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 na├»ve (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!