We sit back and marvel at services like Uber and Facebook. At their core they're very simple concepts that have successfully identified a societal need. But they didn't just start existing one day. There's a process each idea should progress through (regardless of how informal it may be) before it even gets to the development stage.
1. Develop a Business Model
This is the first and most important step on your journey. It details your high level plan for the application. You'll need to identify your target market and how your app will make money. Will you charge a download fee? Is selling advertising space your main source of revenue? Will you invest heavily before monetising? This will shape your development journey - apps that build a user base before monetising will likely require outside investment.
A template has been developed to simplify the completion of your business model. Alexander Ostewalder created a business model canvas. It's a visual chart where you describe your products value proposition, infrastructure, customers and finances. By populating the canvas (pictured below), you have a platform that can be used to shape future business decisions.
2. Validate Your Idea
This step ensures that you have a product people will use. It can be difficult to get an accurate gauge of user interest before the product is available. If you can talk to your target market (through surveys/interviews) and they agree they would actually use your app in the way you intended, then it has been validated. Other methods include using Google's Keyword Planner to determine the number of people searching terms that correlate with your product offering. Alternatively, you could utilise crowd funding platforms to seek user interest and even subsidise the startup costs.
3. Market Research
Market research is the step every entrepreneur fears. What if my awesome idea already exists? At times people won't even look because they're scared of what they'll find. If an identical offering already exists in the market it's better to find out at step 3 than at step 8 after you've already sunk thousands of dollars into the project. If something similar (but not identical) exists then you can begin formulating your unique value proposition. Researching the market is pretty self explanatory. You can begin by searching the Apple and Google Play app stores. A general Google search of the industry may also help discover competitors.
4. Define Your Unique Value Proposition
This is a short statement that describes how you solve your users' needs and what distinguishes you from the competition. Ideally, you want a unique product that's easy to explain. This unique value proposition will shape your messaging. It's interesting to look at how Uber's UVP and messaging has changed since its release in 2010. Initially, it was marketed as UberCab - everyone's private driver.'
Originally it distinguished its offering from a regular cab service by positioning itself as a luxurious, personalised option at a fraction of the cost of a limousine.
Over time the company's messaging has changed. It's broadened its unique value proposition because of the apps popularity. Uber doesn't need to describe itself as a ride sharing service or private car service because people already know. Its messaging is simpler and broader; â€˜get there.' So your UVP can change over time but ensure that at day one it explains your product and its unique value.
5. Set Your User Goals
This step is priming you for the development phase. You don't want to waste time formulating your user goals as development is commencing. It's far better to have an idea of what these goals are before you engage a developer.
Despite how good your idea may be, you will still need a plan to fund it. App development can be expensive depending on the complexity and functionality of your application. If you have savings in the bank, you could personally fund the idea. Alternatively you could pitch it to investors and seek external investment. There's no right way to fund an idea (maybe stay away from taking loans from the mafia) but you should have a plan before you start looking for a development company.
By now you have a well defined idea - but that's all it is at the moment, an idea. Next, it's time to progress that idea into a functioning application. This is where you must make a tough decision, how do I build my application? If you're a company you can either build the app in house or outsource. As an individual it's more than likely you'll need to outsource. Choose your developer wisely, there's a lot at stake! Powered by Codebots, WorkingMouse is comparably faster and cheaper than other custom software developers.
7. User Feedback
Before your initial public release it's important to give your users a voice for feedback. After all, if they don't like the product, they won't use it. Initially some user testing is important to help mould your application, but don't be afraid to release early because you can still gather user feedback as you go. This is where a feedback loop can be utilised. A feedback loop means that even after your release, you continue to change different parts of your product, find out how it went and learn from the results. The shorter the feedback loop, the quicker you can adapt your product if required.
As mentioned in the last step, the first release of your product doesn't have to be the clean final version you envisaged. Think MVP and understand that you won't just release one day and have an enormous user base the next.
Growing your user base can be the most difficult step for many entrepreneurs. This step is made remarkably easier when you complete the earlier steps comprehensively. With a clear plan, you know your goals, the user's wants and how to deliver something that fits in with both.
The most exciting part of app development. That final step where you've acquired your users and you start to see a return on investment. For established companies who are integrating a new application with an existing one, this step may come earlier. When this will occur depends on your strategy. Facebook didn't begin seriously monetising until 2012 despite the fact it had over 600 million monthly users in 2010.
While this process may not be the same for every development project, it should be used as a reference point. The early steps (developing a business model and validating your idea) are often overlooked as an entrepreneur's excitement for their end vision mean they jump straight to development. As developers we can't start a project if the client doesn't have a clear plan of what they want. Without that plan you risk scope creep, changing functionality and potentially, cancelled projects.