In the half-decade+ that Codevate has been in business, we've spoken to countless organisations and entrepreneurs; each with their own ideas for innovative apps. Needless to say, so many of these never grow beyond exactly what they are – ideas.
By this point, we've gained enough experience to have a pretty good idea of who has the potential for success from the very first conversation. Read on for our musings on what to consider to be best equipped for your first meeting with software agencies, and in turn, success.
'Everyone' is not a demographic.
This first point may seem counterintuitive if your ambition is app-world domination – in the words of Dan Shewan, ‘Everyone’ is not a demographic. So many start-ups fail by casting too broad a net over the general population, without considering the subcategories within that market, or even stopping to ask, “who is really going to use this app?”
To explore this idea in more detail, it’s important to know the difference between a ‘demographic’ and a ‘target market’. Your target market is the entire group of people you intend to use your app, now and in the future. A demographic is a section of users inside your target market, grouped together for a particular trait or characteristic.
There’s a good chance that different features would appeal to the different demographics within your market. Assuming that the same set of features is going to satisfy your entire target market could lead to disaster. The key is to consider how each demographic you target perceive and interact with competitors and plan the first iteration of your product accordingly.
What problem does it solve, and how is it a better solution than the competitors’?
Taking another big step back, you need to ask whether your target market is actually experiencing a problem and if your idea would actually solves it.
Let's say you want to build an app to track all the chickens within ten miles of the users' commute routes and notify them of any potential chicken-related delays. If your target market is commuters in Birmingham city centre, where the chicken population is relatively sparse, you won't achieve Product-Market fit because you're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
A good question to ask here is, “is my idea a vitamin or a painkiller?” A vitamin would be an app to improve quality of life in some fashion, where as a painkiller app targets a specific pain point experienced by the target market.
Successful apps can be found all over the vitamin-painkiller spectrum, but it's a useful thought exercise when considering the problem and whether your product provides a solution.
What's your minimum viable product?
When the idea for a piece of software first forms, it's pretty easy to burst right out of the gate with your sights locked on producing a swiss army app with endless features and functions. The reality is that anything your app ‘does’ needs to be developed by humans, and that takes time, especially while ideas are fluid and ever-changing.
The closer your initial concept is to the finished product, the longer it will take to develop. It's extremely rare for an app to be released into the market as a finished product with no further development required.
Instead of focusing on what the finished product looks like, you need to ask yourself, "what do people find most useful, and what features can wait until after I’ve made a return on investment?" If you can isolate which of your feature ideas can be bundled together as the first version of the product, you can bring it to your target market quicker and start collecting both income and real-life feedback.
To decide which features should come first, consider what techies call the 'Minimum Viable Product'. Think about which features your target market would need from the app at the very minimum for them to find value in it – “value” being the operative here. You need to keep your feature set lean, but not so minimal that it is no longer a viable product.
How are you going to keep people coming back?
Unless you’re a provider of single payment services – an insurance broker, for example – it's not enough to get your users to download your app and use it once or twice. If you want your software to be successful and profitable, you'll need a reason for your users to keep coming back.
We're big advocates for the Hook Model, proposed in Nir Eyal's Hooked. If you've already read Hooked, fantastic. If not, consider that today's homework.
Your app should use 'hooks', or incentives to keep revisiting the app, which can be done in all manner of ways. Any time the user opens the app back up, they should receive some kind of reward or find value through stored information – be that a feed of all the latest social media posts, an up-to-date ‘calories burned’ counter, or stored work details from an off-site worker – that will make them want to check back more and more frequently.
You could employ Push Notifications to draw attention back to the app any time new information is received, or to remind users of outstanding tasks. If that is a strategy you plan to use, you’ll need to consider what specific events should trigger a notification, how frequently are they going to trigger, and what can you do to stop them from being so frequent that your users end up ignoring them.
Ultimately, there are loads of tools at your disposal to retain users, but you need to consider what specifically would and wouldn’t work for your idea.
Be ready to revise your business strategy.
One of the biggest pitfalls that budding entrepreneurs fall into is being too certain of their app idea. Tim Brown nails this in Change by Design:
“The myth of innovation is that brilliant ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses. The reality is that most innovations come from a process of rigorous examination through which great ideas are identified and developed before being realized as new offerings and capabilities.”
As difficult it may be to let go of your initial app idea, being flexible is crucial for achieving Product-Market Fit. Throw yourself into market research, read every book you can and engage with every tech expert you cross paths with. The reality is successful projects spend a great deal of time examining, discussing, and testing ideas before delivering anything.
It’s pretty likely that the product you eventually deliver to market is going to be nothing like the one you imagined in that first ‘light bulb’ moment – be ready to shift and re-frame your ideas as you go!
By now you’ll have noticed that, of everything we’ve mentioned here, we’ve been pretty distant from app development itself. The reason for that is simple enough – how the app is going to work on a technical level isn’t something you need to worry about before meeting a development team.
What we’ve touched on above are all things to consider and include in your product plan and pitch deck before presenting to a development team or investor. Ultimately, the more practical you can make your first plan, the quicker your development team can start work and get your product to the market.