How to get 62 Downloads and 1 Purchase with Zero Budget — The Organic App Odyssey

Jeffrey Berthiaume
4 min readJan 28, 2024


The Fun and Frustation of App Deployment

As an app developer and a father, I embarked on a unique adventure with my sons, Mason and Ryder. We delved into the world of iOS app development, not for fame or fortune, but for the sheer joy of creating something together. This journey led us to develop “Hanglish,” a Korean/English memory game app, inspired by my efforts to learn Hangul and our shared enthusiasm for coding and creativity.

Expectations vs. Reality

After navigating the twists and turns of Apple’s review process, “Hanglish” made its debut on the App Store on December 14, following its initial submission (and multiple rejections) on November 4th. We were optimistic, categorizing it as a kid’s app due to its simplicity and educational value, and also hoping to leverage the appeal to a wider audience, both young and old.

The initial launch saw a burst of about 50 downloads, fueled by excitement and novelty. Friends and family chipped in, and our own testing efforts on multiple devices contributed to the count. But soon, the rush slowed to a trickle, eking out a mere download per week.

From Simple Puzzles to Cultural Exploration

Our app started as a basic matching game, designed to teach Korean characters. It was a learning tool for us as much as it was for the users. The thrill of decoding Korean signs on the streets of South Korea fueled my desire to share this joy. We enhanced the app with a word decoding quiz, featuring pop culture icons — a hit with kids, including my youngest son who gleefully decoded all of the names faster than I could build them.

We contemplated an engaging feature where users could unlock decoded stickers for use in iMessage once they solved them. However, after considering the current user engagement levels, I decided that the effort required to develop this feature outweighed its potential impact. Thus, we’ve shelved this idea for the time being, but I promised the boys I would revisit it if user engagement increased in the future.

ASO and Beyond

With advice from a friend’s app company, we updated the app’s description and are adding a gameplay video. But even these improvements required a resubmission for approval, delaying their impact. Time will tell if they make a difference.

Engaging with Influencers: A Mixed Bag of Results

I asked the boys to help me by making a list of Korean-focused influencers on social media platforms. We made lists of influencers on Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok, and Youtube, and it seemed promising. But the response was underwhelming. Only one influencer replied, offering valuable feedback, but her suggestions complicated the app’s simplicity — something we wanted to maintain.

Big Brother Sees All

For our next trick, I built a new app that we call “Big Brother,” a mini-app for tracking real-time user engagement, without any personal identifiable information. It was a tool for us to understand user behavior and recognize each new download as they happened. Part of Big Brother included an App Intent, which is a lock screen widget that shows us the total number of downloads. Since it lives on our lock screen, we can see the amount even when the phone is in sleep mode.

I also added in a feedback mechanism to the Hanglish app, in an attempt to encourage users to review the app or share their concerns.

The Hard Truth: Low Engagement and Purchase Barriers

Despite our efforts, the app struggled to reach its intended audience. Most users didn’t progress beyond the initial free levels, and the gated in-app purchase process for children’s apps added an extra layer of complexity, hindering conversions.

In Search of Organic Growth

In the month since, downloads increased to 75, thanks in part to the previous article I’ve written as well as word-of-mouth. But the target audience remained elusive. I contemplated distributing business cards with app details in local Korean establishments, but this felt like straying from our goal of organic online growth.

Even our attempts at creating shareable Instagram content with the app’s stickers found little traction, with no significant following to boost their visibility.

To Spend or Not To Spend?

As I write this article, I’m torn between the principles of organic growth we initally set out to teach my boys, and the reality of the digital marketplace. Is investing in paid social media advertising the only way forward, or is there still a path to organic success that we haven’t explored?

An Appeal to the Community

So I turn to you, dear readers, for suggestions. How can we achieve organic growth for an app like “Hanglish” without resorting to paid advertising? Are there untapped strategies or avenues we haven’t considered? Your ideas and insights could be the key to unlocking the potential of our family project, and perhaps, help others on similar journeys.

[But please also download “Hanglish” for iPhone and join us in this adventure. Every download, every feedback, and every shared experience counts in this journey of learning, bonding, and discovery.]



Jeffrey Berthiaume

Jeffrey Berthiaume is a technology veteran and senior executive, who has spent decades creating and innovating technology.