Over the past year, I have been working on an internet app startup called Blerp, which allows people to easily share audio clips. Through Blerp we have made multiple software applications for web and mobile devices. We have made many mistakes along our journey, but we have also learned a lot from these mistakes. Each stage of the app making process takes patience and determination. You will make mistakes. My hope with writing this post is that you can avoid making the same mistakes we have seen at our own app startup. Proper preparation and execution on a great idea is the reason that good apps stand out. Here are 10 lessons that will help you make an app that is worthy of people’s attention.
1. Really understand your users
The first thing we did at Blerp was integrate user tracking. Watching user analytics allows us to see how user interacts with our app. We can view what type of content people look up as well as what pages users spend their time on. Some interesting data we have found is that people use our content differently for different platforms. My first assumption was that our users would be interested in the same content all around, but popular sound clips used in iMessage are different from audio clips played on our website. Knowing this helps us focus our strategy to cater to users differently per platform. By collecting this feedback we are able to iterate our app and make more strategic decisions when prioritizing features. A lot of first-time founders wait too long to implement user analytics. Implement users analytics as soon as possible to give your startup some direction.
2. Keep it simple
Many apps get deleted because users don’t understand how to use them. If you keep your app simple it is hard to make it unusable. Figure out which features your users value the most. Present these features to the user in a way that is not cluttered and easy to use. However, don’t make your app so minimum that is it is not valuable at all. Perfecting this balance is a skill.
3. Prioritize features through customer interviews
App entrepreneurs sometimes forget that building an app requires talking to people. Releasing an app with no feedback is a sure way of building an app that none will use. Customers tell you what they want. If you don’t listen to customers then they won’t listen to you. In fact, if you don’t listen to customers, they will not even be your customer anymore. Unless you are building an app for only yourself make sure that you surround yourself with eager customers. These people are your gateway for getting critical feedback. Customer interviews are used to prioritize features, find bugs and fix experience issues. Sometimes you may discover that users don’t use your app in the way that you think they should. Uncovering knowledge in this fashion allows you to not waste time building applications people will never use.
4. Innovate on new ecosystems
With Blerp, we took a strategy to build out an iMessage app first. We did this because Apple came out with the ecosystem this past year. The platform is new and the competition is less saturated. There is always the risks of technical uncertainty and user adoption when building on new ecosystems. To us the risk is worth it especially because this ecosystem is backed by Apple. We believe that as Apple continues to promote the iMessage ecosystem our current bet will eventually pay off. I suggest always taking the risk even if adoption is shaky for a new platform. It may be difficult to predict whether a new ecosystem will take off, however, the greater the uncertainty of any risk usually leads to a bigger reward.
5. Test on the least common denominator
Find the worst and oldest phone you want your app to work on and test your app on that phone. Find your most clueless friend and see if he or she understands how to navigate your app. By doing this you get rid of unforeseen bugs and user experience glitches. Figure out ways to test the worst case scenario. By following this tip, you leave every untested case a better case scenario.
6. Learn to iterate fast
It’s hard to hear that your app sucks. Making quick progress on your app fixes the need to justify your bad app. Learn to accept feedback, make decisions and build as fast as possible. Your app may suck today, but through iteration it may not suck tomorrow. Don’t release a half working product and expect users to like it. Find a way to make a good basecamp that allows users to give you proper feedback. The feedback you don’t want is “your app is broken.” The value of having a small team and a new codebase is being able to make big changes quickly. The other value is having the ability to tackle problems efficiently. Learn to have a process that gives you room to be agile with development. Users respect your business if they see you implement their suggestions quickly. Just be sure to implement the right suggestions that help the most users.
7. Learn to pivot
The best ideas are made through strategic changes. The great thing about Blerp is that we are not limited to just being an iOS App. We don’t know which application will be most sticky for our audio content. The hunch we are working off of is our audio content is fun. We already have Blerp on Google Assistant, iMessage, iOS, Android and web. We plan to put Blerp on Facebook Messenger, Slack, Siri. The best teams find different channels to move into to. This mindset exists in startups as well as large corporations. It is hard to play against luck. By allowing yourself to try new things, you improve your chances of finding success. Rarely do people succeed through their first business. The best teams fail fast so that they can work on more interesting problems. If you have a good team, then don’t lead your team into a dead end. Searching for a market can be hard so try to always leave a window of opportunity open.
8. Don’t make the app yourself
Part of being an entrepreneur is building and leading a great team. Huge companies are made through groups of valuable people. If you plan to start a small app you may not need a huge team to sustain the business. However, if your goal is to build an app that will last the test of time then you will need to grow a team. Snapchat may have been made by three guys, but now the company has almost 2,000 employees. I would suggest adopting a team early so that you can make better progress on your app. Making an app is hard enough. Making an app alone is even harder. Finding intelligent people early to take the risk with you will prepare your team skills for the future. It will also help you stay accountable and be less lonely.
9. Make actual progress
App startups, especially student-run startups, fail because students stop working on the app. The other reason is students do work but make no progress. To get around this write down a list of todos that needs to get done for your app to be successful. Prioritize your list so that you understand why you are spending time fixing a task. Make sure that you work each day to make some progress on your app. Understand the problems really need to be fixed for your app to be usable. I see people waste so much time on tweaking designs when the real matters don’t get finished. You won’t know if users like your app if it’s not built. You won’t know if you chose the correct features if there are no features to use. There is a difference from fake progress and real progress. Fake progress requires work but gets you no closer to your goal. Real progress leads to accomplishing measurable goals.
10. Don’t give up
It’s easy to get discouraged when your app first doesn’t take off. It is very important to constantly evaluate yourself, your team and your idea. Be honest with answering these questions: “Why is my app not growing as fast as it should?,” “Are you working on a team who can get work done?,” “Does my idea suck?,” “Have I tested my idea enough to know it sucks?,” and “Is my experience too complicated?” Don’t get stuck on an idea that doesn’t bring in results, but at the same time don’t give up too early without executing your idea properly.
Being as old as I am, I have started to see apps fail. I believe in execution. I believe in working on the correct ideas. These tips are written to help you find the right path on creating a usable app. There is no substitute for hard work. Working hard and working smart are both essential to the process of creating good apps.