person taking notes on a green sticky note next to iphone

How to Make an App – Where do I Start?

Do you have an idea, but find yourself wondering how to make an app?  Firstly – congratulations, because it’s exciting when you land on an idea that you’re passionate about.  Whether or not you know how to code – you can build your idea, with the right help.

Before jumping right into hiring someone to do it, there are some things you can do on your own.

Analyzing the idea

how to make an app

First of all, think in detail about the idea.

  • What problem are we solving?
  • Who would use this?
  • Why would using this be easier than using something else?
  • What else is out there that does this?

Secondly, refine the idea to make sure you answer these questions.  Thirdly, research what else is out there, and have an understanding of how you’d want to do things similarly or differently.  Don’t worry if you find other things very similar to your idea – this almost always happens.  The question is do you have a plan to make that better/easier for users?

Check out this article, and this one for some more detail on how to frame your thinking.

Now, before we get into anything to do with coding, let’s talk about some first steps you may want to take before even exploring that side of things. Here are four things to think about before deciding if you want to build your app.

Defining the Idea

app idea definition

The more clarity you have about what your app will do, the easier the development process is going to be.  We always encourage clients to start by thinking through the big picture.

  • What is the app for?
  • Who will use it?
  • What problem will it solve for them?
  • How will it do this?

The idea here is to refine the broad concept into the simplest terms.  We need to outline the “what” and “how.”  Part of the reason to do this is to make sure the idea is simple, and relatable.  This is important to make sure that the concept will be something that users can understand.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What problem is your app solving?
  • Who are the potential users of the app?
  • Does it help users solve this problem?
  • Can you describe your app to a user in one sentence?
  • How will the app make money?

If you have trouble answering these questions, that may be a red flag.  Firstly, If your idea is hard to understand, then it may be hard for users to grasp.  Secondly, if you don’t have clear answers to these questions, then it may be hard for a development partner to understand your goals.  As a result, if you don’t have this clarity, then you’re likely going to have problems in the development process in addition to user acquisition.

Competition Research

competition research

Once you’ve got the basic concept down, it’s smart to research what else it out there.  There is an old saying that “there’s no such thing as a new idea.”  While this isn’t always the case – it is often true.  You are probably going to find other apps that are similar.  A lot of people feel discouraged if they find other similar apps – but in reality you shouldn’t feel that way at all.  Competition is a healthy thing, and there are a lot of companies that do the same thing.  That doesn’t mean that a new company can’t enter the market.

Let’s use Facebook as an example.  Sure, today it is a behemoth and the dominant social media company.  So was MySpace, back when Facebook first launched.  And you probably don’t even remember Friendster, which owned the space even before MySpace.  The point is that a new idea can always compete if it is executed well.  You don’t have to be the first one to try an idea, you just need to do something a bit better, or bring a slightly unique twist to the equation.

How to Distinguish Your Idea

Think about it this way – if a store in one city makes amazing bread, does that mean that another store can’t start making bread and have success?  Of course not!  It means that the other store needs to have something that connects with customers and a plan to build its business.  The solution, then, may be to locate the shop in a different part of town.  Or to make a slightly different kind of bread.  Or to open at different hours.  There is always plenty of space for different versions of similar products, and the ones that are good will make it.

Going back to the Facebook example, when they first started, for instance, MySpace was already the most popular social networking site.  In its early days, Facebook decided to target a specific subset of the potential user audience – college students. You may not remember, but originally you needed to have a .edu email to sign up for Facebook.  This strategy helped them corner a specific user base – students – they grew from there and the rest is history.

Apps are the same way.  Execution and business strategy are going to be just as important as the idea itself.

What to Look For

It’s important to know what else it out there, because you want to plan accordingly.  Therefore, in doing research we recommend paying close attention to the following:

  • What has worked, and what hasn’t worked with similar apps.
  • Seeing what are users saying in their reviews.
  • Are users mentioning problems they are having with these apps?
  • Which features do they like?
  • What is the business model?
    • Are they charging for subscriptions?
    • Do they offer in-app purchases?
  • How many downloads do they have?

We recommend that you download any competing apps and check them out.  Do you like them?  Are they missing features that you would like to have?  How do you like the design?  Is it easy to use?

Click here to check out a helpful guide about how to conduct competition research.

If you decide to pursue your app idea, this research will be helpful.  You’ll have a better idea of how similar technologies work.  You’ll have some ideas about what improvements could be made.  You may even have an idea of features that people seem to want but don’t have in the other apps.  The result can be that you find a great opportunity for your app.  These are all great things to consider as you start planning.

Your idea can be similar to others – that is not a problem.  The key is thinking about how you can deliver a very helpful service.  Therefore, you want your app to be intuitive, easy to use, and engaging.  If the problem that you want to solve still exists – there is still room for your idea!  Let’s make it and make it better. If you’re looking for help exploring your business idea and making a business plan, you may be interested in our startup launch kit.

Peer Feedback

It’s always good to have a second opinion from people you know and trust, because you know they will give you honest feedback.  Therefore, we definitely recommend doing your own little focus group by asking friends and family for feedback on your idea.   Doing this will give you valuable feedback and may also give you some new ideas.

For example, if your idea is an app to help students study more efficiently – try to find 10 students and describe the idea to them.   Next, ask if this is something that they would use.  Ask them if there are any other features that they would find helpful.

Start Thinking About Your Revenue Model

app revenue

If you’re looking to make an app as a for-profit venture, it’s important to start researching how apps make money. We definitely recommend researching various revenue models, and what has been successful with other companies.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for the best way to monetize an app.  It depends on your goals, your target market, your budget needs, and much more.  The method you choose will impact the way you build the technology, and therefore it is good to start thinking about this now.

To help guide your research – here are some very basic overviews of revenue models.

  • Freemium: many apps are free to download, but also have a premium subscription that you can pay for in exchange for accessing enhanced features. Dating apps commonly do this by offering premium subscriptions that unlock features like unlimited swipes, the ability to see who has liked your profile, and more.
  • In-app purchasing: Many apps are free to use but offer goods and services in the app which you can buy. For example, a mobile app game may let users play 5 games each day for free. If users want to play more, they could have the option to buy tokens, which in turn would give them more turns.
  • Subscription: many apps have a simple subscription model – they charge users a monthly or annual fee to access the app.
  • One-time download fee: some apps charge a one-time fee to download, and after are either free to use, or also offer in-app purchases.
  • Advertising: many apps show display ads to their users. Typically, the app owner will get small amounts of money for each time that a user clicks on an ad.

For more details about revenue models, check out this comprehensive guide.

What to do Next

Thinking about the four things listed in this post will help you refine your idea.  This puts you in a much better position to start pursuing it.  The next step is to learn the basics of how app development works.  If you’re ready to start exploring making your app, contact us any time!

Don’t forget to download our free e-book – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Making an App.

Also, check out easy step-by-step guide to building an MVP to validate your startup idea.

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