Got an Idea for an App? Don’t Hire a Developer Before Reading This!

Design, but simple.

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Last year, I had attended my first Startup Weekend and somehow wound up in a team of four thinkers and a single doer (myself) who can’t even code apart from HTML and CSS. You could see other teams were relieved to have such a ‘weak’ competition. We were like geeks among geeks.

How meta.
thoughtprovoker app
And so we did surveys, wireframes, lots of thinking, and on top of all that, I created the app’s interface, logo, and a simple webpage. We called it ThoughtProvoker. It was essentially just a bunch of images, but at least they looked damn good.

And, well – we won! The judges were impressed by our amazing presentation. It didn’t matter that they couldn’t try it out. In fact, none of the other teams had the chance to demonstrate their ‘working prototype’ they had slaved over for the last 2 days. In those 3 minutes’ pitch, that first impression was all that mattered.

It’s the same with real-life business. Design should be more widely recognised as a core foundation of any product.

Let me elaborate a bit.

Why Do Apps Fail?

So we already know that almost 60% of all apps don’t break even on development costs and that 70% of developers earned less than $5k from their most successful app.

But why is that so? Is it the lack of budget for marketing? Bad quality of the product? Ugly design? Maybe. But most probably, the app simply doesn’t solve a problem. Until it does that, it’s just a side project, something you can include in your résumé when looking for another corporate job.

You can hack away on your idea after work and tweak it and develop it into something cool, but until you can prove that somebody will pay for it, business sustainability is far beyond your reach.

How Not to Become a Statistic

But just asking people if they would buy something is not going to cut it.

The Lean Startup book suggests building a minimum viable product (MVP) to test the waters. Like Guy Kawasaki once said:

Market research and business planning are overrated. The best market research is putting a product out and seeing if people will buy it. The best business plan is to create something great and sell it fast.

Unfortunately, this is the stage in which many “wantrepreneurs” get stuck right away. The purpose of MVP is not to develop a full-blown product with lots of features but rather to elaborate on the business idea and gather feedback. If it’s good, then you get a green light for production. If it’s bad, at least you know your idea needs some pivoting.

Or, that you need a new idea.

But I Can’t Code!

Of course all of this may sound somewhat abstract if you’re a non-tech solopreneur and can’t code your own MVP. Should you shell out for a developer to create a simplified version of your app? Maybe invest a couple of months into learning JavaScript and PhoneGap?

Nah, man.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” said Theodore Roosevelt. I’ll just add “and open up Photoshop”.

Wait, what?

How to Validate Your App With Just Design

Nobody said that a MVP must be a coded, working product, but it must describe your idea well enough to sell it. I mean, Buffer did it with just 2 simple web pages. So I’d like to propose a new approach to validating app ideas – one that involves the rapidest prototyping technique there is.

BTW: This process is explained step-by-step in the “Your Idea (probably) Sucks!” ebook that I wrote. Click here to check it out!

As I have demonstrated in the story from my first Startup Weekend, a static user interface can be enough for people to grasp your idea and buy into the concept (or not). I’m not exactly sure how much time it takes to code an app, but I’ll bet that the resulting product is not quite as sellable as at least half-decent set of static screens.

For everyone out there with an app idea and no coding skills, I’d like to propose design-based approach to starting your own app empire.

First, try to explain your idea in a digestible, easy-to-understand format. Draw sketches, write a 2-sentence elevator pitch. Transform your idea from abstract concepts into ‘tangible’ images.

After getting some feedback from people around you, design the interface. You don’t need a pro designer for this – dedicate an afternoon to learning basics of Photoshop and then copy other apps. There will be plenty of time for originality later.

Now that you’ve got your MVP, sell it. Set up a landing page, or sell it IRL – but get actual orders, not just email signups! As Tim Ferriss put it in The 4 Hour Workweek:

To get an accurate indicator of commercial viability, don’t ask people if they would buy – ask them to buy. The response to the second is the only one that matters.

Actually, this concept has been used on things that are not apps and things that are apps for a long time. It’s just missing the ‘design’ factor.

Fabulous, but My Idea Doesn’t Need Validating!

This kind of thinking can waste you months of work and thousands of dollars. What you think about your idea doesn’t mean anything. The only thing that matters is what your customers think – unless you plan on buying your own product. I hope you don’t need convincing on this, but I’ll just add another great reason to bother with validation.

I don’t mean to brag here, but I really do get a lot of requests from ‘people with ideas’ (notice I didn’t write ‘entrepreneurs’) for free or equity work. The trouble is, they’ve got it all wrong. You don’t get to ask for free work if you haven’t put any of your own sweat into your ‘epic’ idea. It simply doesn’t work that way. Ideas are worthless.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Until you make money, all you have is an idea. http:///” quote=”Until you make money, all you have is an idea.”]

Design a simple interface, stick it onto a landing page, explain what your idea is about, and see what people think about it. If you don’t know where to start, reading my ebook might be the best next step you can take toward building your app empire.

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