Let’s start with some good news. First up, everyone can do it. Building a successful app is not just an opportunity for a restricted clique of savvy engineers anymore. As a matter of fact, designers, innovative businessmen, and creative marketers are taking over the mobile application and web application market. If you have a great idea, but no software development skills, you can easily find a partner who will provide you with a world-class product.
Secondly, you don’t have to be technology-focused when planning your app business. You can find lots of guides on “how to develop an iOS app”, “what programming language is the future”, “which framework is the ultimate solution”. These are all important questions. However, they are not make or break and if you have no tech background, you don’t have to know the answers to them. These are all problems that can be solved after a couple of conversations with an experienced project manager or a developer.
Thirdly, the execution matters. If technology is not your expertise, you should not focus on it, because there are some more important things to do. The most brilliant idea is worth much less than great execution. You just couldn’t describe it better than this. You need a plan, and you need to run it smoothly.
0. Remember: Technology is Transparent
This isn’t a piece of advice, but some information on how the world has changed recently, and how it may affect your app plans.
In the early stages, successful computer and internet-based businesses were founded by exceptional engineers and developers. Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg. They were all able to create some outstanding technology.
A lot has changed since then. The development technology has become simpler. Modular programming, handy frameworks, endless resources of libraries, web-based repositories, software availability worldwide and development skills have all conspired to move the goalposts.
The technology has become more transparent. Recently, it is the designers who have taken over the Silicon Valley. If you take a look at some of the most successful tech startups, not only were they founded by designers, but based on a well-timed, unique idea along with great business and marketing execution: Airbnb, Uber, Kickstarter, Pinterest, Lynda.com and many more.
So, the rules have changed. You know what to do? You know how you’d like to do it? You know more about the thing you’d like to do than others? You don’t need an IT base to crack it.
Here are some useful universal tips that can save you lots of time, effort and money.
1. Extract the Core Idea
It’s likely that you have spent some time thinking about the idea for your app. You have already visualised all the wonderful things it can do, all the features that might boost its functionality. Social sharing, notifications, payments, integrations - they all seem indispensable.
It may well be the case that they are all useful features, but it may be better if you forget about them for now. Each one of them will hinder the development of your core feature. If you focus on the wrong end of the process, you will either lose time or quality.
You might even end up overlooking the core of the idea. Think once again about ultimate raison d’etre of your app. Boil it down to one sentence. And then focus on it. The rest will come with time.
2. Say It Aloud and Share It
Many people are reluctant to share their business ideas with others. They have seen “The Social Network” and don’t want to end up being another Winklevoss doublecrossed by some ingenious developer. The truth is that most likely the Winklevosses wouldn’t have succeeded with their Facebook even if they had hired Zuckerberg. It was just the way the dice fell. Were you to change any details in this success story, the chances are it would fail.
Don’t worry. You just need to give it a shot and avoid as many mistakes as possible as early as possible. It’s important to verify your idea. What you have to lose is time and money and you can waste them quite easily on your own projections. People tend to stray a bit when they are left alone with their thoughts. The sooner you start sharing your idea, the better.
Not only will you get feedback on it, but also get some more motivation to act. Once the idea is out there, you need to execute it.
3. Think about the Problem It Solves
A good idea for an app solves a specific problem recognised by a target group of potential users. Even the simplest form of entertainment, like the candy crush game, provides an outlet for stress and alleviates the boredom of the commute or standing in queues.
A good product has to be either fun or useful. Redundancy is good in nature. It’s always better if it solves more than one problem. The most successful ones do. Some people need comfortable, beautiful and inspiring accommodation in places all around the world, while others want to rent their flat to foreigners with cash to spare.
4. Define the Target Group of Users
If you have just come up with a new solution to a problem faced by everyone on earth, then that’s great. However, there are some potential pitfalls. First of all, what if you’re wrong? The larger the group, the higher the upside for your product, but at the same time the higher the odds that there’s something wrong with your idea. It’s easier to target an innovation towards a niche.
Smaller projects are also safer, and yet if they work out, they can scale up later. Facebook was originally just an exclusive site for Harvard College students and alumni. It evolved into a global network sometime later. Its example also shows us that it’s easier to promote a product dedicated to a specific user group.
5. Keep It Simple
An abundance of features may seem like a good idea, but it’s usually not. It only works for the contractors who want to pump up the value of their project. What users need is the simplest way to solve their problems.
Once you decide what the core feature of your app is, try to bring it to the fore in the clearest way. Each additional option, each personalisation, each integration will make it more difficult for your users to understand the value you provide. This also entails a real cost. Not only is the development of more complex products more expensive, but you will also have to invest more time and money in customer support in the early stages.
Less is more. This one of the key rules at the initial stage.
6. Research It
The more sceptical you are, the higher the chances for success. Google all the aspects of your app idea, the problem it solves, and the groups of users you have defined. Track all the alternative and complementary apps.
You will learn how to improve it or how to adapt it - for free. You will also get lots of insights into how to promote a product in this market, where the customers are as well as what they need.
7. Set a Goal for Your App
There are different categories of goals. If you consider your app to be a business, it needs to generate income. However, this doesn’t mean it has to be profitable. A substantial number of tech startups are focused on attracting venture capital funding. Such investors often prefer growth to income at the early stage of a product. You should decide if you want to break even or attract financing, and set goals accordingly.
Many apps are launched as non-profit projects. They may either be crowdfunded or supported by a foundation. Even though the goals are non-financial, they are still necessary, along with relevant milestones too.
8. Market the Product before the Launch
There are countless great apps out there that are not used by anybody. That’s one of the problems with the easily accessible technology. It’s becoming more and more common.
We have an oversupply of software, while the user attention is limited. You need to promote your solution to the problem among the users it’s dedicated for. Sometimes getting across your message takes more time than developing the product. That is why you should start as soon as possible.
So, once you’ve checked out the list above, it’s time to set up a landing page. You should describe the idea behind the app, the solutions it provides, the value it delivers, and the unique features it exhibits.
The second step is writing the first content for your landing page that provides answers to the questions the potential app users may ask. This should generate some organic search engine traffic. Finally, start engaging people with social media. Spread the news and let interested people contact you, sign up for beta tests and leave their feedback.
With some luck, you will build up a substantial group of early adopters long before the launch of your app.
9. Launch It as Soon as You Can
You need a working version of your app (a Minimum Viable Product) as soon as possible. Why shouldn’t you wait until everything is tip-top? Because you cannot predict how it is going to be used. The initial feedback from users is always revealing. Don’t worry about additional features. Just make sure the core functionality is up, running and easy to use by your target group.
Start testing it. Although software design and usability can be predicted, it’s much easier to verify it in real life. People's behaviour can be unpredictable.
10. Communicate with Your Developers Efficiently
Creative thinking and efficient project execution are difficult to pair. One should be verified with the other as often as possible. Your first idea will inevitably be scaled down when confronted with technology during a scoping session, and you should be ready to compromise. That is why a clear definition of the core feature, the problem solved and the target user group is so important.
Make sure each member of the development team you are working with understands the product, how it is supposed to work and how it is supposed to be useful or entertaining for the users. Developers are passionate about the technology they work with, and they are a great source of ideas when you really involve them in the creative process. They are motivated by finding new, creative and efficient ways to apply their tools. You need to engage them in your vision and maximise their knowledge and skills.
That’s all. I hope you will find this guide useful. If you have any experience or stories to tell about your app development projects, please share in the comments.