15 Tips for Succeeding as an Independent App Developer
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
How can you succeed as an independent app developer when there is already more than a million apps in the Apple and Google Play App stores? Having interviewed more than 300 app entrepreneurs, I've rounded up the best tips from some of the most successful indie app developers to help you find success in today's ever-changing mobile app space.
1. Study the bad apps.
Klicktock’s Matt Hall, the developer behind Crossy Road, suggests that you study not just the successful apps, but the horrible ones, too. Ask yourself what the app did wrong and make sure you don’t duplicate that same mistake.
Many people only study the top of the charts. Studying the bottom of the charts, however, will help you realize what not to do.
2. Increase output, decrease time.
Focus on creating simple apps that can be published in roughly six to eight weeks. This allows you to test many different ideas and create a portfolio of apps, which in turn will increase your likelihood of success.
3. Design is everything.
Philipp Stollenmayer, from kamibox, had two of his games featured by Apple in consecutive weeks and says, "design is everything." Clean, flat, iOS 8 design with a good app name and a superbly designed icon increases the likelihood that Apple will feature you.
4. Build something you are passionate about.
Build something that you want to solve with such immense conviction that the energy that you put into it will shine through and kick start the early traction and positive reviews.
It's important to treat yourself as the most important user of the app. This internal driver should compel you to create something amazing. Remember, some of the top developers would still be creating apps even if they didn’t get paid.
5. Invalidate your idea.
As contradictory as it sounds, be passionate but don't fall blindly in love with your idea. Research the competition and do a thorough analysis of the market to make sure it's something worth building.
Don't focus exclusively on research that supports your idea. Look for reasons why the app is a bad idea.
6. Create something simple.
It's important to get ease of use just right and have the app do things that will simply delight users. Your goal is an app you can hand to someone who has no clue what the software does but within seconds they figure out how it works.
7. Be persistent.
The most notable successes took at least ten years -- they weren’t overnight achievements. Be passionate about what you are making. Stay persistent and continually learn with each new version update and each new app published.
8. Don't seek investment.
Dan Counsell, founder of Realmac Software, suggests that indie developers should not seek investors but instead "build it in their spare time, be independent and most of all build something useful."
9. Find a technical partner.
It's all about having a small core team that is literally in the same room with you. Having a technical co-founder allows you to bootstrap a minimum viable product to the market with someone who is invested in the idea. People with great ideas don't always have deep pockets.
10. It's not too late.
Focus on solving a problem, designing the solution well and somehow making someone's day more enjoyable or easier. It's not too late to find success in the app stores.
11. Do one thing well.
Focus on doing one thing really, really well. Make sure that one thing is substantial and meaningful to a lot of people. Don't try to be everything to everyone. Don't try to solve a problem that doesn't exist for real people. The best apps solve everyday problems for people.
12. Don't overlook distribution.
Distribution is a big challenge for any app. You can build a phenomenal product, but still have difficulty getting it to users. Figure out where your users are and get in front of them.
13. Be clear about your goals.
Carter Thomas of Blue Cloud Solutions, suggests that you "sit down for a day or two and be honest about why you are getting into the mobile space."
Whether you want to develop an app that changes the world or create a portfolio of apps that allows you to leave your corporate job, having a clear goal in mind will help you find the right direction to take in the app store.
14. Just start.
Dhanush Balachandran, founder of Sortly, suggests that if you've been thinking about building apps to "just do it."
Don't overthink the initial process. The experience of building your first app and getting it in the app stores is by far the most important thing. The process of submitting an app and getting approved is complicated, so start with something simple and get that experience under your belt.
15. Believe in your idea.
There's not a lot of difference between a really good idea and a really bad one. If it's a great idea, but no one has thought of it, people might think it's a little off at first. Do your homework on the idea, take a long look in the mirror and think about what you are really willing to invest in this idea. Then, jump in with both feet and assume success.