How Tempo growth-hacked the hell out of its app before it ever launched

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on August 21, 2013

From The News Desk

Tempo launched in February 2013 in the fadd-ish flood of calendar apps. Despite the fact that it was going up against 4,582,439 bazillion (just an estimate) other calendar apps, media went bananas over it. It was called "Siri for your calendar" and "the valedictorian" of calendars.

Its differentiator is that it's "smart," and learns from your data -- emails, reoccurring appointments on the calendar, address book, and the like -- to become your personal assistant. For example, if you have lunch every week with a contact at a specific restaurant, and one week you forgot to pencil it in, Tempo might remind you.

I'm not a calendar app user myself -- aside from the old faithful, Google Calendar -- so I didn't believe the Tempo hype, until I called its competitor Sunrise. I try chatting with startups' competitors when I can, because I find they've got a critical outside perspective (gee I wonder why?) that can give context and pop a hole in the hype bubble of a product.

But in Tempo's case, competing calendar app Sunrise's founder felt rather positive about Tempo. I believe his exact words were, "The way they're doing things is very unique. We may eventually have to go in that direction, because we know that many people use their calendar for business."

Today Tempo announced a big 'ol cluster of new data-driven features to beef out its offerings. If you have a meeting title in your calendar that has a company name, like Amazon, Tempo is "aware" of the fact. It will surface information about Amazon, like the latest news articles or financial/stock details, and who you know at the company. It's the sort of feature that's right up Tempo's alley, using artificial intelligence to do things you wouldn't expect your calendar to be able to do.

Tempo has a rabid, passionate user base who swear by the product. In fact, when Tempo launched it got flooded by so many new users that it had to temporarily shut down signups.

Tempo's involved fans did not emerge by accident.

You would not believe the amount of product-testing the company did before they ever launched the app in the iOS store. They ran surveys. They did interviews. They launched it in Canada under a fake name to see how it would perform. They created a fake landing page to see the click through rate on different versions in the iOS app store. The Tempo app basically went through Navy SEAL training for 9 months.

It was all part of the founder Raj Singh's big growth hack plan.

Over the last two years, growth hacking has become the buzziest mc buzz word in Silicon Valley's arsenal. Growth conferences launched, "growth hacker" started popping up on job listings, and self proclaimed growth hack gurus crawled out from under whatever rock they were under before. Cue the cult.

In growth hacking, marketing meets product development with the purpose of attracting and retaining more product users. Growth hackers study how people interact with their product to understand what they like/don't like, what would compel them to continue using it, and what makes them skip signing up at all. That way companies can tweak the product to get more customers, keep the ones they have, and make it go viral. It's a particularly fitting trend for the startup world, where companies simultaneously build and test their products while trying to scale big 'n fast.

Tempo founder Singh says one of the most important steps in growth hacking is to figure out your goal. He knew the retention number he wanted to see with Tempo users before he felt comfortable putting the app on the market: 50 percent of the alpha group using it on a regular basis. All the tweaks and tests until that point were designed around getting users into and then obsessed with the app.

The Tempo team needed to know why Tempo users initially started using it -- the hook -- and then why they kept using it weeks and months later -- the must have. So they surveyed members of the Alpha group and asked them what they would change about Tempo and what features they couldn't live without. "In growth hacking a lot of people want to do everything based on data," Singh says. "But it's really important to talk to your users." In doing so, he learned about Tempo's core product value -- one touch conference call dialing and an easy button to hit to tell someone you're meeting with that you're running late.

In order to figure out why some people weren't signing up for the app -- i.e. at what point in the screen click through they closed out of Tempo and never came back -- Tempo went to Canada. Singh launched Tempo under the name "Teempo" as a test, spent $500 on ads, and got 2,000-3,000 users. The retention rate sucked, and when given the prompt options to link their email, calendar, and contacts to Tempo -- all the stuff that makes Tempo smart -- none of the Canadians connected their data! "We realized it was primarily because Canadians value privacy more, and we didn't have any credibility at the time." Singh says. "Everyone skipped everything to see what the app was all about."

Lastly, Tempo's team tested a bunch of different versions of their app's appearance, keywords, and description in the iOS store to see which would prompt the most people to click it, learning that app screenshots with descriptions performed better than those without descriptions.

Singh says these steps were only a tiny sliver of all the testing Tempo did before introducing the app to the market. The Navy Seal app training paid off, and the Tempo landing page crashed on day one of its launch. I guess massive, fast user growth is the one thing they forgot to growth hack for.

[Image via Tempo]