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+ how Blloc reached 750K+ installs on Play Store
Hey hey 👋,
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Two months ago, I wrote about the rise of “Superhuman of x” startups. They are using superior design, better collaboration, and useful integrations to disrupt old-school productivity tools that have not changed much in the past decades. Check it out here if you are interested in learning more.
Since that post, I have had the chance to interact with so many of the great operators and founders in the space. One of the emerging companies that I am excited about is Blloc, a seed stage startup backed by Softbank and Speedinvest. While most premium productivity startups are building apps for desktops, Blloc is taking a different approach - it is innovating on the home screen of your smartphone.
Their flagship product Ratio is a distraction-free homescreen app aiming to boost your productivity and clear up cluttered mobile screens.
Since the launch, Blloc Ratio has gotten over 750,000 installs on Google Playstore.
Let’s dive into the story.
Product journey: hardware to software pivot
Phase 1 - Building a challenger phone (2017-2020)
Adham Badr and Mladen Hoyss, co-founders of Blloc, are the type of people that would always get everyone to stack their phones face down in the middle of the dining table when eating out at a restaurant so everyone can be present. They realized how people are so addicted to their phones due to different dark patterns of design, such as notification badges on app icons, infinite scrolling, bright color, and all types of variable rewards (e.g. likes, comments, tags, etc). They wanted to take on this problem.
Their first attempt was to build a challenger phone, creating the hardware and software needed to disrupt the status quo created by companies like Apple. It sounds crazy but it was not completely out there. Prior to founding Blloc, Adham and Mladen led engineering and design respectively at a VC-backed e-scooter startup called Unu so building a hardware company was not entirely new. Second, by creating your own hardware along with a native OS, you can have more control over the user experience and build a deeper moat. Plus, building a consumer software company is not a cakewalk.
"Consumer software is easier to build, the barriers of entry are low, but to build something compelling enough for consumers that they want, use, and pay for is very difficult. The hardware enabled us to have proof beyond doubt that people would pay for it." - Adham Badr
At the end of 2016, the two co-founders bought a one-way ticket to Shenzhen, China, a city known as the smartphone capital of China (fun fact - it’s also home to Huawei). The goal was to partner with a smartphone manufacturer to get the ball rolling. It was not an easy start.
According to a Business Insider article, they had trouble convincing factory owners to take a chance on a bootstrapped startup looking for bespoke builds and low quantities. Most manufacturers and consumers wanted a bigger phone and more features while Blloc wanted a minimalist, productivity-focused phone.
After a year of constant meetings and pitching, they eventually found a manufacturing partner and raised a small round from investors. Blloc 1.0 was a productivity-focused phone with a monochromatic design. They got some traction and sold out a four-digit number of phones by the end of 2019.
Phase 2 - Software pivot (2020 - present)
Despite the initial traction with the hardware phone, it quickly dawned on the team that to build a scalable solution and achieve the mission of helping people have a more productive, healthier phone relationship, they had to do something differently.
Towards the second half of 2020, they decided to abandon the hardware part altogether and focus on building the best productivity-focused homescreen app with an initial focus on Android. This decision came from a few key insights:
Users loved the software and the interface - they could attract a bigger TAM by dropping the hardware requirement
There were already homescreen apps on Android - Android users are already used to home screen customization
Android is flexible and they can experiment with a broader list of features than iOS
They were also getting feedback from people on the internet to go down the software path. For example, here are some YouTube comments about the Blloc phone:
They spent the next two years iterating on the software homescreen app product and attracted over 750K installs. It consists of 3 key screens designed to give you what you need at a glance: information, apps, and messaging:
The Root: all core functionalities on unlock (e.g. notes, weather)
The Tiles: all apps are organized in a way that’s easy to find the one that you need
The Tree: messages aggregated from all platforms into one screen (SMS, Whatsapp, Instagram DM’s, etc.)
Growth journey: getting 750K installs
First 1000: Content creator virality
In the early days, one of the best things that happened to the company was that the product caught the attention of many tech-focused YouTubers. Even during the hardware days, many YouTubers joined as Beta testers. Tech YouTubers love to review up-and-coming products, and the minimalist style and productivity-focused products like Blloc really spoke to those creators and their audience.
For example, in this video below, Blloc was featured by a popular tech YouTuber and the video got close to 1M views.
There was certainly a ton of luck involved in getting creators to share, but the Blloc team was able to use the right messaging and design that resonated with creators.
Next 100K: Product hunt + newsletter strategy
When they pivoted to the software Android homescreen product, they had a big turbo boost from Product Hunt. To maximize exposure from the Product Hunt release, they sought support from all members of the community - users, creators, and investors. They were able to pick up momentum early and Blloc ended up as the #2 Product of the Day.
By the way - for those who want to learn more about how to execute a good Product Hunt strategy, check out my friend Ali Abouelatta’s post here. Some of the keys include being aggressive in the early hours of the launch and making sure there are enough supporters that consistently comment and upvote the launch throughout the day.
Another strategy that worked well in the early days (and continues to perform today) is the Blloc newsletter, which is used to announce new features. Since launch, Blloc has amassed over 140K newsletter subscribers. The Blloc newsletter has become an effective growth channel to acquire and reactivate users at a CAC close to zero.
Next 500K: Dominate keywords on the play store
Today, one of the biggest growth drivers for Blloc is App Store Optimization (ASO). 40 percent of smartphone users browse for apps and dominating the most relevant keywords on Play Store is a guaranteed way to get organic traffic. Similar to SEO, there are many elements that contribute to the ranking of the app on the Play Store, such as:
App name and title
Total number of downloads
Ratings and reviews
After many iterations, Blloc has cracked the top 10 for both keywords, “Productivity” and “Homescreen”, on Play Store, the goal is to dominate more relevant keywords in the space such as “launcher” and “distraction”. In addition, this ASO effort has helped them to get a boost on the SEO front. Blloc is also ranked top 5 for “productivity homescreen” on Google search.
Blloc is currently only available for Android, but it will soon make a move for iOS. Excited for the future of Blloc. Special shout out to Krishan Allen (Chief of Staff at Blloc) for chatting with me for this story.
See you soon 👋,