We've been writing apps for many clients for the last 6 years. We like to think that we know a thing or two about apps and app development. Each week, we have a number of approaches from people who have ideas for an app. The ideas vary a lot, but there are a number of pointers which we give to most potential clients.
More often than not, we find ourselves helping with questions around the feasibility of the app idea and one of the more common questions is "Do you think it is a good idea?".
So here's a couple of things that you should check before even talking to an app developer.
- Research the market. Check if it is already on the store. If it is there, that's not a reason to get despondent. In fact, it may validate your idea, and if you can do a better job, you could be still hitting on a good one. Many times we've been told by potential clients "I've checked the store, and there's nothing like it there.". In our experience this means only one of three things: a) It's a genuinely original idea. These are rare. In fact, we've only seen one of these in the six years. b) They've not checked the store hard enough, and during the meeting we can show a number of apps that are at least very similar. c) There's a technical barrier why the app doesn't exist in the store. For example, we're often told that the idea revolves around tracking users surreptitiously (not allowed), or by examining call logs or the SMS database (which cannot be done on iOS for example).
- Check if you're pitching an idea for an app, or in fact an idea for a business. Again, we regularly see people who believe their idea involves paying us to develop their idea, and then sitting back and waiting for the cash to roll in. This is not going to happen. More likely, the app idea is an idea for a service, which is ordered through an app, but requires some level of fulfilment outside of the app. Currently, the trend is "I want to develop Uber for X". With an assumption that if you build it, they will come. It ignores that a two sided business model is notoriously difficult to get off the ground, and getting a critical mass of anything costs a fortune in marketing costs. More often than not, the "idea" is in fact an idea for a tech start up. You're going to need technical staff, customer services staff, clearing and settlement, marketing to name just a few. In short, your tech startup idea needs a big load of sweat equity between yourselves and your co-founders, or a six figure investment.
- Where's the return on investment? Developing apps ain't cheap. Remember, you're asking for custom software development for your unique needs. Honestly, it doesn't really matter if your application runs on a phone, laptop or mainframe, it still has to be developed by skilled software developers, who are custom-tailoring for you. Most people think "well, I'll go to the app developer to find out how much it is going to cost, then I'll do the business plan", but even quoting accurately costs money. So instead, we have a simple sanity test: Pick a figure. The actual figure isn't really that important, but let's say 30? no, €40,000. Imagine that was the cost of your development; How are you going to make that back? You really need to know how this can happen. Your service may charge a monthly per user fee. If so, great, you'll need to know how many monthly active users you'll need to break even. If you want to make it through selling of the app, or in app purchases, that's fine too - But do the math: If you sell your app at €1.99, Apple take 30%, you make €1.39. Great. You'll need to sell 28,777 copies to make your 40k back. Imagine 1 in 100 people who hear about your app will buy it. What's your plan for getting the app in front of 2.8 million people?
- Sanity check your revenue streams. Everyone says they have the following options for making money: a) Selling the app, and in app purchases b) advertising within the app c) sponsorship within the app
These are all valid. Here are the next obvious questions on the above:
- When was the last time you yourself purchased an app? I'm always amazed by people saying they're going to make money in the app store, but honestly can't remember when they last purchased an app. (Including, incidentally the guy who had a mac book pro, a pair of ray bans, and keys to a Mercedes with him)
- Mobile advertising will only work if you have millions of users. Anything less, and there's not a revenue stream to talk of. If you're talking about specific advertising that you sell yourself, that's essentially sponsorship.
- If you can persuade a large brand to sponsor your app, you should make that sale before a line of code is written. Get mockups done, and go sell it. I suspect this may be harder than you think. All of the above are real possible revenue streams, but you need a plan to get there.
The good news is this: If you've had a read through this, and you are still on to a great idea, then you're a step ahead of many. Feel free to get in touch with your idea!