Ever had an app idea that left you head spinning with visions of you ditching your day job to instead cut around your warehouse-style office with your new start-up pals?
At 23 I had an idea when I grew frustrated trying to organize a weekend away with my girlfriends. The confusing banter over email, Facebook and SMS got so frustrating I thought there has to be an easier way to plan events with friends. This thinking led me to quit my graduate job and take the leap into the start-up world. I’ve now raised $1.1 million in Aussie backing to launch The Best Day — a scheduling app that makes it easier to get your group together.
That’s the short, pretty version of my experience. The truth is doing the start-up thing is not glamorous, you’ll probably need to move back in with your parents and mistakes are unavoidable. Here’s my list of the top ten mistakes to avoid in turning an idea into an app.
1.Thinking you’re idea should be kept top secret or it will be stolen
The idea that back-end-forth group planning sucks and there had to be an easier way to bring your friends together felt so obvious to me. I was sure that I needed to keep it all to myself until I launched The Best Day and took the world by surprise. After building a slightly off the mark first version I opened myself up to friends and advisers for feedback and course-corrected to something better. Turns out, the chances of someone stealing my idea were 0-2 per cent and yet the risk of not sharing my idea with others is that I’d build something only my mum and I would want.
2. Hoping someone will build your app in exchange for equity
So you have the idea for the next Instagram and you’re going to be a (m/b)llionaire in 12-18 months, you just need someone to build it, right? Welcome to 2014: We have ideas for all of the apps and yet most of us don’t know how to build them. You’ll either need to learn build a basic version of the app yourself or find a way to pay a developer … with cash, not cookies, because asking a developer to build your app in exchange for equity is like asking them to work for free.
3. Banking on raising funding with just an idea
I did some Economics at Uni and learnt a little about that whole demand and supply thing: I think the concept is that with all the app ideas out there and limited Investment funds available, the bar for getting financial backing is pretty high. You need to find a way to fund a basic version of your app (they call it MVP — Minimum Viable Product) and get some users to prove you’re onto something. Then go to investors and try to raise funding to scale your app.
4. Trying to know everything instead of finding people who do
If you, like me, don’t have much of a clue as to how to design/build/market/monetise an app, you need to surround yourself with people who know more than you do. You don’t want to just hire your friends who are passionate about your vision, you’ll need to find people with proven experience.
5. Not testing, testing and retesting
I quickly learnt the number one lesson of building an app: you need to test it and test it good. Better yet, test as you go; break down your app into small parts that you can design and build in increments and nag anyone and everyone to give it a go.
6. Thinking “going viral” is a marketing strategy
You’ll make a video that perfectly strikes the balance of 40 per cent informative and 60 per cent humorous, share it on your Facebook, possibly get a write up on a cool blog, and then it will go viral, right? It could happen but chances are pretty slim. You’re better off financing a marketing plan that seeds your content on channels like Facebook and the Google. Alternatively you could go naked in your app demo video and see what happens … this idea is my gift to you.
7. Not realising that changing behaviour is a tough gig
Everyone knows that the way we currently make social plans is a pain and if I ask anyone if they want to cut out the messaging madness and the ‘maybe’ responses, they cry ‘Yay!’. However, there is a big gap between people wanting to do something new and actually remembering to do it. This is essentially the difference between awareness and downloads/engagement. You’ll need to find marketing tactics that help you drive ongoing use of your app, for instance VIP programs for alpha users, Facebook re-engagement ads or Google remarketing.
8. Thinking you’ll figure out how to make money later
We all know the examples of the apps that made it to hundreds of millions of users and then got acquired for several of billions of dollars without any clear way for them to make money. So we know it can happen but the reality is that your app will need to have a way to eventually make money to a) be of interest to investors and b) survive for the time it takes to build your millions of users. If you keep it in mind throughout your product development you may avoid backtracking and lead yourself to a product that people, or businesses, will actually pay for.
9. Having unrealistic budgets and timelines
Everything will take three times as long and cost three times as much as you think. This doesn’t need much more explaining: it is almost universally true so do what you can to prepare for it in your budgeting and planning, and then double that.
10. Not trying
While I’ve made a lot of mistakes and undoubtedly more are to come, it is incredibly satisfying to face the risk of failure and try to chase the dream.