This keeps happening to me: people find out I’m involved in app development and they immediately start pitching their application ideas to me. In restrooms, at children’s parties, even in line at the DMV. I’ve heard all kinds of app ideas. Some innovative. Some banal. Some that require time travel to be invented first. The thing they all have in common is the uniform belief of their inventors that they will be one of the few apps to rise to the top of the charts and make a difference in the world.
Common sense tells us, of course, that they can’t all be right. Just like new businesses, most new apps fail to achieve long-term viability. That’s no coincidence because launching a successful app is very much the same as starting a business. You must develop a product (the app) – not an easy feat on its own – but then you must find a market for it, acquire and retain customers, provide them with technical support, collect money from them, pay bills, file taxes, hire people to help you do all of this, pay them, and hang HR posters on the wall that no one will ever read. Invariably, when folks are pitching app ideas to me in awkward places, they aren’t thinking of any of this. They’re thinking only of the success stories that get all the press, and the illusion of making it big with an app without really taking the time to consider just how much time goes into any overnight success story.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you do have a great idea. You have secured some funding, and you’re ready to put that idea to the test. Are you ready to have your idea challenged by the questions that come up during a feasibility study or by the feedback you get from a minimum viable product ? Do you have enough funding for your idea go through several iterations of development before it’s ready to launch, and still have budget to spare to fix bugs that pop up post-launch? Finally, do you know how you will make your app stand out among the more than one million apps in the App Store?
Please pause and think about that for a moment. There are more than a million apps in the iTunes App Store. Very few of those apps have any chance of becoming the next big thing, and just as few generate enough revenue to be profitable. In other words, don’t get too caught up in the lure of making millions of dollars on your app and then selling it to Facebook. It seldom happens, but the enthusiasm with which its reported when it does makes it seem like all you have to do is come up with the right idea and then execute it. The reality, however, is that news outlets and tech sites just can’t afford to focus on the many great ideas that quietly fade away, since their very lack of success obviates their newsworthiness. If you are going to be successful, you will have to defy the odds.
These days, when I sit down with an entrepreneur to begin a serious discussion of their idea, the first thing I do is listen carefully and ask a lot of questions to make sure I understand what they want to do. The second thing I do is try to talk them out of it. If I can talk you out of your app, it’s best not to develop it.
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