Steps to build an app and fail / by Gavin Lau

  Photo credit:   baldiri   via   Visual Hunt   /   CC BY

Photo credit: baldiri via Visual Hunt / CC BY

The other day I met some entrepreneurs who had developed an app and they were wondering why nobody was using it. I’ve seen this scenario many times and it reminded me of myself when I was more naive.


Steps to fail

  1. Start a startup being all developers
  2. Start coding the app natively on both iOS and Android.
  3. Target your app to everyone, because every person and every business may have a reason to use it.
  4. Don’t focus on the business model right now. You will have millions of users and you will earn money somehow.
  5. Launch the app without doing any testing.
  6. Ask your users to register before they can do anything.
  7. If your users needs their friends to do something (like answering a question, filling up info…), ask their friends to download the app and register too.
  8. When you realize it’s not working, ask your friends and develop all the features that they think the app needs. Like signing up with Facebook or Twitter, sharing the app with friends, etc. You want the app to be viral.
  9. Don’t talk to the few users that are using your app, just rely on your acquaintances.
  10. Spend money on marketing in order to get some traction.

Hopefully you haven’t spend much money before you realize you have a problem. Because, you made a mistake from the very first step. If you are seeing yourself in one or several of those steps, congratulations. You are ready to fix it.


Steps to succeed

  1. Start a startup having complementary skills in your team: business, development, product, marketing, management.
  2. Research the problem you want to solve. Focus on the problem, maybe an app isn’t the best solution. Talk to your potential clients, understand their currents needs and their alternatives.
  3. After you have talked to many types of users, choose one niche to focus. You will have time in the future to target more groups. Everyone=no one.
  4. Define your business model, see how you are going to make money from day 1. Don’t play the lottery of “making money when you have millions of users”.
  5. If an app could be the best solution, design some wireframes and test them with your potential clients. You can use paper or Marvel. Let them use it, don’t talk, just ask questions, don’t use conditionals while interviewing (ex: what if..? if it had..?).
  6. When you are completely sure the solution you have designed is what they really need, start coding. Think about doing the minimum MVP you need to build (yeah, minimum!!).
  7. Instead of native, you can build cross-platform apps to test your idea. I know it’s not the best solution, but it can accelerate your learnings which is what you need to focus on your first year.
  8. Test again with users when you have the first prototype. Same as before: let them use it, don’t talk, just ask questions, don’t use conditionals while interviewing… Iterate based on that feedback.
  9. If your users needs their friends to do something (like answering a question, view a photo, filling up info…), allow them to do that on a website. Help your first users to engage their friends. Downloads will come after.
  10. Talk to your users as much as possible. Email them, call them, skype them, visit them, bring them to your office, etc. You will learn a lot. It will be painful but it will the best advice you will get.
  11. Don’t build the features that people ask, understand first the problems they have. Once you know them, iterate the app based on solving those problems. It could be by adding a feature or removing another.
  12. Don’t spend money on marketing until you are sure you have good retention and some virality (if it’s a consumer app).