On Sunday afternoon I had a sundowner at our local micro-brewery. “Sundowner” is local speak for a couple of beers as the sun goes down. I was invited out to meet with some small business owners and talk to mobile app best practices. At the end of the Sundowner I was asked if there was a whitepaper or website to read that summarised much of the conversation and pointed to some of the best practices. I said I couldn’t think of one but that I would write it. So here we go.
Do what You do
There are plenty of stories around of successful apps and even more stories of unsuccessful ones. We don’t hear much about the later group, because the list is endless and uninteresting. Like apps, so it is for people’s careers; the things we choose to do, or perhaps are chosen for us. We walk through life with a set of skills and passions that draw us to people and others to us, to activities we enjoy and find rewarding and away from activities and subjects that bore us. These circumstances and events aren’t as random as we might think and provide us with the light to understand and follow. They illuminate the value we provide others, the activities that fulfill us, the things we are good at and the things we should do more of.
Doing things for money’s sake will never deliver the results you are after, because you can never really determine what success is, how much money is enough, and you will chase your tail trying to figure out what to do, usually trying to copy other people’s ideas which you will never really emulate because you aren’t them.
Do what You do. Look at your life, the things you love, the places where you provide value and look for problems to solve and value to provide. Use this to illuminate the apps you should build.
Start with the end in mind
Stephen Covey coined this famous lesson and it applies to anything we’re attempting to build and particularly when it involves people. When it comes to apps take the time to write down the outcomes for both yourself and your customer. Being clear about the outcome for both of you along with all the things that need to occur in order for those outcomes to materialise will crystallise many of your design principles and keep you locked on the target.
One of the examples we discussed was an app for helping people learn music. There are lots of questions here?
- Who is the customer? Is it the student or is it the music teacher? Is it both of them?
- What does success look like? Are the students playing at the local microbrewery on a Sunday afternoon? Do they have a Master’s Degree in music? Are the teacher’s classes full of engaged students having fun learning?
- What are all the things that need to happen for that success to materialise? Do the students need good theory? Do they need good performance skills? Do they need courage to go get gigs?
- What’s the plan for the app? Is it to make money? How much? What style of money? Passive income streams or to build a business that has massive value? How will you do that?
Very rarely do people have an unlimited amount of money to spend on app development. Often the very opposite is true. In order to sustain the app and take the journey with it you will need customer success and revenue. Spending time getting clear about the model is very important. If you don’t you will blow dough.
Make it compulsive
The apps that go viral are compulsive. There are lots of things that people could be better at in their lives and certainly, mobile apps have much to add in terms of being able to help people. But all apps have to compete for individual attention and if it’s not compelling and the hooks built in to keep it sticky, your app will join the millions of apps that are downloaded, used once and then deleted to make room for the next bouncy ball app.
Go through the mobile apps you have on your device and list the ones you love and use as well as the ones you don’t. Next, delete the ones you don’t. Then write down the things that keep you going back to the apps you love and think about how those attributes may apply to your app idea.
Fitness apps have been massively successful as the new gangbuster category, propelled by wearables and data collection (heart, speed, calories etc). But these apps haven’t been successful because they help people get fit. They have been successful because they trigger the brain’s learning centre, the hypothalamus, leveraging the dopamine release that occurs when we do things that are fun and compelling and motivate us to return to that activity. There are lots of resources on Dopamine and how it works including an introduction here on our website. Indeed we have spent a lot of time researching human motivation, game theory, behavioural economics and other cool things. At the heart of all of this, in our mind, is a very simple truth: “people rarely repeat things and become good at them unless they are fun”
So, you better find a way of making your app fun. This is the classic half art, half science challenge and depends amongst other things on knowing your customer. What’s fun for me, may be fun for you, but maybe more or less so. Going back to rule 1 and figuring out who you player is and what pushes their buttons is a great place to start.
Communities and Social
Now that Facebook has become gigantic and LinkedIn, Pinterest and others have become enormous we have stumbled on some old wisdom that was articulated very clearly by Maslow: We are massively gregarious. What’s happened over the last 16 years as us geeks have been building the internet is that we have increasingly dehumanised the joint. Jump on a bus, wait in a queue, go to a pub and you will see people in social situations ignoring each other as they are glued to their phones, tablet, phablets and wearables.
We all know it, so make it very much a part of your design thinking. There’s lots that can be done, such as
1/ Don’t create separate logins for your product – Use Social – Login as Facebook, Google Plus or LinkedIn – That should get you away for the large part unless you are deploying to China
2/ Build groups and teams within your app. Can people group together in any way?
3/ Post and Publish. If your app involves achieving anything, let people share that via social media in a way that gets both them and you kudos
Freemium and Making money
Here are a couple of home truths
- People want everything for free
- If you want people to pay for stuff they have to realise the value
If you price your app at $8.99 and expect to sell it by a few screen shots on iTunes you’re mad. Give the thing away and get people using it. This is how all of the best grossing apps make their money.
This will generate the feedback you need to figure out if the app delivers any value or not and then you can think about making money.
You have bunch of options once you have customers and have very few, until you do:
- Charge for in app purchases e.g. the Uzi to shoot down the monster
- Charge for upgrades to the “Professional” version
- Embed advertising e.g. Google Adwords
But be clear, you will have very limited monetisation opportunities until you first establish value and build your community
That’s it for now
Please do provide comments and I’ll keep the list alive and hopefully build it as a Go To