Issue #1: Five/Three/One 🏋️

Welcome to the inaugural release of the Indie Watch newsletter!

Today we're going to take a look at Five/Three/One created by Gabriel Royer.

During his recent Hacker News post, Gabriel outlined some of the strategies and approaches he used to build, grow, and monetize his app - we'll take a look at those strategies in just a moment.

Five/Three/One is a focused, beautifully designed, and intuitive app that helps you easily track your workouts and performance in the gym - it handles everything from calculating your current workout plan and tracking your personal bests to telling you what plates you should use on the bar.

Five/Three/One is a reference to a powerlifting program designed by powerlifter Jim Wendler. The key concept is to slowly build strength through four barbell weightlifting exercises: the parallel squat, bench press, deadlift, and the shoulder press in an effort to achieve a new one-rep max. (see source)

Free Features

  • Planning and scheduling your whole 5/3/1 cycle
  • Charting your progress
  • Rest timer with notifications
  • Automatic plating calculation
  • Calculating your next cycle based on your current performance
  • Home screen widget showing your current and upcoming workouts
  • Apple Health integration
  • Customize which plates you're using and change your barbell's weight
  • Customize templates and define your own exercises
  • Go beyond the 5/3/1 templates and try out everything from Joker Sets to FSL, Pyramid, and much more!
watchOS and Android apps are on the way 🚀

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Gabriel Royer, I'm an engineer living in Seattle. I used to work in big-tech, first Microsoft and then Google, but I got really burnt out and decided to take a break from it all at the start of the pandemic.

For the first 8 months after quitting my job, just thinking about programming was filling me with dread and even physical disgust. So I took it easy - got a puppy - and after some time realized it was time to make a change.

I decided to create my own weightlifting app and set myself a modest revenue target of $1000.

I've now surpassed that goal and am now making about $500 per month by selling premium features in the app.

Doing the entire thing from start to finish - design, development, launch, marketing, and support - has been very gratifying and taught me a lot. When someone bought one of my IAPs for the first time, I have to admit that I almost got a little teary-eyed.

I'm not making a killing out of the app, but then again that was never the goal. The personal satisfaction and growth that came out of this experience made the entire process worthwhile.

I can't pretend to have derived any life lesson that applies to everybody from this, but this whole mini-journey was worth it for me, and I hope it will be for you too, should you embark on a similar one.

How did you come up with the idea?

I had been following Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program for a while with the help of some online calculators that I'd then copy into my own custom spreadsheets.

The workflow was less than ideal, but none of the 5/3/1 apps on the App Store were that good. So, I decided to build my own app.

Building something I wanted to use turned out to be a ton of fun. I'd write some code, go do some "user testing" - in this case, that meant working out - come up with some new features, and then go back home and implement them.

💡 How do you come up with your app ideas?
Let me know and I'll share the best strategies in our next issue.

How did you market the app as an indie developer?

Believe it or not, I started by putting up posters in the gym I go to! Initially, my goal was to recruit testers for my app and then to get actual users.

These posters only cost about $25 and so far I've got 30 downloads - not bad, not great.

My next step was to create an Instagram account (@fivethreeoneapp) and start following tags like #wendler531. To get users to see my profile and download my app, I would like, comment, and engage with posts that used this hashtag. I've gotten about 150 downloads with this approach, but it's a lot of work.

In order to boost my domain's search ranking, I decided to try some "content marketing". I have been meaning to try ReactJS for a while, so I decided to make an online 5/3/1 Calculator and link to my app from there.

Overall, it turned out great.

Not only was this a terrific way to gain experience with ReactJS, but the calculator now often ranks second for searches like "5/3/1 Calculator", resulting in about 1,000 clicks a month. So far, this has gotten me about 200 downloads!

What's next for Five/Three/One?

Now that my app has enough ratings (over 50 in the US with an average rating of 4.9 stars), I've been leveraging the Apple Search Ads $100 credit and the results have been amazing.

I've also used Bing Ad credits, but I wasn't too impressed with the results I was getting.

It's difficult to be discovered organically on the App Store, as there are a lot of older 5/3/1 apps that have thousands of ratings, meaning they are almost guaranteed to out-rank me.

While getting your first five-star ratings is critical in getting traction, it's usually not enough. By using ads, I was able to show up first in the search results and get more downloads (albeit paid downloads).

Currently, I'm spending some of my own money on Search Ads since my return on ad spend is greater than 1, but I will soon try to phase that out.

For Five/Three/One, the next step will be an Android version, which is almost ready, and then an Apple Watch version. It will be interesting to see how it does on Android as I know people tend to buy in-app purchases at a much lower rate there. In any event, I'm hopeful that it will help put my app's name out there even more.

Apple Watch support is by far the most requested feature, so even though it's a big task, I'm sure it will pay off.

Editor's Note

The HackerNews thread indicates that Five/Three/One took ~300-400 hours to build, and that is evident in the level of attention and care displayed in the app. As someone who exercises fairly regularly, this app works exactly as I would have expected it to. It was almost as if it could anticipate my behavior which made it an extremely intuitive and enjoyable experience to use.

It's rare to see indie iOS apps with the level of polish and thoroughness that this app demonstrates. Not only is the application robust, but it's also obvious from the design, UI/UX, growth/marketing strategies, and the app's upcoming features, that Gabriel really understands his users and spends a lot of time thinking about how best to cater the app to them.

If you're even the slightest bit into strength training and powerlifting, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Five/Three/One.

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The best investment for landing your dream iOS jobHey there! My name is Aryaman Sharda and I started making iOS apps way back in 2015. Since then, I’ve worked for a variety of companies like Porsche, Turo, and Scoop Technologies just to name a few. Over the years, I’ve mentored junior engineers, bui…

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