Questions you should answer before app development

In 8 years in web and mobile development I have seen many apps. Few of them hit App Store and Google Play Store, even fewer got to see their actual customers. What is the difference between successful apps and those from wasteland? And what you need to know to make an app that is actually a product? And what is needed to create app like this?

Based on years of experience I present you a list of questions. If you can answer all of these questions before start developing an app, you have a very good chance of building a successful product.

Why do I want to build an Uber/Tinder/Pinterest-like app in a world where there is an actual Uber/Tinder/Pinterest app? or VALUE
Before spending your life savings on your idea answer the WHY question.

I would say this one is most important amongst things to consider when developing an app these days. There are already so many apps developed. And trust me (as a person who consults on new ideas every day) very very few of them are actually NEW. You idea does not need to be new. It needs to be unique.

WHY are you building this app?

You have first piece of what is needed to create an app and are ready to answer your WHY questions if:

  • the situation which put the "I should build an app for this" idea in your head happened to you at least trice
  • You know at least 3 people who have faced same issue
  • You have googled and researched and there is no similar solution to what you want
  • You can describe your idea in 5 words
  • After 5 days of not thinking about it you revisit your idea and you can still clearly see WHY

A successful mobile app is a tool to fix something. It is a tool to deliver something that is missing or needed. It's a cure to a pain. Before starting the app this is what you need to know to make an app - which pains does it cure?

  • Uber - solved the pain of expensiveness and waiting
  • Facebook - solved the pain of bragging in a very classy way
  • LinkedIn - solved the pain of keeping business contacts and CV up to date
  • Foursquare - solved the pain of recommendations for venues Which pain are you solving?

Unless you are building this app strictly for yourself, "WHO" is a second piece amongst things to consider developing an app you want. WHO are you solving those pains for. Here are related questions before you start developing an app:

  • How old is a typical person who will use my app?
  • What do they do for living?
  • Which industry/life aspect do I solve this pain for them in?
  • How do they spend their free time?
  • What are their typical hobbies?
  • Are they tech savvy?

All of this questions are important for you to be able to define a list of features you want in your app and user interface/user experience you are looking for. For example, if you are building your app for elderly people, you don't want too small interface elements, too complex navigation flows etc.

Most neglected amongst questions before you start developing an app is who will pay for it. App development does not stop at submission to Apple Store of Google Play Store.

People will start using your app and asking for changes/updates. Things will be breaking here and there and will require attention. You will need some basic developer attention after you launch. And you will need money for this. Where do you get money? Exactly:

  • Who will pay for this?
  • Do they have money to pay for it?
  • Will it still be worth it if they have to pay for it?
  • Is there a cheaper way for target audience to get what you are offering?
  • Would you pay for it?

You thought about it and you came to a conclusion people won't pay for it? No worries, there are other ways how you can make money of your mobile app.

Any concept can be however big. The more you think of things to consider when developing an app the more ideas you will be getting. Excitement is huge when you are creating and every idea will sound like EUREKA to you. And as long as you have unlimited funding you can be adding as many features as you want.

But if your budget is limited (and it should be) it's wise to define 3 main features which build up a market value of your app. Trust me, any huge solution can be simplified to that. If it can't - you probably could not answer the above questions.
I am not saying you concept can't grow. It will. But in order to start all you need is a proof of concept:

  • Facebook POC - a.people should be able to upload pictures; b.people should be able to browse pictures of others;
  • Linkedin POC - a.people should be able to create their resume; b.people should be able to control who they share it with; c.resume updates automatically when a person changes place of work
  • Uber POC - a.people should be able to offer a ride; b.people should be able to hire a ride

And all of these POC can be built in 4-6 weeks. You can find out if you idea works without spending too much time and money right away.

If you have this idea - someone else has it. Take it from a person who gets dozens of similar requests at the same time. And what you need to know to make an app which becomes a successful product that it is not about who gets the idea first. It is about who implements it first. And right.
You deadlines can be defined by:

  • Your competition. See who is building same stuff. See where they are right now? How fast are they going?
  • Your investors. They will expect to see some real results (downloads, usage) by a certain date.
  • Your marketing plan
  • A season - some apps are season apps. E.g. education apps are good to be launched in autumn. Travel apps are good to be launched in summer and before college breaks.
  • How much and how long can you spend before you've reached your limit

As I mentioned previously, any concept/idea can be built within 2-3 months. And in this time you get a product you can show to your target audience and check if you strategic plan was right. If it was and people are willing to pay for your app - BINGO! You have answered all questions. Keep doing what you doing!

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