How Ukrainian app obimy grew to 5 million users in 5 months during the war

Back in 2020, Zhenya Zasutskyi, a Ukrainian architect with Empat involved in the development, launched an app called obimy. This app allows users to exchange pleasant gestures called ‘senses’ and share their moods. Before February 24, 2022, obimy had roughly 20 thousand active users; during the five months of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the app’s audience skyrocketed to more than five million.

In this first-person article, the CEO of obimy, Zhenya Zasutskyi, shares the story behind this impressive result.

Zhenya Zasutskyi. Photos and screenshots in this article provided by obimy

Reasons for Rapid Growth

Before February 24, we had roughly 20 thousand users. Back then, we thought it was a lot. For half a year before that, we had been testing various audiences and marketing channels, including TikTok. We were looking for growth methods, aiming to go viral without a huge marketing budget. With the beginning of the invasion, the number of the app’s users started to grow swiftly, starting with the Ukrainian audience. At first, we had 4,000 new downloads per day; then 10, 20, and 50 thousand. Now, obimy’s DAU is from 400,000 to 500,000 users, and its MAU is three million.

As it turned out, we were completely wrong about who obimy was for. Judging by the analytics, the main driving force behind the growth was TikTok users aging from 14 to 20. Also, not only our own promo videos have gone viral: many people have posted screen recordings telling how the app worked. That’s how we’ve got our own micro-influencers.

After we started growing in the US, the trend moved to the UK, and there, our app was No. 1 in the App Store top list for several weeks. The same happened in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Australia. In total, we were the No. 1 top app in 45 countries. It was very surprising and pleasant to see obimy conquering the whole world, with 50,000 to 100,000 people from over 100 countries downloading it a day.

For that, I must give huge credit to Anastasia Avramenko, our Head of Marketing. Back then, she was doing analytics, shooting videos for TikTok, making graphics, and chatting with our users simultaneously. It was tough, but the result was worth it.

During the next two months, we reached five million downloads in 175 countries, entering the social media mainstream for young audiences.

The Problems We Faced

We faced several typical young startup problems. The app’s backend was not quite ready for such growth: during the first week of our rise to fame, the servers were crashing every three to four hours, 24/7. When we reached the top of AppStore or Google Play in a country, our servers could barely handle it.

Kostia and Vova, our developers, were working non-stop, rewriting the backend and bringing the app back online. Dmytro, responsible for customer support, had to deal with 200 reviews every day. Slava, our product owner, turned into our project manager, while I had to combine my CEO responsibilities with customer support.

During March and April, we had no fixed working hours at all. But somehow, we managed to fit into that routine naturally. I didn’t have to convince my team to do their job. Everybody was in position, aware of their responsibilities and the significance of what was happening. Everybody was doing their best and even better than that.

The App

At first, we positioned obimy as an app where you can share your biometrics – your heartbeat, the number of steps you’ve made today – and get emotional feedback. Eventually, the app turned into what we call a sensenger: a service that helps people communicate with feelings and emotions from a distance. After we had shifted our positioning to ‘being the world’s first Sensenger,’ people realized what we’ve created. At the same time, we’ve got a deeper understanding of our own product.

Curiously, the most popular function is ‘to hug.’ In two months, our users exchanged more than 130 million feelings or, as we call them, ‘senses.’

The app has popularized itself. We just created a good product and looked for ‘growth hacking’ promotion methods. It sounds unbelievable, but we reached 1 million in downloads, having spent only $500 on marketing.

The app’s new version has shifted to a mixed model, including both subscription and in-app purchases. The subscription includes many new senses and possibilities. Premium users can now create their own senses, but we’ve also quadrupled the number of free senses. Also, the avatars are now customizable. Users can change their color and add accessories. Every day we sell 500 colors and several thousand actions.

obimy: Countries and Users

As of July 2022, obimy is being used in 175 countries, each one ranging from a thousand to 300-500 thousand users. Now we’re focused on the US, the UK, and Saudi Arabia. We’re also localizing the app for Japan, Brazil, and Spain.

All in all, our audience has become ten years younger. Honestly, it makes us extremely happy. It feels like we’re defining the future. Curiously, obimy has a global reach. We have virtually identical app growth in Asia, the Middle East, the UK, North America, and Europe.

The Team and the Plans

Our core team is 12 people. Each one is 100% focused on the app’s success. I’m proud of the things we’ve achieved together, and there’s much more to achieve in the future. We also have 20 part-time and outsource team members: lawyers, accountants, PR specialists, motion designers, etc. At least 30 people are working on obimy each month.

We’re now shifting from part-time or outsource workers to full-time employees for some positions. But we have a less-is-more mindset, so we’re not going to hire people just for the sake of it. As we’re a startup, the team’s efficiency must be a bit more than 100%. That’s the only way to achieve success. Every open position means 50 to 100 CVs and 15 to 20 interviews; the whole team selects the new candidate.

Our goal is to get a share of the social messaging market. I believe we can reach more than 100 million users. We also have an even larger mission: to enable people to feel each other wherever they are as if they were together. That’s what we’re working on now.