How to find and validate app ideas: the step-by-step guide
This is a guest post by Gabe Kwakyi, co-founder of Incipia.
One of the best businesses to be in these days is the mobile app business.
Pokemon Go rocketed to the top of the charts and generated $1 billion in revenues in 2016. The team behind Candy Crush (King) started swimming in moolah after being acquired by Blizzard for near $6 billion. Snap just went public and has a market capitalization of $33 billion. Apple paid out an incredible $50 billion to its developers in 2016 (this was a staggering record, as it was equal to the total amount paid to developers during all prior years of the App Store’s existence). Uber is valued at over $60 billion.
Headlines like those are enough to make anyone’s mouth water.
If you’re looking to join the ranks of app entrepreneurs, come up with a good idea and start building an app, you’ve arrived at the right starting place. By reading this article, you’ll have a better idea of:
- How to come up with a good app idea.
- How to validate your app idea to ensure it’s worth investing your time, effort and money into.
Coming up with a good idea
To begin, the first thing you will need to do is to come up with a good idea for an app.
The best way to come up with an app idea is to identify a specific problem and to build a solution for that particular problem.
Keep in mind that your best bet is to identify a problem that you have experience with. This type of problem will give you a head start in knowing how to come up with a solution, rather than having to extract a solution from someone else’s head.
Additionally, there are many solutions to any one problem, so don’t get discouraged if you see an app or two solving a problem one way; just think of a different approach that solves the problem in a cheaper or more effective manner.
Here are several examples of problem statements aligned with top apps:
- Remind: Problem: keeping track of classwork is complicated. Solution: Remind is a tool to make staying on top of work from myriad classes easier.
- MyFitnessPal: Problem: keeping track of a fitness routine is tedious. Solution: MyFitnessPal is tool that makes managing a fitness routine quicker/easier.
- Venmo: Problem: I can’t pay a friend when I don’t have any cash on hand. Solution: Venmo lets you easily pay friends back when nobody has cash.
If you don’t already have a problem in mind, then try one of the tactics below to get your ideas flowing.
Browse through apps in the App Store
- Check apps in the top charts and top categories that interest you to see what problems other people’s’ app ideas are solving. Hint: the top grossing chart shows you which app ideas are the best money-makers!
- Think of a few keywords of things you generally do (e.g. fitness, traveling, guitar, motorcycle, marketing) and search those in the App Store to see what apps return and what solutions they present.
- Tap over to the featured apps section and look at the different categories of apps that Apple or Google feature. Many times, apps will be featured in a particular theme, such as making dinner at home, apps for medical patients or apps to track your time. Hint: these are the apps that are deemed a cut above the rest and are therefore good role models for your app ideation process.
Take time off
Take an afternoon or an evening off and walk around your local neighborhood, run some errands, go shopping, walk the dog or do something else that fits into your normal routine.
While doing this, observe the world around you; think about what problems you encounter during these activities, what may be inefficient about the way you accomplish your activities or what parts of your routine repeat.
Problems waiting to become great app ideas exist all around us. You can discover them if you can train yourself to pay attention.
- Examples of apps that have solved everyday problems:
- Airbnb – renting your room/apartment.
- Postmates – on demand delivery.
- Happn – geo location-based dating.
- Hello Vino – tracking/searching wine to buy.
- Examples of problems needing solutions:
- Helping people gain information on when/where/what to vote on.
- Helping restaurants reduce their food waste.
- Helping people break bad habits.
- Helping students arrange carpool rides to school (apparently now solved!)
- Go on Quora and start clicking through random and popular questions that people are asking. People refer to Quora to get answers to questions, and questions are often generated based on a problem.
- Question: “What’s a good content marketing tool?” Problem: “I need help starting/growing/tracking my content marketing strategy.”
- Question: “Where are the world’s most dangerous cities?” Problem: “I want to travel, but I want to make sure I’m safe while traveling.”
- Question: “How do I save money?” Problem: “I need help saving money/paying down debt/preparing for education/I want to go on vacation.”
Study outside of the App Store
Study ideas outside of the App Store by perusing projects on Kickstarter, browsing through startups on Angel List (Hint: one easy way to browse startups is to search as a job hunter) or checking the daily postings on Product Hunt.
Attend meetups and hackathons
Go to startup pitch meetups and hackathons (Hint: search Meetup.com for local tech events).
You’ll be immersed among like-minded people and will hear some other people’s’ app ideas; if you don’t manage to come up with an idea of your own during the event, you will at least come away energized and more motivated to come up with one.
Look at what’s getting funded
Check out what the people and organizations who may end up funding your idea want to invest in (Hint: this website collates a list of all the accelerators out there).
VCs, accelerators and other startup thought leaders often share thoughts on their websites and blogs about what business ventures they’d like to fund, such as the YCombinator Request for Startups page.
You can also check out investor portfolio pages and draw parallels between the businesses that these firms invest in, looking for hot niches, problems statements, disruptive technologies and unique business models.
Researching and validating
Once you have come up with your app idea, it’s time to put in the research to validate it.
This is a critical step that should not be skipped, as it ensures that the money, time and energy you invest into building your idea into app-form will be well invested.
With about 50,000 new apps added to the App Store every month and the the cost of building an app ranging from $40,000 to upwards of $500,000, validating whether your app idea is a worthy one is a very crucial step indeed.
Below are several tactics to help you validate the merit of your app idea.
Identify and analyze existing apps
Identify apps that currently solve the problem you want to build an app for and plug those apps into the following tools:
- Crunchbase – did they raise funding? Raising funding validates that investors think the app idea is a good one.
- An ASO tool like AppTweak – are your competitors in the top download charts? Are they in the top grossing charts? How consistently are they ranking and how high? Were they featured? Seeing apps earning a good rank, and moreover a consistent rank is proof that those apps are valid and solid ideas.
- LinkedIn – how many employees work at the app company? Even if a company has not publicly raised funding, seeing that multiple people work at that company is a signal that the company is growing and at least somewhat successful.
Check the keywords
Think of 5 keywords that may be used to describe your app idea and plug them into the following tools:
- Your ASO tool – What is the search popularity or search volume of those keywords? A higher search popularity number (30-40+) means those keywords (and the app idea that is related to those keywords) are popular among users and thus the idea is valid.
- The Adwords Google Keyword Planner Tool – how many searches occur on those keywords per month? More than a few hundred means there are a significant number of people who would be interested in your app idea; but, if your idea is very niche, a smaller number of monthly searchers (i.e. potential customers) may suffice. Hint: as long as you have an active adwords account (i.e. active ad group), you can use this tool, even if you don’t spend any money.
Ask potential users
Identify and ask your potential users what they think about your app idea. Here are a few ways to find people to survey:
- Social media – post on your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. and tell people you’ve got an idea, and would like to ask them to share their opinion about it.
- Reddit – post a question in the /startups subreddit and ask people whether they think your app idea is a good one, or whether they have any feedback on it. Redditors are some of the most engaged, digital community members on the web and you should get some feedback pretty quickly.
- Twitter – create a Twitter poll asking people to indicate to what degree they would rate your app idea’s value, how much they would pay for it and whether they would be willing to recommend it to a friend if it solved their problem well enough. Be sure to offer respondents both positive and negative responses, so you can collect objective feedback. Hint: use Twitter Ads to promote your survey to your target market to get the best survey results (you can fine-tune your ads to show to the right age, demographic, geographic location, interests, handles followed, etc.).
Analyzing your app idea’s market fit
Once you have validated the merit of your idea, you’ll want to analyze your app idea’s market fit, or how the features and monetization model you have in mind resonate with potential users.
In analyzing your app idea’s market fit, you’re also looking to understand whether users would choose your app over any of the other apps that provide similar value.
To validate your app’s market fit, begin by creating a spreadsheet matrix of each of your app’s features.
Then, do the same for 3-5 competitive apps that your users may also consider, taking care to write down features that each app has, even if your app or the other competitors do not have those features. Your matrix feature columns should be worded so that each entry for each app can specify the degree to which that app satisfies that feature.
Features can also be thought of as characteristics of an app’s value proposition.
Make sure to also include a column for your app and your competition’s business models. A good idea isn’t a valid one if you can’t make money from it (unless it’s for a non-profit or the government). If you need a starting point, there are several main methods by which apps can generate revenue, including:
- Paid download – e.g. $1.99 to download.
- Ads – i.e. showing ads or other sponsored content to users.
- In-app purchase – i.e. the sale of digital goods/services through your app. This includes subscriptions, which are rising in popularity.
- E-Commerce – i.e. the sale of physical goods through your app.
- Affiliate – i.e. earning referral revenue by turning your users into users/customers of another app or business.
Hint: ads don’t generate significant revenue until you have a large user base, which can often require a marketing strategy to acquire in the first place.
Once you have matrixed your app’s features and monetization model vs the competition, ask your potential users to rank which app they would prefer to use/buy.
By analyzing how your app idea stacks up to the competition, you can validate whether your target users value your idea enough to choose it over the competition.
Hint: by matrixing the features of your app idea and your competition, you may also discover two useful insights: features that one or more of your competitors do not have (differentiator features) and features that your competition has, but your app is lacking (gap features). Your differentiator features will be great to communicate to users (if users value them). Your gap features may be part of the reason that users rank your app worse than the competition; if this is the case, you can improve your app idea’s validity by also offering those features.
As a caveat, its important to avoid the “swiss army knife” approach to identifying features; at its core, your app should do one main thing and do it well. When deciding on features, return to the problem that you identified at the beginning and focus on creating features that solve that problem.
The next step: building and marketing
If your app idea has made it this far, then congratulations: you have a great app idea!
Now get out there and start building it. To keep the learning going, consider these next steps:
- How will you get investment for your app idea? Here are several ideas:
- Accelerator/Incubator program
- Funding from friends/family
- Angel funding
- VC funding
- How will you market your app?
- Step one: determine your goals (e.g. I want 1,000 active users by the end of month 1)
- Step two: determine your available resources (i.e. how many hours does your team have to devote to marketing, how much money can you afford to spend on ads/promotion, what PR/influencer connections do you have, etc.)
- Step three: define your marketing strategy (i.e. what channels, how many resources will be allocated to each channel, what partners, etc.)
- Step four: execute your marketing strategy (i.e. create the content/creative, set up the marketing channels, set up your analytics, tc.)
- Step five: optimize your marketing strategy (i.e. pull reports to analyze performance, adjust your strategy, etc.)
- What does your product roadmap look like? If you plan to build an app and let that be the end of it, then you plan to fail. Your users will expect new features, and your competition will demand the same of your app, or else they will out-innovate you and eat your future lunch.
Building an app is one of the best ways these days to delve into the startup world.
While the first step is coming up with an app idea, the essential second step is to determine whether your app idea exhibits markers of success before investing time, effort and money into building it.
Use this article as your handy guide firstly when coming up with an app idea. And subsequently when figuring out whether your app idea is really worth pursuing.
About the Author
Gabe is CEO and Co-Founder of Incipia, a mobile app agency that builds and markets apps for startups as well as established companies. Prior to Incipia, Gabe worked as a search account manager for Microsoft Bing Ads, managing PPC campaigns for clients including Airbnb, the NHL and Spotify.
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