Keep Pound­ing” – it’s the mantra of the play­ers and fans of the Car­oli­na Pan­thers, both in Char­lotte and around the world. As they closed in on the final stretch of their record sea­son, we knew we need­ed to do some­thing to con­tribute to this cel­e­bra­tion of team and city.

Force Block had been a big­ger suc­cess than we imag­ined, and we were excit­ed to take anoth­er run at a sim­ple, viral dig­i­tal prod­uct. After chat­ting with our friends at local com­mu­ni­ca­tions agency SOLID, we set­tled on an emo­ji key­board: some­thing with just the right com­bi­na­tion of fun, share­abil­i­ty, and chal­lenge.

We built the first ver­sion of Purrmo­ji in just two weeks. It’s refresh­ing to focus on a sin­gle prod­uct with an urgency that keeps our skills sharp. We get to work on inter­est­ing client projects all the time, but it’s a fun change of pace to own a project from start to fin­ish, mak­ing some­thing in entire­ly your own way.

The art

Our emo­jis would be front and cen­ter for our users. And for peo­ple who were only at the receiv­ing end, it would be the only expe­ri­ence they have with our prod­uct. If the art wasn’t fun and com­pelling, every­thing else about the app would be for noth­ing. We know this les­son all too well from client projects. It stems from the cen­tral ques­tions we ask, and it applies across both dig­i­tal and video projects alike:

What is the sto­ry we’re try­ing to tell, and why is it worth people’s time?

Our art need­ed a local angle too. We want­ed Pan­thers fans in Char­lotte to have some­thing spe­cial, not just a bunch of gener­ic foot­ball imagery. Any­one could do that, in fact, oth­ers already had for all the good it did. We could do bet­ter.

Luck­i­ly we know a ton of great artists, and after spend­ing some time brain­storm­ing a list of fun ideas, we hired Char­lotte-based Rich Bar­rett who turned those into endear­ing and rec­og­niz­able illus­tra­tions.

The app

This is the first emo­ji key­board we had worked on, so there were many new things for us to learn and test, and very lit­tle time for us to do it. We decid­ed ear­ly on to build for iOS only, since it would be bet­ter to build one great app for iOS, than two mediocre apps for iOS and Android. We aren’t alone in this approach, and even though there are more Android users world­wide, iOS users tend to pay more for apps, and use them more often. Giv­en a bit more time, we would def­i­nite­ly build for Android. In fact an Android ver­sion was by far the most request­ed thing sub­mit­ted by peo­ple vis­it­ing our web­site. Stay tuned for next sea­son. 🙂

After some mock­ups and pro­to­typ­ing, and a few ini­tial tech demos, we start­ed build­ing. Because we were going iOS-only, we went from pro­to­type to our first work­ing build in a mat­ter of days. And after shar­ing with friends and doing a few rounds of pol­ish, we were ready to sub­mit to the App Store with­in a week. Purrmo­ji was live.

Reception

We did our usu­al spread of blog posts, Tweets, and Face­book posts. And SOLID chore­o­graphed a press cam­paign that paid off almost imme­di­ate­ly. With­in a few days we had a cou­ple thou­sand users, a series of TV appear­ances and arti­cles, and by the night of the NFC Cham­pi­onship, we had crossed 15,000 down­loads. While research­ing our num­bers we came across an inter­est­ing fact: out of the over 1.5 mil­lion apps that are in the App Store, only a small per­cent­age get over 1k down­loads. So with 15k users we were in the top 0.1% of free apps released world­wide.

Iteration

Luck­i­ly for us the Pan­thers kept win­ning. We’re a bit super­sti­tious, so we didn’t start plan­ning ver­sion 2.0 until they won the NFC Cham­pi­onship. But with­in min­utes of their win, we were in Slack mak­ing plans.

Peo­ple had been sub­mit­ting ideas on our web­site for over a week. We had a back­log of art requests, and we knew the fea­tures peo­ple want­ed most.

A good app evolves over time, and adapts to what peo­ple want and how they use it. We’d found it was hard­er for peo­ple to share Purrmo­ji on Face­book and Twit­ter than it should be, due to tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions of how iOS, Face­book, and Twit­ter process image uploads. So over the next sev­er­al days, in addi­tion to com­mis­sion­ing some new Super Bowl themed art­work and a spe­cial series of ani­mat­ed GIFs, we set about rebuild­ing the key­board itself to make this process faster.

A week lat­er we launched ver­sion 2.0, with a total­ly rebuilt key­board, and with time to spare for the Super Bowl.

Results

As of time time of this writ­ing, we now have over 30,000 users. That’s enough to fill half of Bank of Amer­i­ca Sta­di­um which we can see from our office, and is a nice reminder of the impact you can have with a fun idea and rapid exe­cu­tion.

In fact, the week before the Super Bowl we grew so quick­ly that at one point we were a trend­ing search result in the App Store, and the #3 free sports app.

It’s clear that some­thing fun and share­able like what we cre­at­ed with Purrmo­ji can con­tribute mean­ing­ful­ly to a brand and com­mu­ni­ty, by sim­ply giv­ing peo­ple a tool for self-expres­sion, and con­tent that lights fire to the ideas and sto­ries you share with your audi­ence.

Users of Purrmo­ji became instant advo­cates, by refer­ring peo­ple to the app, and by sim­ply shar­ing our art. The only thing per­haps more valu­able than earn­ing a place on people’s home­screens, is earn­ing a place in their mes­sages and posts to friends and fam­i­ly. It’s no small feat, and con­sid­er­ing the min­i­mal invest­ment required in cre­at­ing Purrmo­ji, it was a huge return on invest­ment.

But Purrmo­ji is a suc­cess even beyond how well it was adopt­ed. It was a suc­cess for our busi­ness because it was time well spent on refin­ing our craft and test­ing new ideas. And it was suc­cess­ful for us per­son­al­ly because we got to make some­thing we’re pas­sion­ate about, some­thing that went from a sil­ly idea in our heads to a thing you see strangers using in line at the gro­cery store, and old friends you haven’t seen in years talk­ing about on Face­book. These kind of expe­ri­ences fuel the fire for the ideas we bring to our clients, and the projects we build on their behalf.

On your behalf, per­haps?

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