When friends and acquaintances learn more about what I do they often ask, “I have an amazing idea for an app, would you be able to help me?” While I would LOVE to help everyone, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or enough dollars in my bank account to make that a reality. What I can do is share some of the tricks I’ve learned about how get your product from a great idea to the hands of your customer.
Disclaimer: this isn’t a complete guide, but an overview of what I generally think about and do when creating a product. If you want me to go into more detail about any of it, let me know and I’ll write about it!
Defining your product
This definition is absolutely vital as it is the foundation for everything that follows. There are usually two questions I ask myself from the start of any project.
- What problem does your product solve? Who is it for?
Sometimes we get caught in the loop of wanting to create something awesome simply because it’s awesome. Creating an app to catalog photography of rose gardens won’t be successful without the traveling rose enthusiast. An app that makes fart noises is nothing without a user that finds it funny. Without users with dyslexia, an app that converts mobile webpages to dyslexic friendly fonts would be pointless. Always consider the need AND your audience at the beginning of planning.
’Here’s what our product can do’ and ‘Here’s what you can do with our product’ sound similar, but they are completely different approaches.
Once you have decided on who your users are and how you want to serve them, you need to starting thinking about prototyping. This prototype serves a couple purposes for you: it proves marketability and demonstrates functionality. You want to be able to do this as quickly as possible without a major financial investment.
This is where your minimally viable product (MVP) comes in.
Think of your MVP as your prototype that only has the essential functionality of your product. What is the one core feature your product needs to get its message across? How do you do this? I’m glad you asked.
Customer input and research
Building a prototype is only as difficult as you choose to make it. Remember, this is a period of testing your product’s viability, not to see if the visual design appeals to your users (that’s for later on). Let’s be honest, we humans have a hard time focusing on more than one thing at a time. Keep it simple and to the point.
Don’t spend too much time or money on it! Pull something together that works and then show it to as many relevant people as possible to get feedback.
Sarah Watson, vice president of social commerce at Net-a-porter.com
You don’t need a database and fully functional backend to test your idea. You can use a tool like Keynote (like Apple does for much of its prototyping) or any of the gazillion prototyping applications out there. Keep in mind that fancy effects and motion blurs can take the user’s focus away from your idea, even if briefly. From my experience, it is the lo-fidelity solution that works best. Paper, scissors, and a pencil drawn interface. When people have something in their hands, it opens up their mind to have a more engaging experience. Their imagination is “unlocked” and they start to think in terms of possibilities not limitations. Not only does this feedback help your product in the long run, it helps you design with the user in mind. After all, these users will be the ones that drive and promote your product the most. You want them on board.
Are you looking to solve a problem with your app or get rich off its sales? Don’t worry, you can do both! The more value you add to your product, the higher the user engagement, more 💰 for you.
Now you need to start thinking about your financial model. There are primarily three different ways to monetize your digital product:
- Subscription – (Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix) Basically as long as your users are paying a monthly fee, they gain access to your product. The benefit is that it’s easy to limit certain areas – half of your app can be free and the other part is only for paying subscribers. From a financial perspective, this can be a gold mine because you’re getting recurring income. Some users will even continue paying for a product they use minimally just to ensure that they will have access when they want.
- One-time fee – (most apps in the AppStore) The barrier to entry on this model is lower than subscriptions based ones. You designate a price, maybe $0.99 or $2.99, and the customer pays to download your app. The price is adjustable and you can change it at any time. Let’s say you are selling your app at $0.99, but want to see if it will stay profitable at $2.99. Change the price and as long as it gives you at least ⅓ of the sales, you are still at the same profit margin. What’s the best part of the one-time fee model? Once they pay, the money is yours!
- Ad-based (most “free” games in the AppStore, Facebook) – It is a common misconception to think ad-based games are a lower quality than paid. Some of the biggest companies in the world use this model to the fullest and reap great profits from it.
So what’s right for you? It really depends on you. It has to fit the product you’re building and it’s usage while keeping the will of your users in mind. You can even mix the three versions together in one way or another (Ad-based that leads to one-time fee or subscription for example). Keep in mind that the AppStore takes a cut of each sale, but has also rolled out ads to gain another stream of revenue. Apple is also pushing developers to charge a subscription fee to motivate them to be constantly improving their product.
Let’s start building!
Now that you know what you want to build, why you want to build it, who you want to build it for, and how much you want to charge for it, you’re ready to get started building it!
It’s most efficient if you are proficient in design or development (extra points if you know both!), but if not, no worries, the internet is here to help. As with most things, you’ll get what you pay for. I’m not saying that more expensive always equals better, but if you pay Fiat money, you won’t end up with a Tesla.
There are several marketplaces out there with professionals that can help you with tasks. At the lower end are services like Fiverr (where each job typically is $5) and Upwork. I have used each one of them and I’ve been mostly happy with the results. Turns out, you can even get a logotype for $5. If you want the best outcome for your project, I would recommend a more serious marketplace though. I’m a big fan of a great service called Crew. They’ll connect you with talented people across the world and they’ll make sure your project runs smoothly. I have freelanced with them for some time and it’s been a great experience!
Working remotely is not for everyone. While I absolutely love it, some people are more comfortable being in the same room as the people they are working with. There are certainly upsides and downsides to both, so think about what you want to achieve. The disadvantage may be difficult scheduling and not being able to quickly react to issues as they come up. The benefit of working remotely is that you’ll get access to far more experience, competence, and lower costs (depending on where you live obviously).
You may have the most amazing product, but it won’t make a penny if no one hears about it. Enter the world of marketing. There are countless marketing strategies and methods you could use to promote your product, but none has been proven to be as effective as your users. Your happy, loyal users act as your ambassadors to the world and there is no amount of paid marketing that has a better ROI (return on investment for non-marketing types). Don’t believe me? Even Sam Altman of Y Combinator says that the one thing that gets him interested in investing in a company is when his friends are happy customers.
So, if having a great user experience that your users are willing to share is the first step, what’s the second? Communication! Make sure you have a landing page for these users to visit that clearly tells your story – what you do and why. If people are intrigued by your mission, you can provide them the opportunity to sign up for more information and freebies. Here’s an example of a launch page that talks about my my upcoming book. Now that you have their email, I’ve found that investing in a good email marketing campaign keeps the conversations going and the users engaged. There are great tools to help you – from Convertkit, Mailchimp, or Drip (that’s what I use). Drip even has a great (FREE) tutorial to get you started with email marketing.
Launch and iterate
Time to 🍾🎉 ! Getting this far means that you have put in a ton of work and deserve some serious credit. Most project don’t reach this far, so take a minute or two to enjoy the moment of launch. Make sure to list your product on a service like Product Hunt and tell your entire network. Be proud of what you’ve created! Take the time to talk to your happy users, see what features they’re requesting, and learn to build iteratively. Every loved product has a long life and I wish yours all the success in the world!
Want to learn more about how I do business and craft user experiences that keep users engaged? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll even send you 5 things that you can do right now to improve your user’s experience. Happy users are the best free marketing in the world!