For the last few posts I’ve been talking a lot about creating apps in general as well as what my plans are for the future in regards to outsourcing app development. What I’d like to do now is talk about my past experience with creating mobile apps and what I’ve learned from it. I want to share this with you because I know that while my experience isn’t extensive, I’ve learned quite a bit from it and I will be using the knowledge I’ve learned to improve my current and future apps as well as to share with you!
As I mention in my about page, I’ve never actually created a mobile app before up until now. However, I have watched my uncle and his business partner go through the process of creating 2 mobile apps around a year ago. For their privacy, I won’t reveal their names or their app names in this post.
My uncle has always been interested in entrepreneurship and making money just like me. So after hearing a lot of success stories of iPhone apps, him and his partner decided that they were going to try and make a few of them as well. They had a lot of problems along the way, but they eventually released 2 iPhone and Android apps. The two apps were “how-to” type apps which taught people a specific skill. For example, one app might be about how to fix your car. This is not the topic of either of their two apps, however it shows you the type of apps that they made. They were step-by-step guides on how to do a particular skill.
Unfortunately, I wish I could say that these apps have sold well and made them a lot of money, but that just isn’t the case. Both the apps flopped and I would be surprised if they are even managing to get 1 download per day each. While the apps did not do well sales-wise, there is a lot that can be learned from their experience. From being an outside observer, here are the lessons I took away from watching the creation of these two apps.
1) Communication is Key
One thing that I noticed when talking to my uncle about the apps that he and his business partner were making is that he never seemed to know exactly what was going on. My uncle and his partner live around an hour away from each other so it is not very convenient for them to meet in person very often. While they did talk on the phone pretty much every day, it wasn’t always about the apps as they are working on other projects together as well. I think their lack of communication in the development and marketing process for the apps was one of the big factors that made them unsuccessful.
It is essential that if you are going to be working with a partner on your apps (or any business in general) that the two of you are really close and make sure to communicate not only often, but make sure that you stay on topic and focus on talking about your apps. You want to make sure that you know what your partner is doing and your partner knows what you are doing. That way you avoid confusion and the final product turns out better.
2) To Succeed You Need Focus
The biggest reason I think my uncle and his partner were unsuccessful in making money from apps was that it wasn’t their main priority…or their second priority…or their third priority. Both my uncle and his partner each own a small business which is their main source of income. In addition, they own rental properties together as well as flip houses and antique cars. It is safe to say that they had a lot on their plates already even before they decided to make apps. Because of this, their apps usually got put on hold because they were “too busy” with their other priorities (see why I put “too busy” in quotes by reading this post). This resulted in them getting frustrated and just wanting to get the apps finished and for sale. This mentality of just getting the apps finished for the sake of finishing them is terrible!
3) Produce an App That the Market Needs or Wants
The two apps that my uncle and his partner made were “how-to” apps related to each of their small businesses. These apps taught people how to do what my uncle and his partner do for a living. For example if my uncle had a plumbing business the app he made would be to teach people how to do their own plumbing. They chose these topics because they obviously knew a lot about them. However, they should have thought about whether the market needs an app for that. Couldn’t a potential buyer just research how to do their own plumbing online for free? Plus, essentially what they created were really short eBooks and eBooks don’t typically sell well on the Apple app store or Android market to begin with. I think they would have been better off creating an app that “does” something rather than one that the user just reads.
4) Know What You Should Price Your App At
A crucial factor that plays a big role in determining how successful or unsuccessful your app will be is the price of it. Mobile apps are typically very cheap and most of them cost only $0.99 or are FREE. However, when they released their first app, they priced it at $3.99. I knew right from the start that $3.99 was way to much for the app and that if I was the customer I think I would be upset that I paid that much for what I received. I recommended that the app should be priced at $0.99 as that would be a more fair price that I think more people would be willing to risk on purchasing an app like theirs. After only seeing a few sales on their release date (when usually that is when you see the most sales) they experimented with raising the price, lowering the price, and making it free. However, I don’t believe that they ever tried $0.99 and if they did it was too late as they already lost their opportunity to be in front of lots of potential buyers at that competitive price in the new release section. Unfortunately, they made the exact same mistake with their second app.
5) Be Wary of Online App Building Tools
Instead of hiring a developer for their apps, they chose to use a online app building tool called SeattleClouds for a monthly charge. However, the app builder they used was of cheap quality to say the least and they will admit that it was a horrible experience using it. Their customer service was awful and it took them weeks to respond to support tickets. All that time though my uncle and his partner were being charged for “using the service” while they were waiting for a response so they could move forward with their apps.
Don’t get me wrong – I have only heard second-hand what it is like using SeattleClouds. However, this is only one of many online app building tools available and I can’t say for sure that they are all this bad. However, I would suggest being wary of them and that a safer option is to hire a developer for a set price.
6) You CAN’T Forget About Marketing
This is a huge reason why their apps were unsuccessful. They unfortunately were involved in so many other things that they didn’t put nearly enough time into the marketing of their apps. In addition, what little marketing they did do was fruitless. The only marketing that they did was to post a few ads on Craigslist sites in different cities across the country. The problem with this is that the time it takes quite a bit of time to write a good quality Craigslist ad and in addition, for every city they wanted to post one in they had to write a completely unique ad because Craigslist’s terms of service doesn’t allow duplicate ads in multiple cities. Craigslist should not be your only form of marketing to begin with and I don’t think that it works well with apps anyway as the ROI for your time isn’t a lot as the price of your app is only a few bucks at most.
The main thing that my uncle and his partner dropped the ball on here was planning. They could and should have done a lot more marketing than what they did but because of their lack of good communication and the fact that their apps were not a high priority, they didn’t.
These are 6 of the big lessons that I learned from my experience watching my uncle and his business partner go through the process of making 2 mobile apps. There were tons more smaller lessons that maybe I’ll go into more detail in future posts, however these were the ones that really stuck out to me and that I will learn the most from. Hopefully they have learned from their mistakes and their future apps will be more successful as I know they have some great ideas that have potential to sell really well as long as they implement them properly!
I hope that you can learn from their mistakes too just like I’m doing so that you don’t make them as well!