2023 Ad Blocker Year in Review

Magic Lasso Adblock 2023 Year in Review image

Five years on, I thought it was time to do an update to our original Magic Lasso Adblock Year in Review. In 2018, having been relatively new to launching an app for the Mac and then iPhone and iPad, the sentiment at the time was best captured by the quote:

I’ve learnt a lot, worked a lot and earned not a lot during this period

Am happy to report that in 2023, the outlook has improved.

During the past 12 months we’ve continued to learn a lot. We’ve worked even harder, and we are now on track to being a sustainable, growing company.

This review is relatively long, so here’s the key updates:

It’s never easy to get attention, attract users and grow. As a bootstrapped consumer app company, ongoing growth can be even trickier. Over the last five years, and especially over the last 12 months, Magic Lasso Adblock has successfully achieved this.

How? Let’s dive in and find out.

It may seem strange to do a year in review in the middle of the year.

Well, it felt like the right time to finally do an update and also, as an Australian, June is the end of our financial year. So, from that perspective, it suits!

Early goals

In 2018, the goals for Magic Lasso Adblock were:

  1. Create the best ad blocker for the iPhone, iPad and Mac
  2. Continue to deliver ongoing improvements for all users
  3. Ensure user’s privacy and security continue to be key considerations driving new features
  4. Increase subscriptions 50x to ensure an ongoing, sustainable business model

We managed to achieve these goals. Also, other than the last goal (which should be revised with present subscription targets) they are still relevant.

So, we’ll reflect on 2023 successes and failures with these in mind.

Creating the best ad blocker for iPhone, iPad and Mac

Magic Lasso Adblock features

I originally created Magic Lasso Adblock to scratch my own itch. To deliver an ad blocker that I wanted for my Mac. To ensure that user’s privacy and security was at the forefront, and to ensure that it was simple and straightforward to setup and use without excessive configuration.

The last 12 months has brought about a considerable number of both visible and ‘under the hood’ changes.

Through eight app releases, we’ve delivered new features and improvements to address some of the most popular requests. These include:

  • Allowed sites – Allowed sites now automatically sync across devices with iCloud, can be added and edited in-app and the scope of the rules can be optionally set to only apply to a specific site’s sub-domains
  • Strict Mode – Provides further privacy safeguards by optionally blocking intrusive resources and links
  • Safari extension syncing – Syncs the Magic Lasso Safari extension settings across all devices
  • Newsletter – Launched as a new channel for Magic Lasso news, updates and offers
  • Native platform support – Updates to natively support iOS 16, iPad OS 16 and macOS Ventura

We also built upon our earlier v3.0 release that introduced best-in-class YouTube ad blocking (a feature that had been a top user request for many years prior).

There was also a focus on app performance throughout the year. Rules now load faster and more efficiently and the app is more responsive with faster launch times and less memory use.

Moving to SwiftUI

Not as noticed, but happening constantly in the background, was an ongoing effort to re-architect the app’s user interface to SwiftUI.

Since our first release, the Mac app and the iPhone app have shared underlying core code, but the interface layer have been separate, parallel implementations. As a native Apple platform app, the Mac version uses AppKit while the iPhone and iPad apps are built on UIKit.

With Apple’s 2019 introduction of SwiftUI, it’s now possible to easily share interface code between all Magic Lasso platforms. Well, in theory.

In practice, the road to SwiftUI has been a more nuanced and slightly rockier path than we’d have liked. The SwiftUI difficulties have impacted on time we would have preferred to be spent delivering user-facing features.

On a positive note, with this work and learning curve now mostly complete, future improvements should come more quickly and be easier to deliver. Re-architecting an app with hundreds of thousands of users to SwiftUI, across both macOS and iOS interfaces, is an interesting story that would likely fill a whole post in and of itself.

Irrespective, we’ve been driving forward and have been iteratively re-implementing and improving Magic Lasso’s user interface using SwiftUI.

Approximately 30% of Magic Lasso’s user interface is now built with SwiftUI, with plans to increase this percentage significantly over the next year.

Ensuring a sustainable consumer app

Since 2018 our app downloads, across both iOS and macOS, have grown from under 20,000 to now over 280,000.

2023 has not been without it’s difficulties and hard choices however.

At the start of the year we made a major and potentially risky change to our business model but have also made personal changes that allow a significant re-focus and time investment.

Hard choices

It’s amazing to think that a small app idea, originally developed for myself as an MVP, could be useful to so many people. A huge amount of work goes into ensuring that Magic Lasso continues to be useful and we are encouraged by the supportive and constructive feedback we receive – both via our feedback email and on the App Store.

As an aside, if you’ve used and love Magic Lasso, please consider writing us a quick review on the App Store for iPhone and iPad or for Mac. As a small, independent developer, reviews are the best way for us to spread the word amongst potential new customers.

Originally Magic Lasso Adblock was a completely free app. Developed for myself, while doing other full-time work, I was happy that anyone else found it as useful as I did. Over time though it required more and more effort to keep up to date and to continually improve.

To support this, we implemented an optional Pro version with some additional features that were only available with a subscription. This provided some much needed funding. Allowing us to continue to improve Magic Lasso and dedicate the significant time it deserved.

However – though Magic Lasso was a successful app – with a freemium model it was not a successful business. Great feedback, positive reviews and a large numbers of downloads resulted. But not enough free users were converting to the optional paid subscription.

Continuing on this path would have meant that Magic Lasso Adblock could not continue. We’d eventually need to place the app into maintenance mode or shut it down entirely.

Switching business models

With the above in mind, at the start of 2023, we made the decision to move Magic Lasso Adblock from a freemium app with an optional subscription to a mandatory paid app with a 30 day free trial period included.

There is much consternation about subscription business models. This is understandable. For certain apps, I’m personally resistant to paying for them on an ongoing basis.

However without ongoing income, it can be difficult for an app like Magic Lasso to continue to be developed:

  • Every year it needs to be updated to support all the changes in Apple’s operating systems.
  • Every month, it needs to be improved to deliver on user’s increasing expectations.
  • Every week, ad blocking rules need to be reviewed and updated to block ads and trackers for an ever-changing web.
  • Every day, support queries need to be answered.

All of these activities take considerable time and effort. A subscription business model best aligns with these ongoing requirements.

We would have loved to be able to continue as a freemium app but our conversion rate from free to paid subscriptions was insufficient. Many tests were done to try and improve this conversion rate, but none crossed the threshold to sustainability.

Some other ad blockers have solved this problem through shady business practices. With a focus on privacy and security, this is not something we would ever consider.

Knowing our existing free users may take time to move to this new model, we provided 6 months free access to Magic Lasso for everyone who used the app before January 2023. We’re also continuing to search for other ideas on how best to support the app through alternate business models.

But in just a few short months, this change has positively impacted our sustainability as a business. So we’ll be able to keep delivering a great app and support a better, more privacy focused internet.

Growing from a side-hustle to part-time to full-time

A key driver in moving from a freemium app to a paid subscription was to provide enough income to support ongoing full-time development.

Magic Lasso Adblock was originally created as an MVP while working at a different full-time role. As the app took off, and the paid subscription revenue grew, it enabled a greater focus. This facilitated a move from an after hours ‘side-hustle’ to a part-time working arrangement; supplemented through consulting income.

We’re happy to announce that, starting in 2023 and thanks to the ongoing subscription growth, Magic Lasso Adblock is now a full-time endeavour. It has been a long time coming, with over 5 years of ongoing effort to get to this point.

When speaking about the business of software, Gail Goodman coined the concept of the “Long, Slow SaaS Ramp of Death”.

This has been the truth for Magic Lasso.

Now with a full time focus, we’re going to continue up that ramp. Not towards death but towards accelerated improvements, greater focus and hopefully, one-day, ‘hockey stick’ growth.

Content marketing hits and misses

Launching an app can be hard. Sustaining and growing an older app post-launch can be even harder. Once the initial attention has died down, getting new users to consider your product requires a lot of effort and can be very hit and miss.

Over the last year we’ve tried many approaches. One of these has been an increased focus on writing, specifically for our Insights articles.

Some of these articles have fallen flat. Articles that have not been worth the writing time they required.

For example, nobody seemed interested in reading about Safari’s Dangerous Defaults or why Chrome is the new IE.

Luckily though, some have garnered attention. A couple that have worked include:

Irrespective of the success of the individual articles, writing has given us a channel to express our opinions and thoughts. Time will tell if its worth continuing with these pieces: being a ‘home-brand’ John Gruber is harder than it seems!

What’s next?

Our goal for Magic Lasso still stands: to create the most user-friendly, privacy aware and platform-native ad blocker for the iPhone, iPad and Mac.

To achieve this, we’ll continue to provide ongoing and frequent releases. We’ll also be acutely focused on the business to ensure ongoing sustainability. Our conservative target is to grow profit from subscriptions by 30% over the next year. To do so, we need to continue to reach new users along with broadening the app’s appeal.

If you’ve found this yearly review interesting, you may want to sign-up to our newsletter to hear about future releases and insights. Or, if you’re looking for an ad blocker for your iPhone, iPad or Mac, please give Magic Lasso a try.

Till next time. Hopefully sooner than 5 years.


Thoughts on privacy, tracking and advertising on the internet.

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