In today’s digital age of quickly evolving technology, new app ideas are a dime a dozen. You may have come up with one yourself at some point, by devising a solution to a problem you’ve experienced as a consumer. But where do you go from there? Does it merely stay an idea, or does it develop into an actual product and become the next viral phenomenon in tech?
We work with entrepreneurs to convert their thoughts into viable products. From our years of experience, we’ve developed a list of 10 steps you can take to convert your thoughts into a viable business model you can execute on.
#1: Conduct Market Research
Before you spend a substantial amount of time (and money) planning or building out your idea, you must have a thorough understanding of what the current market looks like for your particular vertical. There may be already something out there similar to what you’re thinking of. That’s okay – by no means does that mean you can’t proceed with building something yourself. Oftentimes, industries with just one or two players offer the most ripe opportunities for entry. As you identify potential competitors in the market, you should notate key data points in the form of a table, including: what they do and how they do it, what they do well and what they don’t do well, and what opportunities they’re failing to capture. As you develop this table, you’ll identify opportunities or gaps in the market, which will later help to develop your competitive advantage, particular niche, and unique selling proposition (USP).
#2: Develop a Business Model and Monetization Strategy
For a product and business to be successful and viable, it has to be able to create revenue streams. How is your app idea going to make money to cover the overhead costs and generate a return on investment for you or a potential investor? Are you going to charge a fee for the transactions that are placed through your platform (Uber/Lyft), have users pay for a subscription with premium features (Pandora/Spotify), offer in-app purchases (Candy Crush), or sell ad space and user data (Facebook/Instagram)? It’s important to understand and pick a business model that resonates with your customer base and leverages user activity into dollars for your business.
#3: Identify Your Target Demographics and Users
One of the most important processes in the success of any product is identifying your target demographic: the ideal person who would use your app, and their typical use-cases. You can define this with one or more quantitative or qualitative variables. Ask and answer the following questions about your users:
- How old are they, are they in a particular age range? (Age)
- Are they male or female, or does it not matter? (Gender)
- Are they located in a certain part of the world, or live in a particular city/state/country? (Location)
- Do they belong to a specific racial background or follow a certain faith? (Ethnicity, Religion)
- Do your users typically have a certain income level, academic background, profession, etc.? (Income, Education, Employment)
Knowing these parameters about your target user allows you to better and more efficiently get in front of them, understand what they want and need, and in turn design/build your product to better cater to them. Having ongoing user engagement will also allow you to continuously receive feedback and improve through the many iterations of your product’s life cycle. This will ultimately have a huge impact on the long-term success of your product, so it’s important you do this early on in the process.
#4: Create a List of Features
The fundamental question about your app: What does it do, and what will people use it for? The best way to answer this is by creating a list of bullet points. This can be done in a Word document or even on a piece of paper. The list will change and evolve, and certain parts may be prioritized at different stages. The important thing is that you can identify the fundamental purpose of your idea and determine how it will carry out that purpose in the form of individual features. Your list should be clear and easy to understand for a potential co-founder, investor, developer, or user reading it.
#5: Create Sketches and Wireframes
Once you’ve identified what your app will do, how it will make money, and who it will be targeted toward, you can start thinking about how it will look and feel with these things in mind. There are a few ways to go about this, depending on your artistic and technical skills. You can create very basic sketches with paper and pencil, or play around with Adobe XD or other software. You don’t need to have technical or coding skills for this part, but you should have a basic understanding of the different pages and components your app will have to properly map out the placement of these pieces and navigation between them. If you have a very specific vision in mind, you can always hire someone to develop the wireframes for you. The sketches and wireframes, along with the features list you created in Step #4, together will serve as a great starting point and specifications for you to have your mobile app built.
#6: Contact Developers and Get Cost Estimates
After you’ve developed the initial list of features and wireframes for your application, you can start to approach developers to build it out for you. Depending on your personal network, you can reach out to friends and family, or contact individual freelancers and software agencies. Based on who you talk to, how they operate, and how interested they are in your idea, they may quote you in one of the following models:
- Sweat Equity: Rather than being compensated in the form of money, developers may opt to be paid in the form of equity in the company you are building, in exchange for their labor. This option is most likely if you’re working with family/friends or individual freelance developers who believe in you and the idea, as most agencies will avoid the risk associated with building a company from the ground-up.
- Hourly Costing: In this option, a developer or team will give you an estimate of the number of hours they believe it will take to build your project, along with a fixed hourly rate. This will give you a rough estimate of the total cost of your project, but you run the risk of going beyond the estimated hours and budget if your developer cannot maintain the timeline. This option is most common for individual freelancers and smaller teams of 2-4 people.
- Fixed Project-Based Costing: In this pricing format, the developer will give you a fixed price to build the entire project. The advantage in this model is that you have your total cost locked in and know exactly how much you are going to pay, but you may need to be flexible in terms of a timeline for the project or the scope of work covered.
- Monthly Costing: Some developer teams will opt to go on a monthly retainer option, where they charge you a fixed amount each month for the duration of the project and is most commonly used by medium-to-large-sized agencies who will assign a dedicated team to your project. With an open-ended timeline, you will need to be proactively engaged with your team and provide them with ongoing tasks and features to work on to ensure your money is being efficiently utilized. This model is a great alternative or transition to hiring your own internal tech team, especially if you have a flexible budget and plan on working with the team for a year or more.
Regardless of who you work with or the pricing model you use, it’s always a good idea to get bids from multiple vendors and compare them to determine which is the best option for you. When speaking with vendors, ask or look for a portfolio of previous projects they’ve worked on, or testimonials from previous clients. Make sure that the developers ask lots of questions and have a thorough understanding of your idea and the scope of work involved so that they can provide an accurate estimate of the time and money required.
#7: Finalize Your UI/UX
Once you’ve selected a developer or team to work with, the actual fun part (and hard work) begins. The first phase of building out your application doesn’t actually involve any coding but instead focuses on flushing out the design and UI/UX (user interface and user experience), to create a blueprint and plan for development. At this stage, you will decide on themes, colors, fonts, and an overall aesthetic your app will adopt. After this step, you should have mock-ups that will give you a (nearly) final visualization of the finished product, without being able to actually complete any of the functions. This phase may take an extensive period of time, and involve lots of back-and-forth discussions with your team, but will ultimately save a lot of time in the long-run. Having a finalized design, which will serve as the foundation of development, is critical in accurately assessing the timeline and costing and will prevent missteps and delays in the project later on.
#8: Start Development and Testing
After you’ve finalized your design, your developer(s) will start on the actual coding of the front-end (user-facing) and back-end (database and admin) to bring the app to life. This is where the bulk of the work will take place, and will require constant feedback from you as a stakeholder. Your developers should be sending you weekly updates and deliverables in the form of the app build that you can test and provide feedback on, and you should be able to track the progress of the project over time. In the process of development and testing, you will undoubtedly find bugs and realize new features that you may not have thought of before. Consult with your developer team and prioritize the items which need to be addressed immediately and those which can be completed later on. Involving your family and friends to test the app can also help get feedback and insights from a different perspective. At a later stage of development, you can also conduct a beta test, by releasing the product to a limited group of people in a controlled environment before launching to the general public.
#9: Launch and Market Your Product
When your mobile app is ready to be used by the general public, you can launch it in the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. But, simply having an app available on the market is not enough; for you to gain traction and momentum, you need people to actually download and use it. This is especially critical if your software is dependent on early users to adopt it and interact with one another (like a social network or marketplace). There are multiple ways to go about marketing your product. You can start by organically reaching out to your personal network, in the form of posts on social media and direct messages/emails/texts to friends. You can also reach out to bloggers and reporters who cover tech and start-ups to write an article about your product, sometimes even for free. Having your name mentioned in known publications can be a huge credibility boost for your app, and help build an online presence when people search online, which will ultimately drive more downloads and revenue. If you have a marketing budget, you can also pay for sponsored ads and app install campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google. Other marketing strategies include reaching out to “influencers” (individuals with engaged and loyal follower-bases on social media) to post about your product/brand, or creative content like photos and videos. Both of these will require larger budgets and timelines, but they can be extremely effective in achieving viral status and overnight downloads if done correctly.
#10: Get User Feedback and Innovate, Iterate, Improve, Repeat
Your app launch is not the end of the app development journey, but rather the beginning. Software development is a cyclical process, rather than a linear one. After you release your product to the market, your next step is to collect feedback from your users and use that data to go back to the drawing board and come up with new ways to improve. The best software companies in the world are constantly innovating and introducing new features to maintain their position in the market, and yours should be no different. Essentially, you’ll find yourself going back to the beginning of this list, and repeating the process for the life cycle of your product and company.
Have an app idea you’d like to discuss? Let’s get in touch and set up a free consultation!