Your App Idea

This is first part in the series, How to Develop an App. The series will discuss various aspects of taking an idea for an app and turning it into an actual product. I’ve had the pleasure of working on many great projects with a variety of clients over the years. As each client and project is unique, you tend to learn new things and see your profession in new lights as you gain experience. I hope to share some of those morsels with you.

But it’s not just for programmers and technical people. After all, there are a lot of you out there who have no desire to learn a single line of code, yet might be in charge of your company’s app development project. Or maybe you have an idea and are interested in hiring somebody else to do the technical work. I think even developers will walk away from this series with some new tools under their belts.

The App Idea

For the sake of the discussion, let’s assume you already have a rough idea. It could be for a game, a utility app, entertainment, or anything else.

My best advice for people with an app idea is to start with figuring out some of the details about what the app does, what it accomplishes, how it will accomplish the goal, etc. I don’t mean to have it entirely figured out. Instead, it’s a helpful exercise to work things out a little bit. Whether you end up developing the app yourself or hiring somebody, it’s necessary to have a general idea of the direction you are going.

At the same time, don’t be completely tied to this one idea or how it should work. A lot can change in the early phases and flexibility is key. By going through this process early on you may come up with better variations or challenges that should be addressed in different ways.

Here are a few questions to get you started, in no particular order:

  1. In one sentence, what does the app do?
  2. What outcomes does the app provide customers – what is the appeal?
  3. Roughly, how does it work?
  4. What are the main features, ranked in order of importance?
  5. What goals does the app fulfill for you?
  6. Who is your target audience?
  7. What kind of demand and competition is there?
  8. Can you sketch out or write an outline the different screens in the app to show functionality?
  9. What is your budget?
  10. What are some ways will it make money, or at least recoup costs?

Many of these questions are straightforward, but some will require a bit more work. I don’t think they should all be set in stone, but you should have a strong sense of what you are working towards as you begin the process. And remember, your answers may change as you progress. Let’s touch on a few

What the App Does

You already generally have an idea. If you were to tell your best friend about this app, put it into one sentence. This is sort of your elevator pitch. Without having to explain a lot of details it lays the groundwork. “My app reminds people when to pay their bills so they are never late” is just one example.

What Is the Appeal & What Does It Do For People?

Just as having the general idea is important, it’s critical to understand the why behind the idea. Go into more detail. Why will people be interested in this app to begin with? What will it do for them?  What problems does this app solve for customers? That’s a big one. If you’re not solving some kind of problem, chances are your idea may not have a lot of appeal. That’s because people are looking for ways to solve problems in their life.

If you have an idea for a game, maybe the problem could be not having friends who also play games, so your solution is social gaming with random people and friends alike. In the bill reminder app above, the problem is that people have a tough time remembering to pay their bills on-time, so that app reminds them every month, or even goes as far as paying the bills for them, on-time.

How Does It Work: Sketches & Outlines?

More likely than not, these details will change as you refine your idea. Take some time to think through execution. What steps will somebody take to accomplish the goals – how do they get from point A to point B? This part doesn’t have to be pretty or extremely detailed. It serves the purpose of thinking through the practical steps involved with executing goal completion. It’s extremely helpful, especially if you are hiring somebody to program the app for you – it’s a way to communicate your ideas and get that person or company started on further refining your work.

“Business” Goals

No, you don’t have to have a business, or even plan on making an income off the app, but the question of why you want to make the app should be addressed. If you want to make income off of it, what are some ways you plan on doing it? Will it just be app sales and in-app purchases? Will people be purchasing goods through it? Is the app for promotional services and you don’t plan on making any money directly from it? The answers to some of these questions should shape how your app works, some of the features, etc.

Also, when figuring out the competition, use a tool like to figure out how crowded the category is. For example, games are extremely competitive and numerous – probably not the type of app you want to start with unless you are already experienced with working on games.

When at all possible, have data to back your assumptions. I’ve had numerous conversations with potential clients over the years who thought they had a great idea and assumed everybody would want to buy it. The thing is, nobody thinks their own baby is ugly. Their idea and even execution might have been spot-on, but they lacked sufficient evidence to back assumptions about their target audience. These assumptions may have ended the project before it even began. On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve also worked with companies and startups that had the foresight to do the research, think critically about their idea, and shape it as new data and research came available. These were the successful ones.

Your Customers

What is your target audience? In other words, what types of people are your ideal customers? How is this app gong to appeal to them? Remember, these are people like you and me. As explained above, they have problems they want to solve. What types of unique problems might they have that your app can address? If you say “everybody” is your target audience, you’re not thinking hard enough. Try to focus in on a set of demographics. For example, working moms with 2-3 kids and busy schedules. That’s not to mean your demographics should be that restricted, but you get the idea. You’re really trying to figure out who will want to buy your app, and catering to them. Naturally you may get overlap into other demographics.

App Development Cost & Budget

Money is a touchy subject for people. Whether it’s your money or somebody else’s, you want to be wise with how you spend it.

Remember this – it’s important: Know your budget ahead of time. Know how much you can spend on the project. This will save you and your app developer a lot of time, frustration, and disappointment. Here’s why: When you give your developer your plans for the app AND how much you can spend on the project, you are opening the discussion to everyone’s benefit. Having this information at the beginning is helpful because we are able to help you refine your ideas to fit your budget.

App Development Company

I’ve touched on a few points already. If you plan on hiring a freelancer or company to design & develop your app, going through the process of refining your idea will help tremendously. If you are having trouble with the plans, they can help you as well. Remember, you are hiring them for their expertise and ability to make good products. It’s OK to be confident in your app idea, but be flexible. These individuals have much experience to draw upon and help you further refine the plans and even identify holes and rough spots. That’s what you want them to do… it’s not making apps, it’s about making great apps. Just as much as you, they want to be part of projects that succeed.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What successes have you had? What practical tips would you give others who have ideas for great apps?

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