Turning an app idea into a successful technology business that people use and pay for doesn’t have to be complicated.
Sure, building a growing technology business requires programming skills, hustle, funding and risk taking. But if you want to turn an app idea into paying customers, you can make significant progress right here today no matter you background, funds and willingness to take risk.
The steps that you will find in this guide about taking an app idea into a profitable technology business will show you the exact plan you will need to follow to move your ideas forward with higher success predictability.
I started my first technology business back when I was a Sophomore in college. I didn’t code and all I could think about was finding the right programmer to help me build my app idea. I skipped many stages and made costly mistakes especially for a college student who could barely fund life let alone a startup.
A decade, a Ph.D. and close to 100 startups later, I’ve gone from a curious young entrepreneur to pretty much the same person but with a lot more experience as a startup founder, advisor and investor. If you’ve been looking for a guide on how to turn an idea for an app into a successful technology business, I wrote this to help you take the right steps, avoid the hidden costly mistakes and above all, build a profitable startup. Those are just a few of the startups I helped implement the steps in this guide to successfully launch their app idea.
In today’s guide about turning an app idea into a profitable startup, we’ll be covering everything from how to quickly test your app ideas, to finding the right programmer, building the necessary features, marketing your app and much more.
To make the guide easily navigable, the titles in the menu below will immediately take you to the chosen sections. Each section has multiple subsections with clear steps to follow from idea to a profitable app.
I Have an App Idea, What’s Next? (Ultimate Guide)
Before we get started, I’ve prepared a diagram that’ll serve as supplementary resource to this guide. Essentially, it includes all the steps detailed in this guide about taking an idea for an app to market summarized in a flowchart. You can download it here and if you need help connecting those steps to your app idea, be sure to schedule a free guidance session.
Alright, let’s get to it!
What you will find in this guide is a step by step process for taking an idea for an app to profitability designed around the biggest reason for startup failure: lack of market need. If we don’t know what might cause our startup to fail, we won’t know how to proactively avoid those mistakes even if it means completely changing ideas since the beginning. No smart founder wants to spend months and tens of thousands of dollars building an app idea no one ends up using and paying for.
Let’s think about it for a second. According to CB Insights, a lack of market need is the biggest cause of startup failure, what does that mean for us entrepreneurs? One of the first mistakes startup founders make is come up with an idea for an app and then look for how it can help people. What many usually do is build an app and then promote it to several customer segments hoping that it’ll stick with at least one group of people.
This approach is risky in many ways because we’re forcing an app idea into a market that may or may not be interested in our app even if they are already using a similar app. This is an example of an insufficient market need. So, what happens by the time entrepreneurs find out there isn’t enough demand for their app idea? They have to shut down the app or make major changes to it in order to better serve user needs hoping that this change in the app will boost demand.
Such changes can require major redevelopment which needs time and money. Considering that the biggest investment in a startup in the early stages is usually app development, this can be a major loss to the entrepreneur.
Therefore, I think you’d agree with me that if we can find a way to validate market need early on while delaying app development, we will significantly minimize costs and increase the success rate of the app idea and thus, eliminate a lot of the controllable risk.
The first thing that you need to do in this process is:
1. Don’t build an app yet
The decision to build an app idea (web or mobile) implies that the idea as well as the product (app) and its functionality through its features and design are what the customer needs to solve a problem. Technology entrepreneurs have a challenging job because not only do they have to validate the idea but also the app.
For instance, you may share your coffee on demand idea with people and get a lot of positive responses giving you some early qualitative validation about the concept. Now, it’s very common that once you build this coffee on demand app, the same people might disagree with the app and say things like, “I didn’t know it was going to work like this”, “I wish it had these features”, “the driver is taking too long, I might as well go buy my own coffee”, etc.
If we build an app right after getting preliminary approval from a few people, we risk building the wrong features and focusing on the wrong pain points. There are a few quick steps that should be taken prior to app development that will provide the founders with the insights needed to build an app idea that people use and pay for.
1.1 Find market gap
An idea for an app is usually inspired by other app ideas that may be addressing another market or aren’t doing a great job at solving the problem. Studying the competition is the first step entrepreneurs take at the idea stage to help them refine their app ideas. It’s what we all do no matter our experience as entrepreneurs.
Think about it for a second, some of the common sentences entrepreneurs use to describe their ideas include, “there are many apps that do X but not Y”, “what if an app like X can also do Y.” When studying the competition, look for an answer to these important questions:
- Are there other startups with the same idea? if there are,
- How do they price their product?
- How does their app look?
- What do their users say about them?
- What’s unique about them?
- How do they position their solution in the market?
- Who’s their ideal buyer?
- How can my idea be different?
Conduct this initial research on the top direct and indirect competitors as this will help you define and refine your hypotheses. Next,
1.2 State the two key hypotheses
The first two steps, 1.1 and 1.2, are about maximizing our understanding of the market and business opportunities with publicly available information before interacting with the customer to retrieve hidden insights. In 1.2, we’ll focus on the two most important hypotheses at this stage. A hypothesis is another word for an educated guess. We’re simply making a guess based on our experience in the field and the research conducted in 1.1. Here are the two hypotheses you’ll need to make now:
Who’s my ideal buyer?
It can take startups months to define an ideal buyer. This requires customer interviews as well as key metrics like sales, customer lifetime value, customer acquisition cost, churn rate and others. The point is, chances are you won’t be able to define the ideal buyer with certainty at this stage because in addition to the importance of data, you may realize in the next stages that the hypothesized pain point isn’t worth solving and insights may reveal a completely different segment to address.
At this stage, your goal is to define an ideal buyer based on the information you have because without a buyer persona benchmark we won’t have a reference to make some changes against after gaining insights in the next stages. Right now, write a sentence or two describing who you believe and have found to be your ideal buyer.
For example: my coffee on demand app idea users are busy tech savvy professionals who work full-time in positions that require their full attention like stock trading, who love Starbucks coffee and whose home and office are at least 3 miles away from the nearest Starbucks.
What’s their biggest pain point that my app idea will solve?
Once again, based on your experience and preliminary research, make the best educated guess about the problem (pain) that your app idea will solve.
For example: My ideal buyers are busy professionals who don’t have the time to buy their favorite coffee. Waking up earlier and driving to their nearest favorite coffee shop twice a day takes over an hour of their day. This group of buyers prefers to order a delivery coffee to save time, energy and gas money.
Having gone through stages 1.1 and 1.2, chances are you’ve already made changes to the idea and who you thought was the ideal buyer. Founders who move from app idea directly to app development make those changes during the development phase. This not only costs significantly more money and time, it also frustrates programmers who like to have a clear plan of action (aka development scope) that should be defined prior to the development phase so that they can plan their work accordingly and deliver on time.
1.3 Interview potential users (50-100)
This stage is not only important for better understanding the future users of your app idea so you can build the right app for the right group of people but also, it’s a strategic stage that will make a significant difference in your ability to successfully execute on later stages especially with customer acquisition.
When strangers are approached with a pitch, most of the time, they’re going to pass even if the product has a lot to offer and can solve them a big problem. However, when people are asked for a few minutes of their time to share an opinion and provide feedback, suddenly the percentage of respondents goes up significantly.
At some point when you have an app later, you’re going to need customers. The strategic aspect of this stage is that it allows you to build relationships with people that will become your customers when the solution is ready. From years of experience starting and helping entrepreneurs turn ideas for an app into a profitable startup, I found that most founders hesitate to carefully conduct those key customer interviews.
While sometimes just a few interviews can reveal the needed insights, the point is not just to have another interview, it’s to use the meetings as the first stage in the sales process. When interviews are approached as a sales funnel, it makes more sense to invest enough time meeting as many people as possible. Your target should be around 100 interviews with a minimum of 50.
This also depends on the business model. If you’re building enterprise solutions, meeting and connecting with 20 decision makers from different companies will provide you with the insights you need as well as a sales gateway. For an enterprise solution, one customer can possibly help you raise enough money to fund the first 6 months of your app idea although the acquisition process will take a lot longer. It is once again important to conduct those interviews early on so that you can accomplish multiple things at once.
So, how do you connect with interviewees?
For B2B apps, first, go back to your ideal buyer section above and if you haven’t yet, make sure you define whether you believe the right group is small to medium size businesses (SMB) or enterprises.
Before we discuss the best outreach strategies, first, no matter the target group, start with the lowest hanging fruits. Do you know some people in the space? do you belong to similar groups? can friends introduce you to them? If you can get an opportunity to interview a few of your ideal buyers through your connections, those interviewees can then turn into ambassadors if you ask. You can very easily turn a few meetings into many more just by building a network effect.
The decision makers in an SMB tend to be more easily accessible than in enterprises. Besides building a network, to connect with SMBs, use cold calling and social gatherings. Start by creating a list of people you’d like to connect with and call their office to schedule an appointment to discuss a project you’re working on. Use LinkedIn and other social networks to connect with the list of people you created and learn if there is a business or networking group meetings they often attend.
If your target is startups, research local meetups, online startup communities and use cold emails to connect with the founders. Some online communities like Indie Hackers are always open to new ideas and will help entrepreneurs seeking feedback.
If you’re focused on enterprise clients, use cold email, LinkedIn and conferences to connect with your target list. You’d be surprised how many leaders will be open to sharing insights and learning more about your upcoming app idea.
For B2C apps, the easiest way to connect with people with similar needs and characteristics is to find engaged local and online communities. These communities reward those who support others, as such, start by spending an hour a day commenting and answering questions before you ask for a little bit of members’ time.
I found that the most effective interviews are done in person. When you shake a person’s hand and look them in the eye, you not only build a stronger personal rapport but also, can clearly see their reactions to your questions, observe their body language and retrieve hidden insights. Therefore, prioritize your search to find local interviewees before connecting with others.
Finally, one of the most effective ways for attracting your ideal buyers whether they’re SMBs, enterprises, startups or consumers is by becoming the person that gathers them around a cause they care about. This can be accomplished by organizing conferences, summits or networking events.
This strategy entails identifying a common interest that many of your ideal buyers have and then inviting them to join an event around that interest which will also give you an opportunity to build a relationship with the group without having to connect with each person individually.
For example, a couple of years ago I offered a 6 months mentorship program for bootstrapped (self-funded) entrepreneurs to help them take their app ideas to first paying customers. To learn more about my ideal buyers’ needs and expectations, I organized the bootstrapping summit where I documented the journey of close to 100 bootstrapped entrepreneurs.
This summit attracted thousands of bootstrapped founders and not only provided me with numerous customer interview opportunities but also, an audience I could later pitch my product to. Sangram Vajre, co-founder of Terminus, the B2B marketing platform, implemented the same strategy to attract the first buyer, build awareness for their brand and connections with key influencers in the space.
With customer interviews lined up, what questions should you prepare to ask?
The golden tip with customer interviews is to avoid asking Yes or No questions. Open ended questions give the respondent flexibility to elaborate and share stories that even though may not initially provide you with a clear answer for the app idea you have in mind, you will soon be able to connect the dots about their pain points and needs.
Furthermore, while your job is to find consistency in respondents’ answers without asking, “would you use this app” like questions, avoid mentioning the pain points you thought they had, let them bring it up instead. If it’s a big problem, they will make sure to discuss it. Here is a list of common questions that you may use as is or change to fit your app idea. The list does not include the only questions. Be sure to include questions you feel are important to your startup.
First, we want to validate or invalidate our hypothesized customer profile from step 1.2. The first questions should focus on learning about interviewees and their background. A question like, tell me a little bit about yourself and background? is an excellent starting question as it should give you many opportunities to ask follow-up questions that naturally lead to the problem and solution you’re focused on.
The next series of questions should help you identify and qualitatively validate the problem. Here are a few key questions.
- What’s the best thing about [area you’re focused on]?
- What’s the biggest goal you work on accomplishing daily with [area you’re focused on]?
- What are the biggest challenges with [area you’re focused on]?
- Which one of those challenges cost you the most time or money?
- How much time and/or money is this [challenge] costing you [daily, monthly, yearly]?
- Do you think it’s worth solving at all?
- To summarize, the problem is [define it], it’s causing [define pain such as loss in time, money, frustration, etc. Try to quantify it such as X hours or dollars wasted]. Am I missing anything?
- Have you looked for a solution to overcome this [the biggest] challenge?
- How much time and money have you spent looking for a solution?
- Are you the decision maker when it comes to trying new products and services?
- Have you tried any of the available solutions?
- What’s the best thing about them?
- What do they lack?
- Is what they lack important for you?
- How do you picture the ideal solution?
- Have you tried putting a solution together that works OK, that just gets the job done?
- If you build your own solution, what’s the one feature you definitely need to have to solve the problem?
- To summarize, the ideal solution will allow you to [minimize time or money spent, boost key metric, etc.] by enabling you to [key feature(s)], unlike alternative solutions like [competitor products] that can’t [drawbacks of competitors]. Am I missing anything?
- I have been focusing on solving this problem for a while. Can I follow up with progress and updates?
Those questions and more will help you define the ideal buyer, the biggest problem and expected solution, especially if you interview enough people. Frankly, for a 30-45 minute long interview that covers all the questions, you should get the insights you need with 10 or less interviews. However, in order to successfully execute the second step below, it is important that you have a bigger sample of potential users.
The next steps are important because interviews only cannot be trusted to build an advanced product. I have been involved in the launch of several startup ventures over the years. Each experience taught me lessons but the biggest lesson of all was when I started my first startup ever. It was when I interviewed over 400 potential users from which over 80% sign up on paper (literally as I didn’t have a product yet) and signed a commitment to a one year premium membership, however when the product launched, only 5 converted.
To launch an app idea with more certainty, less risk and expenses and with higher success predictability, follow the next step. All of the steps in this guide are summarized in a diagram that you can download below. To learn how the process applies to your app idea, feel free to schedule a guidance session.
2. Design your app idea
The launch stages of an app idea listed in this guide aim to get the future buyer of your product through the journey of launching the app as if they are co-founders in the startup. First, we try to predict what our ideal group of buyers needs and expects. Second, we talk to them to verify if our predictions are correct. The second stage also allows us to build a personal relationship with them. The third stage is when we come back to them with a solution.
As mentioned earlier, many of the insights gained from the interviews are not a valid reference to whether there is a potential in the app idea. Not that interviewees will deliberately try to mislead you, the reality is they can’t answer questions that will determine their sincere intentions of using your app idea with just an interview.
Their decision to use the product will depend on many variables that, unless the product is ready for use, they can’t decide with absolute certainty that their time and money will be worth subscribing and solving the identified problem with the proposed solution in the future. Furthermore, you’ll find that most of your interviewees will respond positively especially if asked about their opinion on your app idea. Most people are nice and don’t want to disappoint others.
The challenge is that building a functional application with a good user experience and interface can cost a lot of money and time. And building this app idea represents a risk for the entrepreneur as their decision will be based on interviews and competitor research. To alleviate this risk, entrepreneurs are better off starting by only creating a visual representation of the app idea.
It can cost over 6 figures to build an application (web and/or mobile), however, for a few thousand dollars, you can hire a good designer to translate the listed features into pages that can clearly convey app functionalities. Those are designs that will be needed later on for app development anyways.
The idea here is that it is much cheaper to make mistakes with designs than with a functional product. While designs cannot perfectly simulate the experience of the app, they’re great to identify the biggest loopholes in the app and its features.
2.1 Build a clickable prototype
A clickable prototype simply makes the designs look real. This step is not essential but can help you sell the app idea and gather feedback as your interviewees will be able to see and interact with the app. There are many no-code tools that can help you turn your designs into a clickable app.
With a clickable prototype or just designs which should not take longer than a couple of weeks to create, the next stage is one of the most important steps in the early days of a startup as it is meant to sell the app idea and serve users even before building the product. The early stages provide qualitative feedback, the next stage is the first opportunity to gather quantitative data and feedback.
3. Test the app idea with real customers, still without an app
Technologies are created to better serve old jobs. Our needs never changed, innovation addressed those needs with more efficiency and made our lives easier. No matter the app idea, getting customers’ job done can always be accomplished by leveraging existing tools and processes without an app yet.
Applications make problem solving scalable through automation. This stage is about designing a solution delivery system that simulates the app experience without necessarily building an app. It is a simple way to minimize risk through customer feedback and revenue since it entails starting with a non-scalable process which doesn’t require a lot of funds or time to execute on.
3.1 Design a productized service for your app idea
Startups are unique because they are scalable. Thanks to technology and automation, an app idea can serve thousands of people around the clock without needing as many service providers. The business model of small and service businesses, however, is not scalable because the offer is usually customized to clients’ needs. Think about app development, marketing, book editing and other agencies.
A productized service entails combining manual and automated tasks to offer a solution systematically. The model lies in between startups and small businesses. It allows small businesses to offer a much more scalable business model without necessarily building a startup. For instance, a company like Design Pickle offers unlimited graphic design support for a fixed monthly fee. This was uncommon just a couple of years ago as the numbers didn’t add up.
Since turning the designs of your app idea into a functional product can take months and up to six figures without guaranteeing success, it is wiser and less risky to start by introducing a productized version of the app idea for testing and sales before building a scalable product.
The main objective of a non-scalable version of your app idea is to get your customers’ job done even if it is not fully automated. Here are three examples of startups that launched their productized app idea.
Tinfoil Security is a startup that provides real time security reports. Once you submit your website domain name and create an account, the system automatically reports and scans for security issues. Despite the founders’ technical expertise and ability to create a scalable app, they quantitatively tested their app idea through a non-scalable approach even if it meant taking more time delivering the reports.
Tinfoil founders, Michael Borohovski and Ainsley Braun, created a landing page that simulated the experience of the current version of the app. In this version, visitors could still submit their website domain and register. However, instead of automatically outputting the results, Michael and Ainsley were the ones manually creating the reports before sending them to the user.
The subscriber was under the impression that the app automatically created the report for them. It didn’t take long for Michael and Ainsley to gather data and feedback that helped them build the first scalable version of Tinfoil with higher probability of success of the app.
The food on-demand app, DoorDash, followed a similar approach. The job that their users wanted to get done in the case of DoorDash is order and have their food delivered to their homes. While a mobile or web app would have made the process more efficient and scalable, it wasn’t mandatory for testing.
The founders of DoorDash quickly launched a website that included a phone number and a list of restaurants and their menus. When someone calls with an order, a DoorDash team member used iPhone’s Find My Friend app to locate the nearest person to pick up and deliver the food. To get paid, they accepted cash and carried a Square reader for those who wanted to pay with a card.
In this case too, the founders of this startup had a programming background and could have very well built an ordering app since day 1. They used this non-scalable version to quickly test their ideas and, as noted by the founders, it helped them picture the product since they took its role in the early days. Furthermore, it was all they needed to get funded by top venture capital firms.
Groupon is our third example. The entrepreneurs behind this startup were in fact originally funded to launch a different app idea. When the original plan failed, the founders had a different idea they wanted to test. To preface their approach, it’s important to note that Groupon is the second fastest company to ever reach a billion-dollar valuation. They did it in just over a year.
It is interesting to see how this fast-growing company started with the founders meeting with local business owners in the neighborhood where their office was located to sell those businesses on the idea of exposing their deals to hundreds of potential buyers at once. The Groupon team then went door to door to meet teams from different companies at office buildings offering them the deals from the partner businesses.
This non-scalable process became slightly more scalable by creating a Groupon newsletter. This approach helped the startup validate the concept and raise funds which allowed them to move as fast as they did.
I intentionally used these three examples to show that founders’ programming ability or inability wasn’t the reason behind their decision to execute on a non-scalable solution delivery process. The entrepreneurs behind these three successful startups had the resources to build a standalone app but decided to test further and minimize risk by employing a simpler and faster execution approach.
Besides testing and validation, one of the consequences of this approach as seen from those examples was fundraising. It’s important to note that many investors want to get involved in the earliest stages of a startup but cannot easily make a wise investment decision with just an app idea. However, when the founders find a way to turn ideas into tested experiments, even if it doesn’t involve a functional app, it makes investors’ jobs a lot easier. It is one of the most effective ways to differentiate your startup from all the others seeking investors’ attention.
Furthermore, for founders who are looking to bootstrap their app idea for as long as they could to maximize the valuation of the startup, productizing your app idea is how you can quickly go to market, serve users and get paid from the most valuable funding channel, the customer. This revenue can help you bootstrap the next stages of the business.
Before you move to 3.2, think about how you can design a non-scalable experiment that can solve your ideal customer’s identified problem from previous steps without needing to build an app yet. If you need help with this stage, schedule a free guidance session.
3.2 Sell your app idea
With designs or a clickable prototype and having designed your non-scalable experiment to offer a solution based on customer interviews, this is the execution stage. Follow these steps.
Reach out to the list of interviewees from step 1.3 above to ask for another meeting to share your progress with them. During the meeting, you want to accomplish three goals.
- First, by coming prepared with assets like designs and a prototype, you will prove that you’re serious about your mission to help the group solve the identified problem. This builds another layer of trust with your interviewees.
- Second, by sharing a tangible and visual presentation of the envisioned app idea, you’ll be able to gather feedback with more confidence as people can now see and try what you have been discussing.
- Third, having introduced the product and learned what needs to be done before you build it, it’s time to pitch your productized solution. Chances are a small percentage of your interviewees will agree to commit to this approach, however, if the problem you are trying to solve is big enough and if the need for a solution is urgent, a few people should commit. At the end of the day, you’re better off focusing on solving big problems rather than betting on good to have solutions.
With regards to fundraising, as you have seen from the three examples shared earlier, this is an excellent time to raise a seed round. In reality, it can be easier to raise funds with an idea than with a launched product. When your product is live, investors will look at key metrics like customer acquisition cost, customer lifetime value and churn rate. Those metrics will be the basis of investors’ decision.
However, if you manage to get your hands dirty by following the steps above, you will build a case that shows the potential of the app idea before even launching the app. In this case, investors’ criteria change. They will focus more on your ability to continue the journey with the same commitment you’ve shown through the first stages. As such, selling the vision becomes a lot easier.
It’s important to note that fundraising is a long-term investment. It starts by connecting and building a relationship with potential investors even before taking the first app idea execution steps. So that by this time, you have a group of investors who are familiar with your progress and are more likely to want to commit right away.
3.3 Build a customer advisory board
The productized version of your app idea is just a phase. It shouldn’t last long as the goal is to build a scalable business model through a web/mobile application or hardware. In all the steps suggested in this guide so far, notice how we attempt to get the customer involvement at every stage.
As you are serving customers with a non-scalable process, you should be working on the beta version of your app idea. One of the best ways to build products that convert is by formally involving a group of customers through a customer advisory board.
A customer advisory board includes 5 to 10 of your customers from the previous stage who are excited about what you’re working on creating and are willing to spend 15 to 30 minutes of their time once or twice a month to review progress, test features and provide feedback.
This group is even more important for business models whereby launching a productized process isn’t viable. For instance, if the value proposition of your app idea is a technological innovation that demands advanced product development, a customer advisory board should be involved at every point of the development lifecycle. In exchange, you can provide them with perks like discounts or any relevant rewards.
4. Build the key features of your app idea
Launching a startup is not an easy task. For instance, when it comes time for the development of the app idea, it will seem as if all the listed features from the interviews and productized solution delivery period are must-have. It is the job of the founder to filter through the noise and connect the dots to find and only build the needed features that will allow users to solve the identified problem with a superior solution.
One of the strategies that can help you identify the core features in addition to the interviews and insights from the other stages is to build what your users consider a WOW feature(s). This feature must be core and essential to solving the problem uniquely and/or exceptionally well. In other words, a WOW feature cannot be a new way to navigate in between sections of the app, it must directly address the problem.
The point is, if the introduced value proposition, whether it is through technological innovation or a unique process, is not helping the user solve the problem better than the competition, good to have features aren’t going to make a big difference. Therefore, it is wiser to start with only the core of the app idea. This core should WOW customers.
Lastly, keep in mind that even though technological innovation has made life easier in many ways, it directly and indirectly negatively affected many other areas. The point is, more technology is not always the right answer. Founders nowadays can build successful startups by incorporating a human aspect in the solution delivery process while using technology as a facilitator via automation.
More users doesn’t necessarily lead to a more successful startup. Take the example of ProfitWell, a platform that provides software as a service startups with key data points to help them make wiser decisions that can reduce churn, optimize pricing and grow the business. This startup provides a lot of outstanding tools for their target market, SaaS founders, but don’t charge for using the product.
However, when their users, mostly larger companies, need help making sense of their data, they are referred to a Price Intelligently, a subsidiary of ProfitWell, team member for a personalized service that can cost over six figures per year. ProfitWell built a multimillion-dollar startup executing on this business model.
5. Promote your app idea
Fundraising and marketing are two business areas you can start even if you have no clue what app idea to build yet. Marketing for startups is not just ads and campaigns. There are many types of marketing channels and strategies that you can leverage at different points in the app idea launch process to help you attract, nurture and prepare your ideal buyers for product adoption.
A buyer typically goes through several stages before committing to a product. It starts with awareness followed by interest which leads to trial, purchase and then referral. Without a product, the early marketing stages of a startup should focus on building awareness and interest which the first paying customers will have to go through later in any case. Starting marketing activities early on, will save a lot of time later because referrals, which will contribute significantly to startup growth, will come sooner.
Additionally, the lead pool built before product launch can get involved as beta testers or as part of the customer advisory board. Their insights will help you build an app idea they’re more likely to use and pay for. Finally, many of those leads will invite their friends to try your beta which increases the pool of people eager to see the product out.
So, what marketing activities should you be focused on?
Before and during app development: In addition to the channels listed in step 1.3 above which will help you build a pool of interviewees, leverage passive channels to build your own tribe. Passive channels, also known as inbound marketing channels, entail creating valuable content for your audience that excites them to want to learn more about you and your products.
For example, the founders of Buffer, the social media scheduling tool, spent about one year writing articles and guest posts that attracted hundreds of thousands of readers to their blog. They started producing content before building their app idea. The audience helped them launch and promote a product they were excited about.
Articles is one form of inbound marketing. Hosting networking and educational events, producing a podcast, launching free tools, and creating video tutorials and courses are other channels you can leverage based on your app idea, interest and customer preferences.
During and after app idea launch: Inbound marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing. The more content you produce, the stronger the compounding effect becomes later. While this may take time, it will pay off big time in the future.
In addition to inbound marketing, outbound marketing channels can be essential to boost acquisition depending on the business model and early traction gained from the productized app idea delivery stage. Unlike inbound marketing, outbound channels entail pushing the product to the customer through paid mediums. This can include PR, cold outreach, social media and search engine ads.
Outbound channels should be treated as a product launch whereby the feedback gained from the first campaign dictate the next stages of the campaign whether it means iterating the messaging, positioning, offer, funnel or other aspects of the promotion. Or, completely pivoting to another channel if the data does not show promising results.
However, it can be tricky at this stage because key metrics may be low due to the product itself. For this reason, consistently interviewing leads and paying customers will always be the most effective way to learn about the changes needed to move forward with more certainty and less resources invested in ineffective marketing channels.
This diagram summarizes the promotion section of this guide. It is part of the complete app idea launch diagram that you can download below.
I have an app idea, what’s next? Final takeaways…
Successfully launching an app idea boils down to involving customers as if they are co-founders in the startup. Each one of the 5 stages in this guide requires the input of the user to help the founder make wiser decisions and minimize risk of failure. I think you’d agree with me that if the startup is not showing promising signs, it’s best to change directions or ideas sooner than later. Only by involving the customer can we gather those insights.
Secondly, from those 5 stages, designing and executing on a productized process of the app idea is what most entrepreneurs tend to skip. This stage is probably the most important of all because it allows you to generate revenue and gather quantitative data without needing to build an advanced product. If you’re an idea person, you can test them through productized processes quickly.
I wrote this guide to help you accomplish two goals: minimize risk and increase the probability of success of your app idea. I hope that by now you feel confident to go out there and build a profitable startup that makes a difference in the world.
To sum things up. To build a profitable app idea with higher success predictability:
- Don’t Build an App Yet
- Design Your app idea
- Test the app idea with real customers, still without an app
- Build the key features of your app idea
- Promote your app idea
For a summary of the guide presented in a diagram and complemented with examples and case studies, download it here. Click “Schedule A Free Guidance Session” for a quick call to learn how the steps apply to your idea.