Chances are that your new app will fail. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of apps are eventually deleted from users' phones, according to Mobilewalla founder Anindya Datta. Only a handful of apps make it past the magical 1 million downloads or $1 million in revenue.
Essentially, most apps fail to make the cut. It's not because the apps sucked in their initial form, but because their designers failed to collect the feedback and insight to rebuild them into something that people wanted to use. Don't fret if you don't get it right in the first instance.
"The startups in the tech incubator Y Combinator, whose acceptance rate is less than 3 percent, change products and markets so frequently that the idea they applied with is often irrelevant to the final product," said Paul Graham of Y Combinator.
Pivot, a term coined by The Lean Startup author Eric Ries that means "a change in strategy without a change in vision," is the answer to building a successful mobile app.
Ries gives an analogy to explain the concept better: "You don't ask your car's GPS where you want to go, you tell it where you want to go and it helps you get there. Vision is where we want to go; strategy is our GPS for figuring out how to get there. That structure of experimentation, rapid iteration, and pivoting, I think that's at the foundation of modern innovation."
Successful apps did everything they could to take advantage of what they'd built so far. While you'd naturally think about remodeling the entire app itself, there are many other possible ways to pivot, based on the feedback that you draw from your customers. In particular, here are three types of pivots outlined by Ries:
Customer segment pivot: Your product may be designed for use by one customer segment, but is unexpectedly adopted by another segment. You must be able to spot this trend in the adoption of your app and pivot to serve the needs of the segment that's driving its growth or use.
A great example of this is Snapchat. The founders of the app were struggling to attract users, but it started going viral in high schools. This discovery led to the shift in focus in customer segment.
Customer problem pivot: Try and get feedback early on through early adopters of your product to understand whether the problem you're trying to solve is really a problem worth solving. In other words, this type of pivot solves a different problem for the same customer segment.
Keep your ears to the ground while listening to customer feedback and evaluate whether it is a common problem across most users or just a handful of early adopters. Also, be careful and draw feedback from those who have used your app, rather than the ones who want to use your app but haven't yet.
Springpad was first launched as a notes-based app that allowed users to make lists and get organized. But it wasn't long before launching into a public beta that they heard from users that having an easier way to capture the information they want to organize was key to the app's future. And so the focus shifted.
Another interesting example is Starbucks, which pivoted when it went from selling coffee beans and espresso makers to brewing drinks.
Feature pivot: When you build a product with too many features, and you realize that customers would rather want just a few, you select those specific features from the current app and reorient the entire app around that.
Burbn started as a mashup of foursquare and Mafia Wars as a mobile web app that let you check in to locations, make plans, earn points for hanging out with friends, post pictures and more.
When the founders created the iPhone app, it felt cluttered and overrun with features. They saw mobile photos as an opportunity to try out some new ideas and spent one week prototyping a version that cut everything except for its photo, comment and like capabilities. What remained was Instagram.