Developing your first startup app can be confusing and frustrating, but before you start skimming through this article, stop and ask yourself one important question: “Why do I want to build an app?”
While developing an app for some pocket money is a three month side project, launching your own startup is a life changing decision. If you’re ready to take that step, below you will find the the seven crucial steps necessary for developing your own startup app.
- Flesh out your idea
Get all of your ideas out of your head and onto a physical document. Organizing your thoughts and putting them on paper makes it easier for you to bring your app to life. After those thoughts are compiled in an easy to read format, you need to flesh them out. Your app may sound amazing, but it takes more than some basic ideas to make it a reality.
When you flesh out your idea, it’s critical to focus on your value proposition. The App Store is extremely competitive, so it’s getting harder to stand out from the crowd. Crafting your brand and developing your app around your unique value proposition is imperative if you want to make that lasting impression.
Once your value proposition is defined, you need to settle on MVP features. The MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, is a lean version of your app that only includes the critical core features necessary to test your value proposition. Take the time to really figure out which of your features are necessities and which features would just be nice to have.
- Set quantitative objectives
Do you know what the objectives your app is trying to accomplish are? If not, it’s important to identify specifically what you want the app to accomplish and then keep those objectives in mind when making decisions. For example, your goals might be:
- Enhance Your Customer’s Productivity: Will you be saving people time or resources with your app? If so, can you quantify that goal by average minutes saved or some other metric?
- Improve Communication: Does your app focus on improving communication between people? If so, how specifically will it accomplish that? By letting users express themselves more easily, connect large groups more easily, or something else? How would you quantify that?
- Create Engagement with Users: This is important for any app, but particularly apps that intend to rely on advertising revenue down the road. How are you going to keep users coming back to your app frequently, for long periods of time, while capturing information about them that advertisers will find valuable?
- Commerce: Are you going to sell products or services? If so, set a benchmark for total sales at the three, six, 12 and 24 month benchmarks.
- Create your branding
A strong brand is essential to have because it determines how your users will perceive your startup and product. An amazing brand image can also differentiate you from your competition, which is critical when you’re trying to stand out in the extremely crowded App Store. On a more practical level, your branding will also heavily influence your app’s UX/UI. Aspects of your brand that you should consider at this stage include:
- Name: This is an art and science entirely itself. Read more here.
- Logo and App Icon: Are they unique and easily identifiable? Is it consistent with your brand’s personality?
- Color Scheme: Which color scheme will invoke the appropriate emotions? Which colors complement each other well?
- Brand Guidelines: What fonts, icon styles, and UI elements do you want to consistently use across all of your customer-facing channels (the app itself, web, social media, email, etc.)? This can even cover the type of tone and messaging you want the “voice” of your company to use.
Related: How to Build an App in 12 Steps
- Create a prototype
Before you dive into full-fledged development, start out with a prototype first. During this stage, you can experiment with different concepts to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Prototyping gives you the information you need to create a better version of your app before you launch. Investing in this resource can save you time, energy and money.
- Wireframe: Wireframes are a visual representation of your app’s skeletal structure. Sketching wireframes is a great way to start defining the foundation or “backbone” of your product.
- Interactive Prototype: Creating an interactive prototype prior to starting coding is a proven to improve the odds of success for any startup. Creating an interactive prototype can also result in a better product to market in less time.
Show your prototype to everyone you know, ask them what they think and make sure they aren’t trying to protect your feelings. Before you continue, you need to know for sure if your idea is really worth your time and money.
- Develop a marketing strategy
Before starting development, you should have at least a rough high-level outline of what your marketing strategy will be once the app is ready to launch. You don’t need to get incredibly specific at this stage, but a few questions you should be able to answer include:
- What will your marketing budget be?
- What types of marketing campaigns will you likely be running? Options include pay-per-install advertising, guerrilla marketing, PR/social media, content marketing, sales team, etc.
- What’s the target user base size you want to have 30, 90 and 180 days after launch?
- Select your team
Who do you need in order to bring your app concept to life? Your app is only as good as the founders, developers and designers behind it, so choose wisely! Research and consider all of your options to figure out which will be the best fit for your app in the long-run. One place to start is AngelList.
If you don’t have one already, you should decide if you want a co-founder. Your co-founder will be with you long-term, so before shaking hands on a final decision, make sure they’re a good partner before anything else. Here are two important characteristics your co-founder should have:
- Complementary Skills: Find someone who can handle the types of responsibility you can’t. If you’re an experienced developer with a technical background, look for someone with a business background.
- Similar Commitment: Your future co-founder needs to be on the same page as you when it comes to commitment. For example, if you want to work 50 hours a week and your co-founder only wants to work part-time, you’ll have problems right off the bat. Ask potential co-founders about their commitment to the business and their work ethic/habits before you make the final decision.
If between you and your co-founder you don’t have all the technical skills required to create your product, then the next step is to research how you want to structure your development team. This decision can either make or break your business, so consider all of your options carefully. There are two main paths you can take: in-house staffing or hiring a third party agency. Which one is the right fit for your app? Take a look at the pros for each:
Third party agency
- Breadth and Scalability of Services: Contracting with a U.S.-based full-service mobile agency provides access to diverse and specialized resources on an as-needed basis. For example, many agencies will staff UX specialists, UI specialists, branding specialists, backend specialists, iOS specialists, QA testers, etc., whereas if you go in-house you might be limited to staffing one generic developer and one generic designer. Furthermore, when it comes time to add more staff to your team, most agencies can handle that request within a couple of weeks. It might take your in-house team months to recruit, hire and train an additional resource.
- Quality: The viability of your startup depends on the quality of your product. In-house development teams have to create their own set of best practices from scratch, such as coding standards, QA protocols, design standards, naming conventions, etc. Established agencies have already cut their teeth working on countless projects before and are therefore more likely to avoid the pitfalls your in-house team will fall into, which in turn translates into delivering a higher-quality product.
- Control: Having your own in-house team allows you to have complete control over your employee’s work time, product quality and activity. You’ll be in the driver’s seat for each decision your team makes, for better or worse. With a third party agency, they ultimately control when and who is working on your account.
- Infrastructure Building: Fast growing startups will eventually have to shift at least some of their design and development work in-house. Those who start with an in-house team will have a leg up when the time comes. That being said, the timing of the decision to shift in-house matters. A good analogy is deciding whether to rent or own a home. Renting is great for those who don’t have the finances to make a down payment or for those who need a short-term living situation. The only downside is that your rent check is going to some other homeowner instead of building equity in a property you own yourself.
Hiring a third party agency is like renting. It probably makes a lot of sense for new startups and companies looking for short-term help. However, if you’re confident you’ll need an in-house team for years to come, then the upfront cost of setting up a new development environment (staffing and training costs, learning curves, equipment and testing devices, etc.) makes much more sense.
- Secure funding
Launching a new startup requires capital, so another priority is raising enough capital to cover the initial development of your product and marketing strategy. Most often this fundraising takes the form of a “seed round” where you raise around $50K to $250K in capital from sources such as family, friends, angel investors, self-financing and other alternatives (i.e crowdfunding, grants, etc.), although the amount can vary based on the unique needs of each startup.
The goal will then be to gain enough traction with your initial product in order to validate your startup concept. At that point you should be able to raise more capital at an even higher valuation rate (rewarding your initial investors) in order to fund additional development of your product and a more aggressive marketing strategy to scale your user base. This second funding round could come in the form of a secondary seed round or potentially even a Series A funding round backed by VC firms.