Friday, September 28, 2012

What makes a successful app? Be passionate and committed

This is our last Friday tip on what makes an app successful and we saved the most important thing for last. As Lyle and I step toward this new app idea of ours, our next question to ourselves is:

Are we really passionate enough and committed enough to the idea and its success?

 On our best days we are certain the answer is yes.

The thing about starting a business is that it needs about as much nurturing as a baby--it can't exist without you (or someone). There may a few lucky exceptions and, of course, once you have a good business on its legs and earning income, there can be down time. But, for most businesses, there is still a lot of work that needs doing even when things are going very well, even after you have employees.

You need to ask yourself very seriously: can I make room for the work it takes to keep nurturing a new business? To sheperd it to maturity?

You also may want to ask whether the app you are thinking of developing is the right app for your workload capacity--maybe an app that doesn't require a lot of up-front data collection or research is better when you want to put your energy into marketing or design.

Lots of would-be entrepreneurs start out with passion but find themselves beaten down by the stress and time committment of starting a business. More businesses fail than succeed!

But, we are here to encourage you. Maybe you just need to find out by doing it!

If you are organized, good at juggling multiple responsibilities, can go without a full night's sleep for weeks at a time, and can taste success for your app even before it has been developed, then you probably have what it takes to make an app successful.

While you clear your head to focus on this question, try SoDunked! or, help us out and gift it to a friend!

Friday, September 21, 2012

What makes a successful app? Re-usable parts

Lyle and I ‘hear’ all the time around the Internet that multiple apps help to sell each other. Some marketing experts suggest that you simply re-skin your apps and release them again with new names. There may be benefits to this, but we think there is a particular aspect to this that deserves calling out: cost savings.

Talking Santa
If you have an up-front cost for the graphics and the code for your app, can you re-use any of those graphics and code in a different app that would appeal to a slightly different user? As a small developer, we think this is an important question. Doing this would make a second app cost less to make and allow you to get multiple products into the market. Re-using parts or sharing look & feel may not be at the heart of every successful app plan, but look at Talking Tom as an example—that developer used the same idea but changed the main character and a few details to make many variations that would appeal to many different people.

Talking Tom
Our next question to ourselves as we consider our own app idea is:
Does our app have re-usable parts?

Our wishful answer is “yes, we think so.” A few weeks ago, when we asked ourselves “is it simple enough?” the answer was “yes”,  but that was if we chose to pursue only one aspect of the idea. When we got to today’s question about re-usable parts, a lightbulb went off for Lyle and what originally looked like one complex app idea suddenly became several simple related apps--a suite of apps!

Talking Harry the Hedgehog
We can start simple by just developing the first app, but when we are ready, we can build on the initial investment of time and money by re-using some of the graphics and code to create several more complimentary apps. We save money, we increase our presence in the app store, and we maintain a branded presence with shared navigation and familiar look & feel.

We have a long way to go, but this gives us something about which we can be extra excited.

Good luck applying these tips to your new app idea, but if you get stuck on anything, please draw a picture of the problem, photograph it, and dunk it heartily with SoDunked! (By the way, Wednesday this week was "talk like a pirate” day in the US, so find yerself a pirate me mateys and dunk away!)

Friday, September 14, 2012

What makes a successful app? Have a (good) business plan

Developing an app is not simply a creative and technical act—it is the first step in starting a business to sell that app. The notion that a good idea paired with good programming and graphics can be posted in the app store with no marketing, no budget, and no business plan, is naïve (and I mean that in the most gentle voice possible, but it’s true--ask me or Lyle!). 
In Lyle's words, "The road is littered with good ideas that never catch on." If you have an idea and you want to spend the money and time to make it real, have a business plan.

So, our next question to ask ourselves as we consider whether to go forward with our latest app idea is: 

Do we have a good business plan?

A business plan is a written statement of your business goals, the reasons why your business is likely to achieve these goals, and the plan for attaining those goals. The plan should lay out your plan for revenues, marketing, growth, and next steps; it should detail your costs and identify the risks and how you will handle them. For more about writing a business plan, visit the U.S. Small Business Association business plan page at or Entrepreneur’s business plan page at  

As we draft our business plan, we are asking ourselves:
  1. Where are revenues coming in from? App store sales, yes. In-app sales, too? Advertising? Related brick and mortar products or services? 
  2. What are potential costs? Hiring experts for marketing? Hiring a database developer to build a back-end? 
  3. What are some of the risks and how will we overcome them?
  • Are there technology adoption risks (e.g., like the "Level Up" app being adopted by some businesses but not others yet)? To mitigate this we could find a channel (a partnership with a company that would have--or could more efficiently develop--those relationships).
  • Are there costs to attract enough clients to feed our data so that it is rich for new users, e.g., like a "Yelp" type of app. Without content, our app wouldn’t be useful. We could mitigate this by collecting data in advance to pre-load or we can partner with a brick and mortar company that has rich content and needs a partner to disseminate it.
The exercise of developing a business plan will uncover the risks and issues for you to assess and possibly overcome. Or, they can make it clear that this app sounds great, but isn’t viable for the money and time you have available. Another benefit of developing a business plan right away--even before developing your app--is that once it is written, you have it ready for review by potential investors or a bank loan approval.

Based on our business-plan writing exercise, we determined that our new app idea has some risk associated with it. We will need to carefully assess whether we drop some of the features that add this risk or whether we can stomach (and afford) to take it on.

Draft your business plan and see how your app stacks up.

And, when you’re done, take a picture of the “costs” or “risks” sections and dunk 'em with SoDunked! (or just dunk your boss and go start a business).

Friday, September 7, 2012

What makes a successful app? Keep it simple

If you create a time management tool and think people might also want to store photos as part of it, think it through carefully--those sound like very different things. Maybe there are limited elements of the one that can be incorporated into the other or maybe these should be two separate apps that can share data.

Keep it simple.

So, the next question we asked ourselves about the new app idea was:

Is the app concept simple enough?

For our latest idea, we are using our network of friends and business contacts to review our app and offer feedback about whether it is simple enough. For now, we are still fine-tuning. For you, maybe it's more clear, but here are some things we have been thinking about as we evaluate whether to combine several functions and features that may not seem like obvious siblings:
  • What does the user gain from combining them? It's fine if we save money by developing them in the same app, but think in terms of user experience. It's about creating a tool or experience that is user-friendly, not confusing or opaque. 
  • Can I explain what my app does in one clear sentence or phrase? Say that one clear sentence of phrase to someone you don't know and see if they understand what your app is supposed to be/do without you needing to clarify anything major. For example, if my app tracks my exercise routine and has a feature that allows me to take a picture of me at the beginning and end of each activity and add a time stamp and choose from a picklist of activities so that these photos are cataloged for later analysis (of how frequently and how long do I run on the treadmill each week), how can I say that in less words than I just did it?! It's logical, if quirky, so you should be able to say this better. If your app does time management and photo storage and has a word game feature, you may have too much explaining to do.

Users want straightforward, intuitive tools. It's not that we are advocating the dumbing down of apps. There are some very successful apps that do complicated things. Think of simple as meaning "understandable" and you'll get it right.

And, when your business partner says he will pull out of the project if you won't add that out-of-place feature, take his picture with SoDunked! and dunk away!

Friday, August 31, 2012

What makes a successful app? The ‘duh’ tip (tie in to social media)

When you are considering your audience, the multiplier effect, and marketing opportunities, you MUST be thinking of Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and all social media trends. They don’t guarantee success, but they can help. It’s a statistical conclusion and a gut reaction from experience. However, if you do tie in to social media, be sure it makes sense and is easy and fruitful for users to do.

So, the second thing we asked ourselves when thinking about our new app idea was: 

Should we (and how would we logically) integrate our new app with other apps and tools for social networking?

We think the answer is "yes" for our project, but every app and every business is different.

We think we have the right social media tie-in ideas and know what exactly we want to gain from tying in to Twitter or Facebook, but we continue to test our ideas and fine-tune. It's important to walk through multiple scenarios and keep asking questions.
  • How should my app interface with Twitter (for example)? Should Tweets be sent automatically when users do something or should users be able to choose when to Tweet from your app?
  • Does it need to be an iPhone app tied to Facebook or a separate Facebook app and iPhone app? (Or Android, etc.)
  • Does LinkedIn make more sense for us? Are there any barriers to entry at LinkedIn?

If you have a good idea for how to tie a serious business solution into social media, go for it! Even a more serious business app can benefit from the network of social media (think jobhunting tools or marketing experts). 

For example, you may want to develop a personal finance app with which users track their spending and receive a gold star whenever they stay within a weekly budget. A big danger alert flashes on the user's screen when they get close to the spending limit before the end of the week. Users may NOT want this app to push these achievements and failures to Facebook. Although..., if it was optional, maybe that would be okay so that any users who respond to peer pressure can involve their friends.
If you are developing a photo app, maybe you want to automatically post images to Flickr or tie into Dropbox. That's a tie-in that boosts visibility and provides a useful service to your customers.

We'll fill you in on the details of our new app when it's ready to share and maybe you can tell us about your ideas in the comments.
Here's an example of how we use Twitter in our existing app, SoDunked! It gives this complaints an audience of 11,000 followers and that might just make this SoDunked! user feel a little better.
It may not be a serious app, but overcoming insomnia is another story. Is there an app for that?
While you brainstorm your own ideas, come on over to our page at the app store and try SoDunked! or gift it to a friend. There must be someone you want to dunk.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What makes a successful app? Solve a problem

For our new app, we decided we need a new checklist to evaluate the viability of our idea. We developed this checklist by studying successful apps and identifying the qualities that they all share. Each of these Friday tips will be about one question to ask yourself when you are developing an app or even just coming up with an idea.

Our first question for the checklist is:  

Does this product/service solve a common problem?

(In fact, if you don't have an app idea yet, looking for a problem to solve is a good first step!) Most of the successful apps we see solve a problem.

In our case, we think the answer is yes, our app solves a problem (sorry we can't divulge yet what the app is about).

During the planning for SoDunked!, we were thinking “fun” and “games”. At the time, there were at least 3 apps in the top 100 that were just about passing gas (pooting, futzing—my mother couldn't say the word aloud and I can't write it) and there were also several about lobbing nasal secretions.

Needs no caption!
Just one of many
I bring these up only to say that at the time we decided to build SoDunked!, simple entertainment and novelty apps were very popular and seemed like a good choice with which to enter the app market.

Today, things are different. The age of the novelty app has passed (did you know that Apple even states in its submission guidelines that developers really need not submit any more gas-passing apps?). Statistics say that game apps are declining in popularity as well. So, Lyle and I (and lots of more expert folks) think that the age of the useful app has begun in earnest. (I've seen more expense reporting and productivity apps than I can wade through—fyi, some reviews at,, and

For evaluating your app ideas, here are some suggestions:
  1. You could run your app idea through this variation on the "Does this solve a problem?" question: Does my [photo app idea] do it better or differently than the several hundred that are already at the app store? Or, do I have something that no other [expense report] apps have that will make it stand out and garner enough attention to earn revenue or generate buzz. 
  2. Lyle chimes in, from his perch behind an iPad across the room, that "Does this solve a problem?" is a question you should ask at many decision points throughout your app and business development process, not just about the general function of the app and not just during the idea and planning phases. When you are considering spending another chunk of time or money to add a new feature, change the layout, add more artwork, or to involve more people as investors or owners, and so forth, ask yourself whether doing this is solving a problem—is it helping me get to my goal or is it just bells and whistles or something my kid—or a vocal investor—is begging we roll into the app.
  3. In fact, Lyle and I both say aloud at the same time, "don't just ask yourself—ask a few other people for their expert opinions" on the decisions you face. They can help you get perspective on whether that next step will solve a problem or divert you from your purpose. Then review those opinions and your own analysis to decide what to do. If you don't know anyone with the experience you need, you can usually get free advice from networking, cold calls, or reading an expert's blog.
  4. Be sure you know your market—search on your app idea both in iTunes (or other app stores) and on the web. Again, ask someone if you can find someone to ask. Remember that sometimes it's worth it to go to your nearest public or institutional library—a reference librarian can help with this sort of question, even in the digital age. (We are big fans of real live librarians.)
So, that’s our Business 101 tip—make sure your app or business is solving a problem. No one needs another fart app (oops, I wrote it); however, a "how to prevent [or distract from] them during business meetings" app might just be viable. There’ll be another tip for the checklist next Friday, so stay tuned.

And, when you need to let off steam as you watch someone release their app that looks a lot like the one you've been working on for months but haven't yet released, go dunk ‘em with SoDunked!

Monday, August 20, 2012

We have another app brewing

Wow, we’ve been busy! We have another app brewing, or should I say “marinating”?

Lyle and I have been making chicken wings a lot lately for a picky eater and I am learning how to adjust the marinade so that it isn’t too sweet or too hot or too salty or just too much. Likewise, for the new app,we need to find that “just right” balance—it needs to be simple, yet complex enough to be useful and interesting for our particular audience.

Analogies aside, what do successful apps have? As we embark on the next leg of our journey to an app, we are identifying the key things to consider and we will write about each over the next few weeks in a series of Friday Tips entries.

Tune in soon to hear about the first one: Business 101. In the meantime, keep telling friends and family about SoDunked!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

We launched a free version of SoDunked!

Happy almost Spring!

As we announced at the end of last year, we released a free version of SoDunked!. We did it to see if a free version would help sales of the paid version or increase downloads so that we could consider adding some InApp purchases or ads. (Our free version is just the plain dunking game part without the social networking options.)

This has been an exciting experience so far. Here is a look at the data.

Free App Sales Trend
Paid App Sales Trend
If you compare the downloads for the paid versus the free app during the same period, we had about 100fold  more free apps as paid apps downloaded in the same period. The free apps peaked around the week after we released it. The paid app sales spiked at the same time as the free app. We think this means that the free app did, in fact, drive some sales. The effect was short-lived though. The paid app downloads are not as high, but seem to persist more steadily (and that has been true all year) than the free app looks like it will. But, it is early yet. We know that we need to do more promotion (thanks for all you are already doing, Lyle!!). Still, it is exciting to see the downloads and we have learned a lot to take forward with us on this journey.

Now, get out there and dunk someone! And be sure to tell someone else about SoDunked!.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When other things take priority -- The juggling act of running a small business

Image c/o Frank C. Müller
via Wikimedia commons
January got busy--so busy I haven't been on here to post a new entry in weeks, but not busy enough to distract me from eating second breakfast and double dessert.... As our youngest would say, "stupid scale!"

I need to write more about the free version of SoDunked! (we released a free version last month!), our progress or lack of progress in taking next steps in the life of our business, and also get some exercise. But, like everyone who has a business like this on the side (like everyone period), Lyle and I have managed what we can for SoDunked! but been focused on other things out of necessity. Lyle has a new day job, I am at the start of the busiest time of year at my day job, it's open house season at the public schools in our area, I had jury duty, we've had some family visits out of state, and everyone has been sick.

When you run this sort of business on the side and your other responsibilities are at front and center, this side business can get sidelined. We deal with the critical things about the business (bills, taxes, basic maintenance, people ) and let the rest slide until we have time again. We anticipated this about our lives so we took the risk to start this business rather than a restaurant or a brick and mortar shop. We hope we can set aside more time more often to make this business a success. We hope that it will grow into something that will demand more attention all the time. And, we really hope it will earn enough money to draw us away from the gravitational pull of the rest of our lives.

I'll be back to talk about SoDunked! and our future plans as soon as I can. For now, I will repeat the classic January mantra for so many Americans: "must go to gym, must go to gym" and take a few minutes of down-time to dunk the scale.

We are grateful to have day jobs and to be worrying about this 'extra' job when so many people we know and hear about have lost and are still losing jobs. Best of luck to everyone we know who is struggling or juggling. Be sure to take good care of yourselves and be hopeful.

If you are extremely annoyed at someone these days (boss, candidate, entertainer, all of the above?), remember you can take it out on them without hurting a fly or anyone's feelings by dunking them with SoDunked!

Dunk someone today!

Monday, January 9, 2012

SoDunked! is 1 year old! -- Looking ahead

Here is the last in our series of blog entries reflecting on the one-year anniversary of SoDunked! appearing in the app store. As we look ahead, there are two last things we will focus on--the question of involving investors in a new venture and the need to better tap into our known intellectual resources (smart people we know).

Well, would we involve outside investors next time? (especially since we opted not to for SoDunked!) Yes, if there is a next time, we will again weigh the pros and cons of getting investors and those pros and cons will be different now that we have the experience of the last year under our belts. And, to be frank, it does feel more likely (and more necessary) that we would look for investors.

Investors can help to spread the word about your products because they have a stake in your success. Also, having investors requires some governance. Formal governance might put more pressure--and resources--to bear on the process of marketing and advertising and on enhancing and researching despite other demands on our time and budget.

The obvious benefit of raising money for your mobile app venture, including for marketing and advertising budgets and for enhancements is reflected in this article in MSP News or, both from PRNewswire via Comtex. (Or, read this about the risk of "too much capital" in this blog entry by Bo Burlingham.)

Another thing we will do more in this next year is ask for help. We know so many great minds in marketing, people experienced in startups and entrepreneurship, and experts in strategy and management. Outside voices can be both sounding boards and advisors. We need them. It's not that we didn't consult friends or family this time around, but we feel like there is more we can learn from these folks than we have yet realized--being a small "mom and pop" shop that struggles to meet our measures of success, we may hesitate to involve others. We also will look for ways to expand this pool of intellectual resources, through LinkedIn or local meetups or online forums or other means.

To be honest, this is really hard work. If you are out there selling your app or any product or service, you probably know already how much time and money it takes. We have invested a lot (sweat equity, you know) so we are staying the course for now. We'll keep plugging away, try more new things, dunk a few people with SoDunked!, and spreading the word.

We hope you will keep spreading the word about SoDunked! Thanks for your support so far. We wouldn't be here without you.

To all the developers who read our blog, may this new year be happy and filled with app sales.