I published my first app in 2012, following the process laid out in Chad’s book. My dream was just to make a little extra passive income each month, maybe $500 or $1,000.
After a couple months, the app started to generate some decent revenue. We invested everything back into the business, improving apps and building new ones. Within 6 months our first app was earning thousands per month, and we never looked back. Instead of providing a little extra spending money, my app business was earning more than my full-time gig!
It’s not all roses and sunshine though. I’ve published dozens of apps now, but only a handful of them actually earn significant revenue. As time went on and more and more of our apps flopped, I had to take my foot off the gas and ask myself what was happening. Why was my first app still crushing it while others were failing?
Build Upon and Improve
It didn’t take long to answer that question. As Chad describes in his book, I came up with the idea for my first game by analyzing the App Store and seeing what I could build upon and improve. My first app worked because it was closely modeled after a successful design & gameplay style in the App Store.
The reason so many of my other apps failed was because they weren’t validated. Success made me cocky, and I thought that any idea I had could shoot up the charts like the first one. WRONG! I was spending way too much money publishing apps that came from the top of my head, with no outside validation, and they failed.
I wish I didn’t waste a year learning this lesson. We went back to basics and published another game that was validated and inspired by the market. BOOM! Thousands of downloads on the initial launch and extremely high install rates using cross-promotion. Not to mention sustained downloads over a year later.
I wish I could say that I never made that mistake again, but I did. I still published some games that weren’t validated, and guess what – they mostly failed.
Coming Up With a Process
I decided it was time to develop a process that I could use to test new app ideas. The goal was to reduce the risk in developing a new app by validating the market first.
Why is this important? We often have a backwards idea of how market research works. Most people who come up with an app idea will search the App Store to see if it already exists. If it does, they give up – it’s too late. If it doesn’t, they get more excited – this could be the next massive hit, and no one else has thought of it yet!
But that thinking is flawed. With millions of apps on the market right now, chances are that if your idea has not been done already, there’s probably a good reason. The market doesn’t want it.
The Truth About Competition
So what should you look for? The fastest way to know if your idea has legs is to find other similar apps that are already out there and doing well. This proves that users want this type of app and are searching for it. It also gives you something to use as a model and improve upon, and you can read the user reviews to find out what new features users want. Don’t be afraid of competition—be afraid if there is NO competition!
I wrote a free e-book that details my step-by-step validation process, but here’s a broad overview of how I validate my ideas now:
- Find competitor apps with similar themes or functionality.
- Download & use these apps. See how other developers have done it.
- Check their success. Using a tool like App Annie, you can see the historical ranking of each app. I look for apps that have maintained a steady, high chart ranking for an extended period of time.
- Read reviews & brainstorm ways to improve. Some examples would be better graphics, better UI, making the app free, or adding additional features.
- Decide if there’s room for you. You may be able to check off all of the boxes above, but the final step is to make sure there’s room for you in the market. You want some competition, but you don’t want too much. If there are a few apps that do exactly what you want to do, that’s good. But if there are hundreds or thousands, you may have missed the boat. For example, Flappy Bird has a proven gameplay model, but the market is already saturated. Chances are low that another Flappy Bird style game will get noticed.
The key to making this work is avoiding any emotional attachment to your idea. If it doesn’t meet the criteria, it goes on the shelf – period! Businesses are run on hard numbers, not feelings.
Generate Good Ideas At Will
The best part about this process is that even if your idea fails the test, you now have a simple way to generate a new one. Just browse the top charts in any category and see what’s popular. When something interests you, repeat the same process above. Can you innovate and improve upon what users are already enjoying? Over time, you’ll get better and better at identifying opportunities and coming up with winning app ideas.
Nothing is guaranteed with apps. But like any business, following proven strategies & formulas will greatly increase your chance of success. Don’t waste your time and money like I did, taking blind shots in the market. Often the most successful people are the ones who have the discipline to put their emotion aside and follow a plan.
I’m an independent app publisher from Canada. My first app company, The App Ward, has published dozens of apps with over 4 million downloads combined. I’m passionate about the opportunity in mobile apps. I share more of my strategies & experiences at my blog, www.winningwithapps.com.