It’s been almost a year since I released my app Ullr to the public. It’s come a really long way since I launched it back in March and by some measures, it’s been reasonably successful. Over 1,500 people have downloaded the app and about 300 people have registered for an account. But reaching a critical mass of engaged users has been more of a challenge than I anticipated. As the one year milestone approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the project.

I released 1 year ago, but started dev work before that iPhone X was even a twinkle in Tim Cook's eye.

Since releasing it to the public, working on Ullr has continued to take up a huge amount of my free time. I still work on it almost every day. I’ve added a lot of new features, made the app way more stable, made things faster, added an activity feed, added offline capabilities, created official accounts for ski areas, developed a web plugin for ski areas to embed on their websites, and sent out too many cold emails to count. Since about October I’ve tried to redirect my efforts away from programming and more towards marketing, which is something I failed to prioritize before the launch last year.

The biggest problem I’ve been facing is whether the chicken or the egg comes first in terms of users. How do I attract users without data loaded into the app? And how does data get into the app without users? It's a problem that I knew I would face, but that's made it no less difficult. This critical mass problem isn't unique to Ullr, but I think it's amplified by the fact that data in the app becomes obsolete as park setups change. I’ve been focusing on getting ski areas to use the app and finding ways to provide value that don’t depend on a large user base. I’m thinking that their participation will attract more users more quickly than I could on my own. A lot of ski areas have expressed interest, but drumming up a sustained interest has challenging. Several have said that they would be interested if more people were using it (which is encouraging but doesn't help me immediately). Some have verbally committed to using it and then ghosted me (👻). But several others have begun using Ullr, which feels amazing! Regular users are trending up too. It's still super exciting for me when features get entered at a mountain that I don't know.

At this point in the project, it's all new territory for me as the majority of the development is over. I work at a startup and I’ve developed other apps that do reasonably well without marketing, but I’ve never had to flex this outreach/marketing/hype skillset so much. I’m not usually the kind of person who has a lot of patience for pretending that a project is “crushing it” all the time even if I'm confident in it. It feels almost disingenuous, but I feel like marketing requires that. When I talk to people about Ullr I’m conflicted over whether I should play the hype man or expose the reality of this one man show at the risk seeming illegitimate or unprofessional. I prefer to do the latter when I can as it feels way more natural.

It's been difficult to put something out into the world that I've put so much into. Like, I definitely want to hear any critiques or criticism that anyone has (how else can you make something better?), but the failures still sting a bit. In December, one ski area had just started using Ullr when I went out of town for the weekend without internet. Almost as soon as I got on my flight and lost internet for the weekend, a bug occurred that made the app crash as soon as it was opened. When I got back online on Sunday night, I discovered the bug along with several texts from the ski area saying that the app was crashing constantly and that Ullr wasn't going to work for them. I think it was totally fair for them to do that. After all, a product either works for a customer or it doesn't and crashing is definitely was not working. But it was tough because I take pride in my ability as a software engineer and a bug like that hadn't happened since the app was released last year. Furthermore, I have systems in place to alert me when there are bugs in the app and the issue causing this bug was so small that I likely could have fixed it before anyone noticed if I had been in town. I'm hoping that I can get them back later this season after making some improvements and adding a few more features.

At one year, I feel like Ullr is doing pretty well. Adoption is happening slowly, but it seems to be happening. I'm excited about adding some more features in the coming weeks like getting push notifications when your mountain updates the setup or posts a park conditions report. Please let me know what you think or if there are any features you'd like to see in the app. And next time you're out on the hill, maybe enter some features in the app!