So, you’d like to launch a mobile app but might not know where to begin. In our first episode of the Conversion Path podcast by Digital Dames, we talk about some of the key components that make a great app.
Listen to learn about:
- Validating your app idea
- Market research and trademarks
- Starting point tips
- Strategic planning around data
- Security considerations
- Key features of your minimum viable product (MVP)
- What to look for in a development partner
- How to think about time and costs
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Conversion Path is a mar-tech podcast about data and growth for your online and mobile business by CRO firm Digital Dames. We gather every week to talk about how to amplify your product, service or message.
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See the full transcription of this week’s episode below.
What to think about before launching your mobile app
J: Welcome to Conversion Path, a podcast about technology, data, and growth for your online and mobile business by Digital Dames. We gather every week to talk about how to amplify your product, service, or message. I’m Jaclyn Hawtin.
M: I’m Mani O’Brien. So, launching your first mobile app. We know, everyone and their mom has a great mobile app idea, so here’s how to get started.
I think the first question when designing your mobile app, just like any marketing project, is to think about the audience you’re serving. Ask yourself: “Who am I building this app for and what function does it serve?” And: “What problem am I solving?”
J: It’s the same approach to starting a business. You need to recognize a pain point that a community has and try to solve that issue.
M:I think we agree that the next step would be to research what other companies or mobile apps are out there that’s currently a solution to the problem you’re trying to solve. What are some of our best ideas around competitor research?
J: Yes, it’s funny how typically people come up with similar ideas at similar points in time. We are all magically connected like that. In most cases, someone who is thinking about starting an app, should start by taking a look at the App Store and take into account the keywords you would likely use to promote your app.
M: So, if someone is already doing what your idea is, that’s not a bad thing at all. If anything, it says that there’s a demand for your app idea.
J: Yes! It’s actually validating your idea. If somebody else is already doing it, it’s a good exercise to explore it and see what they’re doing. Then you can possibly add a few new features and compete.
M: What a great place to start! In fact our recommendation is typically to take a look at competitor apps and review their 3-Star reviews. Not only across the app store but also places like Quora, Reddit, Twitter and even Yelp. You’ll find suggestions directly from your competitors’ customers for how you can make your app better.
J: That’s a great tip Mani.
Another consideration is the trademark of the brand. Is this idea something that you’re even going to need to trademark or not? Sometimes it’s not necessary.
If you have a really generic name that can’t be trademarked, then that’s potentially okay as long as there’s nobody else in the space that is already doing exactly what you want to be doing. If that’s the case, by common law, you should be protected. Doing some research on the USPTO website is a good idea before launching your company or app.
M: On the topic of trademarks, we’ve done a lot of consulting over the years around naming and some clients take our advice and some do not. When it comes to choosing the name of your app, it is always great if you can use a strong keyword. Think about what people are searching for and typing in. Have that in mind. It’s not that you absolutely need it, but it’s great if you can. So if you have a fitness app, use ‘fitness’ in the name of your app if you can.
Also, a lot of people get to this place where they’re like, “OK, I totally have a great idea. I’ve done a little competitive research.” Then it’s sort of this black box of, “What the heck do I even do next? This technology seems overwhelming.”
What do you recommend, Jaclyn? What’s the first step when you’re thinking about actually pulling the trigger on building out a mobile app?
J: There’s two things. Instead of completely pulling the trigger on an entire app development process, you might want to consider just doing a prototyping package where you design out a visual interactive prototype of your app to gain a deeper sense of how your app is actually going to function. Because usually when you have an idea, it’s not ever going to be the same thing as what you get at the end of the prototyping process. So that’s the first recommendation.
Then from the development side, when you have solidified that prototype and think “I’m really confident about this and feeling good about it– I want to build it,” then you probably want to do what’s called a minimum viable product or MVP. This is going to help you to keep your costs down and also allow you to focus on one specific magical feature that is the core element of your app. It’s the pain point that you’re solving for your users because a lot of times you’ll get started and you’ll get excited and think, “Oh, we should put this ad over here and this ad over here.” But you know what? A lot of that stuff might sound cool and exciting, but it’s going to drive your costs up, and it might not play into the user experience the way you’re expecting it to.
It’s always better to focus all of your energy on that minimum viable product. What are the most necessary elements that you need to get your app out the door quickly and start getting real data from your users? Because that’s the information you want to use to inform future developments of your app in the future.
M: Absolutely. The type of people who build mobile apps are visionaries who always have a ton of brilliant and beautiful ideas, and they might say, “Oh my gosh, what if it’s more than just a jogging app? What if you can make friends with other people and then have races against each other and then make friends of new communities and have meetups?”
J: Exactly. And then, “the joggers can all open a crypto wallet account!” (laughing)
M: “And can also place bets” (laughing).
But the question you need to be asking is, “Can we just get people using this to track their runs? The core function, quite frankly, is complex enough.
Backing up for a second, for someone who doesn’t understand what we mean by prototyping, we mean you’re designing out what the app looks like and the basic function of it. What does the screen look like? What buttons are we tapping? We’re creating a visual for what your app looks like.
J: There are generally two kinds of prototypes: a really basic wireframe prototype that’s usually just black and white and has squares representing buttons and links and that sort of thing. Or you can do a fully designed, really nice graphical user interface. This is helpful to get to your final state before making the final decision around what that MVP is going to be.
Above: Basic wireframe
Above: Fully designed graphic interface with interactive prototyping function
M: I think that it’s such a great approach to go this route, because even if you’re hiring a team of graphic designers to build your prototype as the business owner or the ideation person, it’s always great to have a visual reference. As for the technical team, it’s so important to do this prototyping step first, because it makes it clear what the actual product is before you get into technical conversations. Would you agree?
J: Absolutely. It’s impossible to have a technical conversation without this.
M: Jaclyn, what are some of the questions people don’t even know they need to be asking?
J: I think people don’t really think about the security requirements of their application. Depending on the kind of data you’re going to be managing. For example, if it’s a healthcare app or a banking app, you’re going to have to abide by what’s called HIPAA regulations, and that’s a very high level of encryption requirement. Usually that doesn’t come as a standard feature in a normal cloud hosting solution. You have to add that on and determine if it is an integration.
So doing the research around the security requirements might be necessary. Then have a conversation with your developers and cloud architects about how to implement it. Consider how much it is going to cost, because there’s definitely going to be a difference.
All apps have users in there, they have personally identifying information. With these new security requirements you need to have high levels of encryption. The easiest way to do that is to use a cloud solution like IWC or Google Cloud. Also, people don’t really think about the sustainability of the app. Long term, what happens after you launch your app?
M: It’s not a set it and forget it situation.
J: Technology is a living, breathing organism. It’s made of code that is constantly getting updated with different versions. When big version updates come out, like on the App Store itself, then you might need to make some tweaks. It’s really important that you develop a partnership with an organization that’s going to be able to support you long-term. You’re going to need to rely on them and discuss things such as, “what is this going to cost me even before the beginning of the project to make sure that’s within my budget? What about CDP money?”
M: I think another big consideration is, “How can I get my app functioning and out on the App Store? What are the other integrations that are needed to make the app successful?”
A lot of customer data platforms and other third party tools allow you to deliver very personalized email marketing, text message marketing, and analytics tools. There are going to be other technology integrations that you’re going to want to incorporate into your app in order to be successful. So, it’s great to talk not only to a development team, but the marketing team as well. Ask, “How am I going to know where they came from? How am I going to maintain relationships with my users?” Just having those conversations at the forefront, not only about technology for basic app functionality, but all the other things that go into having a successful mobile app is important.
J: One thing I’d like to add is that we notice a lot of clients figure out that they need to add a lot of third party integrations after their apps are launched. Then, what’s required from a technical perspective, is an actual script that you have to incorporate into the code of your app. Sometimes it’s more technical than that, not just copying and pasting, but you have to sew some things together. So this can take time.
If you’ve launched and then you have to wait six months to get these third party integrations working, you’ve basically lost that time being able to optimize and communicate with your user base. This could result in the downfall of your startup. It’s really, really important to get these things in the MVP and plan for them from the beginning of the project.
M: Ok, so going back to some of our earlier conversations: we’re doing prototyping, mapping out the MVP, but also mapping out the data strategy from the forefront while you’re developing the actual technical capabilities of the app.
What about the cost? Of course, that’s a huge question for people. How do you even begin thinking about pricing for an app project?
J: On average, with most technical projects, there’s going to be a really big range because different capabilities and different requirements have different prices. But for the most basic app, I would say, with a minimum of ten thousand dollars you could get a very, very, very simple app.
But they can go all the way up to a few hundred thousand dollars. I mean, if you’re building like an Uber or something, maybe you’re spending millions of dollars. For most people it’s probably going to be between ten thousand and one hundred thousand dollars.
M: Quite a range. I mean, it’s hard to say without prototyping. A nice way to approach the project is to look at prototyping packages as a starting point where you’re not doing anything highly technical. You’re doing the basic MVP prototyping and that really helps get estimates from development teams because you have a very exact specification for what you’re requesting and then that helps them estimate better. I would recommend that as a good starting point for any mobile app.
J: I agree. Like we were saying before, it’s impossible to map out the technical strategy without seeing how the thing is actually going to function and having it all down on paper. You’d usually do that kind of split. Phase one is the interactive prototype and maybe you put 50% down. Maybe it’s going to be around 20 or 30 thousand dollars, if it’s a really simple app that you have in mind, but you won’t have the exact number until that prototype is done, right?
M: It is. It is amorphous. I think that when it comes to finding the right partner, whether you are sourcing freelancers for some components of the project or an agency. Some of the most important things to look for are collaboration pieces and consulting pieces.
You are kind of wrapping your arms around a partner who’s going to look at your app and ask, “Are you thinking about data? Are you thinking about X Y Z when it comes to your technical decisions?”
Your partner should be trying to think long term for your app and present you with some solutions as well as the pros and cons for the different decisions you’re making. They should truly be a consultative partner.
What else would you add to that? What do you think people should look for when they’re hiring a partner?
J: I’d make sure that they have a solid maintenance plan package available and everything it entails is laid out in a very professional way. So you can really understand what you’re getting. They should be managing all of your cloud hosting, making sure that everything is always updated when there are new version updates across the different applications that are being utilized in your app. They need to be responsible for making sure that those things get updated because you, as an end user in most cases, are not going to be a technical expert and won’t even know how to figure that stuff out. The only way to see that is by going into the code. So you really have to have a partner that you can trust long term and you know they’re going to support you with those types of things.
J: It’s like a marriage.
M: It is. It really is. Or it’s like bringing home a new car or something, you know, it requires ongoing maintenance. Or maybe like buying a horse that requires constant care.
J: You do have to brush them like three times a day. OK, maybe it’s not that intense a relationship.
M: I’ve probably gone off the rails, but you know, I think that it’s certainly not like a set it and forget type of technology project.
J: If you have a good partner, you will become friends over time. Let’s put it that way.
M: Yeah, absolutely. I guess the last question we want to cover is, how long does an app project generally take? Is this another impossible question to answer?
J: It depends on the scope of work. I would say on average, the minimum for a really basic app, three months, but probably six to nine months, depending on the complexity of the app.
M: More than a quarter, certainly. Well, I think that’s all the time we have today, unless there’s anything else you want to add? Do you have any takeaways for our future mobile app owners of the world Jaclyn?
J: I would just say, don’t be intimidated. There’s a lot to know, but if you find a good partner, they’ll walk you through the process and everything will be good. And it’s really fun to have an app.