalized guidance; Zero’s Coach feature.
[24:39] Democratizing health with apps: providing users access to expert medical advice for less than $100/year.
[25:44] Data tracking; long-term revenue goals and retention.
[26:40] Nudging users toward healthy behavior changes; stats and insights.
[27:55] What was the mood like on the day Zero Plus launched?
[29:55] How the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Zero Plus subscription go-to-market strategy.
[30:32] Why Zero and RevenueCat maintain free plans in addition to paid subscriptions.
[32:38] Balancing a mission-driven mindset with paid conversions and return on ad spend.
[36:10] Big Sky Health’s long-term vision; the health app opportunity.
[37:21] User/customer naming conventions.
[38:12] Capitalizing on users’ willingness to pay: price differentiation, tiered subscriptions, and micro-transactions.
[41:33] Business success metrics; ARR; volume vs. conversion.
[44:52] Renewal rates as an indicator of the quality of your product; free user engagement and retention.
[46:15] Forecasting ARR with auto-renewal status; A/B tests; churn.
“We’re in this place now where we have these small apps that are really interactive, engaging, content delivery platforms — and they allow these people with value to add to people’s lives to reach them in a way… that television, radio, books, or podcasts never could.” - Jacob
“It’s using content plus technology, forming community modes around it — but it’s all about amplifying these niche desires, these niche needs that people have. And you kind of turn into a mini TV network that’s better and it’s optimized.” - Nick
“We know a lot about you as a user, what your goals are, where you are in your health journey, and we can contextually provide content to you in the moment of need.” - Nick
“Working with RevenueCat made our steps leading up to launch a lot easier.” - Vu
“I hear this all the time from devs who are nervous about this transition. They’re always nervous about, ‘Oh, what are these people gonna say?’ And there are a lot of public examples of apps getting beat up about [monetizing], and I’m like, ‘Listen, you were subsidizing them — they really weren’t your customers. They really didn’t see the value in it that you do. It’s your product; you’re resetting where that value bar is. So if they’re upset, it’s like, ‘Well… it was good while it lasted. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to move on.” - Jacob
“[Free users] are huge vectors for growth for a business like this because those people, even if they’re not paying you dollars, they’re telling their friends, they’re using [your app], they’re engaging more deeply.” - Jacob
“It’s crazy the number of people that do a first download of Zero from a text message. It’s huge.” - Nick
“For the same revenue earned, would you rather have a small user base and a really, really high conversion rate? Or would we rather have a really small conversion rate, but a huge user base?” - Vu
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Hey, you're listening to the sub club podcast, a show dedicated to the best practices for building and growing subscription app businesses. We'll share insider secrets from the top subscription apps on the app stores. Let's get into the show. Hello. Welcome to the sub club podcast. I'm your host, David Bernard.
And with me as always take abiding, say hello, Ella. Today on the podcast, we have two guests VU Pham who works in the product team at big sky health and his colleague, Nick Robinson, chief business officer, big sky health was founded to help people live healthier, longer lives. With the help of technology they're currently working on three apps, zero, the world's most popular fasting app, less an app for more mindful drinking and Oak a meditation and breathing app.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. God, we had those other two apps. I've been a little busy with zero, huh? So I'm going to get this out of the way I've done this several times, but I'm a huge fan of zero. So we can just caveat, you know, anything that's said in this whole episode with like, I use the app, I love the app.
It's just an incredible product. I've been using it for a couple of years before I instantly subscribed to the app. When you guys release your subscription. So, yeah, huge, huge fan of the work y'all are doing. I'd love to hear from the two of you a little bit, just about your background and how you ended up at big sky health.
So, uh, VU, why don't you get sure, sure. Glad to be here with you, Dave and Jacob. Um, so I actually started my career, not in product. I started. A few years in investment banking. So maybe not a surprise. I always got money on my mind. Um, but uh, eventually switched over to the product. And my first role as a product manager was at Zynga and I, I ran a few revenue pods there, Zynga, I think pretty well known for trying to monetize and in gaming space.
Um, had an awesome, awesome experience there. And I don't know if I could have asked for a better entry point into product management. But as I learned some of those skill sets and product management kind of wanted to use what I've learned towards something I was more passionate about and I liked gaming, but I really am personally, I'm passionate about health and wellness.
So looked outside of Zynga, found a FitStar. So I actually worked with, uh, kind of jumping ahead by worked with Mike maser previously, the current CEO of big sky health. Um, he was running FitStar at the time, uh, was acquired by Fitbit. I just loved working in the health and wellness space. Um, spend a few more years in that industry had a few other companies and eventually, uh, reunited with Mike now working on zero fasting.
Um, so that's where I'm at today and, and we just launched a sufficient product. So I get to use those money minds. Uh, yeah. How about you, Nick? Yeah, like VU. I have a, a strange path to where I am today. Although I think in the river mirror, it makes some sense. Um, so. I was a film major. I got my first job, uh, working for Michael Eisner.
Um, he was the former head CEO of Disney, um, posted Disney. He started a company called Tornante and this was back in the MySpace days and we were creating original content for my space. So it was like old teen soap opera. No, I'm pretty sure I was the one creating original content for my space. We'll have to fight it out with my suite backgrounds, some like top five or whatever.
The funny thing of just like, it was high quality, like, you know, Hollywood production, quality content for my space. Um, so that was incredibly interesting. Um, and, you know, cut my teeth on really understanding that, that intersection of content and community in a technology platform. Um, and then even stranger that recruited, um, as the first hire at a little company at the time called quest nutrition.
Uh, makers of the quest protein bar. And that was sort of a merging of, uh, you know, like VU. I've got a passion for, for health and wellness and people who don't know yeah. That, that company is huge. I did a podcast with one of their founders, this insane that a little, you know, nutrition bar company, the little protein bar that could.
Yeah. So I ended up becoming chief marketing officer there, uh, created a content studio, um, and you know, really centered the, the marketing there around continent and community. Um, so quest was acquired for a billion dollars a couple of years ago. Um, I left and decided to spend a bunch of money.
Co-founding a VR company, um, which was a little too early, but again, sort of following that, you know, it had nothing to do with health, but it was all about content and community, um, really instructive, um, and then started consulting because we were spending a lot of money on VR. And had no desire to like, get a job again, and then started consulting for zero big sky health.
Although it was a Culpeck sale then I don't know. Um, and then met with Mike and person finally, uh, and heard his vision for what he wanted zero to become. Um, and sort of had one of those, Oh, crap moments. I think I have to go work here. So I joined in June of 1918 and served as catch all chief business officer role, uh, leading business development, marketing content community, which is sort of your classic, like early stage company role that we're now sort of focusing.
Uh, you know, now that we've raised our series a, we've got a revenue product, we're able to start focusing the team, which is going to be a nice transition moment. Nice. And speaking of zero, I did actually want to hear, I don't know which one of you maybe is better to speak to it, but tell us a little bit more about like the founding of big sky health.
Cause I know, you know, zero was Kevin Rose's little side project. And I actually remember when he launched it and I was like, what does he do it? Like, what is this like passing app? Like he's not even monetizing it. Like how's this ever going to be anything. And then, then, I mean, I remember. Uh, getting funding and getting transitioned.
I don't know. I was like, what's going on? Like, they're funding a fantasy. I like what's going on. It's funny. Right? Like it's months later, it's David's favorite app. Right. As these things go, uh, you know, it really did create a category, right? Like fasting app category is now a real thing. Um, and so it started as a Kevin Rose side project as did Oak by the way.
Um, and Kevin is kind of famous for let's try it out. Let's see what happens. Let's see if we could build an audience around it. And it was zero, you know, definitely struck a chord. And so he was running that as this, as this hobby project and then Kevin and Mike maser, our CEO are longtime friends. They worked together at Digg.
Um, everyone's favorite first internet community. I should go find my Diggnation t-shirt. I think it's downstairs still. I went to a live Diggnation tape as a, as a, like a 19 year old in the middle of all that as a fan boy, it was a man. There were like these parties. It was really weird. I wasn't, I forget I was in my thirties, but I was David, but I listened to pretty much probably the first hundred episodes of Diggnation probably every single one of them.
I mean, I think we could do a whole, like, we should do a Diggnation fan podcast, but think it was very formative for me and like Kevin's work and revision three and all that stuff. As far as tuning content, right? Yeah. I derailed, I read directed. We're all going down. Memory lane now Leo LaPorte podcast of the, why I actually started my app business.
So yeah, that whole little podcast crew early in the mid two thousands. I'm telling you, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. If my dad hadn't brought home a cable box in 1998 with tech TV on it, or whatever, like that, probably like more effects on my trajectory in life than anything else anyway. Yeah. So we just totally derailed you.
So anyway, I'll, I'll re I'll re rail us. So that's my project of Kevin's. Um, he and Mike had worked together at dig. Mike went on to found a company called FitStar, um, which he sold to Fitbit. And then, like, this is a crazy story and it's, it's really Mike stories to tell. So I'll just give the cliff notes version.
Um, so he sells his company to Fitbit, which is obviously like a monumental moment in any entrepreneur's life. And then it's something like a week later he gets diagnosed with stage four cancer. Um, and so as part of his standard of care and, you know, he was, you know, great doctors. Um, he was doing chemo, but he incorporated fasting into a standard of care, uh, based on the, uh, the research by Dr.
Valter Longo. Um, who has some incredibly compelling research on how you want to pair fasting with chemotherapy. And so the huge caveat here is fasting by no means cures cancer, but it can be really, really powerful in combination of standard of care. And that's what Mike did. Um, and now he's multiple years into remission.
Um, and that, you know, it went incredibly well. Uh, you know, as well as chemotherapy can go. Um, so coming out of that, you know, fasting was on his mind and of course doing something really mission driven was on his mind. Um, so he took over zero from Kevin, um, and then really quickly put together a plan of, you know, how does this go from what is essentially stopwatch, uh, into not just a business, but a business that will have impact.
Um, and then that led to the partnership with Dr. Peter Attia. Who's our chief medical officer, uh, who came on, who he had been lamenting separately. How, you know, Peter has a couple of dozen patients, um, you know, who are really focused on longevity, optimizing their, their metabolic health. Um, but he's only helping a few dozen people.
And he wanted to scale his practice, his knowledge, his philosophies, uh, to millions of people. And that's exactly what we're doing with zero and zero. Plus, when I think about what we're doing at, at our company and what companies like big sky health are doing, and that amplification that you're talking about, I think is probably one of the big real shifts.
That that's actually happening underlying, like, of course it is subscriptions, app store, whatever, but that's the model, but we're in this place now where we have these, these small apps that are really interactive, engaging content delivery platforms. And they do allow these, like these people with value to add, to like people's lives, to like reach them in a way you almost can think of it like media, right.
We send in a way that like television or radio or books or podcasts never could write. And I think I had no idea about like the whole content history of your background, Nick. And I find that really interesting because. You know, my past, I worked at a meditation app, um, prior to this and we didn't realize it was a content play until we were like into it.
Right. And we're like, Oh, this is actually, well, actually the meditation app launched after I was there, but it was a brain training app prior to that, but it was also a content play. Right. It's all about. And I think that actually like ties really closely into the, the revenue Donald as well. Right? Yeah.
It's spot on. It's spot on it's it's you know, it's using content plus technology. Um, forming community modes around it, but it's all about amplifying these niche desires. Uh, these niche needs that people have. Um, and you kind of turn into like mini TV network. That's only better and it's optimized and you can do all the crazy things that Uber does to, you know, spread and you don't have all the inefficiencies of production and studios and distribution networks.
There are some of those inefficiencies, like at the end of the day, you can't escape. You have to set up a camera and lights, a bunch of people. Um, and then, Oh, by the way, throw global pandemic on just for a little extra fun. Uh, so as soon as the production quality has been a little different from some of the earliest zero content to now, you guys have been doing an amazing job of, uh, scrapping it together.
Um, so I did, I did want to talk about, um, speaking of like the monetization and content and stuff too. I don't know exact numbers. I don't know if y'all have shared, but prior to launching the subscription, um, zero had like millions of active users, correct? Correct. So I imagine this was a, a pretty big moment inside of the company.
Like we're going to start charging people. And so you've got these millions of people who are used to using something for free. So I'm really curious about. Like just step us through the process of like, okay, we need to charge people to, to be a real business and to be able to keep this thing going to what was the thinking and the process from, from that to, you know, the current strategy, like how how'd you land on, you know, where you're going to.
Draw the line for the paywall. Are there, are there features that were previously not behind the paywall that now are for new users? Like, did y'all do anything with that on the product? And, uh, yeah. I just love to hear like how you went from millions of users to now, you know, a lot of subscribers. Yeah. I mean, we're constantly trying to find that right balance.
Um, I mean, running, turning our, our. Our product into a business was important for us to continue growing this mission to self-fund the content, the product and experience that we're trying to deliver to users. So it's super important. And Mike's really good about thinking about that, but also as, as Nick mentioned, he's coming at this opportunity at the very mission-driven mindset.
So, um, very early on, even before we launched, we didn't want to surprise any of our existing users. Again, we have huge existing user base. Um, so it was really important for me to communicate that we're, we're doing this and that we would not make any previously free product experience. We would not put it behind a paywall.
So we've continued with that. We're sticking with that. And it is a painful at times because, you know, obviously there's a lot of, we provide a ton of awesome value to our users, but we also know we can do a lot more. So as we started thinking about what can we charge for? I mean, I think there are a few things that w you know, we thought.
Definitely would elevate. We had specific value as a company. And Nick kind of touched upon that. We had Dr. Peter T as our chief medical officer. We had an awesome content team led by Nick, and we know that users are now a little more comfortable paying for content. Through their mobile device for digital products.
So it felt like that was a safer bet of where we could draw a paywall. And there's still a lot of content that's free. We think it's important to make this information accessible. Um, but there's a lot more content. We started recording again with a high quality you talked about to now, you want to. Uh, give to users and to our most engaged users.
Can you like for me real quick, like, um, I'm not, uh, I've used the app a little bit, but I've never taken a dive on fasting, but, uh, can you tell me a little bit, like, when you say content, like what, what's the actual deliverable, um, for the user in the app jumping on that. Yeah, so we we've done a handful of, of high quality studio shoots, uh, with Dr.
Peter TIAA, Thomas DeLauer, and some others. Um, so it manifests in a few different ways, but essentially we take what are the high level concepts that people need to understand to improve their metabolic health? Um, and so, you know, to be really clear that there's a vision from Peter Attia, uh, around how you use time, restricted eating, um, the kind of, how has these three levers of nutrition, uh, that, that we really lean into.
And so he helped us create this curriculum. Uh, of the information you have to know to be successful in your health and wellness journey. Um, with a very clear perspective on we're not a weight loss app and you can kind of see as the fasting categories, expanded people, see it as like a quick fix diet. Um, and that is not our perspective at all.
And so what we want to do is make sure people understand the, how and why behind fasting, right? It's not just like, Oh, don't eat for 16 hours. Just don't eat for 18 hours. It's understanding the strategies. Um, and then why they're important and how they're impacting your body so recorded all of this content.
Um, with Peter explaining these concepts, we bring them to life through animations. Um, and then they manifest in three minute videos, 10 minute videos. And then just the other day, uh, we launched these cut-down versions that we call fast bites, um, that appear so we know, all right, you're in the middle of an 18 hour fast.
You have a goal of longevity. So we're going to serve up to you in the middle of a fast, um, this, this 15 second clip that reinforces for instance, how autophagy, uh, enhances longevity, which, you know, we won't go into a tough issue right now. Don't worry. I mean, I know what that means. I don't know if David knows what that means, but I definitely know what that means.
So continue. But the point being, we sort of, we know a lot about you as a user, what your goals are, where you are in your health journey, and then we can contextually provide content to you in a moment of need. Um, so that's really our thing, right? Like how do we provide you really compelling content at the time that you need it most, um, backed by the world's experts in this information?
So, so VU Lynn, how do you take that? Thank you for the context on that. How do you take those, those, you know, bites or three, 10 minute videos? Like how does, how did you guys decide to encode that into a premium offering to go alongside the fast thing? And maybe like, what's the, what's the pitch, like, what's the upsell to the user to like, Hey, like you should, you should, you should, uh, pay for this.
I mean, we're constantly working on that and there's going to be some content that we continue to do for free and. Nick. Do you have a viewpoint on this? I think this is something that we've always discussed as a team, as we create the content. We're trying to figure out what should be free, what should be paid.
And we're just trying to find that, right? Yeah. I mean, it was always a challenge for us on, on elevate, um, because at the end of the day, what's your mission. It's to, you would love to give all this content to everybody, right? Like that would be like, if we were a benefit corporation or a nonprofit, that would be the dream, but, you know, I don't know what your corporate structure is, but it's probably not that.
Uh, and so you have to figure out a way to, to, you know, somehow put a L I mean, and this here in lies, the problem, I think, in, in, in digital media in general is like, how do you give the right amount for free? How do you achieve your mission? Um, and, and honestly like service, like, I don't know what your conversion rates are, but like, you know, most people, it's not more than 10% of people will ever pay for something.
So you really do have to think about that other 90% of users. So, yeah, I don't, I guess it was a trick question because I don't think there's a glib answer. I don't think that's a trick question. Uh, and it's something that we've spent a lot of time on that sort of free versus paid strategy. And then take that out.
Another notch of what goes into lifecycle marketing, what goes to social. Um, you know, we're sort of, we're programming two different experiences on zero plus versus the basic version of zero. Um, and you know, ultimately it's, it's a, it's a flow of value. So the highest value content has to be within the zero plus experience.
Um, I think that makes rational sense to any, anyone who is told that. Um, but it's also important, you know, we have a cool opportunity where even just a little bit of Peter explaining fasting, it gives you that nugget of knowledge that can help enhance your fasting practice to tell you, Oh, like, I want to keep doing this.
Thank you for that piece of information. And then ultimately you subscribe to zero plus because you want to hear more. You want to learn or, um, you know, listen, like information wants to be free. And if you so feel like it, you could go listen to 150 hours of Peter's podcasts. You could spend a couple of weeks scouring YouTube.
Um, you can go back to all the scientific studies that we cite to cross-reference what's real and what's not, and you can put this puzzle together yourself. Like you can do it for free. It's going to take you a lot of time to figure it out, uh, from a scientifically vetted perspective, but the information is out there.
Uh, and it's free. I would suggest Watson save yourself pretty emotional biochemistry. And let me, let me add a little bit to that as well. I mean, it's not, it's an addition to the content we're recording and sharing. It's also how we deliver it. Nick touched on this quite a bit before about the content, the context, right?
If we know this about you, we know you're at this point of your fast, you know, we can give you that. That 10, second, 32nd piece of information. That's hyper relevant in that time. And in that moment, so drawing those relations and being able to predict like when that kind of irrelevant, it's not just the content itself, but it's how we deliver it.
And when we deliver it. So that's something that we've decided was very valuable and something that we would only make accessible to our plus subscribers. Yeah, I think the, I think the, the message there's is really clear, but I'm not sure. I mean, I, I, you know, as, as somebody running a business, you, you, you learn about leverage, leveraging your time.
Right. And, and, and, and, but I think portraying that. Value and curation is, it's a challenge, right? It's a challenge to try and like convince somebody. Um, I mean, you, you have a great warm lead, right? Somebody downloaded your app, they're doing a fast, right. And, and, and you have that content. Um, so maybe, maybe you don't have to try that hard.
Maybe you can just prove like very tactically speaking, uh, like an easy example here of using content for conversion is you can get a 32nd sample of a lot of the content from a zero basis. Right. And then, then you get popped up sell. If you want to finish watching this, you can continue. Um, now to be clear, like there are still full length videos, polling articles for free.
Um, but all the rest of the library, you can get that preview piece of content, uh, for, for the upsell. And did y'all draw any lines on features as well. So like, are there, I subscribed like the first day? I don't remember if I looked at the pig, it's just like, I mean, using this app for a year, I know I want the content and stuff.
It tells you, it tells you about how much, like all of your, like experimentations, where the fact when probably a lot of you love this product, parents is going to pay. Yeah, well that actually, so I'm going to follow up, I'm going to put a pin in this one, but I'd be really curious to hear like how your conversion rates were early compared to like bringing in new users.
But first I did want to hear if y'all are differentiating the features and w w you know, what features do you have locked behind the paywall? Yeah. Where are you out on that? Yeah. So after we talked quite a bit about content, I'll remind everyone that it's only, that's the only one portion of the app and we're, we're doing a lot of things to help make.
The, the fasting and the health information were accessible to users. So high quality content is there and our users love it, but we've also, um, made a better on guidance. This isn't, this wasn't something that zero previously provided to our users. So guidance, we have a feature called coach and a weight that we.
We set various fasting protocols and plans. Um, users can kind of customize a weekly plan based on their goal and based on their existing fasting experience. So there are a lot of our users who, you know, they don't, they don't think fasting is as scary anymore, but they also don't really know where to start or they don't know how to develop that practice.
They don't know why should I do 16 versus 18 versus 24 hour fast. Right. So. Having kind of a plan to help users stay accountable has been really, really valuable and something that we've also decided to put behind a paywall. Um, it requires a tremendous amount of collaboration with Peter and Peter's team to, to structure these protocols accordingly.
Um, but it also, it's a great way, again, for us to find ways to deliver the content that we've been talking about. There's moments of when a user's midway through their week midway through their fast. Three weeks into their protocol. Um, we can share those tidbits of information, uh, accordingly. So that's, that's another area, another bat we made, um, with the plus subscription lunch, double down on that, just to cut, like from a value perspective, um, there was mentioning how, like we worked with Peter and his team, um, I can't reveal what, like a year with Peter Attia costs, but it is multiple the average American salary.
Right? So we've put that into an app for less than a hundred a year. Um, so I mean, that's, that's pretty crazy and it's, it really is like the manifestation of democratizing health. This is something that was completely locked in to a very small group of people. Um, and now you can get in front of a hundred dollars.
And, and, um, you know, the key of it is software, right? And that's the difference between this being of VHS you used to buy the 30, 40 years ago, right? It's like, you can now encode his, he's not just the content of him speaking, but you can also encode those, those rules and suggestions. Yeah. And that's.
That's I think why we're here. Like, that's why, that's why this, this space is exploding and why, I think why I'm so excited about the, kind of the kind of apps that you were building and the kind of niches that are getting served by this, this, this type of software on the dimension of coach and, and stuff, and like data tracking.
And I think that's something I've seen successful apps do. Well, is, is in terms of building long-term retention is like, let's make this place a repository for this practice. Right. You know, you don't walk the data in, but, but make it a place where somebody wants to come back. And like, when you think about long-term revenue goals, like retention becomes really important.
So building those, like. Building that place. It's like why I will pay for it. I don't love Dropbox, but I will probably pay for Dropbox until the day I die, because there's so much crap in there. Right. I shouldn't be the model for your app or the goal, but, but as I really, you know, it's just laying out more tactical things for our listeners and people working on apps like this.
I think that's a, I think that's a very easy, not easy. These, these are hard features to build. Well, certainly. But I think that's a very natural place to, to build value and potentially put it behind a paywall. So, um, yeah. And we're, you know, we talked about coach, which has been really powerful for behavior change, which is so difficult in the health and wellness.
Um, but yeah, we are thinking about kind of the, what, what is for a user who's continued to fascinate, maybe doesn't need that guidance anymore. What are some other areas where it can provide value? So the last bit, and kind of made a member payment of various beds by the last major bet I'd say we made with the plus launch was providing insights.
And this is kind of the stats that you mentioned, Jacob. Um, we've also, in addition to our core feature, the timer itself, we started adding more information around. What is a typical zone you might be in, what is, what is your going through your body at this particular point in time, in your fast? Right. So we started layering that on and it just, there's still a ton of work we want to do there as we continue to get content as we continue to get data.
Um, we'll refine these, but, um, that'd be kind of the third pillar, I would say in the plus subscription launch, um, that'll be decided to monetize. So. So, yeah. So you, you, you kind of laid out in your app, like where would be good things to put behind into your plus package? And, you know, it's, they're all really tough decisions.
It's very specific to every app. Um, and you kind of probably had a guess and a lot of stuff that needed initial days. So then, so then one day you decided to hit the button, right. And go live, like, what was, what were the butterflies in the team's stomach on that day? Or was it practice pretty chill or what, what was the mood.
It was far from chill at the same time. Super exciting. Right. I mean, it's very few times that you would get a company so hyper focused and aligned on a singular point. Right? I mean, there's a lot of times we have different expertise is, and we'll go parallel efforts and all eyes are on one thing. So it's, it's nerving, but what was really, really exciting.
And of course, I mean, working with revenue, cat made are, are. Our, um, steps leading up to launch a lot easier,
but, uh, yeah, still a super-duper nervous, um, launch day. I think a lot of people sacrifice some sleep. Um, luckily we have a team all over the world, various time zones to help kind of cover anything that might've gone awry. Um, Yeah. Yeah. So actually a lot of users were actually kinda like you, David. Um, a lot of users have been so loyal with zero and they saw such great value and the free product we were already providing that we had a ton of reviews of people saying I'm, I'm signing up regardless.
I don't even know what's going to be in there. I haven't even looked at it, but I just want, I want to pay, I love you that much. I would ask if there were any naysayers, but to be honest, it's a stupid question because it doesn't really matter. Of course. Yeah. But that's not who you're building. I hear this all the time from devs who are nervous about this transition.
And, uh, they're always like nervous about, Oh, what are these people going to say? And like, there's a lot of public examples of apps getting beat up about it. And I'm like, listen, you were subsidizing them. They really weren't your customers. Right. They were just, they, they really didn't see the value in it that you do.
And you're just like, kind of, you know, it's your product. You're resetting where that value bar is. And so if they're upset, it's like, well, it was good while it lasted. I'm sorry, but I've got to move on.
Right. Like leading up into this. I remember we, we scrapped three different go to market strategies. Um, as really, as COVID started rearing its ugly head, you got to keep changing, keep changing, changing, you know, going from like a pretty big bang marketing release, uh, into something that was a little softer, right?
Because even thinking how appropriate is it right now to, to scream about this? Um, versus like making sure there's messaging around if you've been affected by COVID you can get a free subscription. Um, what you're used to what's been free, will remain free. Um, and then finding that, you know, who has been talking about balance and that really what this was about, right.
That balance of how hard do we upsell, um, in versus like make sure yes, a free customer. Who's never convert. They aren't actually a customer, but they're, they are here as part of the mission and they are important. Um, and actually like ruined, I often go a little on the side of like, how do we really monetize?
And surprisingly, Mike, our CEO is like very, very steadfast in like, listen, we're always going to have this free product. These people are important, even if they're not paying. And it's nice to have a CEO who doesn't lose sight of that because we want to, I sometimes try to get a little aggressive teed, this one up for me very well, but, uh, revenue cat has the same philosophy, right?
Like we have the numerical, majority of our apps don't pay us anything. And, um, and I think. That that's incredibly valuable for us as a service to the community. Just like you're, you're talking about here. There's a lot of parallels, but also, I mean, it's potential one day customers. Right. Um, but also like, you know, and as I think, want to talk a little bit about like acquisition, how you guys are thinking about growing.
I mean, those are huge vectors for growth for a business like this, because those people, like, even if they're not paying you dollars, they're, they're telling their friends they're there. They're using you. They're, they're, they're engaging more deeply. And you know, I don't know if. And, you know, serve the, the beauty of the, the amplification of software is like, you can just make it free and like, yeah, exactly.
And like the zero marginal costs, you will, the only thing you, you can only gain, right. As long as like their support, isn't like crushing you like, uh, you can only gain so that, you know, it's a balance. Right. And I think it's good to have people on the team focusing on like, how do we. How do we ratchet, but it's, it's like attacks in some ways, like you want to be careful not to overdo it or, or, you know, you can kill something magical.
Well, it's crazy the number of people that don't do a first download of zero from a text message. Wow. That's really interesting. That's a really great sign. I would put that in your pitch deck. Yeah, for sure. It's really interesting talking to y'all about monetization because you are taking such a laid back approach.
So many subscription apps. Are super aggressive on this. So, you know, uh, what's my day seven return on ad spend. Like how can I get people through that funnel and, and hitting that subscribe button, you know, how do I, um, you know, optimize that, those trial conversions and like, it sounds like y'all are really taking a, a.
More long game approach, but how do you, how do you balance kind of the mission versus also thinking, because like, like again, hearing you all talk, like you're building a 10, 20 year business here, right? It's like, you're not building an app that you're going to like flip. You're not building something that like, you need to like squeeze every drop of blood from the turnip today.
Um, but how do you think about that balance? Like you're saying, Mike kind of keeps you grounded, but like there is business benefit to, and Jacob was kind of hitting on that, like, like maintaining and building, continuing to even build that free user base who then might eventually subscribe. Yeah. So, first of all you said we might be laid back on this.
I would say we're definitely not laid back.
We're trying to be, you know, kind of keep a balance of wellness here, but, um, we definitely think about trout. Try to pay conversion. We think about return on ad spend. Um, we track all of that. Now you do bring up a good point. Um, It's important for our mission to affect as many lives as possible for the, for the, for the better, but also try to think about it, putting my business hat on is, you know, for users just because they don't pay it doesn't mean that they don't provide business value.
Right. So that's something we're still trying to figure out how to, to quantify and in, in balanced, against actual real dollars earned. But of course, I mean, maintaining high ratings on the app store and the Google play store. Are really, really important to us. We've been able to do that and maintain that that really helps, you know, funnel in more, more new users.
Um, and we've done. I try to be tried to lead in the past, uh, past few times some thought experiments on where we want to position ourselves in this balance. Right. And asked Mike and ask Nick this and asked a few other, um, members on our team. It's like, all right, for the same revenue earned. Would we rather have a small user base and a really, really high conversion rate or would really have, would we rather have a really small conversion rate, but a huge user base.
And of course, it's kind of like, well, it's indifferent in terms of dollars, but quickly we're like, well, we'd rather have a big user base because that's again being mission driven. And of course you can take that a level further. Of course. I mean, there's more dry powder if video can work on conversion, but even beyond that, it was just really important for us to.
Affect as many lives as possible. I think it plays too into what your, you know, frankly, your funding and your trajectory and like what, what your growth expectations are on the company. Right. And I think to David's point about some apps that are really turn on the screws, they just don't have as good of a product.
Right. Or maybe they've been there. They're choosing to invest in like, Uh, more, there's investing more of their effort and capital into acquisition rather than really building a long product. And it really comes down to time horizons. Like what, what is your plan? Are you, are you growing this for the longterm?
And actually like, I don't know, what's public or how would you guys are sharing, but what is like zeros like long-term or big skies, I guess like long-term horizon on this stuff. Sky's the limit. No, I think, you know, David, I think put it really well of, we're not looking to flip this thing in a couple of years, we're looking to build a really big business.
Um, you know, we see this, this space, um, like the early days in meditation, right. And as, as we sort of. Bring this practice that seems sort of esoteric to people into the main stream. Um, coupled with Peter T his philosophy, um, on this isn't just about when you don't eat, right. That's kind of what we are today, but there's a much bigger vision, uh, on how we can help people maintain, restore, and optimize their metabolic health.
Um, that really turns this into a huge opportunity, which is why we don't have to, you know, squeeze the blood out of the tulip to use that interesting expression, um, that we, you know, we can bring people in for the long haul show, a ton of value in exactly to this point. Um, there's more than one way to be a quote customer, um, and you know, creating those opportunities over the coming years.
What do you guys call them internally? Is it customers, users fasters. Do you have a name? We always struggled with this at elevate because you don't want to distinguish, right? Like somebody's a customer versus even net revenue, like free users or customers. Do you have a, a nomenclature you try to land on like faster is we don't use it because it's a longer word than users.
Um, users. Cause there's, there can be a negative connotation there. Um, it's very easy to default to users because it's a short word. Yeah, sorry. It's a weird, it's a weird question to ask, but I remember struggling with it. I struggle with it now at revenue cat. Cause like you want to just English developers.
Well, when I write blog posts, I really, what I really try to use customers instead of users and like, yeah, I think, I think words matter and those subtle things do shape the perspective, but I did want to ask a follow-up on, on the monetization side. Um, and, and I guess y'all are still a little bit early.
Just what, like five months out from your launch, but have you all been talking through opportunities to. Better monetize your rabid fans like me. Like I would pay more. So like, do you see, do you see, and what's, you need to check David's account with all of our experiments. I was just saying, uh, send them your, send them your Venmo.
Just say like open open-ended like a hat and t-shirt I'm going to be, you'll have a merchant store. Don't you? We do David. Don't be that much of a fan boy. Come on. Um, okay. So where, where I was going with that though is like, and this is kind of one of the things about a launch. It's like, I'm the person who's like most willing to pay more money, but I'm on like the launch plan discount.
And so what is your thinking longterm about the potential to kind of. Not necessarily price differentiate, but like offer even more value or a higher tiers or, I mean, Tinder's incredible with their incredible, I mean, you know, you could look at it different ways, but you know, they have two different levels of subscription and a ton of in-app like, or not, they have one at, at purchase, but it's like, you can basically spend an unlimited amount of money if you want to get more people looking at your profile.
So, you know, there's, there's benefits and drawbacks there, but from like a monetization standpoint, it's just interesting to think through that. There's like, Lot of money left on the table. When the people who like most love your app are trapped in your grandfathered launch day, whatever it was 30% off.
Yeah. This has gotta be pretty, uh, um, maybe constraining compared to your Zynga days, right? When you have a log distribution of payers comparison, I was gonna make, I mean, the interesting thing about subscriptions is. No, there's kind of a ceiling on how much you can get from each user, unless you have tiered or you have other micro-transactions, you can, you can throw at the subscribers versus at Zynga, it felt like it was highly efficient in terms of capitalizing on users' willingness to pay.
Um, and we had pinches galore. So I don't know if I can fully answer your question, gave it, I mean, we thought about this for sure. And. No, just some things we probably don't want to reveal quite yet. Um, but also it's probably not the most pressing problem they're trying to solve now. Right. I mean, uh, we are still pretty new.
Um, we're still just trying to provide a ton of value to our existing subscribers and trying to get more free users to convert, to subscribing. So we're focused a little bit more on that for now. We have a ton of ideas. Of course, some that address what you're talking about, but it's, it's, uh, Again, we're playing the long game here.
Yeah. And those, um, those first year retention numbers haven't come in yet, which will be very enlightening. Right. That, that was, I remember when elevates first year retention numbers came in and you know, it depends on where you're at. It's either like, Oh, Oh great. Or, Oh, no. Yeah, exactly. But if you want David, we can set up a daily subscription for you and we can just charge you that this kind of place.
This one, $1 per minute that you fast. So just to provide a complete reverse incentive. Well, what are the, what are the top metrics y'all are looking at to understand your business, um, assets? Um, Because I think it's always interesting, but also selfishly we're actually revamping our charts and just thinking a ton about like internal welcome to our user session and podcast listeners.
I'm David at revenue, hat.com. If you have additional thoughts, we're doing.com. No, we, I mean, that's. One fun thing about me being a revenue, cat customer and having subscription apps. Like it's stuff I think about constantly. And so I'm always interested to talk and I actually am looking forward to doing more and more a user session.
So yeah, we'll just turn this into a quick user session. Like when, you know, you open your laptop, first thing in the morning, like, what are you looking at? Like when you have a team meeting, what are the numbers you're talking about? Like where w. One of the things that you care about, and I'm especially interested from zero because you are building a different kind of business than a lot of the subscription apps that are just going to be, you know, looking more.
Just hard numbers, like ROAS and stuff. Yeah. I mean, from a business, your first question, what would we look at from a business perspective? It's going to be ARR, right? So you don't know how many times today I multiply your MRR graph by 12.
It's on the spec rafts. I got you. I got you. It's coming. It's coming. AR ARR. Um, I mean, obviously it's how investors look at companies, how they look at the size as a company, um, an ARR essentially as a proxy for a number of subscribers. And just like how a lot of you have a lot of companies like idae or Mau it's, there are a lot of things that go into driving revenue.
Of course. Right? So from business perspective, AR is really important. From a product standpoint where I spent a lot of my time is of course be around purchase rates, annual monthly splits of the subscription, uh, purchase rates, renewal rates. We do have monthly renewal data coming in, and these are the things that I can actually move and, and drive.
And I feel like I can really, really move the needle on. And in, in Nick's role, he's, he's focused a bit more on, you know, driving volume, right? So while I'm looking at the conversion points, he's looking at volume and figure out how do we increase the volume of users, whether they're new or existing to see these points of conversion.
So, you know, we add those together, plus a bunch of other efforts. We kind of ladder up to two ARR. I mean, this was an intentional design around revenue caps dashboard. I think it's SAS companies got to this first, but I think consumer SAS companies, it's, it's, it's also a perfectly good metric. Is this volume velocity, right?
Like top line metric, but then going further into like measurements, right. Which is like conversion rates, like that are actually measuring intrinsic things like ARR is almost extrinsic. It's like if you looked at, if you could look at your business from a distance. ARR would tell you how wide it is or how big it is.
Right. But it doesn't tell you how well it's working. And those were what the other metrics are for. And by the way, the renewal rates, I mean, I said, I only talked about monetization metrics. I mean, of course we look at a bunch of others. But the cool thing about renewal rates is that it also tells you the quality of the product, right?
So if we can drive renewal rates, oftentime, Raso driving free user engagement and retention rates as well. Which again, we talked about in the beginning, keeping that balance, it's something we say hyper-focused on, we, we are not willing to lose a certain amount of retention and engagement. It's still very, very important to us.
So we're constantly. Just looking at the monetization side of things for user engagement, retention side of things, and then trying to strike that right balance. I think revenue metrics in general, as, as proxies for general, um, product metrics are really good because you you're actually asking for a user to open their wallets.
There's no more, there are so many other like, Oh, the conversion rate from this button to that button and this and that and whatever. There's all kinds of ways to cheat those numbers and whatever. But when money is flying from one hand to another users are, tend to be pretty. Direct with, you know, their intentions, right.
You're really measuring something real. And, and, and I hadn't thought about that, but that's actually like feeding that back into the, how, how the free user experience is going to is really an insight. I'd never really looked at it before. And that, in that way, it's just really fascinating. And do you to like the auto renewal rate?
So like when you're looking at ARR, are you also diving into, I mean, sorry, not auto renewal, right. But auto renew status. So when you look at ARR, but if, you know, if you look at your annual, if you look at your monthly plan and 30% have already turned off auto renew, you know, you're expecting a 30% turn that month or whatever, but then annually, you know, you're looking at the numbers that I've already turned off auto renew and trying to figure out ways to impact that.
And that's definitely something I want to do on an aggregated level to kind of be able to forecast our AR a little bit better. We don't do that quite yet, but what we do, we do look at that metric, elaborate. We're running AB tests, which we do a ton of, right? Obviously we don't want to wait a month to see what the renewal rates, even on a free trial, a free trial.
We currently offer seven day free trial. We don't always even want to wait seven days to see if they're going to stay as a paying subscriber or not. So we do look at the auto renewal status, um, when we're trying to get quick data. Uh, within Gates. Um, so it is important to us and, and it will be a more and more important metric for us to, to measure.
All right. I think we've zoomed in all the way from strategic to as tactical as it can possibly get by be maybe a good place to wrap it up. Yeah, that sounds great. So, um, Nick and VU tell us, uh, where people can find you. I assume you all, both on, on Twitter or, uh, just, uh, big sky health.com. zero.com. Zero fasting.com.
Um, but of course you can also find us on the app store or the Google play store. If you search for zero, you'll see us right up there at the top of the search results, both free and paid search results for better and for paid. Yeah. Yeah. Those are probably be the best ways to, to come across us. We also have an Instagram handle, also zero fasting.
We also publish a bunch of, yeah. Twitter. So zero fasting. Search for it. You'll find us cool. And we'll put that in the show notes as well. Well guys, thanks for, thanks for joining us today. It was really fascinating. Getting to hear a little bit more about your business and how you, how y'all think about it, like was love what you guys are doing
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