Issue #18 - Captionista
This week's issue brings 2023 to a close, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how the year has gone.
I have to say it's been a great year. Launching this newsletter has gone better than I'd hoped, and I thank you all for your support. I enjoy learning about new apps and the diverse approaches we take to overcome the challenges of building indie apps. I've certainly learned a lot but still have a way to go with marketing.
Regarding my own apps, I released my second app, RewardMe, which was built for myself and has seen steady growth. There's much I want to do with it. My first app, GiftList, had a strong end to the year.
I'm going to try and take a break over the Christmas holidays, as I'm sure many of you will be doing as well. I'll be back in January with more great apps. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!
What is Captionista?
Captionista is a video subtitling/captioning app designed for very quickly adding text to short form videos directly on your device without using a specific social media app.
Where did the idea for Captionista come from?
Back in 2019 I was helping a local political party subtitle their social videos, and there was no good option for doing it on mobile (this was pre-AI!). All the interfaces for the Mac/web apps that did exist were really painful to use so it took a long time. I came up with the idea of providing the transcription first, then watching the video and tapping the script to split it into subtitles at the right time. This makes the process much faster.
What’s one stand out feature you’d like everyone to know about?
Control! Our vertical timeline makes it really easy to control where and when your text is split and you can then move each caption around if you so wish.
How do you promote Captionista?
Mainly through Mastodon, Threads and occasional Reels posts as well as some LinkedIn posts. We tried App Store Search Ads but didn’t have much luck there, it’s a crowded category with big players like CapCut. We also tried some Google Ads but that do much for us. We’re focusing on producing useful content on our site to help people with captioning in general.
How did you decide on the pricing?
The app is intended to be free with a watermark for all users to enable more people to caption their videos for all reasons (including accessibility). We consider the Pro features to be for social media professionals who would use this in their daily work of posting content or preparing it for apps like Buffer, so we chose a price that is cheaper than most of the other services we saw out there as we don’t provide the AI part currently.
How did you launch Captionista?
We did the whole App Store featuring request with a distant release data, prepared our detailed press kit, and notified a few key press people. We got some nice coverage from John Voorhees at MacStories, Daryl Baxter (formerly TechRadar) and Craig Grannell (Stuff). My “audience” is mainly developers and not social media / content creators so it’s been hard to reach those people so far.
How long did it take to get to the first version?
It took us about two years! We started on it in 2020 just before COVID and the lockdowns started. There were a lot of challenges, not the least of which was using SwiftUI for all of the UI (there is no UIKit at all). At that early stage there were a lot of bizarre bugs especially around ScrollView and also lots of problems with unwanted animations.
On our part of it though, making the whole “two way editing” between our single text editor view and the subtitle timeline which shows the script split into subtitles over time was very challenging. e.g. If you go back and edit text in the script view, we have to update the right parts of the subtitle timeline or auto-merge subtitles that have become obsolete etc. Turns out this is really hard to get right.
Without that core feature and the scrolling working well enough there was no way we could ship, it’s the core value proposition for the app!
Is there anything you’ve learnt that stands out?
The big thing is that you’ve got to be in it for the long term — we went into it knowing this. However at our small size and with such big competitors in the same category (e.g. CapCut) things like App Store Optimisation and paid ads/user acquisition are pretty much useless, which was a bit of a surprise. We just can’t compete. Even with great reviews like we received from MacStories and Stuff, translating this into healthy download numbers is really hard. Most of the time it’s impossible to get a small ad budget in App Store Search Ads to even show to enough people to use up your budget.
Paid search ads, paid TikTok ads and Reels seem to really be for people with really big budgets. There was a great Sub Club podcast episode about this a while back where they said that unless you’re getting a certain level of daily installs all that paid marketing and experiments are pointless — you just can’t get enough useful data to make decisions.
So we’re focusing on long term organic growth and content like this “How to subtitle like a boss” guide that isn’t even specific to Captionista. Our main priority is to get more videos captioned even if people don’t use our app — but we know that we do offer something unique for a bunch of subtitling use cases.
It’s so tempting to think that adding the next feature is going to make all the difference, but that is such a trap. We have to keep focusing on the marketing and getting the word out!
Any tools or apps you would recommend others check out?
LumaFusion - is a great video editor app that I used to edit all the promo videos/reels, and then run them through Captionista to add the captions.
Stream - is a great minimal RSS reader by Rob Fahrni.
Notion - I do all the release and marketing planning for Captionista in it.
Pocket Rocket - info about all the SpaceX launches past and future is cool if you like to keep up to date with these things.
Concepts — the note-taking/sketching app I work on for the day job! Great for brainstorming and roughing out ideas and designs.
What's one tip you would give to someone starting out?
Start small. Really, really small. Ship and then build it out with more features after. Unless you’re very lucky with exposure/ASO you’ll have long slow user growth and you can improve and refine it during this time, instead of spending 2 years on something and then waiting another 2+ to grow your user base :)
Where can everyone go to find out more?
We have some handy tips for captioning no matter what app you use: https://captionista.app/blog/how-to-subtitle-videos-like-a-boss.html
Breaks is a simple focus timer to help you do your best work. Breaks lets you easily timebox your work and ensure you’re taking adequate breaks, so you can focus better and be more productive.
Breaks is designed to be simple as possible with no extraneous features.
Button Creator is a quick and easy way to create graphics to use as buttons for your Stream Deck.
Button Creator 2.0 features a complete overhaul of the UI and the implementation of features that users have requested.
The app allows you to quickly create simple graphics with symbols, emoji and text, e.g. for devices such as Stream Deck or Loupedeck.
New in this version you can add multiple layers, and save your buttons as templates.
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