It doesn’t matter what stage you’re in–it’s never too late to avoid the costliest mistakes in your custom mobile app development journey. And if you’re looking to build successful apps in 2019, then it’s important that you have the wisdom to make financially smart decisions that can 10x your success in app development.
That’s why we’ve come up with 5 Easy Steps to Building Successful Apps in 2019:
Step 1: Prepare for Battle
Plan for the challenge of standing out in a crowded space
In recent years there’s been a lot of contention around how little opportunity there is left in the saturated mobile app market. Everyone seems to know how to make mobile apps just by watching YouTube videos or using mobile app builders. While it’s true that there are literally millions of apps in app stores, the average user only has about 20 apps on their phones. The fear-mongering may be a bit overblown. Look at this graph:
As you can see, the number of apps making $1 million plus a year is definitely not flattening yet. What is true however, is that mobile app entrepreneurs now face the same fundamental difficulties as any other online business trying to get people’s attention. Think about how many coffee shops have great reviews on Yelp now that Yelp is saturated with users and reviews. If you’re just flashy or trendy but your core product doesn’t rock, you won’t last. It’s the same with your mobile app in an app store: you have to differentiate yourself and create a super solid product that’s hard for wantrepreneurs to replicate.
Your first MVP (minimum viable product) probably won’t be your last
The most common misconception of first-time entrepreneurs is that they’ll succeed because they have a great idea. The truth is, being a successful app entrepreneur is more about having a winning strategy and executing persistently on user feedback than it is about having a great idea. This has been a constant truth in startup circles (read about the “build-measure-learn” cycle). However, in 2018 we still saw too many entrepreneurs make the same mistake of overbuilding their MVP.
My advice? Instead of overbuilding, get to market as soon as possible with as few features as possible, test them out with real users, then nimbly make changes based on user feedback. We launch at least 10 production-ready web and mobile apps per year, and we can tell you that the “build” of the “build-measure-learn” development cycle is always the easiest part. The harder part is the uncertainty that comes after, where every entrepreneur has to figure out how to stay true to their vision while listening to users and adapting the MVP into something they love.
Other ways to prepare for battle:
- Think like a project manager.
- Know when to hire a development team.
- Keep up to date on the latest trends in mobile app development.
- Buckle in for the long-run, building a mobile app is a journey, not a sprint.
Step 2: Validate Your Idea First
Test and fail cheaply upfront
A few years ago, entrepreneurs were starting their custom application development journey by creating a fully-coded but bare-bones prototype into user’s hands long before user feedback came into play. That is no longer the case.
We now get user testing on our animated design prototypes using tools like usertesting or usabilityhub (for the record, the latter is cheaper), which means that we can now test real user behavior on an app concept before a single line of code is written.
Based on that feedback, we can iterate a new design within a week. By the end of 4-6 weeks of design, we know that users find the app easy to use and get real benefit out of using the app. An MVP can take anywhere between 2-6 months to build, depending on complexity. No matter how you slice it, that’s still a huge chunk of change. Do whatever you can to find product-market fit before investing into that.
When iterating your MVP, separate noise from real user issues
After reading the paragraph above, you might be thinking you need to take everyone’s feedback to heart when developing an app. That’s not true, and doing so can be downright dangerous. If people are shouting for a new feature but they still stick with your app as is, take comfort. That means they find value in it even without the extra features.
After launching your MVP, you should “measure” and “learn” by listening, but listen to actions more than words. Use feedback as clues, but use data analytics tools to verify them. Analytics such as engagement metrics and heatmaps allow you to see where people are engaging most on your app and where they’re dropping off.
A measuring strategy which is just as educational is the simple act of watching people use the app. The best mobile app developers know that if users aren’t using something, then they need to get rid of it. If it’s a poor user experience getting in the way of them converting, improve it. Again, with mobile app development, the key is to differentiate what users say from how they act, and to be especially careful when it comes to new feature requests. These must be viewed with different lenses than bug reports and complaints about poor user experience. Adding new features more often than not is about increasing an existing user’s lifetime value or expanding the addressable audience size, and not something you should do to placate your initial target market.
Other paths to validating your idea first:
- Begin building metrics for your future mobile or web application.
- Learn how to use customer feedback to iterate your app.
- Get up to speed on the perks of A/B testing.
- Familiarize yourself with the Designer-Developer Rope.
- Take a deeper dive into learning about developer-industry relationships in healthcare.
- Remember your roots: where did your idea come from?
Step 3: Select Compatible Technologies
Don’t invest in artificial intelligence unless you have a clear data strategy
Your AI algorithm is only as effective as the data it has to learn from. In 2019, there’s no hotter idea than adding artificial intelligence to anything, and with good reason. It’s that rare trend that’s already a clear value-add to everyone on the continuum (unlike say cryptocurrency). If a hospital adds an AI-driven medical scribe, or if a brokerage firm adds an AI-driven financial advisor, the business and the end users both experience cost savings. However, many entrepreneurs come to us with an AI-driven app idea without a clear data acquisition strategy. If you launch an MVP with a freshly-minted AI algorithm, we can pretty much guarantee the algorithm will be unintelligent.
On the other hand, when we talk to entrepreneurs that have a winning strategy to obtain large amounts of de-identified data, we get really excited! And that means, during the initial months of building the MVP, the algorithm will be trained with real data so it’s ready to perform by the time we launch the MVP.
Know when to build a native mobile app versus a progressive web app
We get several prospects for a progressive web app per week. Sometimes, the use case is a match made in heaven. Other times, we still believe a native mobile app makes more sense. Is it a newsfeed app or storefront? Progressive web app wins. Or is it a personal tracking app that connects with apple healthkit? Native still wins. Pick the right technology for your use case. Progressive web apps may very well become the standard in 2021, but if users don’t adopt it in 2019, will your app survive until then?
Find opportunities to use off-the-shelf libraries versus coding from scratch
There are open-source and off-the-shelf libraries now for most features that you’d want in a custom app. In this day and age, don’t trust any developer that insists on building everything from scratch. The harder part is making sure that the off-the-shelf library is actually off-the-shelf. We used a React Native epub library for an ereader app, but as the feature got more advanced, continuing to modify the library became much more time-consuming than doing it ourselves. Before you make your decision on how to approach development, consider both the availability of off-the-shelf libraries and their true compatibility with the desired functionality.
A few extra tips on selecting compatible technologies:
- Consider a Mobile-first design and development plan.
- Weigh the benefits of choosing either a progressive web app, or a native mobile app.
- Explore which programming framework is best for your future application.
- Decide if Machine Learning is right for your enterprise.
- Learn the difference between Android and iOS UI Design for React Native.
- See which technologies we’ve used with past clients.
Step 4: Protect Your Data
Know your data privacy laws (GDPR, facebook scandals)
Whether you’re building a mhealth app or a social media app like Facebook that shares user data with advertisers, privacy laws are becoming more stringent than ever. With certain industries like fintech and healthcare (the areas our firm focuses on), liability is higher at the early stages. You need to set up compliance at the early stages, encrypting data in transfer as well as data at rest. Also, most of the smaller startups we worked with had to deal with GDPR compliance in 2018. Protecting personal privacy is now becoming a cost of business for startups, not something that only a handful of big businesses need to deal with.
Use services to handle privacy unless you’re a privacy company
The importance of personal privacy in 2019 doesn’t mean that you need to become a data privacy guru and hire your own Gilfoyle. There are myriad services out there now that help app developers handle privacy and are accessible to entrepreneurial budgets. Example: a few years ago, it cost a whopping $2,000+ per month to become HIPAA compliant on Amazon Web Services. Fast forward to today, and the cost of getting a BAA signed by Amazon for HIPAA compliance is comparable to hosting costs for any other type of app. Look into Privacy-As-A Service platforms like Amazon as a cost of business (like accounting or legal), so that you can remain focused on the only thing you should be focused on day-to-day, which is getting traction.
Alternate tips for keeping you and your app safe:
- Educate yourself on the major security concerns of your own industry, as well as in other industries, like mobile healthcare.
- Consider hiring a development team who specializes in protecting user data, like us.
- If you plan on using WordPress, keep up to date on their latest security concerns.
Step 5: Know Your Numbers
Have a digital marketing strategy
To be frank, mobile is a saturated market, and word of mouth as a strategy these days is equivalent to Hope. In a crowded space where your next door neighbor is probably working on a startup too, you can’t compete on Hope.
Once you have an app, you need to have a digital marketing strategy focused on getting your app in front of users, both with paid ads and organic referrals from within the app. If your app is B2C, influencer marketing is becoming one of the cheapest ways to reach new users, and existing users would love referring you to their friends for $25 in cash rewards. If your apps is B2B, experiment with cold outreach on sales navigator and polished explainer videos on LinkedIn ads. App Store Optimization could work well right off the bat if your service isn’t in a saturated space (don’t invest it in for something generic like “health tracking”).
The key is to invest in one marketing channel at a time with a cheap experiment, figure out your cost of user acquisition (CAC) on that channel, then experiment with something else. In the end, you should double down on no more than 3 channels that have the lowest CAC.
Understand the annual cost of maintenance
When you’re getting a quote for custom mobile app development, what you’re seeing probably doesn’t include the annual cost of maintenance. For mobile apps, these costs can be minimal but they can also be a substantial cost into your runway. When there’s a major OS or new device released, changes to the codebase can be required. We usually tell our clients that a robust native app on each platform could cost between 15-20% of the initial development budget to maintain, whereas a similar app built in React Native could cost between 25-30%.
These numbers don’t include the cost of feature changes based on user feedback. Web app maintenance costs are much lower in comparison due to responsive web design’s ability to withstand web browser upgrades, which may be a reason to go in that direction while you’re still seeking traction.
Now, it’s about putting everything you’ve learned together into a successful, cost-effective app that’s going to gain traction in 2019. To help, we’ve created a downloadable white paper (coming soon) that you can keep with you as you progress through your app journey.
Some additional tips on getting to know your numbers:
- Learn from the mistakes of a fellow developer.
- Keep yourself on track so you don’t waste any time (or money) doing the same job twice.
- Review one of our favourite projects to get the low down on competitor stats.
- Consider some cost-savings alternatives, like building an SPA (single page application).
Looking to get started today? At Topflight Apps, we are ready to help you streamline an existing app, or even elevate an idea that’s been floating in your head for a while. We’re an excellent team of developer-founders who boast a record for superior customer service, and a 100% product launch success rate, and we’re always looking for inspiration for new projects.
Request a proposal, and we can get the ball rolling before tomorrow’s emails start pouring in.