The best things in life begin with a dream. Then the dream turns into an idea, and the idea is shaped into something tangible. That’s how it works, at least how we believe it works. The reality is more down-to-earth, though. Especially if you dream of building a mobile or web application.
I’ve talked to tens of entrepreneurs who jumped on a call with a software house right after they shouted Eureka! in their bathrooms. The outcome was nothing that they’ve expected. Instead of telling them the cost and time of building a mobile application, I left them with a long list of questions and no estimation. They quickly realised that the sudden thrill for their new app brought them nothing solid. Not yet, at least.
But that’s not what you want to do, isn’t it?
You want to be prepared to make sure you won’t lose either money or time on creating something that makes no business sense whatsoever.
Do your homework
Before you make the call, do your homework and write down what you know about your idea and identify what you don’t know.
I’m not saying that the software house won’t help you polish the concept – they probably will. But you need to know what you can and what you can’t compromise on when it comes to your business.
Here’s a checklist with the most common questions entrepreneurs fail to answer when they want to make their first app.
1. What problem do you want to solve?
Successful ideas are backed by a real need. I’m not talking about your need to get rich and famous, though. It’s ok if you have it. Still, even if you count on getting millions, people won’t buy your product just because you need cash.
What I mean is the value your product can bring to businesses, customers or the world.
Of course, there can be thousands of ways you can contribute, e.g.
- Slack enables team communication in projects across all distributed teams,
- Instagram is a simple way to capture and share the world’s moments,
- Brand24 lets you know when others talk about your brand, product, industry or competitors,
- Buffer saves your time and lets you manage all your social media in one place.
So how will the world be a better and brighter badass thanks to your app?
Hint: When you know it, write it down.
2. What do your users want?
We often assume that our idea will help people solve their problems. The hard truth is that it’s just an assumption. Before you start forming your development team, there’s a lot of talking you have to do. Talk to people who might be interested in your concept (who are not your friends or family), present your idea and get their feedback.
You can easily do it during business breakfasts, startup meetups and networking at the conferences. In return, you’ll get a real list of expectations people have of your product, and what they actually need.
The need can be defined by a single statement starting with “I want to…”
Let me give you a few examples of needs you might want to fulfil with your mobile app:
- “I want to know what and where people talk about my brand”,
- “I want my team to know what’s happening in our projects”,
- “I want to share photos and apply fancy filters to them”,
- “I want to know if my food contains E-ingredients and if they’re dangerous”,
- “I want to know when the item I observe on Amazon has the best price”,
- “I want more workers in the summer and need to hire them fast, sometimes from day to day”.
Hint: When you know it, write it down.
3. What’s your secret sauce?
USP (unique selling point) is what makes you special. Yes, I know how that sounds. And yes, I know it’s not easy to answer at the first glance. The thing is that the USP is the only thing you can’t and won’t compromise on.
If your application is going to win the hearts of many people with design, you will put all your efforts in polishing the way it looks. If the main goal is to allow people to communicate via encrypted connection, the looks of the app is a secondary focus.
The unique selling point should be visible at every step of the user’s journey and should be the heart of your application. If you can name it, you’ll make the list of any product team easier. It will also help you prioritise the list of must-have features which is very valuable, especially when you build the first version of your product.
Hint: When you know it, write it down.
4. What’s your business model?
Wait a minute, isn’t the question too nosy? No, it’s not. Making a plan for an application is a tough task. You need to take into account many variables. Your business plan is one of them.
The business model canvas will help you put the pieces together. It’s a one-page overview of your strategy, partners, selling methods and more. Thanks to it you can identify:
- Customer Segments – Who are they? What they’re like?
- Value Propositions – Why the customers buy?
- Channels – Where are you selling?
- Customer Relationships – How do you interact with customers?
- Revenue Streams – Where does your money come from?
- Key Activities – What strategic things you need to do?
- Key Resources – What can’t your project live without?
- Key Partnerships – What can’t you do on your own?
- Cost Structure – What do you spend money on?
You can download your free business model canvas here. Once you do it, print it and write down all you know about your business.
5. Where’s your prototype?
Let’s clear one thing out – most of the time your app will seem simple and easy to build to you. You’ll say “it should work like Uber here” and “it should look like Instagram here”. It’s fine to compare your product to something that already exists but it’s not enough to show whether the app is complex or not.
A prototype is a great way to go for. Some of the good tools for prototyping are:
The good news is that you don’t have to be a designer or sketching hero to make your own prototype. It’s enough if you make a diagram with all the screens your application would show. You’ll be surprised how great exercise prototyping is, and how it makes you see the entire product in and out.
Do the math
Let’s say that you went through the business questions and you’ve even prepared a prototype. You know what you want and why it’s valuable. Now it’s time to do the math.
You’ll probably ask a few software companies to prepare offers and make technology recommendations. You’ll get the offers together and compare. It’s natural that you don’t want to pay more than you need. Still, comparing only based on the budget can get you to a dark corner.
What you need to take into account is:
- Will the company help you prepare the development plan?
- Will the company understand your vision and hold on to it?
- Will the company prepare the designs for you?
- Are you going to go through a product workshop?
- Are you going to see the results on regular basis?
- Can you test the software company before you commit?
- Is the software team close? Can you visit them easily?
These are only some of the factors that make the math a bit more complex than just comparing an hourly rate. So do your research, ask questions and analyse the findings before you commit to something.
There’s a lot you need to know before pitching your idea to the software company. The most important thing is that you know why you’re doing this (the purpose) and what’s your business goal.
Bear in mind there’s still a long road between the idea and a ready to use product. Don’t expect others to do the homework for you. It’s your product, your app and your plan. You’re the owner – so take your time to understand your:
- Business value,
- Secret ingredient,
- Business model,
For sure, shaping your idea requires a lot of focus, determination and decision making. But it’s worth every minute of your time. After you go through all the points above, you’ll be better prepared, you’ll know what you need and what you don’t need. That’s the perfect time to knock at the door of a software company and see if they’re the right partner to bring your idea to life.