So you have an app idea, eh?
“Ideas are cheap, execution is everything,” says Lowercase Capital founder Chris Sacca. A lot of people have ideas. They’re not very valuable on their own. Ideas are fragile and often are just unactualized seeds to what they might become.
A lot of people are very inspired by their ideas and energized by them. Which is great, because no product starts fully realized. They all start as ideas. But no matter how well-intentioned the idea or the person, sharing ideas becomes a grey area. Some people are abundant with ideas and generous with sharing and feedback. Others aren’t.
As a product maker, I’ve been approached by many different types of people with ideas. I’m generalizing obviously, but these are the types of traps I see people generally falling into:
- The idea chaser: This person is clearly extremely passionate about their ideas, but they never seem to execute on anything. They suffer from what I like to call, ‘idea-itis’. Every time you see them, they’re swept up in a new type of idea, one more grandiose than the previous. They chase ideas endlessly. Unfortunately for them, the excitement that comes with new ideas is not where value is generated. Bringing ideas to reality is valuable, and this unsexy activity requires rigorous, and sometimes tedious, execution.
2. The hoarder: These people are probably brilliant, but have a phobia of people stealing ideas. They’re always in stealth-mode or working on a secret project, and demand that you sign an NDA whenever you talk with them. Look, NDAs are pretty standard, but I’m not going to sign one to get coffee with you. Tell me at a high level what it’s about, or don’t. I’m not going to steal your idea — after all, I have a ton of my own that I’m very excited about.
3. The giver with strings: This person’s ideas always come with strings. They might tell you about an idea, and then say, “If you make this thing, I want 10%.” This type of “generosity” stems from the same mistrust and fear that makes the hoarder force people into NDAs. They “share” their ideas in the hope that someone else will do the hard work of execution, and somehow magically bestow 10% of the value on them.
You’ve probably come across at least one or two of these types of characters. If you make apps or software, you’ve probably heard some variation of these stories.
I want to emphasize that you do not want to be one of these people. Instead, you should critically evaluate your own idea. Try to focus on the problem and the people facing the problem. The insights that come from that focused level of thinking will be at the heart of your ideas and, eventually, your product.
I’ve gotten extremely curious about these types of makers, and I want to suggest a new way of supporting them. Some people might find them annoying, but I find them very human, which I appreciate. I want to introduce this new concept:
Enter the app therapist
Despite how annoying they can be, everyone who shares an idea with you is extremely passionate about their ideas. So while someone might steamroll you with their idea, hand you an NDA to sign, or pressure you to give them 10%, it’s not with malicious intent. And we never intend to shoot down people’s dreams. However, we want to help all of them make better products.
This might sound a little corny, but we want to start an initiative. We want to become app therapists:
The goal of app therapists is to provide you some guidance on your product journey.
So, if you have an app idea, let’s talk! #apptherapy
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people building mobile products for their companies. I’ve found out that there are a few important standard questions to ensure they’ve done their homework. If you’re thinking of building a product, here are some important questions to ask yourself:
1. Why do you want to make an app and what’s your goal?
Would you prefer to explore and better understand mobile, or are you looking to make a business out of this idea and earn revenue? Or are you trying to grow your user base and are marketing metrics most important to you?
- Looking to learn?
- Leads (or some type of funnel)?
- Users? Reach?
Once you figure out your goal…
2. What problems are you trying to solve, and for whom?
- How is it being solved currently?
- Who is your target market?
- A grand vision is great, but how can you start small?
3a. Market research: What market/category are you competing in?
- What’s the potential size of your market?
- What are some viable businesses in this market? Who is #1 and #2 right now?
- What trends or waves are relevant today, and in the near future?
- What do you know that others don’t know?
- Why you? What do you bring to the table? (This is related to your differentiator.)
3b. Competitive research: How is your solution different and better?
In order to differentiate and make your app unique, you have to know who your competition is.
- Who is the competition?
- What does the landscape of your app look like?
- What do you bring to the table that’s different, how do you differentiate?
- What’s your competitive advantage?
- How will you 10x the competition?
- If your idea has been done before, how are you going to remix it?
4. Validate your idea.
When you first explained Twitter to someone, they probably laughed and thought it was a stupid idea. Who would actually want to write in under 140 characters?!
We don’t claim to know the future, but the best way to test any type of idea is to build a low-investment version of it. Use design sprints to prototype an idea, get feedback, and iterate on it.
Think about your app like a scientist would. Stop being a dreamer, get your lab coat on, and start applying your idea to the real world. Think of the research question your app is answering, what your hypothesis is, and how that applies to your app. Write down notes based on your observations and optimize your efforts for learning.
Your app should start out, and continue, as a conversation. Don’t fall in love with your ideas, because they’re just assumptions. Validate it and make sure you keep iterating.
These questions sound pretty straightforward, but most people don’t know this information by default. I tell them to go do their homework and come back with more research, but 85% of people don’t! They leave and their idea fizzles.