Do you have a mobile app idea and don’t know where to start? You already did some prototypes and figured out what you are doing is getting you nowhere, but you really think you have something special?
Don’t worry, you are not alone. After spending some time answering questions on Quora, the most frequent question out there was: “I have the next big app idea. I have created a product roadmap. What should I do?”
I am making this guide to help you and other entrepreneurs understand what it means to make a mobile app startup, what is the best way to approach mobile app development and ultimately, how to do it! This guide should get you started and set you on the right path.
Before we start, I would like to say that I spent the last 7 years of my life helping entrepreneurs build startup companies. My software skills and knowledge contributed to raising millions in funding, getting featured on the app stores, top publications and helped my clients win mobile app innovation awards.
We will be focusing on a step-by-step approach to building your mobile app startup. If you’ve already gone through some of these steps, feel free to skip them.
Successful businesses have extensive knowledge of their customers and their competitors. Market research is the process of gathering information that will make you more aware of how the people you hope to sell to will react to your current or potential products and services.
This is a very crucial step when working on something new because you can determine if there are any markets that would benefit from your solution. Getting the market research right will save you resources and give you a better understanding of your future users. Doing market research should be your first step in creating your mobile app startup.
Let me walk you through the process of creating market research.
#1. Brainstorm and Market segmentation
In this step, write down all the markets that would benefit from your mobile app. For example, if your app is a goal-setting app, markets can be “startup founders, students, developers, athletes, people who go to the gym, etc..”
#2. Define Jobs for each market
Once you have some potential markets, write down all the jobs people in that market do. Note: Don’t try to match these jobs to your app functionality, you just want to find out what people do and how they are doing it.
#3. Based on Jobs, narrow down the list to 3–6 markets
Comparing the jobs and your app functionality, narrow down the list to a range of 3 to 6 top markets your app can serve. Also, make sure to ask these questions before narrowing your markets:
- Is the market consistent with your values and goals?
- If you win the chosen market, can you easily go into another?
- Is there any competition in that market that can block you?
- Do your target users have a compelling reason to get your app?
#4. Primary research
Once you have your markets, for each market on your list gather situations, pain points, opportunities, and market info. Go talk to customers, send surveys, etc.. Make sure you are out there, learning and focusing on your customers.
#5. Organize your research and focus on 1 market
Take the research you gathered and organize it based on the following questions:
- Who would use the product in that market?
- What is the product used for?
- What value are your users getting?
- Who are influential users in the market?
- What companies can you partner with?
- What is the size of the market?
- Is there any competition?
Based on these answers, you can organize your research and focus on ONLY 1 market! I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to focus on one market at a time. I launched a Chrome extension a few weeks ago and focused only on baseball fans who use Chrome, search using Yahoo, check baseball stats every day and want to read the news in the morning.
Extension grew to 800 users in 17 days (growing 50 users per day), all organic. Just because I focused on a very niche market. Do this and dominate there, don’t compete! Then go on to the next market and dominate again!
Here are some questions that can help you focus on only one market:
- Do people in the market use similar apps?
- What is the user acquisition process in the market?
- Is there any word of mouth between users in the market?
#5. Build an end-user profile and make a persona
Now is the perfect time to create an end-user profile. That perfect user who needs your app and is dying to get it. This is a great way to understand your users and the ways you can reach them. Make sure you have the following characteristics of your end-user:
- Income Range
- Geo Location
- Sites they visit
- Restaurants they visit
- Their story and specialty
- Why should they care, and why they buy similar services to yours.
By the end of this, you should have a nice overview of your perfect user. Print that out and keep it in your pocket. Keep it as a motivation. That persona is the reason why you are building this app and the same reason why I am writing this to you.
#6. Create a value proposition
This is the WHY of your startup and your app. What is the value you promise to create for the user? Make sure to create a value proposition and use your website, landing pages, emails, and other mediums to communicate that value to your users. Your value proposition should be to the point, unique and draw attention.
For example, I help startup founders create software solutions, and my value proposition is “We help startups bake fresh web and mobile apps”. The tagline is “Freshly baked web and mobile apps”. You see words: “Help startups”, “freshly baked”, “web and mobile”. This tells you right away this agency is working with entrepreneurs, helping them create fresh solutions, and you know those are web and mobile apps. Unique, concise and to the point. Do you agree?
Now that you have a value proposition, your focused market and persona, use those ingredients to validate your idea. You have to make sure your mobile app is something people need, so let’s go through the idea validation process and try to get those early adopters based on your value proposition. To learn more techniques, here is an article I wrote: How to validate your app idea?
Join Facebook Groups
Join Facebook Groups, politely introduce yourself to individuals and make sure to let them know that you found them in the group and then ask them to fill out your survey or answer your questions. I found out that people are very open on Facebook, and 8 out of 10 people reply back. That is great!
Linked is an amazing tool for validating your mobile app idea. I got around 70% response from the messages and so far it was very helpful. What you should do is introduce yourself as someone who needs help or doing research. Don’t try to sell to people and appreciate their time. You will be surprised at the results you get.
Create a landing page
Create a landing page, add a form to capture emails and see how it converts. You can spend some small amount of money on advertising and, after a week, see how many emails do you get. If you have 50 emails after a week, Amazing! Have less than 10, something is not right, maybe you messed up with your campaign or value proposition is not good enough. Change those and try again.
If you don’t know how to develop mobile apps, you should read this part as it is important to know who to hire and how to do it. Before you actually go out and start looking for potential development partners, let’s start with your startup brief.
Startup brief is a document that outlines what your startup is all about and what you are trying to accomplish. It would be good if your brief includes the background or context of your idea, who are your customers, a typical use case in detail, features, wireframes/prototype, and a monetization plan. This document should act as an insight into your startup and clearly show your potential development partner what you are trying to accomplish.
Finding the right development partners
Mobile app development takes time, effort and determination from you and your future development partner. If you are looking at native development and targeting Android and IOS platforms, it is most likely that you will need more than one developer.
You should look for a development company that has great design talent and a solid development team. While finding a developer, go online to check their credibility and the apps they created.
Selecting the right partner
Working with the right people is crucial to the success of your future business and you don’t want to work with people who will drag you down. Here are the things you should do when selecting the right developers:
Get to know them
The first thing you should do is spend some time with them. Have a meeting, go for lunch or anything that would let you learn more about those developers. You have to feel comfortable around them and have a really good vibe. You don’t want to end up with someone who you can’t stand. Make sure you like those people and those people like you.
Check their references
Checking references and past clients is a great way to see how developers performed for other clients and if they delivered what they promised. If the developers don’t want to give any references, you want to stay away.
What is their specialty?
Ask developers if they specialized in some specific technology or industry. There are many companies that specialize in certain areas, and if those areas are something you need it is a big plus.
Mobile app development
You have made proper preparation for your mobile app startup and at this point, you are ready to start developing your mobile apps. Before starting development, we need to make sure we pick the right tech stack that fits your budget, deadline and project brief.
Pick a technology stack with your development partner
There are a couple of technical decisions that have to be made early on in the development process and this one is very crucial. Your technology stack can greatly influence your budget and your time to market. Choosing between native or hybrid carries many implications for your later development and maintenance. This is why it’s key to leverage your market research and the core purpose and functionality you’ve just defined, so you can make the best decision.
Let’s go through the core differences between native and hybrid apps:
2. Access to the native device APIs. The hybrid approach relies on the concept of “plugins” and not all functionalities are available in the hybrid approach. Also developing custom plugins is hard and very time-consuming.
3. Cross-Platform support. Most often, you will want to be present both on Android and Apple stores. When going with native development, you will have to make 2 separate apps while the hybrid approach offers a “write once, run anywhere” concept.
To learn more about the differences between native and hybrid development, here is a good article about a client whom I helped create a multi-million dollar app. See how we developed a hybrid app, waited until we became big and then moved from hybrid to native Reasons hybrid apps fail in the long run.
Create a beautiful design
If you are serious about your apps, you want your design to be eye-catching and appealing to your users. People are attracted to something that looks good and having a good design is definitely an advantage. From my experience, the founders who focused on design had much better user acquisition rates. People would often talk about their apps and would always mention how beautiful they looked. Always make sure that your design files are made long before doing development and make sure that you don’t add stuff off the top of your head, which will save you some time on communication and different changes.
Feedback and Iteration
Your first version of the product is something that people might like, but not want, at least not to the full potential. Your users will always have something to say, especially when you are just starting out. The key is to listen to proposed changes and try to change the apps to accommodate those changes. Making apps in small iterations gives you the opportunity to get feedback faster and change the apps until you get something your users are crazy about.
Product Development (MVP)
When working from scratch, you should always start with MVP. MVP stands for minimum viable product and is the minimal amount of app features your users need to accomplish their goal. MVP development usually lasts from 2 weeks to 3 months and should be divided into sprints. Sprints are a part of Agile practices that are used when developing software. I would avoid using full Scrum in these early stages. Scrum is very heavy on processes, and at this point, your app will be changing a lot based on the feedback. Most important tools to have are:
- Project Management (Trello or Asana (Jira might be too much))
- Communication (Slack, Gmail)
- Code Versioning tools (Bitbucket)
Build your marketing strategy
If you ever heard the saying: “If you build it, they will come”, please forget about it, at least when making software. These days people are bombarded with different apps, ads and everything else that can be found online.
Because of this, you have to stand out and create a killer marketing strategy. If there is an element that so heavily affects your app’s success, it’s the preparation to market and amplify it, including your branding, PR, pre-launch efforts, outreach, and simply overall web presence.
The sooner you start with your preparation and planning the better results you are going to get. You should start creating the buzz around your app long before it’s in the app stores. Let me walk you through the process of pre-launch preparation:
1. Set a tone with your branding. Make sure to create a mobile app startup name that resonates with what you do, your logo should do the same and your content should set you apart from the millions of other apps and businesses. Branding is all about consistency. Make sure your branding is consistent across your app and all platforms you exist on.
2. Find top channels that can deliver your message. Where does your target audience mostly hang out? How can you reach them? Do they use social media? How do they prefer to consume their content? How much time are they spending on their mobile device?
3. Separate yourself from others and create a trust bond with the content you create. You should know what content your audience craves and where to reach them. Start sharing your content to selected channels and track the engagements.
4. Reach out to influencers! Influencers are the next big thing in marketing and you should use influencers to put your app in front of their audience. Put some effort into reaching out to them in a personalized manner and make sure to provide a lot of value to them.
Important Do and Dont’s
Congratulations! If you came this far in reading this, you are a pretty amazing person. The above process is more than enough to set you on a path to having a successful mobile app startup. Many entrepreneurs don’t do all of the above, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to do the above steps. After you launch your app it is all about iterating your product, changing it and adding features your users need. You will also continue tweaking your marketing strategy and keep looking at the best ways to reach your targeted audience. Before we finish with this guide, here are some important do and dont’s.
Your users will not come on their own
Please don’t think that if you created the app, your users will just jump on it and start using it. Those events are very rare and it is like winning a lottery jackpot. It takes a great amount of work, perseverance, and effort to gain momentum and have that organic traffic. My advice would be to focus on a niche market where people really need your app and start from there. Read more on this issue here: Most interesting thing I learned after founding my startup 5 years ago.
Don’t quit your daily job
New entrepreneurs often make this mistake and then run out of resources. You can have your day job and still have a successful mobile app startup. That is also the reason why you work with a development company. They should be your partners and cover the development work so you can focus on strategy and sales. Once your app starts making profits, you can then evaluate if it is worthwhile to quit your day job and focus 100% of your efforts on your startup.
Don’t rely on your friends for opinions
We always tend to ask people closest to us what they think about the stuff we do. Their opinions matter to us and that is great. The problem is that those opinions may not be relevant and in most cases, they are not. Your close friends and family will have distorted opinions about what you do and will always be affirmative. At the end of the day, they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Always make sure to get an opinion from strangers, and if you really want to know the truth, ask them to pay for your app.
Don’t stay fixed on your app idea
From the 7 years of my experience helping entrepreneurs, I can’t recall a single time when an entrepreneur had the right vision and idea from the beginning. Your idea will change as you get feedback and that is good. Always make sure you are open to feedback and willing to change based on what people want and not just how you see it.
If you want to have an above-average startup, be an above-average person
This is something I like to tell everyone. Your startup is YOU! The better and more knowledgeable person you are, the better your company and everything around you will be. Make sure to invest in yourself and strive to become a better person. Read this Going from nothing to something to get a better idea about self-development.