Four risks Wizz took to grow its app to 16m users – and why they keep coming back

Wizz CEO, Aymeric Roffé, says that if you want to keep your app users coming back, it’s important to find out what they like, and don’t like, about the app experience. 

The TLDR version of this article? The secret to growing an app to 16m users is by focusing on the users.
It was not long after we  launched Wizz, a social discovery app where teens meet and connect with friends around the world, that we decided to ask our users to tell us about their best experience using the app. It was a simple way for us to start collecting their input and getting to know them, and we started receiving user feedback by the thousands.

Users shared anecdotes about how the app had affected their lives – things like overcoming social anxiety, finding new friends after moving to a new city, becoming more confident, feeling less lonely, and so on. They also shared things about the app that they really liked or didn’t like.

Users were not only willing to talk to us, they actually wanted to. They had a lot to say and wanted to be heard.

This realization has since inspired what has become a fairly radical and user-centric approach to growing the app and keeping users interested in coming back again and again.

Here are four takeaways from our journey to growing from 0 to 16m users, recently achieving 1.5m daily active users, and securing Wizz a spot as one of the App Store’s top 10 social networking apps.

1. Collaborate directly with users – they have a lot to say and love to be heard
It’s not enough to passively interact with users, say, by scouring social media and the internet to see what they’re saying about you. And things like sentiment scores are more like a thermometer than a clear sense of how they actually feel about you. Even looking at things like usage and behavioral trends doesn’t explain the “why” behind what users are doing.

So, we started working directly with our users. After seeing how much our users had to say in our initial survey, we introduced a number of ways to formalize our interactions with our audience of mostly teenagers.

One way we do this is by regularly  bringing in dozens of teenagers into the office, to understand how they think. What we’ve found is that 100 per cent of them share naturally when asked for feedback.

It’s important to note that we don’t only talk to current Wizz users; we also include people who have never heard of or used the app before. Our goal is to get their perspective on everything from Wizz’s features to their day-to-day lives, and where the app fits in (or might).

A lot of what we’ve learned from these conversations has directly influenced the app. One of the biggest takeaways that’s shaped Wizz’s community is the importance of having someone to talk to. For teenagers especially, having someone to consistently communicate with is essential. We’re currently exploring a number of different communication formats – from one-on-one chats to larger group chats–to match the different preferences users shared with us.

Imagine being in high school – but instead of social anxiety and self-doubt, users have a safe space to connect and build their social skills.

2. Get rid of features/functions that aren’t creating engagement
It’s easy to fall into the trap of adding new features into your app because they’re trending elsewhere. Or integrating as many features and functions as you can so there’s something for everyone in your app. But more features don’t necessarily lead to more engagement.

Our approach to new features and updates is exactly the opposite. We only want features in our app that drive engagement from our users. To accomplish this, we’re constantly testing new things from games, graphics, comments and video to small chats, big group chats, interfaces and monetization models.

We’ll start out by releasing a new feature to a small group of users. If this group reacts positively, we’ll go wider with it. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll quickly kill it.

With this approach, we’re ensuring that our app is built specifically for our users and the app experience they want, rather than one that’s based on the idea of downloads and daily active users alone. While a trending feature may result in a quick influx of downloads – if it’s not something that your core user base is engaging with, it won’t drive retention.

While it may seem like a radical approach to innovation, it has helped us to build and retain our 16m users.

3. Attract users by meeting them where they already are
The users that join – and stay – on our app are those that are seeking a community to develop new friendships and identify Wizz as the place to do just that.

That’s why we’ve focused on creating opportunities for Wizz to be found organically on the platforms where users already are. For example, we make it easy for users to download content they’ve created on Wizz – so they can post it to TikTok and other social profiles. This creates visibility for Wizz and can also allow users to develop new connections on the app.

We work with nano-influencers as part of this. We’ve found that users feel a greater connection to these type of influencers, because they’re like a friend with similar interests and hobbies, rather than an influencer with a large following that feels like an out-of-reach celebrity.

We also host in-person events so we can connect with existing and new users and they can discover the power of our community in real-life.

4. Contrary to popular opinion, content moderation and other safety measures can lead to more opportunities for self-expression
For any apps that foster a community where users are interacting with one another, determining what is and is not tolerable is arguably the most difficult task.

Because our user base is primarily 13-21 year olds, we’re particularly conscious of users’ emotional safety. We take an aggressive approach to content moderation and other safety measures, because we’d rather be more aggressive than not enough. While this approach is risky because it can mean some lost users upfront, it results in better retention in the long run.

On Wizz, content or comments that are bullying, humiliating, mean, insulting or include defamation, profanity or hate speech will result in temporary or permanent suspension. We don’t allow pictures, videos or comments that are violent, are against the law (such as drug use), or sexually-oriented. And we’ve banned any behaviours intended to harass or threaten users, as well as pretending to be someone else or lying about your age.

Verifying users’ age is especially critical because of our younger audience. We pair our teen users with people no more than one year younger or older than them. For instance, a 15-year-old can only interact with people between 14 and 16 years old. We go a step beyond simply asking users their age by using  facial age estimation technology, Yoti. Users take a selfie during the app onboarding process and the technology then compares their facial features to patterns across millions of images to determine with precision accuracy whether or not ‘this pattern is what 14-year olds (or whatever age) usually look like.’

We also work with AI moderation technologies, Besedo, and Sight Engine, which flag and disable offending content before it’s distributed. We’ve put all of these features in place so our users can feel safe and secure in expressing themselves and engaging with others on the app.

Wizz was built by taking many risks – and it’s resulted in a community that 16m users feel comfortable to connect and grow in. A big part of this was by making sure we had an app for our users, that was created in large part by our users and we continue to grow the app with them at the forefront of our innovation.