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Acquiring & Improving Breaks For Eyes - [Apple Turnover #6]

Acquiring & Improving Breaks For Eyes - [Apple Turnover #6]
By Alexander Greene • Issue #6 • View online
Hi readers! It’s been few weeks since the last issue, and that’s because I’ve been quite busy. These issues are a blast to write, but they take quite some time.
Anyways, I hope you enjoy, and feel free email or tweet at me if you have any questions!

As someone who spends a lot of time in front of a screen, I’m very concious of the effects it has on my health. One of the biggest consequences is to my eyes. While in front of a screen, I blink less frequently, and my eyes dry out faster.
For a long time, I’ve known about the 20-20-20 Rule, which is a tip many eye doctors recommend to patients. Every 20 minutes you spend in front of a screen, look away for 20 seconds, at something 20 feet away. It gets your eyes to refocus, exercises their muscles, and breaks your stare.
Actually following that advice is not easy. Given the amount of time we spend in front of screens, keeping track of 20 minute intervals can become very tedious. Which makes it easy for many people to acknowledge the advice, but not follow it.
In January, I saw a tweet from Alex, co-founder of Gikken, which mentioned they were shutting down two of their apps in order to focus their efforts on a flagship product. As a small company, this is often a practical and smart decision. One of the apps was Breaks For Eyes, a Mac menu bar app that reminds you to take a break and look away, every 20 minutes.
I was intrigued.
Alexey Chernikov
I'm crushed to announce that we'll be shutting down Reji and Breaks for Eyes shortly.

Reji: 31/03
BFE: 19/02

Probably, there'll be a developer interested in acquiring either of them & keeping alive just like we did with @UseTokens.

RTs appreciated 🔁

https://t.co/z1A0ak0Wle
Acquiring Breaks For Eyes
When he posted the tweet, Alex mentioned his hopes for a new developer to take over the project. I’d been looking for an app to acquire for some time, but my criteria yielded few opportunities. This met all of them.
It’s in a niche I’m interested in.
  • In college, I started building a similar app with a friend. We called it Avert! but when an Apple notifications bug left my computer in a state of constant notifications (every 10 seconds), I shifted my attention elsewhere.
  • My mom is an Optician and often reminding me to take care of my eyes.
  • I wear blue-light blocking glasses while in front of a computer screen. Their effectiveness is a controversial topic, but I find them helpful.
It has Product Market Fit.
  • Breaks For Eyes is a super simple app with a lot of competitors, but it just does the job better. It has hundreds of five star reviews, and over several updates, the Gikken team had worked out many of the problems that led to poor reviews.
  • The competition signals there’s a strong demand for this sort of app, so I wouldn’t be spending time carving out an audience.
There was room for improvement in multiple areas.
  • Immediately I saw the ways in which I could make the app better and more appealling. I saw an opportunity to use BFE as an experiment to flex my different creative muscles while also challenging my entrepreneurial instincts.
  • I’m far more confident in my skills and vision than my investing knowledge. I’m drawn towards investments where I can control the return I see, through the work I put into it. In real estate, this is called Value-Add investing.
It’s a small app.
  • No matter what happened, I would still have something I was proud to use.
  • Maintenance is low, and the update expectations from customers are low as well.
I reached out to Alex, one of the co-founders of Gikken. I had never made an offer on app before, but I did a couple of things that I think helped everything go smoothly.
  • I asked a bunch of questions, but nothing that would require a in-depth conversation.
  • I highlighted what I thought was great about the app, truthfully. No creator wants to hand over their work to someone who someone who doesn’t see the effort that was put into it.
  • I made it clear I was not interested in wasting his time. Time prioritization was the reason BFE was being sold, and I wanted to make it obvious that I understood that. Selling a product/company can be a stressful experience, but I wanted to make this as simple as possible.
If this does sounds good, I’m ready to get things moving quickly, and take up as little of your time as possible, so you can get back to focusing on your business ASAP.
Ultimately, I purchased Breaks For Eyes for $3000 USD.
I’ve had questions from readers of the newsletter about what the actual transaction process looks like. For this one, it was extremely simple and true to my word.
We agreed on a price and contents to be transferred: the app, the domain and website contents, the Medium blog ownership, the GitHub repo.
We agreed to use Escrow.com. I had used them once before when I sold some apps in high school, and remembered a pain free experience. This time around, it was slow. I kept pinging Escrow to get updates, and after 5-6 days, when they finally were ready to finish processing the transaction, they were unwilling to deposit the funds in the way Alex wanted.
At this point it was clear that both parties trusted each other. I ended up convincing Escrow to reverse the transaction (which they claim they won’t do) and I just transferred the funds over PayPal. At this point, Alex had already transferred almost everything over to me. It was a pretty casual transaction, and I think that’s the way to do it for small apps. If I were to spend too much time on the due diligence and the transaction for a very small deal, I don’t think it’d be worth it, and for a seller whose motivations are to prioritize their time, it definitely wouldn’t be worth it. If I didn’t trust the person enough to do it this way, I probably just wouldn’t do it.
Ok so now I have the app, my bank account is lesser by a $3k, and I’m a happy camper. What do I do now?
Introducing… Intermission
Now that I owned the domain name breaksforeyes.app, the first thing I did was make sure that it was up and running with my host. There are several backlinks across the web that lead to it, and there’s no way I was going to waste them. I spent half a day updating it and making it a bit more compelling for someone interested. At this point I was unsure if I would rename the app or do a more extensive website redesign, but in hindsight this minor design update was still time well spent, because I plan on keeping breaksforeyes.app running separately from tryintermission.com.
Original Landing Page
Original Landing Page
Updated Landing Page
Updated Landing Page
The second thing I did was set up a Twitter account. There was no social presence for BFE, and since I run multiple Twitter accounts already, creating one for BFE was low hanging fruit. I snagged @BreaksForEyes, though it’s now @TryIntermission.
The third thing I did was start a list on my phone. Every time I had an idea, or receieved a suggestion from a customer, I wrote it down. This was everything from feature ideas to name ideas to possible updated App Store keywords. It was not ranked or prioritized, just a dumping ground.
I was constantly thinking about where to go from there:
  • It’s already a successful app for what it does. It has the highest rating with more reviews than any competitor, and it does its job really well. Customers generally love it, so why change anything?
  • A couple of the competitors are cross-platform. They have a Mac app and an iOS app. I thought about making some sort of cross platform syncing feature for BFE, but I couldn’t justify the time investment to do that, and I don’t think I’d even want to use that, personally.
  • I was still intrigued by the benefit of having a precense on the iOS app store. Because the Mac App Store is a smaller market, it might be effective to draw in an untapped iOS audience.
  • Since my mom is an optician, she mentioned putting a sign/flyer up in the store where she works. I’m not aware of any competitors who use eye doctors as a distribution channel, but it’s something I’m planning to try. From here I generated a bunch of ideas, were I to go down this path. All were put onto the list I created.
  • I considered what could be done to the monetization strategy. Customers love this app, and it’s just $5. I brainstormed what I could offer customers if I were to monetize BFE with a subscription. I decided against this.
Ok. Clearly I’m comfortable being the idea guy, but what did I actually do?
I decided to start working on an iOS app. The Mac app was stable and not in dire need of improvement. Plus, I’ve been really enjoying building things with SwiftUI. Every day for about a week and half, I’d wake up early and spend the first half of my day on it. I called it Breaks. And then I cut myself off. I returned my full focus to another project, and BFE went back on the shelf.
Several weeks later, I returned to the project. I designed a new landing page in Figma. I decided on the name Intermission, designed an icon, and updated the iOS app to match the personality of the name. Again, I cut myself off.
The week of March 25th, I made the decision to work on an update to the Mac app. I realized that handling an update of the Mac app and a brand new iOS app for the same product at the same time wasn’t going to be the right approach. It would be smarter to first do the thing that had the potential to have the bigger impact on sales. That was the Mac app. There was another reason too: I came across an exact clone of BFE, and it really motivated me to start differentiating.
I spent 3-4 days jumping into the Breaks For Eyes code for the first time and trimming it down a bit. It was very well documented, but I no longer needed any code for licensing/payments handled outside of the App Store. I made the decision to simplify everything and only use the App Store for distribution. I went through my big list of ideas and picked out the ones that would improve everyone’s experience, and would demonstrate the added value of Intermission over a competitor. I worked on those. I tested it out for a few days, and gave it to my girlfriend to help me test as well.
I honestly thought at this point I would be ready to submit it. I even tweeted about it:
Alexander Greene
Yesterday I worked on the next version of @breaksforeyes. Today I worked on localization, and after a few days of testing to make sure it's working smoothly, I'll submit the update to Apple! Here's a sneak peek... https://t.co/Cbq9cU0CaE
Haha, I was not done yet. Last week I bought the domain tryintermission.com and turned the landing page design into HTML+CSS. I figured, for spending one or two more days on the Mac app, I could add some more standout improvements. It knew was going to be worth my time, and it was.
As of yesterday, Intermission is live on the Mac App Store. That was a bit of ramble, so let me share what I improved:
Rebranded
… with new icons, screenshots, and copy. The existing icon was polished but somewhat intimidating, and the app store screenshots were bright and attractive, but the copy didn’t differentiate the app as well as it could have.
Original App Store profile
Original App Store profile
Updated App Store profile
Updated App Store profile
In a competitive landscape, branding is important, so I took the opportunity to insert the Intermission theme where I could without taking away from the core experience. The sounds are called “chimes” and the icon is a theater curtain. The headline on the landing page is “Take Direction Over Your Screen Time”. It’s not much, but the goal is to make it feel more than just an app, and give it some personality.
More Customization Features
The biggest advantage competitors had over Breaks For Eyes is customization. Time Out, the only direct competitor that sees more downloads, is extremely customizable to the point that I think it’s overwhelming for most people. A lot of the negative reviews for BFE, though few in number, strike at the point that BFE did not allow you to stray from the 20-20-20 rule. I wanted to add features that add to the value without unnecesarrily complicating the user experience, so I added the following:
  • Customize how long breaks last and how often they occur
  • Write your own message that is shown during the breaks
  • Choose the sound that’s played at the end of your break
New Localization
BFE was already localized to 5 different languages. I decided to add another: Hindi. India was the region with the largest number of downloads that the app had not yet been localized for. If there’s anywhere I messed up in this process, it was localization. I had never done it before, and it’s the only thing I would do differently if I had the chance. I ended up re-translating all of the copy across the entire app, for all localizations. I expect future updates will be addressing improvements here, but since a huge majority of customers are using the English version, I decided to release as is rather than spending more time perfecting the translations.
The Website(s)
The new landing page describes Intermission as more than just an app, which I think will help if in the future I pitch it to doctors and business owners. The old landing page will continue to draw in existing traffic from backlinks.
Updated Keywords
I made some updates to the App Store keywords, and I hope they’ll yield some more traffic.
Raising the Price
It’s not really an improvement for the customer, but I want to test a higher price and gauge the reaction. It’s been at $4.99 but I have it set to change to $7.99 shortly.
Here’s what I spent time on that is not released:
  • The iOS app. It’s very close to ready, but I’m just not prioritizing it right now.
  • I tried having Intermission understand when the customer has Do Not Disturb turned on, but Apple does not share this information with Developers.
  • I tried having Intermission automatically pause audio/video when a break begins, but again, Apple does not share with Developers if there is audio/video playing from another app.
I had fun working on this and I’m glad I purchased the app. When I did, I thought it was a good deal, and in hindsight it was a great deal. At the time of the sale, I was concerned about recent sales being unsustainable due to a holiday bump, but they’ve held up and even grown. In February, proceeds were $325, and in March they were $433. April looked to be on track with February, but fingers crossed the update and pricing change work in my favor.
Barring any breaking issues that appear, I’m going to let it sit for a bit. In a month or two, I’ll have some perspective on how existing customers responded to the improvements I’ve made, and I can evaluate how the App Store profile changes I made affect downloads and sales.
Other than that, I’ll let the response to my improvements dictate how much more time I put into Intermission. I will say that I’m excited to have this acquisition & improvement completed so I have the bandwidth to take on another of a similar size. I’m always on the lookout…
Did you enjoy this issue?
Alexander Greene

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