It’s absolutely ridiculous how many apps are available for iOS. 600,000. Stop and think about that number for a second. If each app were made by a single person, on average, then one out of every 12,000 people on the face of the earth would have made an app. Statistics like this lead many to believe that the app market is simply over-saturated. I disagree.
Let me explain…
Spend five minutes perusing through the new app section in any one of the App Store categories. How many pages do you have to browse through before you find a new app that looks useful, has good reviews, and is well designed (as apparent in the app store screenshots)? See my point yet?
So often, when I introduce myself as an app developer outside of the tech/startup world, people say something like, “You’re an app developer! Let me tell you about this great idea I have for an app…” And I’m sure you can imagine where it goes from there. Being the first to think of an idea has nothing to do with success, it’s all in the execution! And, trust me, there is a very small chance that you are actually the first to think of the idea. Don’t believe me? Back in January I met a developer named Georg with a startup named FiftyThree at the NYC iOS Tech Talk. He showed me the prototype of a beautifully designed drawing app. Several months later, FiftyThree launched Paper for iPad. Now, Paper was certainly not the first artistic drawing app, far from it. Point being, FiftyThree executed the idea of a simple drawing app better than anyone else… even though it was two years after the launch of the iPad.
But how on earth do I break into a market with 600,000 apps if I know that I have a good idea? Well, there’s really no secret. In my opinion, the illusion of a ‘secret’ stems from so many people with a “great idea” failing at step one: validating their idea.
Unless you are intimatley involved in the niche you are trying to make an app for, your idea is probably due for a lot of refining. Even if you are heavily engrossed in whatever market you are wanting to tap into, you are one data point of thousands, or even millions. I could probably write an entire blog post on customer discovery (which I eventually will), but the point is, you need to do some research to find out if any of your potential customers would see your app as a solution to their problem, and if so, how much will they pay you for it? Don’t be disappointed in the fact that your idea probably sucks, read Jason Cohen’s (WPEngine) post on this.
Once again, the app store has 600k apps. If you make an app, don’t expect people to find it magically. You need to take a large percentage of your total budget (probably upwards of 30%), and devote it to marketing. There are obviously a lot of well-known app marketing firms out there, such as Fiksu. I recently partnered with Fiksu to sponsor PaperDesk on FreeMyApps.com, where end users can get free credit on FreeMyApps.com by downloading sponsor apps, and then use the credits to redeem paid apps, such as PaperDesk. Unfortunately, Apple recently pulled the plug on this. A lot of marketing you can do yourself. In the past, we have used app reviewers as a wonderful resource. About once a year when we do a major release of PaperDesk, we email about 50 reviewers every promo code we have on hand. This almost always results in a steady stream of 20 reviews or so over the course of a month. Carter Thomas (BlueCloud Solutions) has an excellent blog with a ton of app marketing techniques, and also offers marketing services.
So yes, you can still make money developing an app. However, the days of building a crappy app that barely does anything and cashing in on it (iFart) are over. You need to be humble enough to edit your idea, invest heavily in the execution (UI/UX… hire a real designer), and budget enough time and money to market your app. If you have a mobile app idea, let me know if you’d like to work with my team.