Many dreams to build an app.
The reason is there is a perception that apps make a lot of money.
When apple or android introduced the app/play store, every single app launched made a lot of money.
Even after so many years, we still see apps like Pokemon, WhatsApp, Instagram or Snapchat. Showing growth trend, that astonishes any traditional business.
With this trend, people tend to jump into creating the next big selling app.
I did that too.
Here are the lessons I learned from building few apps. I did not make it big like WhatsApp but still, it was not a total failure either.
Some of these apps still earn me money without me doing anything.
My very first app was not like that. It failed miserably.
Mainly, because I failed to learn the basics and understood how it all works.
The mistake many do, including me
In simple term, you get an interesting idea. Either you sit down and write the code yourself or find a developer to develop it for you.
Once the app is ready you come up with a random price. Worst case, launch a free app by following the pattern of high grossing apps.
Launch it and pray that it will make it big.
After few weeks you realize no one downloads the app.
Curse your idea and give up.
But How it really works?
The idea is important, but it does not have to be an innovative or revolutionary idea.
The best way to come up with idea is to find an existing product or service and improve on it.
Coming up with totally new idea that no one has implemented is risky.
Because of 2 reasons.
- Maybe no one wants it or
- It’s hard to educate a new idea if people have not already seen it
For example, Google, or Facebook was not a brand new idea, these services existed before. These companies just took the idea and made it better and more importantly made it super simple to use.
Simple is viral
When you come with an idea, make sure the end product is super simple to explain and use.
You should be able to explain the app in few words.
If you tend to explain it to someone, you should be able to define all the features within 30 seconds.
Remember, people have less attention span. The simpler it is they would be able to understand and tell their friends easily.
Super casual business plan
Create a plan that is simple and easy to track.
Having a plan is an absolute must.
If you fail to plan then you’re planning to fail.
I am not talking about writing a 100 page in detail plan that would take 6 months to build.
Create a simple yet detailed plan, that you can put together in few hours.
The plan should talk about the product description, goals and revenue model.
Also, a leave some placeholder to track your expenses and profits after launch.
You can never imagine the importance until you see the results. You will thank me later.
Track the progress
The reason I recommend a plan is, it is easy for you to track your progress as well.
Often this is where people get distracted and derail from the original mission.
For me, when I started building the first product. I would get a ton of other ideas while building the app and would keep adding features along the way.
At the end, the product became super complex. The app ended up having too many features and no one understood the core problem it solved.
We don’t want that. One product should solve one problem only. If you are thinking more than one, then keep a note of it and launch different apps later.
The focus is key to success and the business plan would get you stay in focus.
Building the product
The biggest mistake most of the tech guys like me would do is, attempt to build the product on their own.
Even if you are fully qualified, I would recommend to build a team and have people do it for you.
As a business owner, you have many other things to take care than building the application.
If the development is outsourced, then you can focus your time on other activities. That would help expose your products to many people.
The second part is getting obsessed with technology.
iPhone app vs web app vs android.
None of these matters, all that matters most is the problem it solves.
People are interested to see the solution. They are least bothered about the fancy technology behind it.
Start with something that can be quickly shipped to the market. Technology should help you to speed up the process of building the product not hold you back.
Reviews and feedback
Even if the product is half-baked, launch it to get feedback from your customers. Based on the feedback, keep improving the product until you see a lot of positive comments from users.
At the same time, don’t launch a product that is totally not usable, with bugs and downtime. That could be detrimental and can never be recovered.
If the product gets a low rating in the beginning because of features or has low user acquisition rate. The product might not worth the effort to proceed further.
Kill it and move on to the next idea.
If the product gets good reviews ask the customers on what they would like to see more in the product.
Use these feedback to grow your product into something big.
Beta testing or MVP
The term beta testing is used by companies as an excuse to the customer for any kind of issues in the app.
The app could be launched as a minimum viable product or a full blown product too.
You can use this strategy to launch a beta version of the app. Collect the data about the usage, pricing and other details to improve the product.
Depending on the depth of the application you can choose to launch beta or not.
If you are almost certain about the business model, pricing, and product features.
Skip the beta testing.
Be prepared for growth
Keep in mind, even if you have a rock solid product at the first attempt.
You are required to change the app based on the trend, customer feedback and changes in technology.
The technology landscape changes so often, you would need to update the app often.
In order to meet the demands, you need to have a team to support the changes and push the updates to the customers.
Also, when it comes to growth. Be prepared for a viral effect. If your app hits top 100 charts, you should be ready for scaling the infrastructure to support the growth.
Investment for longer term
Once again this is where your business plan would come in handy.
Usually, when you budget for your app, many of us only consider the initial cost of developing.
The reality is the initial cost is only a small percentage of the total investment.
You should also account for operation cost, advertisements, and support. Along with that plan for the growth as well.
Most of us especially the first time developers are more focused on the current product. Often forget to plan for the growth if the product is successful.
A popular app would need lot more resources to run, need people to support and backup from media to keep it going.
Be prepared for it. Even if you don’t have all the resources up front, have some guidelines to help if the app goes viral.
A most difficult aspect of a business is pricing. Pricing impacts the current and future of your business.
In the modern world, you see a lot of free apps and for beginners, they don’t understand how these free apps make money.
Many of us fall into the trap of creating a free app and think of monetizing it later.
What we need to understand is the free apps are leads for a paid services or product.
Free vs Paid apps
Free apps attract users and make them sign up with their details. You use these details to up-sell related product, services or ads.
When I say ads, it is not the display ads that we list. They do make money but not a lot.
Unless you are super popular and negotiate ads on bulk, you cannot make a significant income from ads.
The best approach is freemium. This means offer your app for free and make users upgrade to premium features or services.
Also, don’t forget to track the conversion rate. For a number of free users see how many are converting to paid ones.
If the number is low, add more features to premium or make a popular free feature as paid one.
When making changes to apps don’t be afraid to lose some customers. It happens and you are shooting for longer time growth, not short wins.
Pricing for premium can be easily done by asking the customers themselves.
Pick the customers who use your app regularly and conduct a survey.
In apps marketplace, it is not easy to talk to the customer.
Moreover, since the app is sold through a marketplace. It is also hard to collect their contact information to reach them.
The only way is to open conversation in the comment section in the app store.
The other way is to have an opt-in page in the app itself. Encourage your customers to sign in by offering a free upgrade or some incentives.
At the end each month, calculate your revenue and profit. You need to make enough money for growth and downtime as well.
If something changes in your business and the sales go down. You need to have enough money reserves to support the downtime. This buffer will give you time to make changes and bring back the sales.
The key for any app to succeed is marketing. Without putting your product in front of the right audience, nothing will happen. Even if your product is gold.
Do not to forget the technical aspect. The first app I launched did not have any optimization. Even after few years they don’t rank well and have the exposure. Whereas the other apps that were optimized had significant growth in a short period of time.
Optimizing for search is crucial to get free traffic. You need to optimize your app for both SEO (search engine optimization) and ASO (App store optimization).
A well-optimized app will drive a ton of free traffic to the app.
You need to network with people in the same niche. They not only exchange ideas but also help to promote your app.
Also remember the more you network the longer you will sustain in the business. They help you to be motivated and progress.
Networking with people in the same domain is important. It helps in getting ideas validated, for initial push and pricing the product.
Even though you are building something on the internet. Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.
People are powerful and spread the news much faster than any other media.
Ask your friends and family to help spread it. Also, don’t forget to use your local networks to mention about your app.
I almost forgot about social media. With the latest changes in the way, social media is operating. They have become an advertisement platform for business.
Unlike 5 years back where you could get free exposure on your products and services in social media. But now have to pay for the same level of exposure.
If you have an aggressive budget for advertisement go for it. It works well for advertisers.
Even if you are not planning for ads in social media, don’t forget to share your app. But don’t rely completely on it.
Apps are still one of the popular platforms to build many businesses. They will continue to grow as more people adopt smartphones. Lately, they have become more competitive and making it hard to succeed.
If you have a solid idea and a good plan you could still make it big.