What Most Entrepreneurs Don't Know About App Development

The mobile app ecosystem is so nascent and evolving at such a rapid pace that it's been tough to catch up on what's right and what's wrong or what works and what doesn't.
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The mobile app ecosystem is so nascent and evolving at such a rapid pace that it's been tough to catch up on what's right and what's wrong or what works and what doesn't.

We're still learning as we're developing apps for the last 5 years having built over 150 in our portfolio. New user experiences keep emerging, as do new domains and categories that are going the app route.

But, having developed a series of apps that have failed and those that have succeeded, there surely are some learning in this domain which most first-time app entrepreneurs or appreneurs aren't privy to.

Here are some of those crucial things about app development that I've learnt through my experience in helping startups and enterprises with their mobile strategy and development.

1. There's no such thing as a bug free app
Can any developer write bug-free mobile applications? The technical answer is yes. The practical answer - not so much. The reason behind this is that it's just not economically viable, unless you're building a life or mission-critical application.

An application does not run in isolation on a perfect mobile device. It has dependencies of the platform that are out of its control and the existence of libraries and third-party API integrations makes it even more complex.

If you want your application to be bug free, then you need to also ensure that every library and API you utilize is also completely bug free - which is simply impossible when you're relying on a third-party for this.

2. Success in apps is by design, not by luck
The fundamentals of building an app or a business are the same - understanding who the customer is, what their problems are and then creating a solution that has the potential to work for a large part of that customer segment. While you hear a handful of success stories where the entrepreneurs built a successful app business by solving their own problem, you don't hear of the millions who failed doing the same.

The reason is that just because you have the problem doesn't mean everyone else in your user type would have too!

Most entrepreneurs underestimate the app business. It's far tougher than web-based business for two reasons mainly - discovery and user behavior, which are completely different on the two platforms.

Those that invest in learning the difference are the ones that do succeed.

3. Better features doesn't make an app successful
This is especially true if a large number of users are already using a competing app. A paper by John Gourville, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, specifies that products fail because entrepreneurs irrationally overvalue their innovation, compared to consumers who overvalue what they've been already using.

He states that for new apps (products) to stand a chance, they have to be 10 times better than the existing ones, "making the innovation's relative benefits so great that they overcome any overweighting of potential losses."

4. Starting small can lead to a better app
Paul Graham recently wrote, "Sometimes the trick is to focus on a deliberately narrow market. It's like keeping a fire contained at first to get it really hot before adding more logs."

When building an app, don't go tapping the entire customer base spread across geographies. The cost would be extremely high and your competitors will take advantage of your mistakes with the first instance of your product.

Instead, start small and build an app for a very narrow audience. Most often, you don't know whether your app will fly or die and the best validation is when the customers use it.

5. Don't fear others 'stealing' your idea
Brands are built over a period of time - not instantly when they're launched. So you shouldn't worry that someone will take your idea and run with it. It would take them at the very least couple of years to get decent traction, assuming they have the same customer insight and motivation to build the app.

On the other hand, if your idea is so unique that it has never been attempted before in its current state, chances are, no one would be interested in even considering stealing it.

In a Cornell University's published paper, the authors quote that when endorsing a novel idea, people can experience failure, perceptions of risk, social rejection when expressing the idea to others and uncertainty about when their idea will reach completion. Thus making it unlikely someone will have the same motivation as you do.

You're better equipped with this understanding and have a better chance at exploring the mobile app ecosystem. I'd love to hear your experience in the comments below.

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