"I have an idea for an app" - this statement can launch massive success stories or serve as party banter for wantrepreneurs. If you identify more with the former than the latter - the following will help you navigate the path from idea to app.
How do you take an idea for a mobile app and get it into the app store (and get users and make money and go viral and build a brand and sell the app and buy a yacht)? Starting a new project is exciting, and can be even more so with a good roadmap. Let's remove some of the mystery of what to do with a mobile app idea, and set you on your road to app success, or to ditching the idea for another. The process used here for mobile apps can apply to a wide variety of products and services, and the better you get at this process - the better you will be at evaluating future opportunities and ideas. Additional resources for product and service idea development include Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, 4 Steps to an Epiphany, The $100 Startup, The 7-day Startup, and many others. I selected these 4 because they share one common theme or emphasis:
Clearly define the idea and start testing it!
There are tons of stories about successful businesses that started as something else, and several directly related to mobile like Instagram. [caption id="attachment_993" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Instagram started as BURBN[/caption]
Understanding idea evaluation and risks, and recognizing every release is an opportunity to test something (a feature for example) and improve your mobile app puts you and your app idea closer to finding that elusive market fit. Ok - finally - let's get going - what's your idea?
1. Define Your Idea
Nothing set in stone here, just write it down. What is the app? What does it do? What problem does it solve? Who is it for? We will get to how it will make money (if at all), and how you plan to reach your target market later. For now - let's just get the basics down.
What it does, for whom, and why (the benefit to the whom)
Using this format - can you explain the mobile app idea clearly?
Yikes - sounds like a crazy app, but hey - I am walking the dog anyways - might as well meet someone while I am out. Regardless of the merit of my DogSpot app - that's the idea. Have more detail than just a watered-down value proposition? Go for it! Just remember - all of this is in pencil. We need to see what the market is currently responding to. Which takes us to...
2. Evaluate the Competition
One of the most common mistakes made by people unfamiliar with bringing new products to market is regarding existing solutions as a bad thing. Somewhat counterintuitive - competition can be a (very) good thing. If there is a successful or several successful mobile apps in the store, much of your market research has already been done. There is market demand for your proposed solution. Even better, the app stores have public ratings and reviews. You can go right into potential competitors' apps and see specifically what users are excited or complaining about. You may be able to deliver what users are looking for from other apps, or there may be a reason why no other publishers have been able to address the market's needs - but the market is telling you what it wants.
What makes your app different?
While competition can be a good sign, unless you have a large marketing budget, huge email list, or 1 million+ Twitter followers - your app idea should have something that differentiates it from the rest of the options. We can call this your Unique Selling Proposition (or USP), which basically answers the question:
With all of these choices - why download and use your mobile app?
Using the example above - let's say all of the dog-based dating apps (there are none) have the same issue with not enough users. Can we solve this problem and use the solution as our USP?
Could we integrate with Facebook and pull "friends of friends with dogs and single" as a way to show more available users?
Researching the competition
For our fictitious (?) dog-centered dates app "DogSpot" (working title), we would want to perform multiple searches in the app stores (focus on Google Play and Apple's App Store) for related terms.
Create a list of apps that are similar and that appear across searches.
With this list we can get an idea of how, where and if our app idea is potentially viable.
The main things to look for are:
- do any of the apps rank in the top 200 for their respective category? I am looking for dog-related apps in the "social networking" category.
Go to the app store > categories > select the most relevant category > top free apps (or paid or grossing).
- how many ratings and reviews do the apps have? None for latest version or very few overall is a bad sign. Look at the release date as the app could be brand new, explaining the low number of reviews.
Very rough rule of thumb - <1% of users will rate an app (closer to .1%). So 10 reviews all time could mean 1,000 downloads - at most.
Highlight the apps that pass the initial tests of ranking in a category or with 100's or 1,000's of ratings. We will look at the non-highlighted apps a bit later, for now we want to better understand the apps that the market is responding to.
At this point, you are further along than many/most with "the next great app idea". Being a realist, you have put your idea to the test by defining your app idea and looking at both if there is a market for your app, and if there are some basic ways your app idea is unique or different. The way you monetize and acquire users, and design can be enough of a differentiator to make a mark in the app store. Researching and deconstructing how the top apps on your list are making money is important for helping to define your apps monetization strategy, and potential areas for providing a better experience to users. The main things to look for include:
- is the app free or paid?
- does the app have in-app items?
- dow the app shows ads and what type and how often?
Types of ads include banners, interstitials, native, video and more.
- does the app sell products or service through a website with the app serving as a channel?
- how does the overall monetization strategy affect the user experience from your perspective?
This is often where app ideas are met with their fiercest test - can the app make money based on current market expectations? And if so, how do we reach this market? There are 100's of millions of apps downloaded daily, which is exciting. But without users we won't make any money... how do we plan to connect with our first thousand users?
4. Marketing Channels
How your app will make money is dependant on people actually finding, installing and using your app. The primary channels for mobile user acquisition are:
- app store traffic (position your app for discovery and conversion using app store optimization)
- web search traffic (via content marketing, and traditional SEO)
- market to your existing email lists
- promote to an existing social media base (followers, fans etc..)
- paid advertising - from app installs campaigns on Facebook and in other apps, to billboards.
The cost of acquiring a user from paid advertising is over $2.00 (per install). Until you have an app with proven market fit, a working monetization strategy and an app optimized for app store search, paying for installs should be used only for acquiring an initial set of users for generating data. If you currently have an organic pet food company, and your app idea is directly aligned (a recipe app with videos on how to make the recipes) or somewhat aligned (DogSpot Dating), you have an existing audience to market your app to. If not, building an audience from scratch can be a significant additional challenge. If your mobile app idea has passed the above "tests" - market demand, uniqueness, potential to monetize - you absolutely can build an audience and acquire users. Just know this is a challenge that requires significant effort and will not "solve itself" upon submitting to the app stores. A quick list before we move on to "building" your app - tools for building an audience include:
- reaching out to the press, thought leaders, review sites
- creating content (content marketing, from articles to videos to a podcast etc..)
- social media marketing
A good resource for evaluating the best channels for acquiring users is the book Traction. Our position is no matter what channel(s) you decide to target for user acquisition, an optimized app listing should be the first marketing activity as ASO and acquiring organic app store traffic generally drives the highest short and long-term ROI.
5. Validate with Ads
Lastly, since creating, designing, developing and marketing apps can be costly, limiting risk by being selective which app ideas we pursue has a big impact on the potential returns on our investments. It may be prudent to invest $500 in Google or Facebook ads targeting relevant search terms (Google) or an ultra-relevant audience (Facebook) to determine interest in your app idea prior to any additional investment of resources. This is as simple as creating a free, simple landing page describing your app. Use the value proposition and USP to clearly define what problem the app solves, for who and how. Offer a "Let me know when this app is available" call to action and collect emails. Track both clicks on the ad and emails collected, as both show interest. LaunchKit and Canva provide free and paid tools for creating a landing page and Facebook ads.
If you see "DogSpot - Dog-centered Dating" in the app stores, you will know the app went through the above process prior to any coding! And if it doesn't pass, I am now better equipped to find and evaluate other opportunities in the app store. Less risk, more upside and a better potential for a significant ROI. Check out our next post for those of you with app ideas but without programming skills!