So you have an idea for an app and think it might be the next Uber or WhatsApp. But before you start building it, here is what you should know.
It needs to be simple and easy
South African Bevan Ducasse, founder of mobile transacting technology company wiGroup, warns developers against over-complicating their apps. Although you might want to include every possible function, it is better to just focus on one unique solution and run with that. If your app takes off, then you can consider adding more functionality at a later stage.
Both Uber and WhatsApp have adopted this strategy. WhatsApp first focused on messaging. Once it had cornered the market, it added in voice calls and, most recently, video calls. Uber began as just a taxi-hailing app, but is now offering additional services such as food delivery, with UberEATS.
As Sesinam Dagadu, founder Ghana’s SnooCode – an app that generates address codes in areas with underdeveloped addresses systems – adds: “Remember that people lived without your app before, so your chances [of success] only rise when your solution is truly easier than the status quo.”
Plan before you develop
“An idea is not enough. You can’t be meeting investors or potential partners with just an idea,” says Salvatore Barras, co-founder of Johannesburg store directory and mall navigation app, MiBRAND.
Before developing your app, first create a detailed screen-by-screen blueprint (called a wireframe) of what you want your app to look like and do. This will help both you and others visualise how it will work, and ease its development process. There are plenty of online prototyping tools to assist you with developing your wireframe, such as Origami and Mockplus.
According to Barras, “It will cost you more money if you haven’t planned your wireframe first.”
Think revenue from the start
Yes, Facebook started without a revenue model and now it is raking in billions of dollars a year. However, this is the exception to the rule. Other apps, such as Vine, get shut down because they are unable to produce revenue, even after millions of downloads.
Developing an app usually requires investment, and investors like to put their money into projects they believe can make profit.
“Don’t walk into an investor’s office with that Facebook story, because you will get thrown out of there,” says Kyriakos Ioulianou, MiBRAND’s other co-founder.
Rather, think about how your app can earn an income from the start.
Building in-house is better than outsourcing
If you are running a business and would like to introduce an app to promote it, then it might be better to outsource its development to someone with the expertise. But if your business and revenue model are based entirely on the existence of an app, then you might want to employ or partner with those with the right skills to develop the app in-house. Why? Because it allows you to be more involved in its development and ensure that it’s in line with your vision.
“Or else you will be sending it back to the developer for every little change you want made,” says Ioulianou. “And you will get charged.”
If the app is your primary business, then it also helps to have a developer in-house to quickly solve any problems that arise once the app is released.
Prove your concept as quickly as possible
According to Ducasse, you shouldn’t spend all your capital trying to develop the perfect app before releasing it to the public. Rather, develop a prototype, get it into the hands of users, and ask for feedback. This way you will be able to discover early on if your solution works, or if you need to pivot before investing everything into a finished product.
Biebele Somiari, co-founder of Nigerian food ordering platform Food-i-like, says app developers should collect and analyse user data as soon as the prototype is released.
“Building a product is one thing, getting paying users is another. Research must be done to study the market the app is to serve. Understanding the needs of the customer is most important in meeting the needs of the customer. This will help avoid the case of building a product no one wants to pay for.”
Getting an app into an app store can be tricky
Once your app is ready to go to market, it makes sense to get it into an app store, like Google Play for Android or the Apple App Store for iOS. You have to first open an account with these stores and posting an app comes with annual fees of $25 and $99 respectively.
However, Google and Apple do not allow every app onto their virtual shelves. They evaluate them first, and if they don’t meet the requirements, they can be rejected. To improve your app’s chances of approval, make sure you read the app store’s terms and conditions. For example, apps are often rejected if they contain any form of copyrighted material or fail to function.