Want to build your own app Startup?
This Guide will take you from From Ideas to Disruption.
This won’t be a motivational post, or suggestive commentary. If you have an idea that you want to turn into reality, you’ll need a game plan to win. That’s what I hope this post can help you with. This won’t be a quick read, think of it more like a mini-workbook, that if utilized can provide you some of the framework needed to start your app startup.
Concept: Define the Problem & Pain Points
There are a few questions that you need to reflect upon, research and then answer. The more thorough your answers, the closer you will be to validating your concept.
What Problem(s) are you trying to solve?
Has that problem already been solved or is solvable by current technology?
What apps are already in this space and actively working on addressing this issue?
What would it take for you to address those pain points with your app?
If you were the end consumer how much would you realistically pay for someone else to quickly solve that problem on a one time or per month basis?
Answering these questions in detail can help you to plot out the extent of the problem and see if you are willing to spend the months, or even years needed to help others solve this problem in their lives with your service.
Planning Part 1: Your Solution
It’s time to plan what main functions and features will be needed to make your app viable.
Take time to plan out several functions and features for your first version of the app (The Minimum Viable Product - MVP).
This seems to be the easiest step is truthfully the most crucial. Your plan will be the foundation of this Saas app depending on how well you plan, you can save money or lose money pivoting resources away from past bad plans. Competition Analysis: You will need to find out:
Who is your competition?
Where are they executing well (Design, Ease of Use, Functionality)? (Be realistic, they have customers for a reason)
Where could they improve?
You will also need to craft what is your Unique Sales Position, that sets you apart from their products. A good way to start is to write down many reasons out why a potential customer should pay for your service/product instead of your competitors?
Once you have your reasons, use the one that resonates with your goal and your hopes for your future product. More than likely, that will be your USP, or at the least will point you in the right direction.
Field Study: Get a targeted survey going of how many people would be interested in your product (the concept). Take record of how much they would pay for that service, (one time? Per Month?)
If you are planning to make money with in app billing or advertising, ask them instead how much time they would spend using something like this, as attention = money.
Research: Study some of the more successful services & apps in your niche, or a related area to yours. Pay attention to their Monetization Methods. Do they have in app purchase pricing, ads, or upfront pricing? See how many app downloads they have and read their glowing and negative reviews. Learn what stress points their customers encountered that affected their reviews. This will help you to set better pricing, and to hone your solution.
Business Plan: Ideas meet Reality
By now you should have some sort of plan, and some research on the feasibility of the service/product that you are trying to sell. By researching your competitors and getting feedback from potential customers you are able to change your myopic perspective of the problem, and get more viewpoints to expand it’s clarity. Unfortunately successful startups aren’t fueled by dreams and instant noodles.
You will need to plan out how you will make profit with this product/service. If you cannot come up with a plan to make this concept profitable, then this may a good idea, but this may not be the right business for you to run. This plan will need to be stress tested for many scenarios, and should be lean and flexible to work with the flow of things that can happen.
You will also need to do some soul searching, because if you are not willing to invest copious amounts of time into making this work, starting this business may not be for you. You may think that I am trying to be discouraging; you would be right to conclude that. I would rather someone who is not suited for this work to know this early and give up now, rather than have them hastily jump into their business idea. They could spend lots of time and money only to discover that they aren’t ready and that they’ve invested all of their savings into a airborne plane with no pilot.
Founding a startup, is simply creating a business; it’s your baby. You will have to nurse and raise it until maturity, no one else will do it for you.
While writing your business plan, it would be good to mention your planned monetization methods (in app billing, advertising, etc). If you would like analytics for your app, this should also be included into the plan for growth.
More soul searching: you will need to self-assess your current position. Are you able to handle the responsibility of managing the development, marketing, and customer acquisition process?
Do you currently have the skills and the wherewithal to consistently work with developers and learn the things needed to know how your app will work inside and out?
Do you have any experience as a seller or end user in the field that you are catering to?
After Answering these questions, you may find that you personally would like to do this but need some more time, skills, or maybe assistance. Even so, if you still feel confident that you can see this through to its completion and even afterwards, keep reading.
Business Plan: Who’s Paying?
If you have some money to invest and are interested in getting the things needed to get your app/service developed, you will be bootstrapping.
Benefits of Bootstrapping:
- You own 100% of the equity (and risk)
- You have 100% control of the direction of the business
- You gain agility from starting out with the goal to be profitable from day one. (You’ll be hungry for business)
If you do not have money to invest and do not mind giving up profit share, you may want to try Assembly to help you create this startup.
If you happen to have more of an invention idea, or a physical product that you want to make without the means of making it, you may want to try Quirky.
These are good alternatives to people who do not have the money to invest, but they also don’t want to deal with finding people to help them with their ideas. You can also opt to seek funding from interested investors in your business idea. (pitch them all the research that you have found from the previous steps, and you should find some yes answers out of a sea of rejection)
If you have the money to spend (savings) and will not do so on your saas app idea, quit while you’re ahead. You are simply not ready to make the sacrifice. Money is the easiest thing to “give” to your business. The hardest thing to give will be your time.
Not everyone will be making complex SAAS apps, but the commitment of time should be the same. When the time comes to transition out of the development phase, you will need to have consistent focus to engage with your audience via social media, create relevant content and to persuade potential buyers.
You will need to create your app selling goals metrics: how many customers, how much growth per month, and satisfied customer retention strategy.
Business Plan: The Rough MVP Sketch
This part of the business plan is often looked over. Sketching your initial ideas of what your solution will look like, can help to solidify what you have to offer to customers. You may have discussed your idea with potential customers, but showing them your sketches will bring you better quality data.
You will need to create your company name.
Branding Test: (use Namechk to see if your name is available for registration on the major social media sites. Also use a domain registrar to check if your company domain name is available (don’t buy it yet).
Come up with a few alternatives that also pass the test as backups.
You will also need to do the following:
→ Sketch your logo → Take Photos or Scans of your Drawings. → Run the sketches through a few close friends and potential users, to get their initial opinions and on what buttons should be where (think ui /ux). → Create Some Wireframes from your revised sketches, you can use fiverr to find someone do this for you. Go back to your friends and different potential users for more feedback, (rinse and repeat until satisfied)
Once you have your wireframes, you are going to want to hire a designer who can add color and style to your wireframes. You will need to take time to think about color scheme and tone.
If you would rather outsource this process, someone on Fiverr that does a great job with wireframes and design is Nimart. You can also look on other freelancing websites or look for help with this design process in your local area.
Create Your Mock-up
After you are satisfied with your app designs, its time to make your mockup. I would suggest using Invision, which is super nifty, and can get your designs turned into a semi-working mockup app that you can show potential customers, or investors. Alternatively you could just use the sketch photos, but its often better if some one can “interact” with your mockup, instead of just look at it.
People can now see “the vision” which was once just an idea that you had. Now’s the time to leverage that opportunity to build up your network and email list, as potential customers will want to start knowing when you launch.
Planning Part 2: Brand Setup
Now you have field research, a business plan, a website, and hopefully a semi-functional mockup. What this makes you is a person with a product to sell. What sets companies apart from their competitors is their BRAND.
Brands can be seen as a fine mix of your reputation of service, your track record, marketing, and your company/product culture.
→ Set up your brand’s media kit for social media, (it’s elevator pitch, it’s logos, etc.) You will need these to be consistent across your social media channels. (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google Plus, Vine, Snapchat, and Linkedin.)
→ Start befriending and engaging with people who may become your future customers with helpful content related to your niche. Use the Quality content to steadily gain email list traction, where you are able to send them updates based on the topics they joined from. This also gives you the opportunity to bring attention to your brand.
→ This is the part where you will you will want to write out your brand’s mission statement. This can help you to better relate your brands value to your customer and to elevate your goals past making sales.
Set up slack, a free tool to easily organize your upcoming app development, and most importantly your inner business communication and social media flow later on.
→ At this stage, you should probably set up a website. You can also get a deal on a domain from godaddy, or another domain registrar. (Try to spend less than $15 to get the website and domain).
Depending on your needs, your hosting requirements will vary. If you will only be using the website as a landing page, the hosting should be free or very inexpensive (less than $5 per month.)
You could also try a paid website solution service (Squarespace) which could help you easily setup your website without concerning about hosting, but I think it would be better to have full access and control over your website.
After you get your template or custom design for your website active, get some feedback on how the site looks, as well as your copywriting. As your business starts to change and grow, you can adjust your template, or make a new one for your blooming brand.
Budgeting: Every Plan Has Its Limitations
You may have a great business plan but without the runway to execute it, you be making nothing else than a plane without landing gear.
Budget For Development
Let’s jump back to your list of functions and features that you made previously.
It’s time to get some estimates from freelancers. don’t give them your master plan, but get estimates of how much time, and what work would be required into creating your apps built out with those features. Also ask which features are the hardest to do and why. (Get a quote on project completion).
From this you should be able to get a consensus of which “added features” of your app take up the most time and ergo money. Take that chance to prioritize that same list in order of what potential customers see as “deal breakers” to buying or not buying your services. Sometimes there are features that would be “cool” to add, but take up more time and budget than you are able to manage, and may delay your launch.
Put these features on a lower tier, and then work to comprise your MVP Requirements list with your top priority must haves. The result must be something that is feasible to buyers, so much so, that they are willing to buy as is without waiting on additional updates with the remaining planned features.
Choose Your Path
If you want to find a “Co-Founder”, to help you with the idea, and to share the equity/ labor, now would be the time to do so. You’ll want to find someone who is able to code the APP in Iphone OR Android (You may even want to look for someone that can code the app with phonegap, and can release to both marketplaces).
There are some downsides to having a cofounder, which can be explained in a video exert by Mark Suster (you can watch the entire video here). I feel that if you have followed along with this guide, that you have done a ton of backwork, and that you should own most if not all of the equity and work towards getting the app made yourself (bootstrapping).
Should you decide to go solo and to bootstrap, or you have funding from investors, its time to look for your developer. The advice in this section below is basically for finding a developer for a decent price. If you have investors, you will most likely be looking for someone in house that can work with you on salary or per project basis.
Budgeting For Website & App Development
Depending on the needs of your app, you may also need to have a different developer manage the creation of your app API platform, and the coding that will be hidden in the background of your app.
You will soon be looking for an app developer who can code the iphone and android version and is flexible enough to work with you on pricing and changes where needed. This can be expensive, but you already know what the estimates are, so this should be priority one on your budget. If you have a technical co-founder, or happen to be a technical co-founder with the skills needed to make the app, you’ve just saved yourself quite a bit of money, but the money saved should be put towards other crucial components such as marketing, and reserves.
Budgeting For Marketing & Advertising
It’s no secret, but once your app is built and you have a business plan you may have initial customers from the buzz that you have been building around your brand, but that will wane. Without a budget for Marketing (Social Media Promotions, Digital Ad Campaigns, re-targeting, content creation), getting new potential customers to notice you will be an even larger mountain to climb than what you have faced so far. Marketing Can help
Build it and they will come is a lie. Try to to build your service to attract the people one crowd at a time.
Don’t skimp on the marketing budget, it‘s can bring greatly needed attention to your service app once built.
Budget For Staff, Product Improvements, Basic Supplies, & Runway
Part of your budget should extend to covering cost for anticipated initial expansion. Should your business start to be met with high consumer demand, you may find yourself understaffed. Having a budget to employ help meet those needs. I would like to note that most of your future needs for initial staffing can be somewhat expected, and as such should most likely be added to your business plan.
Changes to your App and Service are going to be inescapable. No service starts out as perfect, though thanks to your research you have been able to pinpoint and change many of the problems that users encountered with your mockups. Budgeting for your app changes can keep in a good place to make last minute changes where needed, and changes post-release.
If you don’t budget properly, you will run out of runway to operate your business, and you will ultimately be running on empty unless you are quickly profitable. This scenario should be avoided at all costs; why increase the risk of failure with bad planning?
With that being said: Be Financially Lean
Do not use your budget to pay for anything more than what is listed here and the bare necessities to running your business.
This means no Office, no expensive phones and chairs until your business is able to afford them out profit and you need it to grow your business past it’s initial release.
When you are just starting out, you will need basically a place to lay your head at night, food, and so forth. Keep your spending budget super lean and plan the budget for 2–3+ months of expenses.
The app may cost you anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand upfront (when bootstrapping), so do not waste funds on hiring employees before you need their help or to stroke your ego. It will be important to allocate funds towards getting a business license for your venture.
If you have investors, you should already have your business structure set up from that time. For non-funded startups, its time to plan out how you want the business to be run, as well as exit strategies.
Depending on the complexity of your app(s), it may take 1–3+ months to complete development.
Hiring A Skilled Developer: You will want to look for an experienced app developer on website like Odesk or Freelancer. If you are boostrapping, having somone who is local and able to meet with you in person can be great, but considering that their help may be needed for a one time project (no equity/small app), distance can help to establish the notion of per project work further.
→ Look for someone preferably who is skilled with both ios and android app languages.
→ Look at the developers reviews, and also their work time. Take note of their country and the timezone delay. You will not want to annoy them while they are sleeping.
→ Gather a list of candidates, and narrow them down to about 5 qualified people. (dont worry about nda’s here, unless you are giving out some super secret sauce or something?)
→ Share with them your list of things that you will need the app to do, or better yet, show them your wireframes and mockup. They should return to you an estimate for the whole project and the time spent.
Getting to know the candidates:
→ Find out what times that they are available to contact you, and through what methods (phone, skype, email, etc)
→ Ask them if they have other obligations during the day in their own timezone.
→ Hand over your list of requirements and give them about a day to read it and return an estimate. (Perhaps hide some secret paragraph in the list to double check that they have read it?)
→ Have your developer candidates to exchange im details to talk more about this over skype/chat. It doesn’t have to be video, but ask them to spend a few minutes of time with you.
Spotting Good Candidates
The candidates that are good generally have questions or ask for clarification on the things that you have written, perhaps making suggestions to improve the workflow. Patience is another indicator, but skill should definitely rank highest next to integrity and not cutting corners.
Spotting Bad Candidates
The candidates who are rushing to work with you, without having thoroughly read or investigated your app plan will most likely not be the developer for you, or will hastily finish the app.
These same candidates are usually the ones, who will often ask copious questions later on after money has been exchanged, or poor work has been done.
Additional Note: Try your best to find a real developer. You should be able to tell the difference, but if you are not, try to get someone who can “vet” a developer candidate for you. Some people on the freelancing websites are “project flippers”, and will take your job and repost it elsewhere, to find someone who will do the job for less and keep a good margin for themselves.
You do not want this, because you cannot guarantee the quality of the app, and should communication be poor between you and the project flipper, you cannot contact the developer directly, for quick changes.
The Selected Developer(s) may be a single person or a team/agency. what you will want to do, after you are satisfied with their proven skills, and seen their previous app work in the appstores, you will want to work out a written payment/milestone plan with them.
According to your budget, so that you can pay them as they work on the project. If they meet a milestone, then they are paid, and keep that up until the app is done. I would try to work out a per hour plan for after the app is released to cover changes and updates needed for the app.
Work out a time schedule that includes quite time for them to code, time for you and them to talk and preferably time for you and them to test the app and code at the same time.
If you are working solo, you will have to stay on top of the development of the app, or you may end up with an unfinished project, an over budget project or have an app/website different than what you originally planned or budgeted for.
If you have a co-founder and you are both unable to develop apps, try to have the most technical founder work with the app developer according to the budget/business plan that you have both agreed upon.
While you are spending time with the developer(s), you may find yourself with some spare time. Use this time to create content and market to increase your “early access” adopters and brand awareness.
→ Start Planning out your marketing strategy for the next few weeks. (pre-app release, app launch, and post release app).
If there are any holidays or local events that are coming up in the calendar year and are related to your niche, or can become related thanks to creative content that you create, then do work to create and distribute that content.
Content becomes the medium that is used to establish context between you and your potential audience.
The better targeted content that you create, the more awareness you will garner around your brand. This will help you to start attracting a community that you have the pleasure to ENGAGE them actively.
I would suggest that you read Jab Jab Right Hook By Gary Vaynerchuk and Read/Listen to the Thank You Economy as well, to help with marketing. Here is a link to a recorded keynote on youtube, that Gary did earlier this year.
This is the game time, you will need to take some funds from that marketing budget that you’ve allocated, and begin to make some content:
— Blog posts
Social media sites such as reddit, instagram, pinterest, facebook, twitter, digg, vine, snapchat give you different platforms to engage interested individuals and to provide quality content and build customer relationships.
You will find that this will be an ongoing job, but it is crucial in gathering the much needed traction, when launching your app.
Nearly Finished Development: Last Minute Changes/Early Adopter Stage
As you are almost done with the app, you need to start getting those early adopters that have shown interest to experience the app. let them know that its going to be rough, but getting some initial paid users willing to put up with the quirks rough version can help provide valuable feedback.
Take note of their comments, suggestions and complaints and constantly quantify their usage time. I’ve had the privilege of having close friends and relatives that were considered part of the target audience that my app was made for. This helped me to get some quality feedback in advance.
Nevertheless, don’t restrict your user testing pool to tightly. Having more paid users with different needs and expectations can broaden the scope of usage, and can help you to communicate value to potential customers in an impactful way.
During this stage, you will want to work on really improving your website landing page, and if you have an app that accesses your servers, you will want to make sure that the servers on your host can handle the potential app load once you get in tens of thousands of users.
You take these changes over to the developer and let them know after you've gotten solid feedback from your users. They’ll make the changes (on a per hour paid basis), and you’ll run the process of testing -> feedback -> iteration until the majority of the comments, have diminished to more of ratings than problems.
Once you are here, the developer can polish up the app for release.
NOTE: If you are planning to include advertising in the app, now would be the time to get your developer to add this in. If you have payment methods or in app billing now would be the time to add this in as well.
If you want analytics for your app, now is the time to add this in.
Have you developed or have polished your explainer copywriting for your app?
This should include a short elevator pitch, long description, and anything else that the end user should know about the app. You will need your copy for your multiple appstore submissions.
More Pre-Release Adopters
You will want to add in some new adopters into the mix, who have no experience with your app or it’s past problems, and judge their rankings and their comments to the current version. If more problems emerge, get them squashed out with the help of the app developer.
If they have cool ideas to implement into the app, put those “on ice” for the next version, unless this app is not able to sell without it or this apps value rises a good percentage over what would be gained by releasing as is. You could also put this out to a vote via poll for all your adopters (old and new).
This is the time that you want to hone your launch time and post launch time battle strategy for marketing and customer acquisition.
With all that you have learned about your app and about the people who are using your app, you should be able to strike the right tone with your target customer base.
You will also want to re-evaluate your selling goals, to more appropriately fit what your expectations are of launch time, and your profit expectations up to 3 months after launch date. Create your plans and strategies that you will use to make course corrections should your measurements be off. (Plan your budgeting accordingly.)
Once you release the app, its not time to move to an office. it’s still “lean jeans” time. You can upgrade from the futon when you app is Ramen Profitable. If you happen to surpass the expectations of your goals, and need more help or in-house staff this would also be a valid reason.
Submission to the App Websites:
- IOS Appstore
- Google Play
- Amazon App Store
- 1Mobile Market
- Opera App Market
Note: each marketplace has different payment schedules, and the google play and apple store have a cost of entry. ($99/year with apple store and $40 with Google Play)
Promotion for “Just Launched process may last you a few weeks” like a honeymoon.
Break out your App Store copywriting, and your app designs.
Create your Release announcement blog post and copy. You may want to post on the site blog and on medium.
Announce it to your early adopters (“letting our app into the wild/thanks”), people on your email list, or to your fans and followers on social media sites.
Make creative content that celebrates the opening, Release/Reshare the Call to Action Videos, that talk about your app.
Get your friends and family to share/like/favorite your links with their friends and family.
Submit your stuff to Hackernews, Product Hunt, Reddit Startups, and all the other startup & new app based websites. Announce your arrival on the scene to anyplace your niche audience hangs out online.
Now would be the time to begin the post-launch campaign with paid and non paid marketing, and advertising on social media.
If you have been reading and applying JJRH/Thank you economy, you should already know what you will need to do.
Get some PR, and start taking interviews. If you have more than one person working with you, try to schedule enough times to speak with people in the circle, and create content outside your brand with reputable people that will gateway back to your brand.
Engage on Social Media, while getting and managing early feedback from new paying buyers, answering questions and generally working the launch crowd.
You’ve Got Momentum: Keep It
After you’ve been through the “launching” period now it’s time to execute on your post-launch plan, which requires getting more users, analytics, creating more content and giving more engagement.
Your traction will be aided by the responsiveness to customer feedback and to the speed at which you are able to iterate changes if there are more problems with your app.
Make it easy for people to brag about your product and the culture that you company cultivates to their friends.
Traction can be an upward battle, but its keeping the momentum on the downward slope that determines the work that you will need to put in on the climb of the next “hill”.
EXPAND THE BRAND AND THE COMMUNITY:
Use your content to define your brand, but also create something physical that can be used as a talking point for your brand. Whether it be t-shirts sent to your core supporters, a free event, or random acts of gratitude to your group, letting your paid supporters know how much they mean to you goes a long way.
A Reputation of excellence as well as good management within the company is now your one of top priorities. I would suggest that you read the book called Entreleadership By Dave Ramsey, to help you get the “culture” established correctly from the top.
Don’t hire people to fill chairs. Hire people that share your vision, or those fill-ins will become the bottlenecks to your success.
The first few hires of your business, may end up being the people who will probably have stayed the longest with you or get promoted to a more experienced position later as your business grows.
Do you want the early staff that you are hiring to one day run part of the business or maybe even take your current role? If they are not a cultural/skill/aptitude fit for these positions, or are unwilling to be trained for them, then they should not be considered for any positions at your company.
When starting out with that core team, you will need to find people who can wear many hats, and work at their main task plus anything else that you guys may need to do at that moment.
Your Employees can also become your best customers. They are not only the people who help to make the product or service rock, but they can also become your biggest promoters. When people work at a lame job, they don’t promote it.
When people work in a great environment where they love what they do, they will often brag at how blessed and grateful they are to work with that business, and will oftentimes become a consumer of the product that their company produces.
The guide above does not explore all of the nuances of starting your own app business, but I hope that it helps you to better plan out your venture so that you have a better chance to succeed than to walk from a venture with alot of avoidable lessons learned the hard way.
If you would like to discuss anything mentioned above with me let me know.