Coming up with an outstanding idea for an application might be intoxicating. However, the million-dollar idea without the right methodology, hard work, and the right tools is a myth. It’s time to redesign your approach to building applications. Here’s how.
Bang! That’s it! This is the disrupting idea I was looking for all along. This will skyrocket my revenue like crazy. – Do you know the feeling? Because we do. And we have seen this kind of preliminary excitement far too many times.
As a software house working with start-ups on a regular basis, we decided to deliver this 5-step ultimate guide to build a web or mobile app from scratch. Meaning, from the very moment when a bulb lights up over your head, up to launching an MVP.
Are you ready?
Building application equals building a business
Regardless whether it’s a web or a mobile app, you will need to prepare yourself for the costs in the process. How much would it be? What kind of factors you will have to face?
To answer that, we need to start thinking about app building from a much wider perspective. Sooner we come to the conclusion, that launching applications is pretty much the same as launching a business, the better.
Building and releasing whatever business projects doesn’t happen in a vacuum chamber. Technology projects are no different. Like it or not, your app will be a part of a market, a vast and insanely dynamic business ecosystem that opens opportunities, but also kills with no remorse.
Your software will have to compete with similar products and well-established solutions. You are not only challenging our competitors but also – the time (SIDENOTE: especially, if you are a leader in your niche).
To stay in the game, you need to take a deep dive into space you are trying to conquer.
How? By following these steps.
Stage 1: Research & analysis
This is about doing solid homework – conducting serious research, analyzing the market, going on a product discovery quest.
This stage entirely belongs to you as a start-up, the idea-owner. You know the drill. First, a brilliant business idea pops up. THE IDEA! It’s an adrenaline and serotonin injection straight to the heart. But after the high is over, it’s a perfect time to sit down and think about it. It might take days, as well as weeks, or months (SIDENOTE number 2: TIK-TOK, TIK-TOK) for reshaping the idea and forging it into a vision.
It’s evolving and this part is exciting too. Yet, try not to go into details about the features and how will they change the life of your future clients. Instead – take a deep breath and start analyzing the market situation and how will you monetize your, so far theoretical, software product.
(SIDENOTE number 3 – try putting your emotions and personal commitment aside – yes, we know it’s ain’t easy – and observe it from a distance; like you were an angel investor, a business reviewer)
Please, don’t skip any of these 5 steps:
1. Competitors – existing and upcoming ones
• At this stage, you need be fully aware of where are you at when it comes to your competition. What are their products? How do they position them? What do they bring to the table, meaning – how do they meet user needs and demands?
First, analyze their apps, compare them to your idea and your value proposition.
Second, keep your eyes open – spy on the trends and news. (SIDENOTE number 4: Consider using tools like Buzzumo’s Trending Now, filtered by a relevant topic) Monitoring the interwebs can give you a chance to react in real-time: if you come across the intel, that your competitor has just been granted with another round of funding worth – for instance – 10 million dollars, you will have the opportunity to change your decisions and save time and money.
• If you stand against the situation, that someone has already released a similar solution to the one you are planning to launch, still – you have a chance to compete. (Take a look at Facebook or LinkedIn – they either buy or brutally copy solutions that succeeded elsewhere)
Don’t be afraid to dig deeper. You may find information about their budgets, Customer Acquisition Costs (the famous CAC), and revenues they scored in the last quarter. The rule is simple – gather all the data and store it in one, handy place – a spreadsheet, Google document, whatever suits you. Be ready to get back to it, when the day comes.
• Know your enemy. If your competitors have a free trial version of their software product, don’t hesitate to sign in. Take a tour, test their features, analyze their interfaces (how they use microcopy / UX writing to communicate with their clients). Look out for flaws, bugs, whatever what’s working and what might scare off their users.
Do they use chatbots? Or, maybe they have the resources to provide a live, human customer support? In each case, you can challenge them.
Check out the users’ opinions. Go for customer review sites, like Trustpilot, and scan the comments left on social media. It might turn out, that you will come across some negative opinions posted by consumers disappointed and angry after buying an upgraded version of the app. Get your hands on them as soon as you see them! Write down those comments and e-mails of those users. Start building relationships. Highlight those aspects that are important to them. It’s a great chance to gather priceless feedback of your future product – BEFORE you release it. Knowing that you will be able to optimize your app and make some meaningful changes while developing the MVP.
Eventually, send them a link to the beta version of your product and ask for their opinions.
2. Market and the business sector
Since you are deadly serious about your product, you cannot afford a „spray and pray” attitude anymore. You need rule out the guesswork and measure the market you are trying to conquer. It’s not sufficient to reassure yourself with a mantra that „the market is big and still growing”.
• Do it by the numbers. Make a map of your market and divide it into sectors. Gather facts, statistics, and forecasts about those sectors, and organize your knowledge. Understanding vertical and horizontal differentiation will also play a vital role in your digital business strategy. Why? Because you will be able to position your app in the right place on the axis. For example, your choice will be the cosmetics industry, and the app will be about the bookings of beauty treatments.
• Time to go on a hunt for investors. Check out what companies are active in terms of investing in new technology solutions in your sector. Make a spreadsheet with the names of those business players and invest funds. Put down the list of decision makers, with e-mail addresses or phone numbers. This resource will make your life a lot easier later on.
Follow those companies on Twitter and LinkedIn and wait for the occasion to meet them in person. They will probably mention that they are planning to attend the important events, like international summits, conferences, and so on. Industry events, like Web Summit or InfoShare are an excellent opportunity for networking. Be there. Start a conversation. Be ready to pitch your idea and build a relationship with your angel investor.
• Learn from the mistakes many players commit. Focus on the actual pain points that users scattered all around the world need to face. Define and confront those problems with your value proposition, and ideally – your Unique Selling Price.
This is the key to success – solving significant problems for many people is the best way to achieve a win-win situation, for you as a start-up and for your customers.
• Hacking the growth potential of your market in the upcoming years is a must. Monitor the current condition and study foresight articles, white papers, and reports. Moreover, you need to know how demography of your market is going to change, especially if you aim at a local market.
• Embrace Google Trends. Times are hectic – to keep up the pace in the super-progressive digital reality, you need to very disciplined about watching the trends and keywords popularity.
Google Trends, as well as Google Keyword Planner from Google Ads, will come in handy. Marketers love them, and there’s a reason for that. Both tools you will the potential hidden behind your planned keywords.
Example? If your plan is to build a mobile app for real estate investing, then you should type in phrases like „long distance real estate investing” or „best places to invest in real estate” and see what will happen. Google Trends will give a picture of how these keywords have performed in search engines in specific locations and periods of time.
In the Keyword Planner, on the other hand, you will discover the actual cost of acquiring a customer from a Google campaign (and that’s only a tip of the iceberg). It’s hard to overvalue the Google Ads tools with regards to planning marketing performance budget.
3. Business model
• Business model canvas – we strongly recommend using this tool. It might take you a few hours, but every minute is worth it. Sketch your business canvas. It will help you to capture a wider perspective, to see your brilliant business idea from a distance. It’s valuable and it’s fun – stack the blocks, shift the elements, and observe how it all start to make sense. If you haven’t read „Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers” by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, then you should definitely give it a go. It’s a brilliant resource to learn and benefit from.
• Monetizing your application. At this stage, you should now be fully aware of who is your potential client, what will be your target market, what channels will you use to reach your audience. Finally, you should have a forged digital strategy that will lead you to commercial success and money in your pocket.
Seems obvious, but we need to emphasize it. Monetization is the part you cannot skip or be messy about. You would be surprised how many times we have seen start-ups being vague and sloppy about monetization.
Statements like „our users will pay online for the subscription” is not good enough. Be extremely precise on how your customer will pay for using your application. Define the payment method, recurring dates, cancelation process.
Decide whether your app will be available in one subscription plan or more.
It is also a great time to reconnect with your leads – use social media platforms to reach out to them. Ask about your pricing rates. How much would they be able to pay for your solution?
Regard it as a good exercise for a brief and attractive describing your product to a potential customer or an investor. A good elevator pitch is a fine craft (if not art), and doing it frequently (even via social media) will transform you into a master craftsman.
Here’s a living example of how connecting leads brought incredible results!
In a start-up group on Facebook, one start-up owner posted a survey about prices for laundry and ironing. It turned out, that the author of the survey was very surprised with the results. They pointed out that most of the surveyed members of this group employ a housekeeping person on a regular basis. However, it wasn’t a shocking result if we took a look at the financial status of the surveyed group.
Another outcome showed that people are willing to pay more for laundry and ironing services than expected. What was the most rewarding – the survey triggered a valuable discussion. People actively discussed how would they imagine such a service to be worth paying for. Dozens of comments were pure gold for the author of the survey. Apart from the answers to his questions, he stumbled over the treasure chest filled with priceless insights on how he should improve his business to fit into the real needs.
• SWOT analysis. Having done all the previous steps properly – market and competition analysis, valuable conversations with potential customers, you are all set to wrap up the famous SWOT analysis. Get ready to highlight the strong sides of your software product, and to point out the vulnerable parts. Don’t be afraid of the second ones – defining them is mature. It’s also pointless (and rather harmful) to sweep them under the rug. Underline them and do whatever it takes to transform them into your advantages.
Remember about threats and opportunities. They should be a signpost for your product.
• Budget. Financial planning is another milestone in the business model building process. Create a budget spreadsheet. Fill it with whatever costs that will come to your mind. Apart from the general business costs (like accountancy), and app development itself (for instance, hiring a software house to design and code the entire thing), make some room for online marketing, because this aspect will generate a lot of costs along the way.
When it comes to marketing, take some time to dive into the subject of growth hacking – smart, sometimes even ingenious, way to skyrocket the revenue, without burning the whole budget. (SIDENOTE number 4: this is a must-read: „Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising” by Ryan Holiday).
We are going to publish more about digital marketing and growth hacking, so stay tuned!
4. Validating your brilliant idea – diminishing the risk of failure
We would like to share our few hacks to make your business dreams come true, without shivering and risking much.
• Building a community around your idea for an app. The laundry and ironing case we mentioned above is a perfect example. This is a brilliant and cheap way to check the real market value of your idea. A simple survey, prepared with a Typeform in minutes, will be a super-valuable source of customer insights. Choose a relevant group on Facebook, attract your prospects on LinkedIn, and post a survey. Find out about your product’s potential – how much people would pay to get it on their mobiles?
• Building an MVP. Minimal Viable Product is the heart and soul of the agile project management approach. Your application doesn’t have to be a feature-heavy, ideal, spot-on product. Delivering such an app would cost you more time and money, and most importantly – will give your competitors a chance to leave you behind (you wouldn’t like to take that risk).
Go for a smart shortcut. A good MVP solves the most crucial problems of your customers already at this stage, even if it’s not packed with features yet. What’s more, some of the features you dream of, don’t make any sense at this stage of product infancy. Leave the fireworks for later.
Thanks for the MVP you will reduce the initial costs, and save money for marketing which you need for generating brand awareness, SEO & content strategy, and paid campaigns on Google and social media. Your initial goal is to make your potential customers gravitate to your application. As soon as grow your customer base, you will able to impress an investor and gather funds to improve your product.
How to get on with the MVP? Glad you asked!
a) Gather all your materials. Prepare a brief that will give a full picture of your idea.
b) Make a sketch of your application. Go for simplicity – instead of wasting time on advanced graphic design tools, use a pen and paper sheet, just to visualize your idea.
c) Look for a tech partner that will build your MVP. Double-check the referrals and portfolios.
d) Make sure that a software house you choose is a company that really tries to feel and understand the product. The last thing you would want is another „offer factory” – a firm that doesn’t care about what you are trying to create, as long as they will score their contract.
e) Product Design Workshops. From our point of view, this is the real magic. The workshop phase of building an MVP helps you structurize all the information and ideas into a framework of all activities to make your application up and running, and to get a Product Backlog. We strongly recommend using agile platforms like StoriesOnBoard and Trello – they will make the project management way easier.
f) Product Backlog will have a list of User Stories. Why is this so important? Because they will put things in order. User Stories define a flow – a sequence of actions user can take within the application. A professional software house will be able to estimate and establish the cost of a certain feature and to judge whether the feature is, in fact, inevitable for the final user.
g) Transferring the application sketches to a mock-up or an interactive prototype is the next step. After coming to a conclusion about the range of features your MVP needs to have and deciding on the final budget, you will see the visuals of your dream app on the preliminary mock-ups.
h) Technological structure. Apart from the visual part, your MVP needs to have some initial guidelines for application structure and database.
5. Defining an investor.
This is the last step of our complete guide on how to create a successful application. We’ve mentioned earlier what can you do to shake hands with a potential angel investor. Remember, it doesn’t have to be an investment fund which operates millions of dollars year after year.
It might be a company or a couple of companies from a certain industry, who decide to pump 50 thousand to make things happen. This cooperation model has more pros – it leads to direct business collaboration with partners from your target industry AND to get funds for your MVP and materialize your idea that exploded in your head at the very beginning of this journey.
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