Being in the software industry, I sometimes feel I get a glimpse of what it must be like to be a doctor. Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living it is almost always followed by a question like “oh great, I’ve got an idea for building an app, can you make it for me?” Just as a doctor is often asked “I have this thingy on my whats-it, can you have a quick look for me?” Everyone has an idea for an app, and everyone thinks it must be pretty straight forward to turn it into a cash cow, but the truth is it takes so much more to build a successful app than just the initial idea.
“Having a vision for what you want is not enough. Vision without execution is hallucination.”Thomas A. Edison
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SAS has been developing B2B and B2C apps for over 20 years and during that time we have helped dozens of founders launch their ideas into great products. Inevitably some have also failed. Here are some of my favourite words of advice that I like to impart to expectant founders before they start.
1. Building an app is much harder than you think
Sorry, there’s no easy way to say this, building an app, and making it into a product, is REALLY hard. There are no easy options, no shortcuts, and no money falling from the sky. Creating a great software product takes bucket loads of blood, sweat, tears, money, time and often a bit of luck!
Everyone’s heard of Angry Birds, the overnight hit game that many believe Jaakko Lisalo and his fellow founders at Rovio simply came up with one day. Wrong! The sketches that Jaakko made one evening whilst his wife was out, were for the last-ditch attempt to get a hit before they gave up and closed down the almost bankrupt company. Angry Birds was Rovio’s first hit but it was actually their 52nd game and all the others had flopped. You will need a lot of grit and determination to turn your idea into a product, but don’t let that put you off, it can also be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.
2. Know your market – and your route to it
This is basic stuff but it is often overlooked and can also be very difficult to determine. To work out your pricing and return on investment, you will need to have some idea of the size of your market and how you will reach out to it. Again, you cannot take a “build it and they will come” attitude because it will end in failure. Any potential investor will want to drill into this information in fine detail so make sure you have a good story to tell. And before they commit to building an app with you. B2B markets tend to be easier to establish than B2C markets simply because the data is more readily available.
For example, consider the following facts about the Apple App Store:
- There are around 1.8 million apps on the Apple App Store
- On average there were almost 2,500 apps added every single day in the first half of 2019
- 500 million people visit the App Store every week and yet a staggering 84% of the apps on the platform have no star ratings at all.
If you are thinking of launching a mobile app, you had better have a plan for how you will promote it, otherwise yours could become one of the thousands of apps in the App Store that have never even been downloaded.
3. Know your customer
This is vital, but it is surprising how many clients approach us with ideas for applications without really understanding who their audience actually is. Sometimes founders might have a really good grasp of the application’s features and what problems it is designed to solve but have completely overlooked some key attributes of their customers.
Are your potential customers going to log onto a desktop computer to access the amazing dashboard you’ve designed, or would it be more useful if they could see it on their phone while on the go? Think about where and when your audience is going to use the app and any special considerations that might require.
Do not be tempted to think you have created the next big thing and if you build it the customers will come running, because they won’t. If you are designing a solution without talking to your target customers it will almost certainly fail, so save yourself a lot of time, money and stress by engaging directly with your customers and really getting to know them.
4. Have a clear business model
We engage with founders and business leaders all the time who have a very clear view on what their application should do but often have no idea how they are going to monetise it. This is critically important and often a very difficult challenge for new businesses. You will need to think about the pain that the product solves and what people would be prepared to pay for it. You don’t want to undervalue your product and give it away but equally you don’t want to put people off. You should (see previous point) know your customers better than anyone, so you should be able to have open conversations with them about the cost of the product.
Will you be offering your product as a one-off purchase or will you use a subscription model? Perhaps your product will be free to the end user but you will earn money through advertising or lead generation. Perhaps you will give it away in order to apply charges on transactions that are conducted on your platform. You might apply volume based or per user pricing.
Remember to think carefully about your costs, not just the investment in your product but also the hosting costs (if applicable), any on-boarding costs, and ongoing support and marketing costs. Will you provide free telephone support or will you implement web chat for free but charge a premium for your telephone support services? There are lots of different models out there and finding the right one for your app is sometimes tricky, so make sure you have a clear model before you start and be prepared to defend it when challenged.
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