With over 5 million apps available in Apple’s AppStore and Google Play, creating a new mobile application that will win users’ hearts is a challenging task. Still, every day multiple startups prove that conquering this competitive market is not impossible. They invent their big ideas, build apps and change them into successful projects with high revenue and well-known brands. But – how do they do that?
If you are at the beginning of your app journey, it is often difficult to decide how to start. Should you focus on the app strategy or is it better to learn how to code first? How to conquer the mountain of mobile world if you have never been an entrepreneur before?
Well, the best strategy to start with if you have no experience in some field is to follow the steps of those who have already been there, in this case – successful startup founders. That’s why we asked several promising startups how they coped with the mobile app development process and what kind of tips they would like to share with startup-founders-to-be.
HOW TO START – INITIAL CHALLENGES
“The biggest challenge was probably getting started,” admits Kristo Mägi, Founder and CTO at Deekit, pointing out the most important part of the whole process – planning the app. The dimensions of changing the idea you have in your mind into a real plan vary a lot, and for each startup founder different aspects are more important.
For example, Tanya Kelly, Partner at RocSite, admits that the biggest challenge for her was “trying to figure out what the architecture, features, and functionality should be”. Also, Kristo Mägi rises this subject, claiming that “since Deekit is a ‘whiteboard’ with lots of visual collaboration features, a big challenge was to figure out how to fit this all into mobile in a way it is still usable and easy for users.”
Once you have the app strategy set, there are also technical challenges. “At the very beginning it was difficult to choose methodology and development principles, decide what software to use,” says Alex Sitnikov, Founder/CTO of Exscudo. Steve Silberberg, Founder of Fitpacking, who decided to code his app himself, also admits: “The biggest challenge was knowing where to start. I originally downloaded Eclipse and did tutorials but eventually gave up as it was too complex with too many questions. I eventually learned MIT App Inventor 2 and used that.”
Finally, there are also organizational challenges to face, both if you build your app yourself and cooperate with an external contractor. Max Page, Technical Founder of CouponHippo, who developed his app internally, admits: “The biggest challenge we had was how are we going to support mobile apps with a small team of 2 developers”. Quite a difficult aspect – because in a very small team it is hard to have all technical, design, organizational, and marketing skills at the same time.
On the other hand, Michael Asare, Founder of FeeBelly, who decided to cooperate with an external contractor, claims: “I think that the biggest challenge I have faced so far is struggling to meet deadlines. While building this app, I set deadlines along the way in order to give my developer a set deadline in order to promote the app. It was a challenge to have everything done right and on-time.” As app development process is very complex, it is always good to predict some extra time for any possible changes or adjustments.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TECHNICAL COOPERATOR
To build an app on your own or to hire an external contractor to build it for you – that is a question. But in fact, you can choose from more than just these two options. Our interviewees used the following paths:
- Hiring a software house – easy and convenient
“Matriarc hired an external partner. I had no experience with apps or technology so it was essential I chose a company that had a great engineer, designer and brand specialist to work with me through the process. Designs for an iPhone, iPpad and Android are all different, so building and designing take time and expertise.”
- Building an app yourself: full control and commitment
“We want to control our product independently and developers should be interested in it. Besides, it is easier to build communications with our own developers and get the feedback from them – they make proposals and the objectives may be instantly modified accordingly.”
- Hiring a freelancer: highly specialized experts
“We started off by outsourcing our Android app to an outside contractor. The contractor was magnificent at writing code however refused to realize the realities of crafting a product that solves the consumers problem. My advice is to work with a user experience designer first and create a prototype for your product before engaging a developer contractor to build it.”– Bryan Clayton, CEO at GreenPal
- Technical partnership: full control over the process
“I had help creating my app. I partnered with a mechanical developer to take care of aspects of app-building that I am not experienced enough to handle.”– Michael Asare, Founder of FeeBelly
- Body leasing: adding more experts to your internal team
“Deekit started with a very experienced tech founding team so there was no need to have an external technical partner. The only way we believe co-working with an external partner can be productive is through a dedicated ‘body leasing’ model.”
COOPERATION WITH A SOFTWARE HOUSE
If you decide to cooperate with a software house, don’t think that your job is done and after some time you’ll just get the exact product you have in your mind. Software houses, freelancers or even your own team members are not able to read minds, so you will have to actively take part in the development process.
The most crucial aspect is to voice your goals and explain everything in details. “It is necessary to set clear objectives with detailed technical requirements and technical specification,” points out Alex Sitnikov.
“Detailed description of specification should be unambiguous. The vague requirements to the program like, for example, “easy access” lead to different understandings and consequential difficulties. Here the quantitative (not qualitative) metric works better.”
While choosing a potential contractor, it is wise to check what part you will play in the development process itself.
“Your relationship should have a project manager and a schedule that you stick to. Matriarc created a 6 month plan and payment schedule, with deliverables and sign-offs each month to make sure we were staying on track. We also developed a weekly call/Google Hangouts session to address any issues or topics that came up throughout the process,” advises Laura Arndt, Co-founder of Matriarc.
Once the programmer finishes coding the app, you should also make sure they check it for any bugs and provide you with a warranty – just in case of any further problems. Alex Sitnikov points out: “To be sure you are getting a high quality product, it is not less important to pay attention to quality-control procedures and testing and post-warranty service – the possibility to correct mistakes that may be found during use.”
When creating a complex software development project, there are always certain technical difficulties to overcome.
Excudo team decided to build a hybrid app for one platform and a native for the other. However, this choice didn’t work well for them: “During the process of web interface development we faced totally different approaches: every browser has its own limitations, it is very difficult to control the size and it is still easier to do some pages on a thick client. What we got was a kind of a mess: some pages were browser based, some were not, all this affected the formatting.”
Creating compatible versions of the final product for multiple devices can also be a problem, especially when app’s main functionality is strictly visual.
“The most difficult aspect was making the app work on all modern desktop, mobile and tablet browsers and the effort this required,”
If you use any external API or services in your project, it is also necessary to remember that they have their own policies which may not get along with each other well. Michael Asare knows that best: “I think that the biggest surprise I encountered while building this app is regarding two of my vendors. I learned that these vendors, a Cloud computing vendor and a hosting vendor were not in the same shop, which I did not anticipate. This lead to some serious problems and some petty fighting between the two vendors.”
BE PREPARED FOR SURPRISES
Surprises are a part of each project and one cannot completely avoid them. However, by following in other startups’ tracks, you can at least eliminate some of them. The most common ones include:
- Time for app development
“The biggest surprise was the length of time it takes to build an app. We are entering into our 7 months of development and are hoping to have a finished product at 9 months but I thought it would be much faster. The most difficult aspect of the project was being patient and taking one step at a time. This process can’t be rushed,” says Laura Arndt.
- Publishing in app stores
“The biggest surprise: the amount of time it took to publish in the iTunes/Apple’s App Store. The process and roadblocks in publishing it to the iTunes/App Store was much longer than anticipated 2-3 weeks, whereas Google Play was less than 2 days.”
Max Page admits that it was also difficult to go through the publication process: “When it was time to go public on the stores it was difficult to navigate the steps on getting the apps submitted and approved.”
- Costs of building an app
Although not very surprised by it, Laura Arndt mentions also app costs: “Apps and development are expensive and you need to make sure you have enough start-up capital to build the app you want. Don’t try to do too much too fast either. Start small with a plan to add more features as you go.”
KEEP TO THE BEATEN TRACK – STARTUPS’ TIPS
What are the best tips from the fellow startups? Check the 8 important hacks:
1. Do market research
“Do some surveying before you build your app on features that are most wanted and least wanted. You don’t want to spend time and money building features no one cares about down the road. Make sure you are offering a service or technology that is truly unique. Talk to your customer base a lot before you actually start building
2. Choose your target group
“Have clarity of your buyers/audience and your users.”
3. Pre-plan the app
“Clearly define what you’d like the app to do and create all the screens and flow so that a stranger (or team of strangers) understand what you want.”– Steve Silberberg, Founder of Fitpacking
“One of the tips I have is to have physical pages of what you want the developer to work on, not website links substituting as documentation.”
“Define very clear scopes, both technical and business, of the work to be outsourced.”
4. Choose software and devices carefully
“Check the market shares of different software systems and do not try to support them all. Choose your user segment, define what kind of software and resolution their devices support and focus only on them. Don’t try to cover everything – you should try to cover the biggest segment with a minimum of effort.”
5. Focus on User Experience
“My advice is to work with a user experience designer first and create a prototype for your product before engaging a developer contractor to build it.”– Bryan Clayton, CEO at GreenPal
“Organise internal testings within the company, every employee can install the developing app on his/her computer and give feedback. Designing is one thing, and using — this is something absolutely different. A user may dislike the app only because they were not able to find how to access the next page.”
6. Begin with an MVP
“Start small and build a roadmap out for future features. Don’t try to everything at initial launch.”
7. Be prepared for updates
“Be prepared to pay for ongoing updates and budget for it. Apple and Google are always releasing new operating systems and devices that your app will need to keep up with.”
8. Have marketing strategy in mind
“Publishing your app to the store is 1/3 of the battle. You need to have a plan to market it and get downloads. Then you also need a plan to upkeep the app code and make new features. Build in Push Notifications from the start. The most important thing to think about is how to get your users to pull their phone out of their pocket and use your app.”– Max Page, Technical Founder of CouponHippo
We would never get such valuable app development process insights without help of our interviewees – startup founders. Thank you for your cooperation!
The list of our cooperators’ app projects in the alphabetical order:
CouponHippo – the app which aggregates coupons and promo codes from around the Indian Internet.
Deekit – the real time online whiteboard for teams – collaborate as if you were in the same room.
Exscudo – the nextgen financial ecosystem that unites the traditional financial system and the cryptocurrency market.
FeeBelly – the app that finds hidden fees and costly terms in terms & conditions statements, contracts and financial agreements.
Fitpacking – Fat Loss Backpacking Adventures – the app which lets its users to lose weight while backpacking.
Matriarc – the app which helps moms to heal their body after childbirth with targeted exercise sequences, meditation, nutrition and information.
RocSite – the internal app which enables users to purchase the company’s services.
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