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ScreenZen: Navigating the Path from Free to Sustainable

Hey ScreenZen Users! It's Scott, the developer behind the app.

Hey! I’m Scott, the developer behind ScreenZen. I initially released the iOS version 3 years ago and since then I’ve kept the app free. Frankly, I don't love the business model of giving you just enough value with the free version that you’re compelled to sign up for the 7-day trial and then forget to cancel the $100 yearly subscription. Also, people love a free app. Doesn’t matter if it’s less than your daily Starbucks, people hate paying for apps.

Check out Drew Gooden’s video on some of the predatory freemium tactics and of course he loves that ScreenZen is free

Positive feedback from users has been my biggest motivator so far apart from solving my own problem, but I’m at the point where I need to make some money… I’m now incurring more expenses around the app and am trying to find a way to make it more sustainable. Maybe there’s a sustainable paid model, but I do love the simplicity of free and not having to choose what to withhold from users to get them to pay.

So I tried out a tip jar. ScreenZen has around 75k daily active users and I currently only make a few hundred bucks a month from it. Advertising also feels weird.. If I use one of the ad networks to advertise, what if it starts serving up ads to Candy Crush inside ScreenZen? Definitely not aligned with the ScreenZen mission.

Then I had an aha. What if I could promote something that I believe in and has personally helped me reduce how much I use technology: Remote workers and virtual assistants. There’s a lot of great people around the world looking for work who can help you with your energy draining and time sucking tasks (email, social media, etc). And they might be better at them

So that’s the experiment I’m trying now (if it doesn’t work I reserve the right to go paid in the future!). Below I’ll share my story around using a VA with ScreenZen and my recommendation on how to go about it.

Option 1

US-based, part-time, managed agency.

Recommended: Time Etc

Option 2

Philippine job marketplace

Recommended: onlinejobs.ph

Option 3

Full-time Headhunter

Recommended: Shepherd (Select ‘Where did you hear of us’ > Other > Type “ScreenZen”)

If you don’t need (or can't afford) a VA, then I would appreciate it if you would share this with someone who is busy and overworked (and has $). It’s easiest if they are self employed, but companies are becoming more flexible with this model. Thanks!

My ScreenZen VA story

ScreenZen started out very different than it is now. A majority of the improvements over time have come from users giving feedback through


1) email


2) A Type form feedback form


3) App store reviews.


I sift through the feedback, email back and forth with people and find the top recommended improvements. Amidst a lot of positive, constructive feedback there is of course some weird stuff that comes up:

I started to find that I would dread opening my email, checking the feedback forms and app reviews. Partially because as it had become a more popular app there’s a lot more to sift through and it became draining to read. I needed a buffer.

So I started researching and ended up hiring a virtual assistant to handle my support emails, collate the feedback forms and respond to app store reviews. Weekly I receive an email of all the positive feedback and then there’s an organized document system of the constructive feedback. With the VA buffer, I get more of the valuable feedback and get to skip the nonsense.

How I did it. Three steps to hire a VA

A lot of people are intimidated by hiring a VA. I think it’s because they don’t know how to get started and think it would be too big of a commitment. I wish I had delegated more earlier. Here are 3 simple steps to easily try it out:

  1. List your activities you do daily, weekly and ad hoc that could be outsourced. Here are some of mine for ScreenZen. It’s best to start with tasks that you yourself do or have done, so that you can judge the quality of the work and provide feedback.

2.

 List Create a Work trial: Find one of the tasks that you can use as a “work trial” or “challenge” for an assistant. You will want to measure things like self sufficiency, critical thinking and a skill relevant to your task. Here is the task that I used.

3.

Pick what type of VA/platform is right for you. There are 3 main types and I have an affiliate link for each one that I’ve used successfully.

(a). Option 1 : US-based, part-time, managed agency

US-based, part-time, managed agency. Recommended: Time Etc. This is the option I’ve used for my mom who is a children’s book writer. She was spending a lot of her time on social media marketing in addition to her writing time. We worked on a ‘trial task’ to create an Instagram reel for her upcoming book in the style of another reel we linked.

Pros: 

  1. US-based VAs can be better for content generation and social media management because they understand the culture and English is their first language

2.

Time Etc has a free trial task. If your matched VA doesn’t seem like a good fit, you can request another one to complete the trial task. This allows you to find a good fit.

Cons:

  1. Since the VAs are US-based and managed by Time, they can be more expensive. It’s still a great option if you’re just getting started and want to try out remote delegation with minimal friction.

(b). Option 2 : VA marketplace in Phillipines

Recommended: onlinejobs.ph This site was just recommended to me. I haven't hired someone through it yet, but have used remote worker marketplaces a lot in the past. My approach with marketplaces is to choose the top 3 applicants and then send them the trial tasks and see who performs the best

Pros: 

  1. $4-6/hour range for talented people. You can hire for part time positions as well. Low commitment to try it out as you can see applicants for fre

Cons:

  1. You have to be more hands-on with putting out a job post, qualifying talent and managing them once hired. May not have as strong English.

(b). Option 3 : Headhunter

Recommended: Shepherd (Select ‘Where did you hear of us’ > Other > Type “ScreenZen”). I chose to get a dedicated, full-time VA through Shephard because I wanted someone fully dedicated to ScreenZen that I could give context to and provide a number of ad hoc tasks. I first tried through Upwork but was not getting the engagement to want to invest more. When you commit fully to them, they will do the same for you.

Pros: 

  1. ~$1000/month for full time, highly qualified candidates. First they qualify candidates given your job description. I just sent them the task list I showed above and they created the full job description. Then you can even have them perform your trial task for free (if it’s ~1 hour) before you even review their application. I had a more in-depth challenge of 6 trial tasks that I gave candidates who completed the initial task successfully and paid them $48 ($6/hr * 8 hours to complete). I took the top 3 candidates based on the in-depth challenge and had a final round interview with them.

Cons:

  1. Full-time employee commitment may be intimidating if you are newer to remote workers or if you are worried about having enough tasks to keep them busy. A full time employee can be good to force you to delegate more as most people’s tendency is to under delegate

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