Rootd founder Ania Wysocka shares the secrets of how she managed to take her panic attack and anxiety relief app to over 2.5 million downloads with no outside capital and without hiring a single employee.
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Ania Wysock: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ania-wys/
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Let's do it. Broadcasting from around the world. You're listening to the first 100. A podcast on how founders acquired their first 100 paying customers. Here's your host, Hadi Rodwan. Good to have you on the show, Anya. How are you doing today? Great, thank you. Thanks for having me. Amazing, thank you for being part of our show. So I'll give our listeners a quick introduction. So Anya Weissokka, hope I didn't butcher the name, is the founder of Rooted, which is an app that helps with one of the most important issues in facing North America, which is anxiety. It affects almost 80% of the adult population at any given time. And... You've built this app that has interactive exercises and tools focused on helping people manage panic attacks, I believe, and anxieties in general. So take us back to the founding of HowMoment. How did you come up with this idea? Yeah, so I came up with Rooted during my final year of university. I was on campus and just being a regular student, loved school and public speaking, and then all of a sudden had a panic attack. and I didn't really know what panic attacks were prior to that moment. I was told about them maybe briefly, but I always thought it was people that were too stressed out and I really couldn't relate. And my sympathy grew very quickly and ended up being a very terrifying experience and a very serious one for me. I was far away from home. I didn't have a family doctor. I was on student loans. So all those things combined made it a very challenging time and it made it very hard to find a resource that could help. And when I did look to my phone to see if there was something there, I really couldn't find anything. So that's where the idea for Rooted came. But it would be a few years before I actually was able to work on it. I wanted to make sure that I knew how to understand panic attacks, how to manage anxiety before I put anything out there. Amazing. So tell us a little bit about the app. How many users do you have? Why did you decide to do an app versus a web interface, any specific? research you've done or validation early on? Yeah, so Rooted is now the number one app for panic attacks and anxiety, which is very cool. It's grown a lot since its first days. And we've had about 2.5 million downloads, primarily all organic. We've done very little advertising. And the reason why I chose a mobile app over a web app is because that was my instinct in the moment where I really needed it. So a lot of Rooted is based on things that I felt I needed. And of course, that's not a perfect survey that you could do when starting a business. You could survey more people in your demographic. I didn't do that. I didn't have a business background. I just knew that I really needed this tool to exist. And for me in that moment, I reached for my mobile app and the app store to see if there was something there that could help. Amazing. Tell us a little bit, how did you decide on the early features? What was the core features? I progress to version two or three and more. So the core feature was actually the panic attack tool. It's a red SOS type button that you can press when you're experiencing a panic attack, and it will offer you two different paths to get out of that panic attack. And these two paths are based on cognitive behavioral therapy. And that always needed to be there in my mind. That was the key feature that I struggled to find in other tools and resources. And so that's why we launched with that one first. The other ones were lessons on understanding anxiety and where it comes from. To understand panic attacks is a huge part of healing it because at first it can be quite terrifying if you don't know exactly what you're experiencing, you might think it's something else going on in your body and mind. So it's really important to understand it and sort of break down the common myths to really boost your confidence again for understanding what they were. So as I learned these different facts, I was engrossed with it. It really helped me heal. And so those were the first things in the app. Take us back to the early days. You have now 2.5 million, but you started earlier with few maybe downloads. Take us to the early acquisition strategies. How did you start getting more and more downloads? Yeah, so at the very first, when first launched and had zero downloads, I basically was learning a lot about App Store optimization, learning about keyword research and keyword difficulties and volumes. I had this temptation to use the keyword anxiety alongside panic attacks, because I saw so few people were looking for panic attack support, even though it's such a big issue if you do have it, the volume was lower. But for anxiety, it was a lot higher. And so I was really looking for keyword that would resonate with the audience and align with the product. But I guess looking back now, I'm happy that I focused on panic attacks, because even though I was so tempted to use anxiety, Rooted was too small. There was venture-backed apps. At the time, not so many actually, looking back. It was like before Headspace and Calm were popular. And so these more general anxiety apps. But there's still some in the store. And I knew that I was just starting. I had no background, no experience. So I was like, okay, I'm gonna focus on a niche. So that was one of the key experiences. It was focusing on a niche and focusing on that keyword of panic attacks, despite the lower volume. And then... Outside of that, I took to doing press releases. My background is not technical. It's very much more in storytelling. I did the lessons and the designs and the illustrations within Rooted. I had everything verified by clinical psychologists before publishing, but the storytelling and really taking that founder experience and producing something that could resonate with other people was a big focus for me. So part of that storytelling was press releases. I ended up pitching the story of Rooted to different press. And it wasn't necessarily about me, mind you. I was very self-conscious about it at the time, and I was very much focused on just Rooted and the app mascot. It was only years later that people kept asking me questions about me that I started getting more comfortable talking about it myself. But at first, when they would ask for my photo, I would actually even send them the photo of the app mascot, Ron, because I was so uncomfortable. But. Anyway, I think those two strategies really helped get those first few hundred users. And then, then leaving user reviews was the other key component. I think with something like panic attacks, it's such a painkiller, not a vitamin. And people say, if you find something that really works for you, it can really impact your life. And so the people who were finding Rooted, those very few people, were leaving very passionate five-star reviews, so happy to have found it. And that in turn was the beginning of more positive App Store optimization. I mean, as you mentioned, the power of the app is the product itself. And if it's solving a pain point, when it comes to apps like Calm and Headspace, what I found is when I use them as consistency, do I come back and use them consistently? How did you solve that issue in your case to make sure someone who's downloading the app, using it for the first time comes back and continues using it? Yeah, so it's actually a bit different than the Common Headspace story. You know, those are amazing mindfulness apps, whereas Rooted really focuses on panic attacks. So the difference there is that, you know, you could get support with mindfulness in order to improve your focus, maybe improve different areas of your life, maybe improve your work, for example. But with Rooted, if you have a panic attack, you might not even get to work in the first place. So we're really starting at a different angle with the problem. It's like a very acute place that users who have that aha moment with you rooted, they really find themselves at this place where they need a really specific help for panic attacks. And so I didn't again have that business background necessarily. I just knew what sort of product I needed. And then I tried to translate that in the text and the wireframes. And so I wasn't looking at it more from like a retention and engagement statistics, what percentage is doing this, what percentage is doing that. I was really like, okay, what would I need to kind of keep coming back and needing this? And not in an addictive way also, we're actually quite happy when people graduate from Rooted. That's actually a positive thing. It's very meaningful and it's a bit of a different perspective there, but yeah, essentially having that panic attack tool meant that people always knew they could rely on it. So even as they were getting better and having less anxiety and panic attacks, they would still keep Rooted in their pocket because they knew that they could turn to it if anything did happen. And now, years later though, we have different tools for breathing, for visualizations, for sleep support, and journaling. And there's a very cool feature actually that just launched this week. So we've had the daily missions for a while, but now there's a visual representation of the daily mission. on the homepage. So these are very simple self-care challenges that you can go and do daily and they for me have really helped my life. They've made my days better. They've made me help basically help me feel stronger for my days. And yeah, so that's sort of that re-engaging aspect. But earlier on, the focus was really on the anxiety and panic attacks only. come organically faster. What sort of acquisition techniques, frameworks did you deploy consistently to see that hockey stick effect? Consistently, I would do weekly updates, monthly large updates. Weekly, maybe there's smaller updates, so maybe that's less prominent there. But for App Store optimization in general, the App Stores do like when you are showing that you're updating your Apple app. And then there's, yes, consistent press releases, consistent storytelling for the app stores. So letting Google and Apple know what, you know, update is coming up for Rooted. These are things that any app developer can do. They're all available publicly on their websites where you can submit a feature release. And yeah, continuously improving the app, incorporating user suggestions, engaging on social media. I'd say those were the top strategies because they all... were the organic strategies, which were the focus. Today, where do you see the strongest channel in terms of lead acquisition? Yeah, so I'd say today as compared to before, probably doing, we're still doing engagement on social, but it's less effective than all of the apps or optimization that has accumulated over the years. That word accumulating is quite important because now we're in a place where we have tens of thousands of user reviews, over 50,000. And we have a history in the app stores. And so, you know, for that organic acquisition, that ended up being stronger. So it's almost like all of the different strategies combined created this snowball effect where it grew and grew. And now that is the main acquisition channels through people searching or browsing the app stores organically. Amazingly, you're bootstrapped. Tell us what was the most challenging about being bootstrapped versus venture back? I'd say, oh, there's so many things here. Definitely not being taken seriously at first. I think that's always a challenge. Back in the day, when I say that, I mean like three years ago, if you weren't venture backed, you just weren't taken seriously. It was very celebrated. Now there's more support for bootstrap companies. I think in the current economic climate, people are appreciating that more and sort of realizing that some of those valuations of those venture backed companies could sometimes be inflamed. and that they don't always equate the actual value. And so that's more discussed now, but back in the day it was very difficult to sort of be taken seriously on any of the B2B side or even when hiring and stuff. So that was a challenge. And then the other part was just working with anything on the technical side, so the development side. I don't have a technical background, so some of the prices that were being quoted to me by agencies, they were just completely out of my reach. And so I really had to turn back and look at, okay, how am I going to do this at a lower rate that basically means I have to do more myself and figure out how do I do wireframing? How do I do these different aspects that aren't the coding per se, but they're trying to bring everything ready for the developer to take that and for there to not be much else, if that makes sense. So basically reducing the workload. that an agency would have meant that I had to learn a lot of how to do the wireframing and different aspects that I didn't expect I would be doing myself. Amazing. Thank you for sharing this. What is a business principle or a life principle that has served you well over this beautiful journey? That's a good question. I'd say the belief that you can do it. And that sounds a little cheesy, but it's actually something that my partner has pointed out to me. has gotten me through a lot of different setbacks is, you know, if something bad happens, you kind of, you grieve in the moment, but then you get back up and you kind of realize, well, there's no reason. Just because this one company said, no, doesn't mean I can't keep going. And I can't keep providing the support. And I think that looking back on the user reviews, that's really what bolsters that confidence that Rooted needs to exist. It needs to be used widely and it gives me confidence when I am talking to companies or sharing rooted story because I get to see those 50,000 comments that are proof that this is working and it's important for people. And so yeah, I think not giving up and just keeping going is a big value in the business. Thank you for sharing this. One last question. What's next for Rooted? Well, the very cool update that I described. I'm really excited about it. I can't wait to see how people interact with it. I can't wait to see how people enjoy actually getting this virtual experience with Ron, the app mascot. We've had users ask for ways to interact with them for a very long time, so now they're able to do that. And I'm just excited that the app is in a place where it is just working well, it's full of all these tools that people are enjoying, and so I feel like I've been on this. treadmill for a while and now we get to sort of see the fruit of that labor hopefully and see how people are interacting with it Maybe do some experiments tests, but really I'm really excited about this release that went out this week Thank you for stopping by on and wish you the best of luck Thank you so much for listening to the first 100. We hope it inspired you in your journey. If you're enjoying the podcast, please subscribe to our podcast on Apple iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or Spotify and share it with a friend starting their entrepreneurship journey. 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