How Two College Freshman Got 40,000 Downloads With $0 In Marketing

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Bruce Peck

Mar 13, 2023 · 4 min read

The Idea

Jorge Dickens and Jay Wadhwa went out to dinner with their friends one night. Rather than complicating the process by having everyone pay for their bill right there, Jorge paid $500 to clean up the tab.

The next day trying to figure out who ordered what as well as reminding people to pay him back became a long and uncomfortable process.

Jay and Jorge searched for a solution on the App Store, but couldn't find one, so they decided to create their own.

Their idea was to give users are a virtual or physical card that can be used to front the bill.

Then to have the user take a photo of the receipt, an itemized list is then generated which allows each person to select the items they ordered and then charges each person their portion.

Once the idea was formed, they began saving money working long hours at various jobs to pay for the build out of the app.

And that’s where we came in.

Building The App

From the beginning of the relationship with Split, they had a very clear vision of what they wanted the app to be, including how the app was different than Venmo.

We worked hard to build the app in a way that was so simple that anyone could intuitively figure out how the app worked and did several user tests.

Even still, after the beta launch of the app there were sticking points in the flow where users would not understand how to move forward.

One of the big ones came with getting the credit card sent to the user before they could begin paying for things with the app.

This was relieved when we put a virtual card in people’s Apple Wallets instead.

Getting downloads

Split had a few major things going for it:

  1. It was part of a huge trend in payments, it roughly fit in the “buy now, pay later” space which has a lot of search traffic for it on the app store
  2. It was named in a way that allowed it to show up for those search queries
  3. The model has network effects baked into it, the whole point of the app is to solve for friends paying each other back, which means they all need to be on the app
  4. A common problem. The type of problem that Split solves is something that anyone that has been out with friends understands
  5. Free money. The model allowed you to not have to pay up front and instead you could pay later which is really appealing.

In addition to being positioned correctly with the project, the Split team was well connected with the local startup ecosystem and competed in the Boston College annual Strakosch Venture Competition and winning the 1st place prize of $10,000.

They have recently taken the app down to reevaluate the business model, but they’ve definitely proved that the demand was there.

So how do you get an app downloaded 40k times with little money and marketing? Find a huge market that has a lot of organic interest, position your app correctly and solve a real problem.