You can’t stop thinking about how awesome your new app idea is, can you?
If you could just get this thing out of your head and into people’s hands, you could change the world.
But what’s the process to take a good idea for an app to a five star feature at the top of iTunes? And what steps do you take to make an app that people can’t live without?
How do you avoid throwing thousands of dollars down the tubes, and how can you maximize it’s attractiveness to potential investors and customers?
Last week we talked about why you should design your own iPhone app.
This week we’ll look at the steps you should take to turn your concept into a fully fledged, pitchable prototype.
Even though it may seem counter-intuitive to not jump straight into development, following these tenets will help you work within a reasonable budget and get others ready to invest.
What Problem Does My App Solve?
Sometimes our “good idea for an app” doesn’t go far beyond, “wouldn’t it be cool if?”
Problem is, the ooohhh shiny factor for apps has worn off, and now most people want apps that solve real problems.
If it’s main selling point doesn’t go far beyond “it’s cool” – your app probably won’t test well later.
Take Evernote for example. It promises that you can “Capture anything. Access anywhere. Find things Fast.”
For the primarily creative demographic Evernote serves, being able to capture ideas and act as a “second brain” while they’re in the wild is a huge problem, that Evernote solves.
Likewise Instagram offers “… a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your photos with friends and family.”
For the Hipster demographic it initially served, when Instagram launched, there were few photo-app solutions that offered fast ways to add filters and share to social networks.
The creators of both of these apps had a basic understanding of a problem, then used their app idea to solve it.
After you understand the problem your app idea solves, visualize how people will interact with it in their hands. What does it feel like?
Personally, when I’m conceptualizing an app, I hold my phone with the power off and visualize the interface as I mimic the gestures necessary to make the app perform.
Designing apps isn’t just about putting buttons on screen, but creating a sense of feedback that makes the user feel like they’re doing more with their fingers than touching glass.
After playing with any one of Mashable’s Top 20 apps from 2012, it doesn’t take long to realize that how an app looks is secondary to how it feels. Understanding this early on helps you to design your interface for interactions, not simply aesthetics.
If you’re really serious about making your app idea a reality, you should watch this mini documentary with some of the top interaction designers on what goes into making immersive mobile experiences.
Whether your users realize it or not, interaction is often the deciding factor for users choosing your app as the long term solution to their problem.
Interaction Design is why Angry Birds works and is able to be re-skinned and sold as different products. It wouldn’t matter if it were made in 1992, the game is enjoyable, no matter what coat of paint you put on top of it.
This article breaks down in detail what makes the Angry Birds interface work so well, and why these concepts should be in every app you design.
How Will This App “Fit in” (or rather how will it Break Out?)
Questions you want to ask yourself after you’ve thought about how people will interact with your app idea are “What makes this app unique? What is it similar to?
In the case of Angry Birds, what made the app idea unique was that the most popular physics based puzzle game with game mechanics that progressed, a simple story arc, and fun graphics.
Before Angry Birds launched, this was the top physics based puzzle game:
Before To-do app Clear was launched, these were the best apps to handle productivity. “Done” was one of the best.
Before you get all gung-ho about how your app is going to be the best… search the app store to find what else is out there.
It’s amazing how often this step is overlooked. Sometimes a simple search is all it takes to find out if either
- A.) Your app idea and the way you envisioned it already exists. Or
- B.) Others are doing it, but not nearly as well as you’ve imagined.
After you’ve done your initial search, brainstorm a list of more words and phrases people might use if they were looking to fix the problem you’re going to solve. This article on keyword research should help. Save those keywords in a spreadsheet.
Next, create another two column spreadsheet to track competitor urls and the keywords they’re targeting. Save your competitor urls first.
Next, take those urls and plug them into the tool at appstorerankings.net. This will give you a comprehensive list of all the keywords your potential competitors are using and what they’ll be found for. If you decide your concept is worth taking to the next level this data will be extremely useful for your app marketing later on down the road.
Optional: Add columns to your spreadsheet to track # of reviews, common complaints, and praises. As you flesh your good app idea out more, keeping these reviews in mind will help you to iterate on what others did well, and improve on what they did poorly.
Overall, this analysis process will help you to decide whether or not your idea is worth prusuing.
If it turns out nobody is solving the problem quite as well as you can, you’ll be crystal clear on what makes your app unique – something your users (and investors) will thank you for.
Are There Investors Who Will Invest in Your Idea?
17-year-old Nick D’Aloisio, founder of Summly, (recently acquired by Yahoo) suggests if you have a good idea for an app that you spec it and ship it as soon as possible. His news app Summly was backed by a number of high profile investors such as Li Ka-shing, Ashton Kutcher, British broadcaster Stephen Fry, artist Yoko Ono, and News Corp media mogul Rupert Murdoch. He was even acquired by Yahoo and will start working for them as soon as he graduates high-school.
While it may seem like Nick is a really lucky kid, the truth is his story isn’t all that uncommon.
If you have a solid idea, a workable business model, an investor research strategy, and some grit, seed funding might be an option.
I’m mentioning this at this stage because the last two phases of research were help you exactly why your app idea is the best.
If you’re even faintly considering the investor route, start compiling a master list of who you want to pitch while you’re specking your app idea. When everything is finished, you’ll know exactly who you’re going to contact.
Just be warned, seeking investment dollars is a taxing process (and one you should work with a partner on).
To give you an idea of just how difficult seeking seed funding can be, startup AppMaker contacted 173 different investors, and was told “No” by all but 14 of them.
On the upside – they raised $1 million dollars in 6 months.
If 6 months worth of hard work is worth $1 million dollars, here’s a list of Angel Investors to get you started.
Research who invests in what, and create a list of places that fund ideas that share qualities with your own. Also be sure to look at their criteria, as some groups (like the New York Angels) only invest in businesses that already have a working model and are looking to scale up.
Build your list of ideal candidates as your app starts taking shape, and do your research on the people you’re pitching. If anything is to be learned by this presentation by Brendan Baker it’s that it’s important to build your professional network and have existing relationships with people willing to invest in good ideas.
Should You Hire An Animator? (probably)
Now let’s flash forward a bit to after you’ve created the initial designs for your app.
Instead of rushing straight into development, consider hiring an animator to take your designs & wireframes to create a demonstration of what your app looks like “in-action”.
Though this may seem like an extra step, when you’re bootstrapping, it’s very likely that a developer capable of making your app function exactly the way you envision it is outside of your budget.
Instead of shortchanging your final product, re-allocate the funds you would use on a budget developer to hire a freelance animator and make a “pitch package” showing potential investors and customers exactly how your app is going to look and feel.
When it’s time to move into development, your front end developers can use your interaction video as a reference to reduce any questions or points of confusion, saving everyone time and money. This is why Facebook does this with it’s new products.
Smaller app developers have also used the method as a part of their crowdfunding pitch video.
For a decent freelance animator, expect to pay between $1,000 – $2,000 to get a quality mockup of your app idea. Do not expect to get the same quality of a fully developed app for anywhere near the same price. Decent freelance app developers range between $6-10k minimum.
Does Your Concept Test Well?
Finally, do people like it?
After you’ve spent your time animating, prototyping and documenting exactly what your app is supposed to do, it’s time to find out if people are going to actually enjoy using the thing.
It’s better to take your prototype to a smaller section of the market and gathering their feedback before investing potentially thousands of more dollars just to find out they’re just not that into you.
The guys over at Lean Startup Machine have a great resource for this kind of concept testing.
You probably already know this, but it’s worth mentioning anyways…
Don’t bother asking friends and family. Chances are likely they’re not your target market and you’ll be lucky to get feedback beyond “that’s really cool!”
If you want to get feedback, you have to take your concept to the people who are going to use it. If your app is designed for restaurant visitors, schedule a time to sit down with the restaurant manager. If you’re making something that works for retail, call a few different stores and schedule a time for the store manager to sit down and play with the prototype & watch the video.
During this process, note their interaction with the prototype and answer their questions thoroughly. Also take notes on their feedback too. Because they’re the one’s actually having the problem, they’ll mention things you would never would have thought of.
Even if it isn’t feasible to incorporate into the Version 1.o of the app, it’s worth noting to make a part of future releases.
“What if nobody gives me the time of day?”
Most normal people will, if anything so they can have a say in something new. But if you’re unable to get one on one time with people in your target market just by asking, trying running a small but highly targeted facebook advertising campaign to attract your target market.
Offering a $5 Starbucks giftcard or Amazon credit will be enough to get people in the door, and the feedback you get through surveys and recording their interaction will be enough for you get a solid understanding of what’s working and what needs to be tweaked.
This data will also prove invaluable if you decide to pitch investors with your app idea further down the road.
While it may seem like there’s a lot of upfront investment in your app idea, these costs are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.
With every piece of research, usability test, and prototype, you bring yourself one step closer to understanding what makes your app unique and whether or not it’s going to be worth investing more resources in.
For many who eschew testing their “good idea for an app”, they end up wasting thousands upon thousands of dollars launching untested, un-researched ideas. Instead they rely on sheer luck and 80% of the time, their app flatlines.
It’s a few extra steps to get the app idea out there, but when it reaches the app store, it won’t just be a good app idea, it’ll be a great one.
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