By Jeffrey Morelli, University of Utah student and app developer
Being in a band is cool, being on the football team is cool, and now creating your own app while in college has become cool. With more and more coverage in mainstream media, creating the “hot new app” has become a highly pursued interest. I’m currently a senior at University of Utah and a year and a half into co-founding my own app. I put together a list of tips that I have learned while creating NiteOut, a social-networking app that allows people to rank bars and clubs in real time. We’re currently looking for beta testers if anyone’s interested.
1. Talk to your users
One, talk to your users. Two, talk to your users. Three, build an app. Four, give app to your users. Five, get feedback from your users. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how important it is to talk to your users. At the end of the day, users should be the most important focus of your company. Ultimately, your opinion of the app is inconsequential. What truly matters is what impact your app has on the users’ lives. Feedback from users is what should drive the direction of your startup. It is possible to build your entire app and find out there is only one feature actually being used. This is where you must pivot your company to the feedback you have received.
A lot of times the company and audience you start off with will not be the company or audience that you end with. Companies that refuse to pivot around changing markets are the ones being left in the dust. In our experience with NiteOut, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out why NiteOut was not gaining the traction that we were anticipating. It turns out this project had lost a majority of its momentum, and this was primarily due to releasing it in the wrong market. Since then, we have rebuilt the app and are strictly launching in Boulder, Colo., in August 2015.
In 2013, a friend of mine started a health-care data-tracking app that, in the beginning, did not meet much success. It was not until he pivoted into an autism-theory, data-tracking app, that he raised over $700,000. The lesson: Build an initial product, and then figure out what you have to pivot to survive.
3. Find a Partner
The people that you choose to work with during this time can make or break your startup company. In my opinion, the ideal team would be comprised of a great programmer, a business hustler and a graphic designer. While it is possible to create a startup on your own, I highly recommend that you team up with someone to fill in the skillset that you lack. Having a partner not only strengthens your company, it shows your idea isn’t so crazy no one wants to work on it with you. If you have made it to an interview with a VC or tech incubator (like YCombinator), some major red flags will arise if you do not have a business partner. As CEO, it is important to continuously communicate with all partners and employees so everyone knows the direction the company is going.
4. Find the yellers
This is a tip I have taken very seriously and take directly from my good friend and Thiel fellow Delain Asparouhov. You should surround yourself by the people who are willing to yell at you and tell you why your company sucks. While it is a great ego boost to have your friends tell you how cool of an idea your app is, it only hinders your progress. It is more valuable to have mentors and friends who will tell you some major issues with your company that you have overlooked. (For a full write up by Delian, visit www.delian.io/find-the-yellers).
5. Find school resources
Universities offer as many resources as possible to their student-run companies – afterall, student success is their main goal. The University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute is one of the top entrepreneur programs in the country. Last year, NiteOut received about $10,000 from the U’s Get Seeded program to help get the company off of the ground. This is an amazing opportunity for any student to receive advice and funding to turn their idea into an actual company. Creating a startup is already an uphill battle; nerveless, as a student, it is crucial to use all the resources at your disposal to give your startup the best chance possible.
6. Every project is larger than you think
While it’s important to go forth confidently and retain big dreams for your company, it’s also imperative that you actually give your users something tangible now. Many founders get hung up with endless tweaking, adding a seemingly infinite number of features that the average user will never touch, which can lead to failure. For most startups, though, especially lean ones, it’s far more important to launch an MVP (minimum viable product) then count on your users to let you know where you should spend your energy from there on. To paraphrase another successful friend, Dave Fontenot, “just ship it.”
These are just a few of the tips that would have expedited the process of creating my first app. There is a lot that cannot be taught but must simply be learned along the way. Above all else, you must have a drive and vision to see your company as a success.