Today’s question comes from someone who wishes to remain anonymous.
Q: Hi — I’m a 19 year old college student with a mobile app idea that I believe can thrive. I’ve contacted multiple developers but they’re all too expensive, and I have nowhere near the capital to build what I want to build. I’ve considered learning how to code but with having a job and focusing on school I don’t have time. Should I be looking for funding? How would I go about building a team?
A: First, I salute the courage you have to move this forward. Believing is the first step to success, and that’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Next, the absolute most critical, number one thing you must do before you think about code, teams, money or anything else, is make sure you have valid, quantifiable answers (meaning you have proof your conclusions are reasonably accurate) to these questions:
1. What’s Worth Doing?
You never want to waste time or money addressing things that (a) aren’t important and (b) probably aren’t possible. So the place to start is making sure you know, beyond doubt, what’s actually worth your time effort. What’s worth your (or others’) investment in bringing this mobile app to life?
The answer those questions are determined by figuring out what the tradeoffs are between the product’s importance and its viability/feasibility. That tradeoff, and how it affects your efforts toward strategy and User Experience Design (UXD) looks like this:
Importance means asking how important is the product as a whole – to the business, to users, to achieving the intended end goals? Particular features and functions, and the degrees to which they fulfill needs and deliver value, have to be weighed and considered.
Viability/feasibility is a matter of asking what can you actually pull off in the time you have to devote to this, with the budget and resources (read: people) you have available? How much can you conceivably do, and if you get it done, how will you continue to maintain and improve it?
2. Why does it matter to people who will use it?
Unless you know to some reasonable degree what value your mobile app is giving people, and why it matters to them specifically, you’re shooting in the dark, hoping that you hit something. And that’s not a good place to be. You need to do more than just identify a target user audience; you must define very specific experiences they’ll have using your product that are meaningful and valuable to them in some way. Something that fulfills a critical need and is important enough to motivate use. And along similar lines, you also need to figure out how your product will be perceived as different from competitors and substitutes.
Notice I used the word “perceived” here: it’s not a matter of whether your mobile app ideas actually are different that the competition – it’s about whether your target users BELIEVE it to be different. In terms of widespread app adoption, perception trumps reality every time.
If you’re solid in those areas (and getting those answers takes time), the next step is to spend some serious time thinking about (1) your market strategy and (2) the scope of the effort to design and build the mobile app itself.
Then, only AFTER you’ve done that heavy lifting, will you be able to accurately determine what you need in terms of teams and talent. Trying to do that at the outset is a recipe for failure. I don’t say that because I somehow know more than anybody else; I say that because 25 years of working with startups of all shapes and sizes, in addition to Fortune 100 companies, proves this out. I’ve watched products succeed wildly and I’ve seen them fail just as hard.
The mobile app ideas that succeed are the ones where their creator(s) took the proper time up front to (1) make sure that their big idea was worth doing, (2) mattered to the people expected to use and/or pay for it and (3) feasible to design and build and viable to incrementally improve over time.
Jumping into designing and building before you validate the idea is a recipe for something that will be very long, unpredictably expensive and extremely painful for you. Take a step back, take a deep breath and focus every ounce of your energy on these strategic concerns. Do nothing else until you feel like you’re clear in these areas.
Wishing you much success!
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