Slow growth. Readwise integration. How we receive more feedback. January'21 Update

This article is a monthly update about Alfread. It's an iOS app that helps actually read saved articles. Or skip them. Previous updates can be found here.


  1. Slow growth
  2. To be completely honest, January wasn't that exciting in terms of growth. In December we've reached 1,000 signups and it was great. But in the last few weeks, we didn't get that many sign-ups.

    A few reasons for that are:

    1. Not a lot of word of mouth. It's still quite early to hope on that channel, even though we know that there are few people who use Alfread and like it.
    2. Waiting for the public launch. The app is still in private beta and it might be not very wise to focus on growing the waitlist. It's an additional step for the user before they can try out the app which leads to a conversion drop in the installs (see the November update for more details on this). Once we launch Alfread on the App Store, we can focus more on growing the user base and spending on marketing since it'd convert into installs instead of collecting email addresses that don't turn into anything.
    3. Not having a defined community that would jump on it. Articles are a weird medium. A lot of people read them but it's not as worshipped as reading books. I'm not going to describe all the differences between articles and books but you get the point. For example, there is a subreddit called Books with 17 million subscribers. There is also a subreddit called Articles. Can you guess how big it is? It's 19 thousand subscribers. Quite a difference, isn't it?
    4. Saving articles for later is a whole different story, too.

      The funny thing is that the same day I wrote the part above, we got more users than we usually do. A watched pot never boils.

2. Readwise integration and highlight search

In the previous update, we introduced highlighting.

But once you add a new feature, there'll always be requests for improvements or additions.

I think of it as family trees:

23andMe Family Tree Example

Once there's a family member, chances are that there'll be another one are very high. Same with features. Once there's a new feature, 9/10 there'll be another tied to it.

That's what happened with highlights too. We knew that a lot of people wanted to connect their Readwise account to Alfread. We also knew that people wanted to search their highlights.

Users asked, we delivered.

Welcome to the family, lil bud.


  1. Content: Satisfying demand vs. creating supply

Back in November we started Alfread's blog. The first article that we published there was a comparison of Pocket and Instapaper.

The topic wasn't chosen randomly: after doing some research, it was clear that the demand already existed for it.

Since publishing it on Medium in November it has had more than 2,000 views, 94% of them are external:

It's always more interesting to write on topics that interest you in general vs. researching what people are looking for and writing about those. But when running a "company" blog, satisfying the demand seems as a better approach than creating supply of articles that interest you and a few other people.

Validating a product and content ideas is more work than having to validate only the product while creating content that you know would do well.

2. Connecting with users before sending out invites

In the previous update, I shared that we struggled with not getting enough responses after sending an email asking for feedback some time after sending out invites.

Instead of that, we now send out an email a couple of days before sending out invites. In this email we remind the users what Alfread is, what does it do and also ask a question:

What made you sign up for Alfread?

Now, I didn't come up with the idea myself. I stole it from Justin Jackson, the guy behind the MegaMaker community. He has a really neat way to attract and onboard new members into the community:

  1. you can't sign up right away, you join the waitlist;
  2. the first email you receive asks you what made you sign up for MegaMaker?
  3. after a few emails describing the challenge MegaMaker is solving, you get a link to sign up (that only works for 24 hours).

By the time I got the link, I couldn't wait to sign up, even though it costs $300.

Me after a few emails about MegaMaker

Alright, back to Alfread. I didn't take the whole flow of emails, only the first step. Each time we send out that first email asking for the signup reason, we get plenty of responses.

After receiving the invite and using the app for a bit, users send their feedback without us asking for it.

What I want to try for the feedback email though is an in-line survey, inspired by Lenny:


Existing features don't get found

Alfread started out as an extremely simple app: you set a reading goal, select when you want to read, and can manage your queue by swiping article cards.

It got more powerful with Search which includes different lists and also tags. But like Uncle Ben used to say:

"With great power comes great complexity"

See what I did there?

Every time there's a new feature (hopefully, one that increases power), the product complexity increases. Also, if the feature can't be found, it's worthless.

Two features that are slightly hidden now are sorting and tags.

Displaying the icon for the selected sorting type makes sense but only if you know how it works from the beginning.

Making sorting more discoverable seems easy, but not sure yet how to solve the tags one.


Seeing your product getting used in the wild is one of the coolest things for makers. It's a sign that it might actually be fine in the end.

Here's one from Alfread (from the article about Every's launch):

That's it for January, see you in a month!

P.S. If you’re finding these updates valuable, consider following Alfread on Twitter for more and recommending it to friends.