I have an app idea, where do I start?
This is a question I’ve heard hundreds of times in the past 10 years. So, in this guide, I’ve detailed 12 key steps to successfully kickstart your app idea.
Where do I start? is an awesome question! Because developing an app could be one of the most lucrative decisions you make for your business or your career and your life.
It could provide passive income that’s hard to match, not to mention the sheer satisfaction of creating something meaningful and useful. Furthermore, in some cases, life-changing for the people it’s made for.
Now the not-so-good news. Getting there isn’t always easy. Because being a first-time app entrepreneur can be a rough ride if you don’t know the right things to do or how to get them done. How are you going to avoid the common mistakes others have made before you?
The problem with app development
Here’s the problem with app development. Unless you’re “in that world” it can be hard to know who to speak to, or what you should even be doing first.
Likewise, with an overwhelming choice of developers offering help to get your app built, it can be even harder knowing who to trust with your idea and your money.
In fact, can you even afford it, at all? How much will this thing really cost? And what if it fails? Try explaining THAT to my family?
All common concerns, especially if you are like most people, and don’t know how to code software yourself.
The path to building a successful app can be fraught with trouble and worry. Also, just to complicate things, the app development world is always evolving. It’s largely underestimated what it takes to succeed. The rules change frequently.
So, what is the key to successfully kickstarting your app idea?
Most importantly, don’t blindly race in! There are many battle-tested strategies and tactics that have proven to maximise the success potential of an app project. Furthermore, they apply whether you’re building a B2B, B2C or even you’re building an internal app for your business and clients. Therefore, you should do your research and get some help!
Be sure you’re asking the right questions
Before we launch into the 12 key steps to successfully kickstart your app idea, let me briefly discuss the importance of asking the right questions.
In my previous role, leading an App Development Agency, we helped hundreds of first-time app entrepreneurs develop their apps. Based on that experience, I can tell you, most first-time app entrepreneurs start by asking themselves questions like:
- How do I go about getting an app developed?
- Who can help me?
- Can you invest in my app to get it developed?
- How much will it cost?
- Will it take long?
As a result, most head straight to an App Development Agency to get their questions answered. Seems logical right? Trouble is, for most app ideas, this may be putting the cart before the horse.
I believe the more critical first question you need to ask is:
SHOULD I DEVELOP MY IDEA?
There is a lot you can do before you commit to developing your app, that will build your confidence to invest time and money into the project… Or prove that you should not!
In the book on goal setting and OKRs, ‘Measure What Matters’, author John Doerr introduces his mantra… “Ideas are easy – Execution is everything!” This is absolutely true when building an App business. So, what is the secret to good execution? Above all, it is knowing the right things to do, how to do them, and when to get them done.
Therefore, time spent BEFORE choosing a dev agency will simplify your choice of agency. It will increase your potential for success. And even more importantly, it could save you tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars!
At Kuboom, we show App Entrepreneurs how to build a successful App Business. To simplify the journey from idea to commercial success, we split the process into four distinct stages. We’ve found that this makes it much easier to prioritise what to do now and what to do next!
- stage-01 – Plan
- stage-02 – Develop
- stage-03 – Release
- stage-04 – Scale
For this guide, I assume you have a great idea for a new mobile or web app or platform. Also, you’d like to know what to do next, and how to get it done to maximise the success potential of your app. This is our stage 01 – Plan.
The 12 steps to successfully kickstart your app idea that follows should be completed before engaging a development agency. They can significantly improve your chances of success. Importantly however, the order you tackle them is not so critical. But getting them done is crucial.
Once you’re done reading, you’ll have a basic framework to… Decide if your app idea is worth pursuing… Determine who should be your target users… Find an app developer that will best suit your needs… Keep your development costs to a minimum… and more.
So, let’s dive in and check them out:
Step 1 – Get your thinking right – Treat it like a business
Approach developing your idea with a business mindset, because to be successful, it will need to become a business.
Many first-time app entrepreneurs jump into developing their idea, committing considerable time and money before they have confirmed it has any chance of success.
Before committing to development, you should commit to doing your ‘due diligence’ on the idea and what will be needed to succeed. Adopting a business mindset rather than a hobby mindset will help add much-needed rigor to your process.
Step 2 – Know your Target Users… Don’t try to boil the ocean!
It’s far easier to boil a kettle than the Atlantic Ocean, right? Similarly, when you haven’t defined your audience, it’s like you’re trying to boil the ocean for a cup of coffee. When your audience is clearly and tightly defined, it’s like flipping the switch on a kettle.
Who is going to be using your app — and where can you find them online (or offline) right now? If you don’t know, find out. Because it’s going to save you a lot of money and a whole heap of heartache when launching your app.
If you believe your potential user base is everyone, then it’s too broad. Focus on a niche group initially to learn. Your strategy should aim at dominating or monopolising this niche before tackling progressively broader user groups.
Identify those users who will be the first or easiest to engage. What do they like/dislike, where do they hang, how old are they, what gender, how can you delight them… and how do you know all this? Aim to build a profile of your target user, the ideal persona.
Step 3 – What’s the Problem or Opportunity?
Most app ideas are seeded in the founder’s own frustration at a problem they have personally experienced. In contrast, when creating an app, you need to start imagining the problem from your Target User’s point of view as well.
- What’s the problem they’re experiencing?
- Is this the core problem or just a consequence of the core problem?
- How good is the opportunity… Is it a problem worth solving?
- Will your app solve the whole problem?
- How big is the target user group tat will find value in your solution?
Reach out to members of your target user group. Include anecdotal research in this information. Above all, understand how your target users are currently solving this problem in their daily life.
Tip: If you find your target users have gone to great lengths to create a work-around solution, then your problem is probably worth solving.
Step 4 – Your Solution – How will you delight your users?
This is where you get to describe your app. Create a brief, high-level description of how your idea will solve the problem for your target users (when built).
This is not a description of all the features. It is a description of all the benefits and value it will bring to your target users. How will it improve their life physically, practically, emotionally, financially or even spiritually? Furthermore, what are the outcomes for the users? And as a result, how will they feel about that?
Consider questions like:
- Is it going to save time?
- Will it be easier than the current solution? Simplify?
- Will it be ‘funner’… more engaging?
- Does it have the potential to create a whole new class of entertainment/communication/opportunity?
- How will it make your users feel?
- Is it going to be significantly better than the current solution… 2X / 5X / 10X… more?
- And, why do you believe this?
Step 5 – Do you have Competition?
It’s important to identify what other apps you might be competing against when you launch. Even more importantly, understand the impact they may have on your potential success.
- Are there other products on the market that solve the same or similar problem?
- How will your product be different / better than these?
- Will you have the resources (time and money), to build market share?
A good way to find potential competitors is to do a Google search on several terms or phrases that relate to your solution idea (keywords). What comes up?
Also, look at the bottom of the search results in the ‘People also ask’ box for more search ideas because it will list other popular search terms. So, do a search on those keywords/phrases as well. Because, the more thorough you are in this early stage, the more you’ll reduce the risk of surprises later.
Step 6 – Create your Features List
During the years heading up an app development company here in Melbourne, every week we’d have several potential first-time app entrepreneurs present their idea with a couple of sentences scribbled on a half-page of paper.
This was a red flag. Because it said – this potential client had not spent enough time working out how their idea could be delivered to the benefit of its users.
A great idea does not need to be complex. However, time spent brainstorming how your idea will provide the best value for your target users is critical. And you’ll become the ‘subject-matter-expert’ in the process.
Creating a Features List for the first time can be tricky. So, here’s a framework to simplify the process. I’ve used the Uber App as an example:
1. Start with your Users
Identify the different types of users. Different user groups will require slightly different features. For Uber there are three groups:
- User-X – A person wanting to get a ride from Point A to Point B.
- User-Y – A driver with a vehicle to take User-X from point A to Point B.
- User-Z – The Uber Admin
2. Next, sort out the Core Features
Make a list of all the outcomes each user type should be able to achieve to be a happy user… Or better still, a delighted user. These are the features. For User-X in Uber, some of the features would include:
- Simple Sign up
- Create a Profile
- Add credit card to Profile
- Book a ride from A to B
- Automatically pay for a ride from A to B
- Rate a driver…. etc.
3. Finally, focus on the Actions
List all the actions a user will need to take to achieve each core feature’s outcome. To simplify this process, start each action description with – ‘’Ability to’…
For example, if you are describing the actions User-X in Uber should complete when ‘Booking a ride from A to B’ it would include actions like:
- Ability to see a local map
- Ability to see your current location
- Ability to confirm the current location
- Ability to enter an alternative current location
- Ability to enter a ride destination… etc.
Follow this structure for creating your app’s Feature List. The simplest format for your Feature List is a spreadsheet. Your Features List will become the foundation of your app’s design. Furthermore, it will give you the ability to communicate with others how you see the app working, including app development agencies.
HINT: Please don’t get bogged down in every detail here. Focus on the core features… The features that set your app appart… That make it different or better. And flesh out these actions. In contrast, don’t worry too much about the detail actions for standard features like ‘sign-up’. Because, how these best work, should be second nature to your dev agency.
Step 7 – What are you Assuming?
When you’ve had an idea for a new app percolating for a while, your belief that the idea is awesome is motivating. You’ve probably shared your vision with family and friends and they agree… and so, it’s easy to think everyone is going to love the idea and it will be hugely successful.
However, it’s important to recognise that the commercial success of your app and the business you’ll need to build around it, is based on a set of untested assumptions at this early stage.
In his book ‘The Lean Startup’, Eric Ries explains how it is essential to identify your Leap-of-Faith (LOF) Assumptions – “those beliefs, so critical to the success of your project, that if any one of them is invalid, certain failure will result”.
Nobody wants to think that their idea might not work. It is scary getting ‘real’. Especially if you’ve been thinking about and talking about it for weeks or months or longer.
So, take a rational business approach rather than an emotional approach… Would you prefer to spend $30K to $150K, building your app to find out that nobody likes it, or spend $1K to $10K before you build it, to be confident it’s going to be a huge success?
List your LOF Assumptions
What are the assumptions your project is dependent on for success? Create a list of these. Next, work out which of these can be tested before you commit to development… It’s a much smarter strategy.
If we use the Uber example, some of their LOF Assumptions may have included:
- User-X will want to use an app to book a ride from A to B – Rather than use a taxi.
- User-X will trust us enough to give us their credit card details.
- User-Y will be willing to use their personal car to drive Users-X from A to B.
- We will be able to attract enough User-Ys willing to trade their time for money to drive User-Xs from A to B.
- The technology to bring User-X and User-Y together to complete a ride transaction will be possible for us to build.
- We will be able to market the app effectively to both User X & Y to fulfill demand in a commercially viable way.
There are other assumptions, but these would have been among the most critical to the initial success of Uber.
Step 8 – Can you validate any of your LOF Assumptions?
Ok, so you have recognised that the potential success of your app is based on several assumptions. How can you begin to prove that your idea is good BEFORE you commit to spending a lot of money?
Are there ways to test some assumptions before committing to development?
- Could you survey a group of your target users to confirm the problem?
- Could you show a brochure and get feedback?
- Would a mockup be able to demonstrate the features and get feedback?
- Could you create a simple website with some of the core features to start to engage with your target users?
- Could you get some target users to commit to using your app before you build it?
Whatever test you come up with, it’s important to be clear which assumption you are aiming to test… And what constitutes validation.
Tip: Before you start a test, write down what you expect the results or outcome to be. Because it’s important to have a way to compare the results.
Step 9 – Simplify… Minimise features for Version 1
You may be familiar with the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP). A MVP is a version of your app that can be used to validate a specific assumption or a small set of assumptions.
In fact, the suggestions in Step 8 above require creating basic types of MVPs, because they are designed to validate or partially validate some of your LOF assumptions. It is important to learn directly from your potential users. Most importantly, what they ‘DO’ rather than what they ‘SAY’ they will do.
Consider every version of your app to be a MVP. Each designed to test user behavior and validate specific core assumptions. The learning gained from each version will inform the updates for the next version. In this way, each version should be better than the last at engaging users.
Which features should you prioritise?
Using this MVP principle, it becomes simple to prioritise your features. Decide which are the most important assumptions to test first. Then, go through your Features List and flag the absolute minimum that should be developed to test these assumptions.
The first version of your app should only include the minimum, absolutely must-have features. Because this will save time and money in development and get your first working version of the app into the hands of your users asap.
The same process can be repeated for each subsequent version of your app, always taking the learnings from the previous version into account.
It is an iterative approach that should provide your users with a better experience each release and thereby continuously increasing engagement.
Step 10 – Do some Basic Numbers
One mistake many first-time App Entrepreneurs make is trying to monetise (make money from) their product too early. This just creates a barrier-to-entry for their potential early adopters. Remember, developing engaged active users should always be your number one priority.
See our post – 7 Critical Mistakes to Avoid when Developing a Mobile App
However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid the “how much money will we make” question entirely at this early stage. It’s important to have a basic high-level awareness of how your monetisation strategy may be structured.
So, brainstorm ways you could potentially monetise your product. What value do you bring to your target users that you believe they might pay for? And then, get more ideas by researching how other Apps are monetising their value.
When you decide on one or two primary methods, start to work out some numbers. Create a simple monthly forecast in spreadsheet format with your best guess values. At this early stage, this will be a total guess but, the spreadsheet you create will provide a simple model that you can adjust to consider various scenarios.
Some key monthly metrics to forecast your potential revenue include:
- New Users: The number of new downloads or new signups per month
- Retention Rate: The percentage of new users that return and engage with your app
- New Active users: New Users X the percentage Retention Rate per month
- Total Active Users: The total number of Active Users for each month
- Revenue per Active User: Estimate what an Active user will pay for the benefit your app provides per month
- Total Revenue: The Total Active Users X Revenue per Active User per month
Build the spreadsheet out for two or three years. This spreadsheet will become more important as you begin to validate your assumptions and get some real metrics. It will also become the foundation for the revenue section of a more comprehensive ‘Innovation Accounting Model’ which you will need to develop during the subsequent stages of ‘Develop’, ‘Release’ and ‘Scale’.
By the way, your best monetisation strategy may be totally unanticipated. It may just become obvious later as you build an army of actively engaged users.
Step 11 – Now, finding your ideal Development Partner!
If you are ready to find a suitable development partner, then you will have confirmed at least one of your big LOF Assumptions to be valid.
Or, in the process of testing and receiving target user insights, you may have identified a better or different problem or opportunity that you can solve.
And, because of this, you have the confidence to invest time and money into progressing from idea to real-world product.
Of course, if you’ve proven that your target users don’t care about your idea, then it’s back to the drawing board. Don’t give up now. Celebrate the fact that you’ve just saved yourself a small fortune. Don’t see this as wasted time, energy or money. It is, in fact, valuable data and discipline that will guide you to success going forward.
So, how do you find a development partner that is perfect for you?
The right development partner can make or break the early stages of your project, so this is important.
First of all, it’s good to set out some basic requirements for the role, like you would if you were looking to hire a new team member.
Here are some ideas:
- Have previous experience building apps with the type of functionality that your app requires.
- Offer a transparent and collaborative approach to the partnership
- Have a simple and clear system of communication and updates
- Speak in plain English rather than a lot of jargon (tech-speak)
- Able to add value to the project with innovative ideas
- Development team based locally OR
- Development team based overseas OR
- A hybrid development model
- Experience developing apps commercially competitive apps able to scale
- An ongoing support program that suits your growth plans
And, it’s important that they build your trust during the proposal/estimation process.
Next, it’s a good idea to create a Project Brief document. This will show potential dev partners that you are serious. It will also allow you to receive development proposals that are easier to compare. (Step 12 gives a guide to creating a project brief).
Lastly, identify potential dev agencies that you will speak with. I believe you should go out to at least three.
Arguably, the best way to identify an agency is by recommendation. However, if a referral is not possible, create a shortlist from your search results, ensuring you don’t just look at the google ads and first page results.
Look at their work and what their clients have said about them. Because it’s well worth doing your due diligence. And, if possible, arrange for a brief phone call with a couple of their previous clients to get a sense of their experience. These previous clients will be able to give you a great insight into the dev agency’s process and their ability to deliver.
Step 12 – Creating a Project Brief Document
This step should be easy if you have completed the first 10 steps.
There are at least four major benefits to be had from creating a Project Brief Document.
- The process will help clarify your idea. Your vision for how it will benefit the target users will be clear.
- A Project Brief will show potential dev partners that you have spent time thinking deeply about your idea and its users.
- It will provide the same information for each potential dev partner, so their proposals should be estimating similar outcomes.
- And, this document can also form the basis of an Information Memorandum for investment at a later date.
Here’s a list of information that can be included:
Your app or project name… This will probably only be tentative at this point.
A brief introduction about you, your background, why you came up with the idea. Include any credentials that make you a subject-matter expert if applicable.
Briefly describe the Target User Persona developed in Step 2.
A brief summary of the problem/opportunity from the Target User point of view.
A high-level description of how your idea will solve the problem for your target users
Summarise your findings from Step 5. How will your product be better than your competition?
Features List (prioritised)
Include a link to the Features List spreadsheet you have prepared in Step 6. Be sure to include the priority column for each feature. It’s important to show what features you plan to include in the first version as well as your plan for future feature releases.
List the primary LOF Assumptions to be tested using the first release version of your app (a MVP).
Validation to date
Include a summary of the tests you have already run to validate or partially validate some of your LOF Assumptions.
It’s a good idea to include some broad goals about your plans, release dates and how this timeline fits in with other events in your business schedule/life, so the dev agency has some context.
If you have a budget, it’s good to include it in this doc. However, if you have no idea of the investment required, leave it for a face to face discussion.
Ideal Development Partner
If there are must-have requirements in your ideal list of Dev Partner attributes, then good to include them here.
Summarise the information you would like included in their proposal and a date by which it should be provided.
Aim to keep your Project Brief Document simple and concise. However, your list of features should provide a basic picture of the potential development roadmap.
Time for Action
Well, if you’ve read this far, you must be serious about your idea. I assume you are ready to build some momentum! As I highlighted earlier, good execution is the key. Execution requires ACTION. Taking action to get the right things done is what will move your project towards success.
In the short term, the 12 key steps to successfully kickstart your app idea outlined here will guide you through the process of building:
- An initial plan for your project,
- A description (persona) of your target users,
- Proof your idea is worth investing in before committing to development,
- A list of the core features that set your app apart, and
- Help you find a development partner that is the right fit
So, start with a simple plan. Which of these steps will you attack first? In my experience, many begin with creating a Features List because it’s more exciting and less scary. No problem. Start there. The critical thing is… JUST START!
I coach App Entrepreneurs (many first-time) and guide them through each stage of building a successful App Business.
However, these steps are not only based on my experience and our clients. Also on countless success stories of international app entrepreneurs, some of these are now the biggest “household name” apps the world has ever known.
And remember, as well as using these 12 steps as a guide, don’t be afraid to ask for help from others with experience, even if you don’t think you need it!
To help you get things started, I’ve created the complete ‘App Kickstart Roadmap’, which you can download here. If you’re ready to Kickstart your App Idea, it will help you identify all the priority tasks you need to check off before you commit to development.
I’ll continue to publish regular how-to guides, roadmaps, and checklists. My aim is to help minimise your risk of making mistakes and maximise your potential for success… So, be sure to join our Founders Club to keep up-to-date with the latest resources from our team and other updates as soon as they become available.