Quick intro before we dive in. Hi, I’m Austin. I’m an app developer and I specialize in working with startups and founders and helping them turn their ideas into real apps on the app store. I recently took the leap from freelancer to “business owner” and created an app development agency called Strides and we’ve worked on 25+ projects and managed over $1,000,000 in development budgets. We help people like you take big STRIDES and help them execute. (Get it?)
I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to the app creation process.
There’s a burning question I want to talk about today: “What’s the difference in a successful app and an app that never gets launched, or launches and never gets any traction?”
I’m not talking about the “damn that’s a great idea for an app” ideas…
I’m talking about the founders and thinkers who don’t just have an idea about their APP, they have thought through how the app will be used, what success looks like, and what the real problem is that they are trying to solve.
The most successful products my team and I have worked on all had ideas that were thoroughly validated and envisioned.
Based on what I’ve seen work, this is my go-to advice when shaping your app idea. I’m gonna help you check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I am sharing this valuable information for slightly selfish reasons. I don’t want you to get stuck in common pitfalls because if your idea rules, I’d love to see you come through my door at Strides.
Thinking about your app in these terms can help you save money, time, and effort. Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid common issues and hiccups on your road to app store domination?
Ok, then keep the following in mind:
First things first, what does “scale” mean in the app development world?
It means making the application serve more users. Scalability is the capability of your app to manage an increasing number of customers, clients, and/or users.
As you shop around for developers, you’re going to hear this term a lot.
Developers will tell you “this doesn’t scale.”
You’ll hear over and over again (but now at least you’ll know what it means and why the developer is stressing).
Most developers will ONLY tell you to focus on ideas that are massively scalable — to focus on ideas that will solve a problem for MILLIONS of people.
Here’s my advice. Start WAY smaller and be obsessed with things that don’t scale.
Here’s what I mean by that. If you’re thinking a feature needs to scale to a billion users and you don’t even have a live app yet, you’re thinking way too big for this stage.
Here’s a better approach: Think about how you can instantly bring value to the first 200 to 500 people.
To determine if your app is scalable, to begin with, you need to be focusing on TESTING.
A smaller testing group provides more in-depth metrics, audience analysis, and an easier load for your new app to carry.
Scaling up too fast can set your fledgling app up for failure and slow you down.
Apps with overzealous and unrealistic scalability goals often miss the mark. They get more focused on vanity metrics like “total downloads” and they forget to obsess over what really matters… like how many people are using your app frequently.
Also, if you have your app in front of a few hundred loyal fans, it’s WAY easier to work through issues when they do come up.
Ever heard the saying, more users, more problems? It’s true.
It’s much easier to troubleshoot with 200 users versus 200,000.
Think about it this way...
Would you rather invite 50 people to a bad party and have them tell you exactly why it sucked so you can improve the vibe aka experience?
Or have a million people attend and forever brand you that party with the terrible music and long lines, never giving you a chance again.
Your app isn’t going to be perfect right out of the gate. There will be inherent weaknesses, performance issues, and features to iron out.
You don’t want a large group of users to expose you before you’re ready to respond. You brand yourself prematurely by putting your app in this position and this will affect your marketing down the line.
Be patient and don’t have scale as your top priority at this point in the game.
In the ideation phase, it’s critical to develop realistic goals for your project. By getting crystal clear on the overall goals and expectations, you stay on track and stay effective.
App development is an overwhelming endeavor if you don’t have a clear vision and a strategy.
(It’s also really annoying to your developer when they ask, “How many downloads are you shooting for” and you say, “MILLIONS.” Developers like concrete goals — “We are aiming for 20,000 app downloads in the first year with 4,000 people activating their trial.”)
One of the best side effects of goal setting and reviewing expectations is it helps you cultivate a realistic mindset. It makes it that much easier to prioritize your money, time, and effort when you’re clearheaded.
You’ll be empowered to plan and spend with purpose.
You can avoid making decisions that will dilute your idea by doing your homework first. Focus on the basics: goals and expectations.
Focus on answering the following questions:
And finally, after answering all of the questions above, what’s your elevator pitch?
From my experience, you can tell someone has really thought about their idea if they can pitch it quickly:
“I’ve got this idea. It does X,Y, and Z —I just need to get it built. I’ve got between 2,000 to 5,000 people who are ready to download on day one and start testing.”
“I’m building an app that solves this problem. The target market is North America, an estimated 579 million — we hope to catch 10% of the population. With a monthly subscription of $5.99, we’ll make X amount by 2022.”
Two very different pictures right? But both are clear and specific. Personally, I’d never take on anyone as a client if they pitch their product without a clear objective and goal.
Clients without clear goals tend to be impossible to please and very frustrating to work with.
Top development teams like mine only want to work with ideators who have clear vision.
If you can’t clearly communicate your goals and expectations, you are not ready to create and collaborate.
Remember, clarity strengthens strategy.
I’ve worked with a lot of clients over the years and I’d consider this particular conversation a pet peeve of mine as a developer.
The conversation sounds like this, “Hey, I was using the app the other day and I don’t like this feature. Let’s redesign the entire feature to X.”
I usually look back at this person with a blank stare and the fire of a thousands sun burning behind my seemingly bored retinas.
Here’s why this request elicits totally annoyance/silent fury from me, and all other developers who are too nice to be real with you.
If you want to be the creator of an app, you have to get your ego out of the way. It’s no longer about YOU, it’s about serving your users.
I always respond with a deliberate question when this comes up.
“Is this coming from just you or is it coming from the 10,000 users you have?”
I know this is a tough pill to swallow as an innovator. Typically, we are inspired to create apps because we’re solving a problem we’ve experienced ourselves.
But here’s the thing, once that app is out in the world it’s simply not just about you anymore. It’s an offering to your users. And now your app’s features and functionalities are on their collective plate — your personal opinion is just one of many opinions and doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
Don’t send it back to the chef without a good reason — “I surveyed 300 of our most active customers and they all identified that this process was too confusing.”
AH. Ok got it. Yeah let’s fix it.
So ask yourself, why is the app important to my users? At a certain point, we all get too close to our projects to remain entirely objective. This is life! It may sting at first but unless a client can back a user experience to a request like this — its polluting the process.
For an app to be successful and accessible it needs to provide consistent and instant value.
It all boils down to one truth, if this is not something that is not going to bring value to me every single day, I am not going to have it on my phone.
Real problems that drive people to seek at hand solutions occur weekly or daily.
An app that taps into a weekly routine or real world everyday problem is instantly valuable.
A prime example of this is the Day One journaling app. Day One is one of the biggest apps in Utah.
People love to journal but a lot of times they don’t have their journal handy, or don’t want to physically hand write a journal entry.
Journaling can be inaccessible and inconvenient. But that’s where Day One swoops in. By offering a secure mobile process with templates, prompts, and notifications they’ve made it insanely easy.
Are you sold just reading that? Yeah me too, it's a really good idea.
A lot of people want to have a very unique product, one that outshines the rest. I understand that, it’s your little baby and you want it to be different and cooler than everyone else’s.
Here’s the issue with this, if you are building something completely different than ALL the other apps out there, nobody is going to know how to use your product.
You still want an app that is recognizable. It must be somewhat familiar to be marketable and user friendly.
Take your web browser for example — You may prefer chrome to safari but isn’t the navigation comfortably similar?
Users don’t want to deal with a considerable learning curve, or features that aren’t intuitive.
You can avoid this pitfall by doing your research and keeping it simple when it comes to features.
Go into other apps offering a similar solution and review the app store’s most popular apps.
Take solid notes. Take lots of screenshots. USE the apps. Pay for the premium features. Pull concepts, aesthetics, functionalities, and features from big-time products so that way your user base is already accustomed to your app when they download.
Cut your work in half and pay homage to the shiny wheels the world loves already.
If you’re trying to build the next million-dollar feature, you’re probably trying too hard.
A lot of the time, apps can be over-engineered which really means they’re overcomplicated.
I actually experienced this recently with an app I am working on. The client had spent his whole life on this one app, diving into code and every angle of its design, and function. His app was clearly his passion, which I can 100% respect, but it had taken on a life of its own. And for whatever reason, things had gotten overcomplicated and out of control.
Everybody was trying too hard to do something groundbreaking and it actually just led this app to never get OFF the ground.
I didn’t understand what these engineers were thinking. It was obvious they could have simplified code, and saved a ton of money and time in the process.
It also would have made it easier for future developers like me to work on their app and pick up where they left off.
You want to make sure to distill your idea into its simplest form and build that. By sticking to a solid feature rather than an unknown, you can get a feel for if users like it and if it’s worth investing more into it.
When you gain that insight you make more informed decisions regarding expansion and its way less risky.
All successful apps start with a foundation — features provide that. Don’t try so hard you lose sight of your end goal.
What is a unique use case?
It’s essentially a description of how a person uses a process or system to accomplish a goal.
What makes a use case unique or effective?
For example, sign in with Apple — It’s the easiest way to sign in to any app but a lot of apps don’t have it which is a missed opportunity.
Take advantage of those easy wins. Find things that are working for other apps and if it makes sense for you to incorporate it into your design. Make sure you’re staying caught up with the latest and greatest things as much as you can.
This is an area that you want to work with an expert — don’t try to go it on your own.
A lot of common problems new app ideators face can be solved by strategizing on your overall development roadmap and strategy BEFORE you start writing code or paying someone to write code.
Simply talking it out and sharing your vision with an app architect like myself can help bring to light issues or possible product pivots before you get into a production stage or commit to anything costly.
Discover the kinks in your app BEFORE it goes into your actual code. You’ve gotta make sure your idea works before you hire others to get to work for you.
I want to see more brilliant app ideas coming through my doors so I’m always open to chat.
If after reading this article, you have put some more clarity around your idea and your main features, click this link to get on my calendar and let’s hash it out.
Best of luck in building!
Have an amazing idea for an app, but not sure how to get it made? Let’s compare the top 7 strategies for app development in 2021!
Are you curious about the difference between web apps and native apps? Here’s what developers should know about each type.