Episode #29: Nurturing Users Through PR Campaigns with David Eberle

This episode of Mobile Growth and Pancakes features Typewise's CEO David Eberle, discussing how PR can be used as a key growth lever to beat out the competition.

In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, Guest Host Jonathan Fishman (subbing in for our host Esther Shatz) is joined by David Eberle, Co-founder & CEO at Typewise. This episode describes how PR contributed to Typewise’s growth strategy, why they use PR, how you can run successful PR campaigns, and when you should go for a PR agency.

Check out all the other episodes of Mobile Growth & Pancakes here.

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Key takeaways:

  • David Eberle is one of the two founders and the current CEO of Typewise, a smartphone keyboard that helps you type more conveniently with fewer typos, more speed, and more fun on your iOS and Android smartphone. The keyboard we use currently was built for typewriters in the 19th century and is not optimized for 21st-century typing with two thumbs.  There’s a much bigger AI platform that folks at Typewise are building under the keyboard app.
  • The challenge of this market is the competition among secondary keyboard options like Grammarly, Typewise, and several others (most of which are essentially just keyboard skins). The need for a new keyboard is not an urgent problem to solve. Therefore, PR has been a key piece of growth of Typewise.
  • With PR, the key lesson to learn is that quantity trumps quality. The more outlets you reach out to, the better it is for your brand’s exposure because not everyone will accept the pitch and not everyone will give your article the full-fledged treatment you want it to have.
  • What makes PR more effective than paid ads is that with PR, people have more context about the benefits of the app/game when they first see your app on the app store. The lead is also better nurtured on this route because trust from where they read it and who recommended it to them carries over. 
  • After launching a PR article, a sharp spike in user growth is visible on the launch day and in the first few days after that.  The industry is almost addicted to direct and precise attribution models but there are so many conversion paths available for the modern user on the internet and in the physical world. 
  • Pair your PR efforts with trade conferences and use stories to make your app’s features interesting for the media to sell. 
  • PR starts by having an attractive story drafted into a pitch, a list of email addresses as the target of your outreach campaign, and a way to personalize your emails so they get noticed. Have a backup plan if your emails are not responded to. Keep testing your subject lines, your email copy, and your article titles.
  • A PR agency is a good substitute if yours is a B2B SaaS app with no marketing team and a high sales target.

Full Transcript:

Jonathan Fishman: Hey everybody. Thanks for joining Mobile Growth & Pancakes. I’m your host, Jonathan Fishman. I’m VP Marketing here at Storemaven. I’m actually stepping in to replace Esther, your normal host, she’s on maternity leave. We’ll wish her the best of times with her new baby. We have here today, David Eberle. He’s the CEO and Co-Founder of Typewise. David, do you want to introduce yourself?

David: Absolutely. Glad to be here. Hi everyone. I’m one of the two founders of Typewise, we basically build a smartphone keyboard that helps you type more conveniently with fewer typos, more speed, and more fun on your iOS and Android smartphone.

Jonathan: Awesome. How long does the company exist?

David: We’ve been full-time on this for exactly two years. We started in October 2019, just when we moved places and my wife was about to have our second child. The idea has been around for more time. My Co-Founder, Janice. He basically approached me one day. We had worked together previously on another, we had an agency together that we did on the side, hence our proximity to marketing from the first day.

He was always optimizing his productivity across his phone and laptop. I think one day his attention turned towards keyboards and he wasn’t happy with what was out there, and he created his own solution. I was sold on the story that the keyboard we used was created for typewriters in 19th century, but we’re now in the 21st century and we’re using a small phone and not a typewriter anymore. Why are we using the same thing that was never created for two-thumb typing on the phone?

It affects billions of people every day, like 80 times per day. That seems to be a pretty big opportunity. Of course, it’s always hard because Apple and Google have their own keyboards and they pre-install it on their phones, so you have to swim against the stream, and with every change, there’s a bit of relearning attached to that. We can also maybe talk about that later, but basically, this is what we’ve been doing.

The company’s much more than like a keyboard app. Don’t have to go into detail here because it’s maybe not so much related to the marketing, but we built this tax prediction, AI technology with top people [inaudible 00:03:26]. The keyboard app is like the tip of the iceberg, but there’s a much bigger AI platform that we’re building below that but maybe that’s the topic of another day, just wanted to mention that.

Jonathan: Sure. It sounds exciting and very competitive space. There’s a ton of keyboards out there. Every one of these has a different angle. There’s like the Grammarly Keyboard and so on. Will you guys compete with–? Who do you define as your competitors?

David: On the app side, there are basically two types of competitors. Of course, there’s Apple and Google, and Microsoft SwiftKey, which dominate the market of all new phones. I think most utter alternative keyboards have disappeared. There were some things like TouchPal and even an Israeli company called ai. type was on a band because of a scandal, because they stole millions of dollars from people, so that’s maybe–

[laughter]

David: You have to be careful which keyboard you used. But most of them, they have gone and all the smartphone manufacturers, they basically either go with the Gboard for the Android or SwiftKey, and Apple anyway uses their own. We have to convince users to try something else. Now here comes the second type of competitor is, “Who else do they try?” There are obviously a few, as you mentioned, there’s Grammarly, although they have a bit of a different focus. There are maybe a handful. If you look at those top 10 Android keyboards, but we’re typically often, not all, we haven’t managed to be really as standard, like a Gboard app, but in many of those lists, we’re also mentioned.

It’s not that there are hundreds of keyboards and it’s super competitive, but there’s maybe three main ones. Then there’s maybe five to 10 secondary ones. The hard thing is if you google in the App Store for keyboards, you’ll find thousands because there are like an orange keyboard or a pink keyboard or the kitty katty keyboard, which are not really keyboards that are anyway good to type, but they have another theme or it’s just a very competitive keyword. That makes it hard to just put your app on the app stores. You will not get any interaction.

Also around the topic of today, as I understood, for us PR from the very beginning was a very important piece in growing the user base because people typically don’t search for another keyboard. You have yours and usually, users don’t think, “Oh, let me change my keyboard.” No, you use it and most people don’t think about it, “Is it good or bad?” It’s just there. It’s not like an active search that we see millions of people searching for alternative keyboards. It is about educating people and here obviously, using the press where the big reach is a very powerful tool in that.

Jonathan: It’s a really good point. The marketing challenge that you guys have is pretty different than a lot of other folks because you’re really trying to change something that is native to the OS most of the time. As you said, a lot of people don’t really actively search for a keyboard. Something has to trigger them to do that. Of course, if you look at apps during Google Play search it’s extremely competitive, there’s a ton of keyboards. I agree with you.

I think the market is pretty educated by now that you have to be very careful before you install a keyboard app because they might steal your data. They actually know everything that you type, which is it freaks me out, but there’s a lot of trust issues there, that adds to the marketing challenge. I think that puts you in a very interesting place to talk and educate the audience about marketing in the app stores. You said that you had a good experience with PR, when did you start? Was it right when you started? You thought that PR is a massive growth channel that you need to invest in?

David: My Co-Founder, one of his previous careers, he worked as an IT journalist. I think it somehow came a bit natural to us as a team to use PR, we used it the first time when within our initial crowdfunding on Kickstarter. That’s when we got our first TechCrunch article. I think he did it even back then. I think he reached out to like 50 or a hundred journalists that he just found that cover this type of thing.

I think we did many things right from the start but also during that crowdfund, we also saw the second learning instead. In the end, the more people you reach, the better. You can have a TechCrunch article, but if it’s somehow nested in a subtopic and only a few hundred people see it, we didn’t see a lot of impact on that in the crowdfunding. Then I don’t know how we didn’t contact them, but it was a national newspaper in Switzerland that somehow covered it just in their digital edition, but they have a lot of traffic and it’s a lot of engagement.

They have also a lot of haters, but fine because I think the more, the merrier. It was just contributions to that crowdfunding that started coming in every two minutes. That really basically helped us to cross the line and it was all then successful back then. From the very beginning, we saw, “Hey, that’s actually quite interesting.” How we get certainly a lot of people with one article. We’ve then built that into our, let’s say, launch strategies since that experience.

Jonathan: Did you raise money only through the crowdfunding campaign?

David: No, that was very small. That was 15k from 800 people. That was really just a [inaudible 00:10:24]. We still took a while to go full-time. We then raised some funds and totalled almost US$3 million by now. We did another crowdfunding now but this time an equity crowdfunding, so it’s very different.

We also then had a PR article. One business at Angel saw that article. He posted on it on LinkedIn. I got in touch with him and then he invested afterwards. Again, it shows how PR– It’s very different. I think there was more selective PR in the right media. It can also work with investors. I think it has been a powerful tool.

Jonathan: Awesome. I think every app or even mobile game when they launch, they have to start building their ammunition for that launch. Most apps and most games today rely on a very large UA budget they would deploy probably on Facebook and Google, and so on. I think that you guys going towards the PR route is pretty interesting. A lot of people that I spoke with, their experience with PR isn’t that good. They say that one of two things usually happen.

One of them is what you said. You do all this work, you reach out to reporters, and finally, you get success. An article was written and mentioned your app but only a few hundred people saw it because it was nested in multiple layers within TechCrunch and it wasn’t that visible. The second thing that happens is that you get a huge boost in visibility but not a lot of people actually installed the app because the intent, the quality of these impressions, isn’t that good. Was that something that you saw in terms of a huge boost in people are visiting your app through the page but not a lot of them actually installing?

David: I saw the first one of your points a lot, the majority. Maybe over the past three months, we got 60 articles including one on Mashable. But none of them was like, “Oh, wow, that was such a big thing.” It was just there. I think it’s good because it helps us also with page rank and the backlinks and it has a long tail of maybe visitors. It’s definitely worth it but I agree. That’s an issue. I think in general, probably the effect of written PR has declined.

I think looking maybe at YouTube as a PR channel, not paid but getting into those– The celebrities, on the tech side now for us, but depending on your app, it could maybe be a lifestyle. Gaming anyway is huge– Also, you could see if you get on Steam, maybe somebody who will cover you. Usually, they always ask for money. It’s very hard. To turn from a paid acquisition into a news story that they want to cover I think it’s very hard. Sometimes it does work.

YouTube, I think, works very well. There you obviously see the quality of installs, it’s usually not necessarily so, so great. That could also be then a geographic thing because many of those big ones maybe have global reach and you have a lot of Indian installs and maybe then you don’t support their language or maybe the pricing– The business model is not made for such a country. When you have to pay and then, people just uninstall. For us though, we have seen the articles that did work. Actually, the quality of the installs was very good. Also, the conversion rate went up. All the indicators went up for that cohort.

Jonathan: Did you try to measure it in a very granular way like [crosstalk] connect them and so on?

David: Yes, of course, but it’s very hard because you don’t usually– Publishers, they don’t put an attribution link. Then, often they maybe don’t even click on the link but they read it on the computer, they take their phone and search for your app. You have a break in the acquisition flow. You see on the day, you have a huge spike and then you see maybe for that weekly cohort, the numbers are just much better. It’s clear that spike came from organic, and then you can take out the pay and only look at the organic.

I think, at least in our case, people that read about the product, they’re better informed when they’re downloaded, so then the behaviour is much better. Our product needs a bit of knowledge because there is this learning curve and I think if you know what to expect, then you know why you’re doing this learning curve. Then, you’re obviously much more willing to maybe stick with it for a week. Whereas if you just see an ad and you click on it, you download, you have no clue what this is and then you say, “Oh, now I need to learn something. No, thanks. I don’t have time for this”.

Jonathan: I think you touched a really important point which is context. Today with iOS 15 and iOS 14.5, and the shift towards a privacy-first world, there is huge importance in context, contextual advertising, and marketing to reach your quality users. What you identify there is when somebody is educated or more educated about your product, they read about it, the very best thing that can happen is they read about it from an influencer or somebody that they trust, that explained, “This is a gamechanger for how you type”, for example. There’s a much better chance that person would become a quality user.

Then, identifying this funnel exists and creating more of that. That’s a really interesting view in PR. It’s not just getting some mention in just any article. It’s educating the users and then creating this funnel. That’s really interesting.

The second thing that you mentioned is measurement. I heard that a lot. It’s almost impossible to measure it directly. I think that goes into the fact that the industry in itself was addicted to direct response attribution up until now, and it’s just not how marketing works most of the time. It’s not how you or I buy or install apps.

Things happen across multiple devices. Sometimes you read something on one device, search on the app store on the second device. It’s just impossible to measure it through direct response but seeing that spike in branded search, for example, could really show you the impact of that. What happened there, once you actually started getting traction with PR, you saw your user base basically explode? What were the results?

David: We’ve had a couple of spikes since the launch in December 2019 which was one of– maybe our biggest PR successes so far. We’ve maybe generated almost– Yes, it’s like maybe 50,000 downloads. This also shows you getting 10 million downloads from a PR campaign is probably impossible. Even getting a million downloads from a PR campaign. I think maybe but then this needs to be a blaster campaign, maybe Clubhouse or something. You need to be maybe in all the big newspapers in the US. Even a WIRED article. That was one we had once in there for CES. We were mentioned twice. That gives you maybe 10,000 downloads.

That’s maybe already a very good article. Then, maybe for a launch, you’re going to be five of those. That’s maybe the range that in our experience seems feasible. Now, we’re a Swiss company. There are not that many Swiss app makers that are successful internationally. Maybe we have a good standing here, it’s a bit easier for us here to get into the national news. Although it’s also hard because usually covering apps is not so interesting. We usually combine it now with the story. First, it was, “This is a new app.” That was interesting. We then had the story around fundraise and we were in a TV show here. That gave us another coverage. Then we launched a new version, so we made a big claim and said our AI is better than Google. Then obviously they [unintelligible 00:20:09] to mention this again. You have some news that you can package, but I think it’s hard, and maybe as a US-based company, you have a bigger market, but also there’s more competition within that market. I don’t know [inaudible 00:20:26]. I think that’s just how it is. I think it cannot be your only pillar. That clearly gives you some spikes. Now what we try to do, we have a dedicated person since June who’s very experienced in this field. He basically did this successfully for an exited unicorn before.

We obviously hope that he can repeat that success, but again, it’s a slow effort and you have to experiment a lot with which messages work and which don’t. What we also do is around trade conferences where we get a boost or something. We then try to make a PR effort out of it, but also you have to do something like we have some new cool feature, and can you sell that feature from a storytelling point of view that is so–? Does it sound so interesting enough for the press to cover it?

Jonathan: Sure. Let’s dive a bit deeper into that operational side. There’s a lot of folks that are contemplating a bit between hiring a PR agency, I know that you had an experience with one, or doing this in-house– Start mentioning basically the challenge of having a good story for the press to tell because nobody is going to cover you if you just say, “Hey, I’m a new app.” There are millions of new apps. Let’s start with the agency. What was your experience there?

David: What you need to do PR? I think you need the idea of a story, and then you need to write the story which is a press release, which is a pitch email, and then you need a list of people you can reach out to with an email address, and you should know what are these people writing about typically. If you have pre-existing relations, maybe that’s nice because they’re more likely to open your email. Somebody told me Tech Report gets 500 emails per day, so if they don’t reply to you, then it’s not because they may not like your story. They probably just hadn’t seen it even.

How do you get people to open and actually read your email and get back to you? Then you need to follow up and have planning around, “Okay, that guy doesn’t reply from Tech. Let me just see if I have another person I can reach out to. How many people should I reach out to at the same time”, and there’s a bit of know-how what is good practise and bad practice but then I think that’s not rocket science, and there’s a question which of these things do you want to do yourself and which of these things would an agency cover for you.

I spoke to an agency once here in Europe and they were very open, and I think the person mentioned, in the US, one day per week support would cost us 5,000 per month or something, and in Europe, it’s maybe only €3,000. That’s what they put out there, and it was basically, “Well, you don’t need that.” Let’s say you’re a B2B SaaS startup and you have no marketing guiding your team that can do that and you’re very sales-focused, for example, and then you really need someone who does that public communication. You really [unintelligible 00:24:25] anyone that can do it. Maybe then you can go that way, at least at the beginning, but I think if you’re a consumer app anyway, you need to tell a story.

Jonathan: How do you find a good story to tell reporters? What were your profits like? Because I think a lot of it is in the story. Even if they open your email, you have to have [unintelligible 00:24:48]

David: I think everything needs to be true. When we say our AI outperforms Google, we do have benchmarks which we do with people from the university and we cannot say all our algorithms outperform Google, but that specific one, I think it’s broad enough to be noteworthy, which concerns the autocorrelation, we’re better. I think it’s a fair enough statement to make. Then we also test it sometimes. We put the story always in the subject line like Swiss AI startup beats Google, and then you test it. We also sometimes just put one word in the subject line, for example, keyboard to make it as unmarketing-ish as possible, and actually open rates are quite good with those subject lines. Also, if it looks like it’s not sent from a mass email account.

Jonathan: For sure. Now I think it’s really interesting. I actually worked with researchers in universities to try to benchmark it independently, the algorithm. What did you find out? What kind of algorithm it is?

David: We looked at our autocorrection algorithm that basically, as you type, makes corrections to it, and then you have to see how many typos did it correctly, but also how many non-typos get accidentally corrected in something else, which it shouldn’t, and then you have to weigh both percentages and create some overall score and there we come out the head.

Jonathan: Awesome. It’s really like finding your angle that one thing you can do and try to create a story out of it, in this case, a David versus Goliath story of how you guys managed to create something that’s better than Google in that aspect, and how reporters basically, they’re always on the lookout for these kinds of stories. One of our heads of content was basically a reporter for 15 years here in Tel Aviv. It was really fascinating to hear from him the reporter angle which is, “Listen, these folks are always on the lookout for really interesting stories. It’s all about the stories. You have a story that is noteworthy and going to grab some eyeballs, they’re going to be interested, but as an app marketer, you have to create for them. They won’t do it for you.” It’s really cool what you did there with the algorithm.

David: Although it’s hard, we [unintelligible 00:27:58] around the privacy story multiple times. As you say, the keyboard sees everything that you type and we don’t. We are a fully privacy-focused company and product, and we tried multiple times, again, with the signal and WhatsApp and those people who covered that topic. We then sent them a pitch and also explaining we had written an entire blog article that got featured on Medium and where we outlined the whole history of all the scandals involving keyboards and people were affected and how that’s actually a big thing when you think about it, but nobody picked it up. That’s quite interesting, and I’m like, “Why?” [laughs] I would like to hear from someone what was your rationale? Why didn’t you think it’s interesting?

Jonathan: Interesting.

David: I don’t know. I still don’t have the answer. It’s just sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and there’s not always a clear rational explanation for why one thing works and the other didn’t. I think it’s all about trying. As with everything, I think maybe instead of running a lot of major campaigns only twice a year, maybe run a lot of campaigns, and when you see maybe one works, you could build on that and make it maybe bigger. Maybe that could be the answer to how to get persistent [inaudible 00:29:47].

Jonathan: It’s not a one-time thing. It has to be a repeatable process to actually get the long-term benefits of it and to not rely on the spikes so much. Cool. We’re about to run out of time, but do you have any tips for aspiring marketers that want to double in PR? It’s very little experience in doing that so far, so they are on the fence between hiring an agency or start doing it themselves. How do you just get started?

David: One founder asked me that question once here in Switzerland. I think I had told him, “Well, you basically need a bit of content and then find someone who covered that content before in a relevantly sized outlet and just approach the person.”

Jonathan: You just reach him on love.

David: Yes, like an email. I use RocketReach to try to get people’s addresses through LinkedIn. Then I think he did and they got published. Not about the company in the first place, but they got an article about their study. They had to run the study about how did you use video for job interviews and how that changed over the past two years. They have a job interview platform. Obviously, I think I mentioned also as a company as part of that, and there was I think one email that they had to send.

Jonathan: Awesome.

David: I think that’s how you get started. Usually, we see response rates of maybe– a good question, 5% the least, maybe sometimes 10. If you send a hundred emails, you get nothing back, then maybe you have to change your story. You can also ask someone, if you’re really unsure just ask someone, what do you think? Is this news worth it?

Jonathan: I think it’s a good bet to use data, to create a data-driven story because reporters love that. They love stories with studies. You mentioned the study you did with algorithms. Your founder friend did the same thing. It’s a good bet to start with if you’re an app company, and you really have something that can be data-driven.

David: You could also say, “This app like my new game has grown 10,000% in the past–” Even if it’s from one user to 100, I think even just that number of mine it’s a– or whatever. I see double the engagement and some other game, like some popular game or– I don’t know. It can also be a bit– or maybe you have a personal– like a very interesting– We had one guy, he had arthritis and he was one of our users and he actually– I think by chance, we had a user interview with him and he had mentioned that for him, the keyboard almost saved his life. Like how he couldn’t use the phone otherwise without Typewise and he wasn’t able to then trade a bank account and he was like living on the streets.

Then he found Typewise and then everything changed for him. It’s true. We then wrote an article about him. Even he [unintelligible 00:33:21] like a picture with him and we sent him a t-shirt, and he’s there. We then reshared that story and did get picked up by– We thought maybe in his home state that could become a story, but then it didn’t, but some picked it up. Again, maybe there are some other angles that have nothing to do per se with the product, but it’s more of a human story. I think once you start thinking about it, it becomes very broad. The question is, is it going to pay off at the end? Does the time you put into that effort result in downloads, and in revenue, and ultimately?

Jonathan: What’s your conclusion so far after been doing this for a couple of–? Is it worth it?

David: As I said, I think we’ve had some key spikes in the products. We have an investor join us directly through that article, and I think in general the articles, also keep the conversation going about the company. Do you need it? I think it’s not going to be the ultimate driver of success unless you’re super lucky and somehow it creates the spiral effect, but I think usually it goes down again. I think it cannot be your major pillar of driving user acquisition. I think that doesn’t work. I think it needs some other, let’s say, pillars that support your strategy, but it’s definitely like one of it and it’s a bit broader than just downloads.

Jonathan: Yes, got it. You can’t really expect overnight success. I don’t know if you remember FaceTime. Do you remember that app? It got like hundreds of millions of installs. It was caught by a lot of publications. It was an app that made you look young, or old depending on what you do. I love different things. Or how you look like as a woman, or if you’re a woman, how you look like as a man.

I analyzed it back then, it was like thousands of publications around the world. Celebrities picked it up and it created the spiral effect that was out of control, but it lead to hundreds of millions of installs. You can’t really plan for that and you can’t start doing PR and building your processes hoping that that would happen because it would probably shift your focus from another effort that you need to be investing in.

David: I think that’s a lucky shot, but I think it’s worth it spending a bit of time and bunch it on that one. Because if it does happen, I think then you’re done.

Jonathan: Yes, definitely. Cool. David, we’re out of time. I do have one last question that I have to ask you that we ask all of our guests. What’s your favourite flavour of pancake? Which kind of pancakes do folks eat in Switzerland?

David: We like to do Ricardo pancakes.

Jonathan: Cool.

David: You can just mix that in and they become quite fluffy.

Jonathan: Awesome.

David: Then I think standard baking in maple syrup, I think that’s fine.

Jonathan: Baking in maple syrup, that’s what I do.

David: It’s always tasty.

Jonathan: Awesome. Cool. Thank you very much for joining us today. That’s it for today folks. Tune in for the next episode, it’s with a really exciting guest. I can’t share the name just yet, but waiting really gladly for that interview. Thanks, David.

David: No, thank you. Thanks for having me and of course, you can always try Typewise. You’ll find it in the App Store. It’s free to download.

Jonathan: For sure. Go and download the Typewise. Thanks.

David: Thank you.

Jonathan Fishman
About Jonathan Fishman
Jonathan is Storemaven's VP of Marketing. Before joining Storemaven he spent ten years commanding tanks, working on Wall St., consulting high-growth companies, and exploring Black Rock City. In his spare time, he likes building things from wood, listening to Frank Zappa, and spending time with his daughter.

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