So You Want to Build an App…

You had an idea: Good for you! Never mind that there are already a thousand variations of exactly what you want to do—your idea is slightly different! It’s sure to catch on because fill in the blank.

Well hold your horses, cowboy! Before you go running off to your nearest Eastern European outsourcing company, there are a few things you need to do.

Let’s take a walk together:

Market Research: What’s that you say? You’ve got no marketing experience? Oh…you’re just the guy with the idea? This is wake up No. 1: You need to find your competitors and substitutes, analyze them, and consider the viability of your product idea, or figure out a way to make your idea, if not better, at least more popular than the other guy’s.

It’s OK to not be unique, in fact it’s very difficult to be original in the world of decentralized development, but how will you make people switch to your product from what they’re already using? How will you steer them from your competitors and draw them into your app?

Do you even know what you want? What problem is your app solving? How do you plan to “hack” it? Having an app “just like Facebook,” unfortunately is not solving a problem, because Facebook already exists. Granted, if you’ve got the money and you’re willing to spend it—any company will make a “Headbook” for you… or a “Legbook…” pretty much any kind of book. But you may end up hitching your wagon to a horse with no legs.

If you don’t know what you want, how can the app development company know? Having drawn upon market research of your competitors, and having answered the question about the problem you want your app to solve, you should get a pretty good feel for what your end-goal is. You can start to feel out the road that you’ll be taking to the finished product.

Do you have a budget? It may not be every day, but it happens often enough that it’s become a bit of a running joke: A potential client phones us up and says: “I want to build an app exactly like Twitter, but I’ve only got about $1,000 dollars.” Can you hear the crickets? It’s kind of an awkward conversation.

Do you know how much you’ll need? Do you even know how software development businesses bill? Have you accounted for the price of marketing and advertising? Unexpected delays in development and the dreaded feature creep?

Of course you haven’t, you Hun! Think about this: you’re paying a company ~$50.00/hour to build your app. Three guys have a meeting for one hour to discuss your app. That meeting cost you $150.00. That’s the way it works: you’re paying for man-hours and you’re renting a team. But here’s the good news: you can trim a lot of those extra hours if you already have the first two points figured out! Just be prepared: estimates are rarely realized on the low-end, bugs happen in every software, and delays pop-up like sales at Walmart.

When allotting your budget, understand that the amount you’re willing and able to spend is directly proportional to the speed required to finish the project and the quality of the final product.

Do you have a strategy? Have you ever played Fool’s Mate? It’s like chess—but it’s when you get checkmated in about three moves. It’s because you didn’t have a strategy; the other guy saw it and pulled out one of the oldest plays in the book, set you up and took you down before you even knew the game had started.

When you want to develop a mobile application, you need to know what you’re going to do to get it off the ground, and most importantly: what are you NOT going to do?

How much magic is involved? Flappy Bird took a weekend to build and has been earning its owner approximately $50k a day. Angry Birds gained millions of users almost overnight, and WhatsApp got bought for $19 Billion. Which one do you plan to be? Hopefully none of them: for every story you hear similar to these, there are about 5000 startups that crashed and burned. So how do you expect your idea to catch on? What is the size of your market? Do you understand what kind of audience you’re trying to reach and more importantly, how to reach them?

If you don’t have answers to these questions, (and worse: if you haven’t asked these questions at all) then you may face far more than a rude awakening. While 5-7 years ago you may have survived on the App Store without a strategy, those lucky days are over and you’ll probably lose your investment. Back then the App Store was just finding its feet, now everyone is in the game and you need to understand that your idea is not unique—so you need to know precisely how you’re going to tackle and dominate your niche market. So get crackin’!