The stories of app developers striking it lucky always make the news. Yes, perhaps Ethan Nicholas can make over half a million dollars in a month (iShoot) by writing a game because he thought it was cool, but I bet for every Ethan Nicholas out there I can show you 1,000 developers that spent an enormous amount of time and money making an app nobody wanted. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to get carried away with your own idea, and this is the rabbit hole so many people fall down when they come up with the ‘next big’ app idea.
You need to validate your idea!
Have you found 100 people that will buy your app… 10 people… or even 1? If the answer is no, then why are you willing to bet tens of thousands of dollars of your savings that people exist that will want to pay money for your app!?
There are several things you can do first that will cost drastically less time and money then building an entire app to answer this exact question. Call it the DIY customer discovery if you want. Chances are that the idea you have is related to your interests, worries, hobbies, etc… so chances are you are connected to a group of people that have similar interests, worries, and hobbies.
How I validated PaperDesk for $0…
Before even building the first mockup screen of your app, talk to the people you know that are a likely target audience. Work on being able to describe your idea to them in a few seconds. If you can’t do that, then you need to simplify your idea. You’re the entrepreneur, which means you have the vision to see how an idea will look, feel, and act in the real world. This means you can get excited about something very easily, but most people won’t/can’t/don’t get excited over just an idea. They need someone like you to tell them a tale of how their life will be different -what pain will go away- if they buy your app.
When I first heard about the iPad coming out, I realized people would want a way to stop carrying around dead trees and sticks of graphite to take notes. At the time, I was finishing my degree in chemistry, and also did website consulting for people that regularly attended conferences and meetings. I noticed a lot of these people also carried laptops with them and kept some discombobulated mess of word documents in a folder for typing, and a legal pad for drawing things. So I was surrounded by a ton of people that regulalry took notes on dead trees and laptops.
Now talking to these people about my app idea was a little difficult because the general consensus about whether the iPad would catch was still up in the air, so I worded my questions carefully. Rather than listing off a ton of features and emphasizing the iPad too much, I asked things like, “You know how it’s easier to type on a laptop than handwrite words on a pad of paper, but you still carry a pad of paper so you can draw things? Would you pay a couple of bucks for an app that let you do both on the same page and share notes easily?”
The general response was very positive, and people seemed excited about it. Then they would ask if this was going to be an iPhone app or something else, to which I would say, “No, this will be an iPad note app for use with a stylus.” Then the response died off a bit, with half the people still thinking very highly of it, and the other half saying the iPad was fooey and no one would buy the iPad. That didn’t matter to me, if the bottle neck was wether people would buy the iPad and not my app, then that was the best news I could have gotten. I knew Apple would be able to sell the iPad, my app was just a few bucks tacked onto that $500 price tag.
I probably spent about a total of 10 hours talking to people over two weeks before writing a single line of code, drawing a single mock up screen, or even coming up with a name. In that amount of time I validated my idea of an iPad note app for use with a stylus in front of my target audience, and got a lot of great feedback that helped me shape the app. The best part is that it cost me nothing other than a little bit of my time. Let me know if you’d like to talk to me about your app idea and want help validating it.