Becoming an appreneur is tough business. According to the Business of Apps, the current rate of growth on the Google Play Store alone is over 1,300 apps per day.
Whether you build an Android app or iOS app, one thing is clear: there is competition aplenty.
In addition to a highly competitive app business landscape, appreneurs need to break through the clutter to get their app noticed on major distribution platforms and engage a generation of users with shorter attention spans than before, amongst other challenges.
“What does it take to become an appreneur? What tips can you share about creating a successful mobile app?” are questions I often get from aspiring appreneurs here at Appster.
While there aren’t any hard and fast rules, I’ve gathered our own takeaways along with a handful of key strategies and advice from mobile experts and founders who have found success as an appreneur.
You don’t need to aim for hundreds of millions of users (small business friendly). You don’t need to be an engineer (non-technical founders welcome).
There are undoubtedly specific execution steps to successful mobile app development — think app store optimization, freemium models, source code development — but we’re starting a couple levels up, before you start ringing app developers.
4 Tips to Becoming an Appreneur:
1. Keep up with the rapidly changing landscape
With changes and emerging trends constantly occurring in the mobile space – from the rising popularity of IoT and wearable apps, to exciting developments in chatbot technology – getting discovered, and gaining consistent traction is proving to be increasingly challenging for appreneurs.
Experienced app entrepreneurs who have weathered the ups and downs of a rapidly changing landscape have a simple advice for staying relevant to the needs of your users: keep learning.
Different appreneurs have their own ways of going about their learning journeys. Brian Wong, founder and CEO of mobile apps reward platform Kiip suggests:
“Choose a few leaders in the space you admire. I think you can learn the most not from the business moguls, but from leaders who are one step ahead of you. You can see what they’ve done and learn from their successes and mistakes. So observe what they’re doing, and find a way to replicate those strategies by working smarter, not harder.”
Chad Mureta, entrepreneur and author of ‘App Empire: Make Money, Have a Life, and Let Technology Work for You’ advises that aspiring appreneurs must first become an “app addict”.
He elaborates on his learning process, which involves “spending at least two to four weeks researching the market, while downloading and playing with tons of apps”.
Mureta sees this as a training period where appreneurs “invest” in their expertise – the more hours that are spent studying, playing around with and testing out successful apps, the more appreneurs will gain a deeper understanding of features that are common among these apps, as well as specific traits that users are looking for.
Mureta provides a second tip for keeping ahead of trends and changes in the market: “study Apple’s cheat sheet constantly”.
The “cheat sheet” in question refers to the iTunes Charts, where the top grossing, paid and free apps are displayed across all app categories. These lists are updated in real-time, and convey valuable industry information – from pricing strategies, to app design and marketing tactics that have performed well.
Mureta suggests reviewing these charts on a regularly basis to take note of emerging trends.
2. Stay flexible
Rahul Varshneya, founder of Appreneurship Academy, an online workshop for aspiring app entrepreneurs shares a key takeaway he’s learnt from consulting and working with startups across diverse sectors: stay flexible.
“There are no bad ideas, just bad entrepreneurs – those who can’t learn from their mistakes and pivot.
When an entrepreneur fails, it isn’t because their idea is bad, it’s because their execution, flexibility, and their understanding of the market isn’t right. You can always start with a product that doesn’t work, but you can always turn it around.”
Take Instagram as an example. Originally created as a check-in app called Burbn, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger saw that the app wasn’t getting much traction, and that most users were using the app to snap photos.
Noticing the user behaviour and low adoption rate, Krieger and Systrom decided to focus on a single aspect: mobile photos.
They examined the most popular apps in the photography category, and saw the opportunity for a photo-taking app that offered the social elements of platforms like Facebook.
They then worked on paring down the Burbn app to its core features – photo-taking, comments and likes – and launched it after testing the app out.
“We thought about what we could do to iterate more quickly,” said Systrom of Burbn’s pivot. “I remember what I’ll call ‘pivot day.’ We sat down and said, “what are we going to work on next? How are we going to evolve this product into something millions of people will want to use? What is the one thing that makes this product unique and interesting?”
3. Plan your monetization strategy right from the start
If there’s just one advice that mobile experts could give on the topic of monetization, it’s this: it’s never too early to start thinking about monetization.
Too often, it’s a factor that’s overlooked by mobile app developers when they begin conceptualizing their app. Kyle Richter, CEO at MartianCraft explains:
“The biggest problem with App Store monetization is that developers often wait till after they have thought up and designed the project to add monetisation on top of it. The most successful freemium apps are those that plan their in app purchase from the ground up, and make it part of the experience.”
Note-taking app Springpad is a case in point. The team had garnered a community of over five million users in 2014 – yet had to cease its operations when it failed to monetise.
Springpad co-founder Jeff Janer pinpointed a couple of key issues that led to its downfall: the team failed to capitalise on its non-US user base, which accounted for 35 to 40 percent of its user community.
In addition, it had decided to implement ads (instead of a freemium model) to monetise, but realised too late that the strategy required more scale than they could achieve.
Rod Burns, Developer Relations Manager at Codeplay suggests that figuring out a monetisation strategy that works for your app is a process that requires trial and error. He states:
“Understand your target audience and decide your strategy. Once launched, use analytics to understand how people are using your app and keep pivoting – it’ll probably take some different tactics to get it right.”
Chiu-Ki Chan, founder of Square Island adds:
“Not only that you should think about it from the beginning, you also need to keep adjusting it after launch. Experiment with different price points. Run discounts from time to time. Provide different bundles for your in-app products. Better start with a high price and adjust down – you may anger your users if you hike up the price after they got comfortable with the cheap options.”
4. Be patient and play the long game
In an age where we’re used to instant gratification and bent on discovering strategies that generate virality – frustration and impatience can set in quickly for aspiring appreneurs looking to create the next big hit.
But seasoned appreneurs, like Appster client Alex Prate share that it’s about playing the long game.
Prate states that patience is one of the “six core principles” that guides him in his entrepreneurial journey, which saw his mood-tracking app Realifex earning awards by the Academy of Visual Arts and the Webby Awards, as well as achieving a rating of 4.7 stars by App Store users.
“Great work takes time. Why else is patience so important? Because you can’t accelerate quality. If you want to build something unique, you need to give it time and space to evolve. I don’t believe in one-week or overnight apps.
We started with our MVP, then continued to change and revise the product to serve our users — and we listened to them in digital focus groups, online reviews, social media campaigns and just about anywhere they were talking about the product or sharing their views.
Know that as a founder, you also need time to grow. You’ll change. You’ll evolve and gain maturity that you couldn’t have expected. Don’t rush it.”
He elaborates on how getting clear about his purpose helped him to keep his focus:
“It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of building something new, but nothing is more important than staying true to your vision. Realifex is on a mission to enhance wellbeing, so all of my decisions filter through that lens.
Instead of chasing money, recognition, or giving in to social pressures, I know that if I prioritize my own wellbeing and the health of this company, I’ll make the right choices. That sense of purpose enables me to stay patient and play the long game.”