There’s no feeling quite like seeing someone load up the app you made on their commute to work. But with so much competition, how can one person – sans a huge marketing budget – possibly stand out and have a hit? Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to that question. Instead then, let’s start with some of the things you definitely shouldn’t do when you’re getting started…
Become Jealously Protective Of Your Idea
Most people who want to start developing apps will have one ‘big idea’ initially. At some point, they get their ‘eureka’ moment and they just know that they’ve stumbled onto something that will make them rich and change the world!
Problem is, they don’t know how to program and they aren’t exactly great at using Photoshop or marketing themselves. In other words, they need help.
But this is where the catch22 comes in: how do you go about approaching people for help without the risk of them running off with your idea and making it for themselves? How do you avoid becoming the next Winklevoss story?
As a programmer myself, this is something I encounter regularly. People will often approach me to help them code their app but then refuse to tell me what the app is, or even what it involves.
In other words, no one wants to steal your idea.
How am I supposed to tell them whether I can help if they won’t tell me the nature of the project? How can I give them a rough quote or any advice? And if they have no experience with apps, why would I take time out of my day to meet them for coffee and sign an NDA?
Even some of my close friends refuse to tell me their app ideas for fear that I’ll steal them (I presume??). It’s rather insulting actually!
When it comes to app development, it’s genuinely the execution that trumps the idea. People you discuss your ideas with will either lack the technical know-how to steal them, or they’ll have their own projects on the go that they’re more passionate about (and likely halfway through development with). In other words, no one wants to steal your idea.
And in the rare case that they do? There’s nothing you can do to prevent them anyway – you’ll need to start talking about your app eventually! So your only real defence is to be the first and the best.
Play At “Business”
“Wantrepreneur” is a term that comes up a fair bit on business blogs at the moment. The portmanteau describes the kind of person who is more interested in looking like they run a business than they are in actually running one.
Arranging a meeting and getting someone to sign an NDA is a classic example of wantrepreneurialism.
This ties in with the last point. Arranging a meeting and getting someone to sign an NDA is a classic example of wantrepreneurialism (wantrepreneurmanship?). Don’t arrange an in-person meeting with someone unless it’s the fastest and most efficient way to exchange information. Of course face-to-face meetings are useful for networking and building relationships but this won’t always be relevant if you’re just reaching out to someone to see if they’ll make a sound effect for you. Under those circumstances, a meeting would just be a waste of everyone’s time.
Keep ‘communication overhead’ to a minimum and consider the ROI (Return On Investment) you’re offering to the people you work with. Don’t make them jump through hoops to do business with you, it’s frustrating and they’ll likely just move on.
Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with being friendly and jokey in e-mails. And don’t use the plural ‘we’ when you’re addressing people unless you actually have a team. It’s transparent and it can be a bit cringey…
Try To Design The Next Facebook
When my friends do tell me their big app ideas, I often still find myself rolling my eyes (maybe that’s why they don’t want to share?). As soon as someone tells me that they’re building a social network, or something that requires accounts and private messaging, I face-palm. Building a social network as an app is hard work. Not only do you create more complications by requiring a server and more stringent security measures but you also need to build a user-base of several hundred before your app will be at all appealing. No one wants to join a social network with 6 other people!
Go and take a look at the new streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat. Even these apps, which have been getting massive media attention for the last few months, feel somewhat barren and empty. Apps like these are just a massive undertaking and while it’s great to dream big, it doesn’t make any sense for your first project.
Want to start making money from apps? Then start with something simple.
Want to start making money from apps? Then start with something simple. One of my first apps was a keyboard, which was followed quickly by a slideshow of parkour images and later a word count utility (back when there weren’t any other apps that included that function). They weren’t ground breaking but they only took a couple of days to make in each case and they let me get something out there fast that I could begin earning and learning from.
If you have some grand vision for ‘changing the way we do business’, start with something smaller first and build up to it.
Avoid Taking The Path Of Least Resistance
Once you’ve chosen a simple app idea for your first project, the next step is to start making it. Now you’ll be presented with a lot of options: you can use an app builder, you can use Android Studio, you can use Basic4Android, you can use Corona…
All of these are tools and/or IDEs (Independent Development Environments) that facilitate the creation of your app’s code. If you’re creating a game meanwhile, you might choose to use Unity which streamlines the process by providing a ready-made engine and intuitive interface, while handling a lot of the physics and other code for you. Or you can always outsource the programming to a developer rather than handling everything yourself (more on this in a moment!).
So which is the best choice for building your app? That very much depends on the nature of the app, your time frame and your current level of expertise. But what’s key here is that you take the fastest and least complicated route. Don’t be a snob about tools that make things easier.
If you’re making a game for instance, then using Unity will save you a huge amount of time and the end result will be much more professional than if you’d done it all yourself. That’s because the physics engine in Unity has been created by a team of professionals and refined over several years – unless you can rival that amount of time and experience, then their physics engine will always be better than one you build. And seeing as it’s ready to ‘plug and play’, it really doesn’t make any sense to make life more difficult for yourself. Even using a simplified app builder is fine if your app only needs to convey information.
For those of you familiar with web design, this is the equivalent of building your own website from scratch versus using WordPress. WordPress, like Unity or certain app builders, will allow you to build something more professional in a fraction of the time.
You can find out more in our guide: I want to develop Android Apps – What languages should I learn?
Do Everything Yourself
Asking for help is also very important. Don’t try and make all the graphics yourself unless this is something you’re specifically good at. The same goes for the sound.
You can find good graphic designers on Fiverr, UpWork or Elance and again they’ll be able to make something much more professional in far less time. Focus on what you’re good at and let others handle the rest.
If you’re going to hire a developer though, then take extra measures to make sure they’re good at what they do before you commit. Ask to see samples of their work and look for someone local wherever possible so you can speed up the refinement process.
Skip The Validation Process
Even if you’re creating a small app in the easiest way possible, you’re still going to be investing a fair amount of time and/or money into its creation. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to start building until you know for sure that there’s a market out there for you (or until you’re as sure as you can be).
This is called ‘validating’ the idea – which essentially means getting proof that there is sufficient interest in what you’ve got planned to make the development worthwhile.
I knew someone who spent two years building an app, hired a legal team and even paid to trademark the name; only for the final product to sell about three copies…
Taking to Kickstarter is a fantastic way to validate an idea and to get funds for hiring coders and designers (though it still doesn’t guarantee success). Alternatively, you might take the ‘fail fast’ approach where you release your MVP (minimum viable product) to test the market before investing more time and effort to develop it further.
There are other strategies for validating an idea too: such as conducting surveys, asking around on forums, building a mailing list or looking for similar apps to yours to see how they’re performing.
Think as well about your ‘route to market’ and any contacts you may already have that you can work with. If you happen to know the editor of Gardening Weekly, then making an app aimed at gardeners might just be a smart move. I made one app with a very popular YouTube vlogger and that meant I could be fairly certain it would reach a large audience. With the risk mitigated, that allowed us to spend more time on the app prior to its initial launch.
In short, you need to consider how you’re going to sell your app before you create it and you mustn’t spend months and years building something unless you can be fairly sure it won’t flop. I knew someone who spent two years building an app, hired a legal team and even paid to trademark the name; only for the final product to sell about three copies…
As you might imagine, they rather quickly lost their enthusiasm for app development.
Conclusion: Keep It Simple!
If you’re building an app purely out of love/for the fun of it then you can disregard everything I just said. This article applies to those of you who want to start earning money from apps. If you’re looking to make this into a business so you can exit the rat race, or if you plan on supplementing your current income, then you should focus on ROI. That means assessing the risk against the potential profit to be made and it means finding ways to reduce your overheads – both financial and time-wise.
Try not to get carried away with app ideas that will change the world. You’re far more likely to make money from something simple and easy and there’s nothing wrong with that. For every Mark Zuckerberg, there are countless people who get rich from gardening apps or fancy calculators.
And the best part about this business model is that it’s highly repeatable. If the first app doesn’t make a splash, just rinse and repeat. It’s a lot of fun and you’ll learn as you go. If throw enough ideas at the wall – as long as they’re ideas you believe in – eventually something will stick!