I started building mobile apps early in the game. They weren’t the best because I and a few others were charting new territory. But people used them because the market lacked alternatives—which may explain why I had multiple top-ranking apps.
Today, we live in a dramatically different world. More than 3 million apps are available, covering categories from utility to entertainment and beyond. It’s become a highly competitive field, so it begs the question: how can your app stand apart and become something people will not only use but also rely on?
Here are 10 steps to consider when building an app that everyone will love.
1. Perfect the design early on.
With my current apps, I invest heavily in design. It sounds counterintuitive, but a big part of this process is hiring multiple people to perform the same job—10 designers for every app. The trick is that no one is aware of the nine other people working on the same project. This strategy aggregates the best elements of each designer’s work, which is blended until we’ve reached a final design that’s greater than the sum of its parts, saving time and money down the road.
2. Build what 100 people will love, not what 1,000 people will like.
Most people only use two to three apps regularly yet install multiple apps they rarely use, if ever. To be one of the chosen few, create a quality product that people rely on—you’ll have a highly engaged audience that actively gives feedback and shares your product with their friends and associates.
3. Apps are more than just a piece of code.
The majority of today’s most successful apps have one thing in common: a business model. It’s one thing to build an app; it’s another to successfully execute and build a business around your app. Building a successful app is just like building a successful business. Ask yourself: “How can we make money with this? What sort of infrastructure will it need? What are the logistics? What are the initial costs and projected returns?" The most successful apps have a solid business model containing customer service, marketing and monetization schemes.
4. Focus on solving one problem first.
Don’t start building a grandiose product right out of the gate. It's great to have a big vision, but success is achieved by taking a lot of calculated small steps—not one giant leap. It’s important to build and launch the most basic version of your app, get feedback from users and expand the feature set from there.
5. Find great partners and advisers.
Leverage the advice and insights of experienced advisers. One of my biggest successes was getting the ICC Cricket World Cup Fan app ranked No. 1 on the App Store in the U.K., India, Bangladesh and Australia. I achieved this by knowing from one of my mentors that the App Store shut down for the Christmas holidays when the tournament started. ICC, despite being a multi-billion-dollar corporation, didn’t consider such a small detail.
6. Learn more than you think you can.
It’s essential to learn as much as possible about the industry or field your app is going to represent. Knowledge is widely available. You’ll need to wear many hats: chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, designer, social media expert, intern and more. The goal is to have an answer for every question and a working knowledge of your product that’s second to none.
7. Follow the one-step principle.
Tell yourself and your team that you need to worry only about one step at a time. Early on, it may seem that what you’re setting out to do is almost impossible. Start parceling tasks one by one to get you and the team focused on the goal and task execution. It builds confidence and keeps your tank running full.
8. Have a secret.
In the book “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future,” PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel asks: "What valuable company is nobody building?" You need to identify a big problem (or better yet, an opportunity) and devise a clever way to solve it to turn your company into a groundbreaking success. If you plan to enter the market to compete on price or produce something a little better than the competition, you're not building a game-changing company; you're wasting your time. Ask yourself Thiel’s question repeatedly. Ensure you can nail the answer before you write a single line of code.
9. Find the right co-founder.
Don't worry if you're not a super techie—we can't all be Elon Musk. But if you're not in a position to deliver the technology to support your vision yourself, you’ll need a technical co-founder. Take your time on this one; you’re going to want to find someone who is like-minded, easy to get along with, as personally vested in the idea as you and willing to burn the midnight oil alongside you. Finding this individual might take time, but when you do find that superstar co-founder, you'll accelerate like crazy. That’s why I created Startup Studio, an incubator to help non-tech entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.
10. Be agile.
Tech moves really fast. You’ll need to respond to trends, user feedback, and analytics quickly enough to keep your users active and beat the competition. That means powering your company with an “Agile” development methodology. It works wonders. I’m always amazed at what a small Agile team can achieve in two weeks when collaborating on a clear goal with a little pressure. If you're not familiar with Agile, get familiar before you start. Here's the best blog I've ever read on Agile development.
Gone are the days when a cool app could be unleashed into the world and become a roaring success with a little planning and blind luck — though it’s still possible! More often, culture-defining apps have been methodically considered from every angle by professionals who know how to navigate the ever-evolving industry. Not to say that luck isn’t a factor, but it can’t beat knowledge, insight, some good advice, and a mean line of code.