Sub Club
Sub Club
Jan 12, 2021
Vu Pham and Nick Robinson, Zero - Transitioning a Free App with Millions of Users to Subscriptions
Play • 47 min
In This Episode

Today on the podcast we have two guests from Big Sky Health: Vu Pham, who works on the product team, and his colleague Nick Robinson, Chief Business Officer.
Big Sky Health was founded to help people live healthier, longer lives with the help of technology. They are currently working on 3 apps: Zero, the world's most popular fasting app, Less, an app for more mindful drinking, and Oak, a meditation and breathing app.
In this episode, you’ll hear about:
  • Why it’s important to nurture your free user base, even after adding paid subscriptions
  • Where to draw the line between free and premium app features
  • How apps are democratizing health

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David Barnard: Eiting: Pham: Robinson:
Zero Fasting Links:Here’s the Outline of Our Interview with Vu and Nick:

[1:14] Vu’s background in product management; Zynga; FitStar (Acquired by Fitbit); Mike Maser.
[2:48] Nick’s background in content production; Michael Eisner; MySpace; Quest Nutrition.
[4:18] Quest was acquired for $1B in 2019.
[5:28] How Big Sky Health was founded; Kevin Rose.
[6:07] Zero helped create the “fasting app” category.
[6:30] Kevin Rose and Mike Maser worked together at Digg.
[6:40] Early 2000s tech news and podcasts: Diggnation; Revision3; Tech TV; Leo Laporte.
[7:55] Mike Maser sold FitStar to FitBit — one week before being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
[8:18] Pairing fasting with chemotherapy; new research by Dr. Valter Longo.
[9:17] How Zero is scaling health advice to millions of patients; Dr. Peter Attia.
[9:50] Apps as a new form of media; amplifying content delivery beyond TV, books, and radio.
[12:00] Zero’s transition from a free app with millions of users to a paid subscription app.
[13:13] Striking a balance between free features and paywalled premium content.
[15:18] Zero’s content curriculum: high-quality videos on metabolic health & longevity, time-restricted eating, and autophagy; Thomas DeLauer.
[17:30] How to determine your app’s premium upsell offering; Zero Plus vs. basic version; Elevate.
[19:54] The value add of Zero Plus: saving users time by delivering contextualized, reputable health advice at exactly the right moment in their health journey.
[22:49] Feature differentiation; personalized guidance; Zero’s Coach feature.
[24:39] Democratizing health with apps: providing users access to expert medical advice for less than $100/year.
[25:44] Data tracking; long-term revenue goals and retention.
[26:40] Nudging users toward healthy behavior changes; stats and insights.
[27:55] What was the mood like on the day Zero Plus launched?
[29:55] How the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Zero Plus subscription go-to-market strategy.
[30:32] Why Zero and RevenueCat maintain free plans in addition to paid subscriptions.
[32:38] Balancing a mission-driven mindset with paid conversions and return on ad spend.
[36:10] Big Sky Health’s long-term vision; the health app opportunity.
[37:21] User/customer naming conventions.
[38:12] Capitalizing on users’ willingness to pay: price differentiation, tiered subscriptions, and micro-transactions.
[41:33] Business success metrics; ARR; volume vs. conversion.
[44:52] Renewal rates as an indicator of the quality of your product; free user engagement and retention.
[46:15] Forecasting ARR with auto-renewal status; A/B tests; churn.


“We’re in this place now where we have these small apps that are really interactive, engaging, content delivery platforms — and they allow these people with value to add to people’s lives to reach them in a way… that television, radio, books, or podcasts never could.” - Jacob
“It’s using content plus technology, forming community modes around it — but it’s all about amplifying these niche desires, these niche needs that people have. And you kind of turn into a mini TV network that’s better and it’s optimized.” - Nick
“We know a lot about you as a user, what your goals are, where you are in your health journey, and we can contextually provide content to you in the moment of need.” - Nick
“Working with RevenueCat made our steps leading up to launch a lot easier.” - Vu
“I hear this all the time from devs who are nervous about this transition. They’re always nervous about, ‘Oh, what are these people gonna say?’ And there are a lot of public examples of apps getting beat up about [monetizing], and I’m like, ‘Listen, you were subsidizing them — they really weren’t your customers. They really didn’t see the value in it that you do. It’s your product; you’re resetting where that value bar is. So if they’re upset, it’s like, ‘Well… it was good while it lasted. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to move on.” - Jacob
“[Free users] are huge vectors for growth for a business like this because those people, even if they’re not paying you dollars, they’re telling their friends, they’re using [your app], they’re engaging more deeply.” - Jacob
“It’s crazy the number of people that do a first download of Zero from a text message. It’s huge.”- Nick
“For the same revenue earned, would you rather have a small user base and a really, really high conversion rate? Or would we rather have a really small conversion rate, but a huge user base?” - Vu

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