Not enough experience. That is what your app might need.

In 2017 I was trying to find a meaningful job. I got rejected so many times. “Not enough experience.” Then I reached out into a distant field. IT.

I was trying to find a job for 5 months. In any field possible. Quite unsurprisingly, there were always some job seekers who had more experience or better education. My university degree did not help at all. I got rejected. I didn’t even get a callback. Again and again.

So what job was left for me actually after 5 months of job seeking?

“Cleaning,” I guessed.

Hitting rock bottom makes you not give a f*ck

As frustrated as I was, there was nothing left to lose, when I bumped into an administrative job offer in a young Czech IT company developing apps. Without much thinking I just sent out a very honest e-mail:

Hi, I am a student of International Relations. I am looking for a meaningful and progressive job, that helps me and the company to grow. I am working as an inventory worker right now which is physically demanding, very dull, and in night hours. It really develops my patience and stamina, but I would really need to develop different parts of my brain.

I did get a callback. Then the fear crept in…

I had an old dumbphone (because I didn’t like apps) and I was going to talk with a boss of a small company developing mobile apps. And…I really didn’t care about technology.

He asked me what apps I like: “None, I have Nokia E51.”

Super stupid, too honest, and kind of ignorant of me. Never mind. I tried to stay calm and do better.

Then he asked what software I would use to remember something important: “I would write it on the back of my hand.”

That deep frustration made me authentic, or memorable at least. I was just firing the most honest answers out of my mouth.

I got the job. “Not enough experience” argument NEVER popped up.

Taking chances is as awesome as paralyzing

I would love to tell you that Mark Manson inspired me with his The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. The rest of the story would be cooler. But the truth is, our CEO just crazily took a chance, and maybe … he read the book.

Why? Can you imagine giving a project leadership position to a total rookie in the app business with no knowledge of programming, the field, or management? That is what he did. After a couple of months, I happened to be trusted as project/product/marketing manager of our Flashcard app.

We as a company usually develop an app for a customer. They thought it would be cool to have also our own product- the Flashcard app Vocabulary Miner.

If you are now rolling your eyes because you think another big success story is about to happen, calm down, it is not. Not now. But it is a story of an outsider who dared to propose changes and a CEO who never said “You do not have enough experience for this”.

And the Flashcard app rose up. With no investor, no hired professionals, no bigger structure around.

Total net revenue trend on both, Android and iOS. Around April 2019 I was trusted to lead the project.

Look for ability and attitude, not knowledge

Over years I got to know the motive behind my hiring. Knowledge can be learned very easily if the right ability and attitude are present.

I was taught to forget excuses like “I am not good at technology, I never heard about this thing, I cannot do it” because the reply I always got back was that there is Google who can teach me. And it did.

I realized determination, willpower, and curiosity are much more than past experiences.

We are at the end, not our previous failures and our previous successes. It might help you in a new quest and it might not as well.

Piles of Man-days, Scattered Focus, Unfinished Ideas

The app itself came into the existence in 2014 as a part f bold plans for an international Flashcard app.

Now, I would dare to say now that even MVP (Minimal Viable Product) had not been finished by 2017- 3 years after the app was first launched. The app was in both Stores but it was not making any money since the business model wasn’t finished.

In 2019 when I happened to be the leader of the project I hit the iceberg. I had to be (and probably still am) the most inexperienced app product manager ever who hadn’t even had a smartphone a year before and suddenly was supposed to lead a yet unsuccessful product that had already spent over 1 000 000 CZK (around 46 000 USD) on piles of mand days, scattered focus and unfinished ideas. Go, girl!

Lessons learned and revenue rising

To get to the point. In several months leading to years, we found out that you need the courage to create something out of a mobile app.

1|Think it through. Get paid soon. Ask enough money.
Startupists believe that “If you are not embarrassed with your first product version you launched too late.”

We kept postponing the paid part of the product when costs were rising.

In 2018, we finally launched the Premium model with thousands of word lists.

In 2019 I decided as the first thing to do, to change the pricing. My boss said to me: “Wow. That is daring. I would not dare to do it. But if you believe in it, do it.” How did I change it? 12 times higher. The yearly price became the monthly price.

Why? Because at this rate, the break-even point would come maybe around 2056. At best.

Then we changed the pricing another 2 times.

Did something bad happen? No. Check the graph above again. We just have more money now.

2| Check your finances.

Our company was doing great. However, the internal product, the Flashcard app wasn’t. We didn’t check the numbers regularly trying to optimize them by setting realistic goals.

From 2019, it was done. In the following 2 years, the costs were still the same — 2270 USD/monthly but the revenue was rising.

In 2020, the entire app was available for free for 3 months to support education during corona. Our revenue stalled but still, we made more money than the year before. It is April 2021 and we already have 50% of 2020’s revenue.

3| Have clear product/brand principles.

The Flashcard app was fine in 2019 but it did not have any soul. It was just a floating head of a girl talking like a machine that no language school has ever heard about. In 2019, we finally created value within based on Lean Canvas and taglines Say more and Keep learning as simple as possible that make the core of the product for us and users, too.

4| Sometimes you need help to be better

Know, what will eat up too much time with no real results. If you want to be international, you need languages. After a couple of internal translating fails, we started to cooperate with translators to review and translate the app (now we have 7 language settings and Word lists in around 25 languages so far).

5| Know your competitors very well and develop your product “against them”.

In 2019, it was also the first time we looked into our competition for real. Sure, before I looked at this, we knew about Memrise, Quizlet, and Duolingo. We knew they had these immense teams behind them.

But such shallow research wasn’t enough.

We only NOW know what Vocabulary Miner has to offer. That was a major fail to not look around more and sooner. It is simple with a focus only on languages, the scientific method of spaced repetition, it supports learners to compare in learning to no one but themselves, to focus on learning and not on addictive games or ads.

6| Don’t let your idea rot. Have someone who believes in the project.

Before 2019 everybody and nobody was a leader of this project. No one was responsible for the failures. The project was an outsider for dull hours.

And I was kind of an outsider so I guess me and the project just could not keep our hands off, could we?

We set goals, I was held responsible. Set goals. See its future or call it quits when the time is right.

7| Take care of what your users care of

In the beginning, some of us believed that a good product finds its customers with just a few marketing bits such as a press release a year. That belief turned out wrong. Not only for us but also for Andrew Wilkinson.

Now, we are starting to work hard on those time-consuming “soft” parts like marketing, content, and sales instead of just believing in the app’s ability to sell itself.

In October 2020 I was finally approved to start a blog page for our Flashcard app. And it helped. Content marketing is such a nice way to show you care and also to get better results.

Google Search Console before that blog and after the blog launch
The number of people who visited our blog.

Failure seems to be the end of the road but we are still better than 90%

More than 9 out of 10 start-ups fail within 10 years. In 5 years the chances are 50:50. It has been 6 years since the very beginning of our own startup idea — the Flashcard app. We might not have 4 years to go or fail. But we tried.

The app has been discovered by users in over 40 countries all without paid ads.

8| Don’t call it quits that easily.

Take time to think things through. In the beginning and in the end. I am not giving up yet because I think we are doing a great job now and we have learned it the hard (unforgettable) way.

There are days when the only thing that will get me through frustration is a song from Zootopia — Try everything. Because without a lot of money for ads, a bunch of smart people behind your back, it is difficult. But what an adventure!

To tell you truth, getting onboard in the middle of a sinking ship inexperienced…is one of my stupidest and courageous ideas ever. And one of such ideas of my boss.

I am hitting that iceberg really hard…and learning a lot big time. No, I do not have a successful project on my hands. But I realized I can be helpful even without enough experience.

If we fall into 90% of startups, I can try better next time.

Next time, you think you cannot do it and your brain takes you into all these scenes of complex failures, just think you can, Google the problem, and break down these thoughts. Maybe it will help at least a bit.

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Zuzana Pápayová

Zuzana Pápayová

Marketing Explorer for Vocabulary Miner. Half-and-half mixture of a sarcastic cynic and naïve believer in every field I happen or choose to fall in.