In this article we will cover the development cycle from start to finish. It doesn’t matter what your app idea is or how complex it may be, this article is for you. From testing your app with user tests and getting crystal clear on your target audience to make the greatest possible app and marketing it to as many people as possible. It’s all here.
This article is the holy grail of the development cycle. The phases of development are as follows
- Exploration: Discovering your idea and exploring it.
- Prototype: Converting your idea into something you can test.
- MVP: Showing your prototype to users and seeing if you should pivot or persevere.
- Launch: Hyping your app and getting as many users as possible.
We have put all our expertise and knowledge into this piece. Honestly, If this doesn’t make your app successful I don’t know what will!
Let’s move on to the first phase…
Exploration: what do you want?
In this phase, you and the development studio you’re collaborating with discuss your idea and get it in extreme detail so that we can move onto the next phases. There are a few things you need to do to make sure that this phase goes really well
You must know what you want
There’s no way around it. If you can’t see your app with crystal clarity then you shouldn’t come to the development studio just yet. Your idea needs to be explainable in one sentence — So marketing it is easier during the launch phase.
If you can answer these questions clearly then you can proceed. If you can’t answer these questions clearly in this phase then something went wrong.
- Explain the idea in one sentence.
- How is it special?
- How can you beat your competitors?
- … and how can they beat you?
- Who’s the app for?
- What does your target user care about?
This is a template. It doesn’t cover everything but it explains the main idea clearly.
If you can’t explain your app in one sentence then it’s not clear enough (or too complicated)
Find something that’s similar to what you want
When we work with clients. There is usually something similar to what they want already in the market. If this is the case then you should analyze your competitors. The main things you want to look for are what they are doing right so you can improve it and what they’re doing wrong so you can avoid it.
Unless you’re extremely lucky. You will have competitors to analyze so benefit from them while you try to beat them!
Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of imitating everyone. If you don’t stand out you won’t make it. The truth is most apps fail and there are many reasons for that. I don’t want your app to end up in the trash like so many other apps.
ALSO READ: Design When to Imitate When to Innovate
Modify it to what you have in your mind
Now that you’ve analyzed your competitors and checked out what they’re doing wrong and what they’re doing right. It’s time to adapt their work to fit into your project. Make sure you collect all these projects and show them to your development studio.
Some things that you could ask yourself in this phase of the development process include
- How can i make this better?
- Why is this part bad? How can I improve it?
Gather everything and store it in notes so that you can use the information later. While some studios do provide competitor research and analysis as part of their package you need to do your own research. The goal is to make your app successful and not to sit back while they do all the hard work.
If you are not involved then you won’t succeed. Have you ever seen a soccer coach neglect his team? That coach didn’t last long did he? The same thing applies to you. If you can’t stay committed to your project then you can’t expect it to succeed.
By the way, we provide competitor analysis and research in our packages (shameless plug)
How to communicate with your development studio effectively
We’ve already mentioned telling your studio about your ideas but how can you communicate with them effectively? This is especially important if the development studio you chose is halfway across the world.
Use if-then communication
This tactic is especially effective if your development team is in a different timezone.
You ask a question and instead of waiting for a response you tell them what you need to be done in a certain scenario. Some examples are in order here.
WHAT NOT TO DO: Hello (Developer)! I was wondering if you can change the checkout page so that the shipping location and payment details are on the same page.
This is ineffective because it creates an information bottleneck. Now he will respond to you at midnight and you will respond back to him the next day. Very ineffective. You wasted 2 days sending email. Bad!
A PROPER EXAMPLE: Hi (developer)! Could you put the location input and the payment details on the same page? If you can do that then go ahead and do it. If you can’t do that then please provide a few suggestions on making the checkout process more streamlined
This is much better. In all likelihood the developer can make the change you asked him to do without any problems. Now if he did have any problems he will respond to you with a few solutions of his own!
I not only use all the brains that i have, but use all the brains i can borrow. — Wudrow Willson
This message is really effective, but it could be much better with a few more tactics
Request a deadline
When you ask your studio to do something, always ask them by when they can get it done. If you don’t ask them when they will get a task done you’re giving them a license to waste time. Not doing this is a bad idea.
These are a few tips and I didn’t want to make this section too long. Here is a complete article on the subject.
Some questions to ask in this phase
Now that we’ve covered effective communication and how to get clear on your app idea we can cover some important things to consider when hiring a studio. These things are usually covered in the contract, but you should get this information up front
Will you keep supporting the project after launch?
Some development and design studios simply make the project and give it to you and recommend a hosting provider. Some others Host the projects themselves, but what does this mean?
If they are hosting your project it means that they are effectively your tech support if anything goes wrong. Most development studios don’t do this because it’s too expensive.
In most cases the studio your dealing with will recommend a hosting provider for your project. Some of them set up the app for you.
Make sure that you are clear on this point because if they set up your app with a hosting provider and the app goes down the hosting provider should be the one you’re calling. The studio isn’t responsible for the hosting provider going down (which almost never happens)
If you get them to host the project (usually costs more) then you can call them directly. Don’t do this if you have a small studio because they might not have the expertise of a dedicated hosting provider.
If you want a new feature or need a bug fixed then you should call the studio because they are the ones responsible for those things. All the hosting provider does is put your project live. So if you can’t access your website then the call should go to the hosting provider. If you want the design changed, call the studio.
In most cases the call should be going to the studio.
Figure out how you will monetize your project
What kind of monetization model will the project use?
There are a few models that are popular.
In this model the user pays a recurring fee to get access to your app (or part of it). The main problem with this model is that it’s really hard to get people to subscribe — and keep them subscribed!
This model is effective if your app relies on content. A great example of this is netflix
The Premium Model is what Medium uses. Once you reach a certain article quota you need to pay to access articles. Medium combines this with the subscription model. You can use the service without subscribing but you can’t read as many articles as you want. If you subscribe you get to read all you want.
The main downside of this model is refining it. If your app is useless without the subscription then you shouldn’t have a free version, but if your free version is too good no one will buy the premium version!
This model is interesting. Whenever a transaction happens inside your app. You take a fee. If your app uses payments at its core then this might be the model for you.
An example of this is a bank. Every time you transfer money. The bank takes a small cut.
In App Purchases
This is a model that’s really popular for mobile games. maybe you lost all your lives. You can buy one life for 1 dollar. That’s the IAP model. It’s really useful if your app has resources.
An example of this model is a course app. You get access to a library of courses. Each course costs credits. You can buy credits inside the app.
This model is mostly used in the world of games
How to protect your app from being stolen
Only the paranoid survive. — Andrew Grover CEO of Intel
The idea of someone else stealing your app idea or copying it is a scary one. There are few precautions you can take to prevent that.
NDA: Non Disclosure Agreement (You and the studio don’t tell anyone anything)
The non disclosure agreement is a contract that says that you and your developer team can’t tell anyone else about the information that you tell them. Therefore the information is confidential. If either party discloses the information to someone else. The other party can sue them.
This is probably the best kind of protection you can get during the development process. If neither you or your development team talk about the app then you’re fine and wont need to worry about someone getting the app to market before you!
Copyright is a nebulous term that is thrown around constantly in digital law. We’ll try to clear it up here.
Copyright can protect an app’s source code and UI. It is useful when someone copy pastes your app and claims that it is his.
When you have a copyright. No one can make an identical copy of your work and claim that it is his work.
For example: John copy pastes janes app. It’s identical to Jane’s app but John claims that it’s his app and Jane stole it. If Jane produces a copyright statement then John’s copy gets taken down.
Trademarks: Prevents people from using your brand
When you trademark your logo no one can use that logo. Trademarks mostly apply to names and logos. They prevent other people from using your brand.
Trademarks special because people can’t use similar graphics/words/sounds to trick people into believing that your brand is behind their product.
Let’s say someone made an app like facebook and used the facebook brand. Because facebook is trademarked he can’t do that and can be sued.
Patents: The strongest form of protection (If you can get it)
Patents are mostly for inventions but can apply to apps in some cases. They offer the strongest protection. All the previous methods protect you from people who try to copy your app entirely. While a patent prevents people from copying your app idea.
In some cases you might not be able to get a patent for your app because not all bodies of law consider an app an invention so ask a lawyer about this.
Example of a patent: Let’s say your app uses drones for delivering goods. If you manage to patent that app then no one can use drones in their delivery app.
Document Everything. This will save you when you enter court
If anything bad happens and you need to go to court. Having a complete history of your apps development and changes will be useful evidence in court and can save you from a very very bad conclusion.
Let’s say someone copies your project and sues you. What you can do since you documented everything is go to court with a complete history of your app. Who you tested it with what company you hired to develop it. Pictures of its prototypes etc. With all this evidence on hand you will probably be safe in this situation.
The best thing you can do is hire a good lawyer
Doing the law part on your own is quite complicated. If you’re willing to learn the ropes then that’s great. But if you hire a lawyer then that’s even better.
Lawyers may cost a pretty penny. But they can save your entire project should something bad happen.
Penny wise and pound foolish — British proverb.
Read the fine print (and have a lawyer look over it)
While we did cover most of the important things you need to consider when you’re just starting out with a project. Not all contracts are the same. These general guidelines are really helpful for general contracts, but you should read the contract yourself and have a lawyer lead it.
The last thing you want is a nasty surprise when your project is half way done telling you about a critical term in your contract!
This can happen to you if you’re not careful and remember. Everything is negotiable. You’re paying a large amount of money for these projects so make sure nothing goes wrong.
If you plan on negotiating then i highly recommend “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating as if your Life Depended On It” In my opinion, It’s the greatest negotiation book ever written!
the prototyping phase: Making a testing dummy
In this phase. The development studio creates a prototype of your app.
The prototype is used to prevent the studio from making something that you don’t want. And it lets them change things faster based on your input. Hey if you’re going to spend a large sum of money on an app you may as well get it done right!
List EVERYTHING you want to change in detail
When you see the prototype you’ll probably have quite a lot of things you want changed. This is normal and it doesn’t mean the studio is incompetent. It means they’re being a bit conservative. They want your input on the project so far.
What you want to do is check that the prototype looks the way it’s supposed to look. Don’t worry if there are many changes that need to be made. That’s why the prototype exists! It allows for rapid changes and modifications at a cheap price.
Put all your feedback on the prototype in a notes app and see if you can get a copy of the app on your phone or computer so you can think about the prototype more.
Once you have all the changes you want to make send them to the development studio. Ideally this shouldn’t take more than a day of thinking so don’t spend too much time on it. If you don’t get it perfect the first time it’s not a problem.
Ask the designers for their opinions on what they want to change
When you submit all the changes to the development team talk to their designers and see what they think of your changes. Maybe they have something better in mind. They are designers after all design is their job!
After you have the designers ideas and your ideas try to combine them to make something that’s even better.
Borrow what your competitors are doing right (and ignore what their doing wrong)
If you remember in the exploration phase. There was a tip that stated that you should see what similar apps are doing. Now is the time to analyze everything similar apps are doing.
This applies to you even if your app is unique. Each app will have some common elements. You can take a look at really popular apps to see how they are doing those elements. See what you can ~steal~. Ahem, borrow.
After you find a few decent idea’s you might wonder what should go in your app and what shouldn’t. That is out of the scope of this article but you want to keep the base elements there. If the app is too innovative people won’t understand it.
ALSO READ: Design When to Innovate When to Imitate
Negative Improvement Tactic
A common thing that happens to people with great app ideas is that they get so optimistic about their app that they refuse to look at the bad parts of it.
Do not fall into this trap!
While some optimism is needed to keep you excited about the project too much of it can blind you to your apps shortcomings. To fix this you can adopt the negative improvement approach. The technique is really simple and effective. You ask yourself the following question
What would the angriest critic say about your app?
Imagine the world’s angriest redditor. Let’s say he stubbed his toe and is in debt and is emotionally unstable. What kind of criticism would he give you?
The idea here isn’t to make you feel demoralized about your project. It’s to make you see the shortcomings of it.
Maybe you have a services app with a hamburger menu. The world’s worst critic might say something like this.
“I can’t access the services quickly enough”
You can fix this by having a top panel instead of a hamburger menu for example. Now the worst critic might say this
“I can’t reach the top panel because i keep dropping my phone!”
Now you put the top panel at the bottom of the screen.
With this approach you can continuously improve the app. It’s an extremely effective technique that is too good to pass up.
Now that you know what you should be doing. You should keep repeating the negative improvement tactic till you run out of criticism. It’s that simple!
MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
After you complete the prototype phase. It’s time to show the app to some real people to get some real feedback. The prototyping process we’ve outlined above should make this phase less time consuming which will make it less money consuming!
The meaning of MVP
The term MVP was popularized by Eric Ries. In his book “The Lean Startup” he defines the term as a smoke screen that behaves like the real app. Except it’s not the real thing so it’s much cheaper to produce and test user responses to the app. That is what we’ll be doing in this phase.
Eric Ries also coined the Build Measure Learn feedback loop which is a method of getting data from MVP’s
Build: Make something to test
The first step in Eric Ries’ system is the build step. In this step you make something to test on users. You want to build something small so that there aren’t as many variables. If you build something too large you won’t be able to pinpoint which parts of it are good and which parts of it are bad.
Measure: Seeing how users respond to the new feature
In this step. You show the feature you made in the previous step to some users and test their reactions through data gathering tools. You want to show the feature to a select group of users to gather data from them.
Some great tools for this are Google Analytics and Crazy Egg. They allow you to analyze data gathered from users.
Google Analytics works on mobile apps and websites. It tracks stats like bounce rate, session length, user amount etc.
Crazy Egg is a heatmap for websites. It tracks where the user is spending his attention. If the user is ignoring your Call To Action for example. You can make it pop out a bit more to see if users pay attention to it a bit more.
In this step you analyze the data you got in the previous step. Did the users enjoy the new feature? Did session time increase because of the new feature. What kind of things can you do to improve upon this system further etc.
This is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. If you apply the build-measure-learn feedback loop and discover that your original app idea isn’t something that people like. It can save you a huge amount of money.
Instead of going ahead with the entire project and having it fail you can cut your losses early. Or come up with new innovations that improve your idea.
Test the MVP yourself and ask for a copy.
Since the users that see your product in the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop won’t pay nearly as much attention to the app as you would you should take the MVP home and test it out.
Maybe you’ll have some ideas to implement and test! And if that doesn’t happen then it’s not a big deal.
Incorporate everyone’s feedback into the next iteration of the app
Like we said earlier. People with app ideas tend to be really optimistic about their idea. This might cause you to ignore bad feedback from users. “That user is a bad user. Get me someone else!”.
This is normal for one person but the data doesn’t lie. If everyone is complaining about something then change it. This phase is about collecting as much data as possible and incorporating it into your app.
Repeat until the app is great
This loop shouldn’t take too many iterations to get right. When you stop getting bad feedback and the people who are using your app genuinely enjoy using it then you have completed this phase successfully!
If people don’t have negative feedback but they aren’t using your app the way that you hoped they would then you might need to innovate some more and repeat the loop.
If after quite a few iterations the app still isn’t getting the attention it should be getting it might be wise to call off the project. It’s still quite cheap during this phase of development (depending on how the studio bills you) so pulling out now while you can might save you lots of money later.
Final testing phase
After all the revisions are complete you can start doing the QA testing for the app. QA stands for Quality Assurance testing. The QA teams job is to test the app and try to find bugs for the development team to fix. A few bugs are completely normal in this phase. In fact, if you don’t find bugs then you might find them after you launch! that can’t be good.
Final Phase: Launch
The day everyone has been waiting for: Launch day.
This day can be very stressful. It is the moment of truth! It’s time to know if everything you did worked properly. But before you launch you’ll need to set up your marketing plan properly.
Marketing: Taking over the internet
Before you launch you’ll need to make enough material to literally take over the internet. The goal is to be in as many places as possible. This is too hard to do on the spot. So the best idea is to start creating content as early on as possible for your project.
You want to launch with a bang. What you want to do is gather enough content to take over social media and every other platform you can.
Do not underestimate the amount of work this requires. But unless you want to have a similar start to Among Us Which took 2 YEARS after its launch to become popular. If you don’t want a long wait (or an infinite one!) you better start creating content.
A step by step marketing guide
Taking over social platforms
To take over social platforms you’ll need to keep a few things in mind
- Use as many appropriate hashtags as possible.
- Use images and videos as much as possible because they increase engagement.
- PARTICIPATE IN THE COMMUNITY This can’t be stated enough. If you only broadcast content and don’t connect with anyone this wont work.
The amount of posts I would do for each platform during the first week would be in these amounts
- 70 Instagram posts (spread over a week)
- 350 tweets (spread over a week)
- 7 Youtube videos (spread over a week)
- 7 linkedin videos (spread over a week)
- 7 articles on medium (spread over a week)
- 7 articles on linkedin (spread over a week)
- 7 posts on facebook (spread over a week)
This may seem excessive and borderline insane to some. But our goal here is to get a reasonable number of users in the first week. These projects are really pricey to make so we want to get our investment back as soon as possible.
Before you freak out about posting everything at the right time let me tell you about some social media management tools. My personal favorite is recurpost. Hootsuite is also a great option.
These tools can schedule all your posts which means you don’t need to set up an alarm at 3AM to send an instagram post.
How will I generate content ideas?
The amount of content that is required here is absolutely huge. A common question is “how will i come up with all of this content”?
Use a regular brainstorming session. Any kind of brainstorming session will work. One thing to keep in mind is to continue the session even after you’ve come up with a large amount of idea’s.
I can’t generate any ideas!
The secret to generating more ideas is to generate more ideas. This may seem counter intuitive, but the main reason people stop generating ideas is due to perfectionism.
If you set a goal of 20 ideas for this brainstorming session and you only come up with 20 and start to get stuck, change the goal from 30 to 60 ideas. This will get you past perfectionism and get the creative juices flowing again.
How will i create the content
This really doesn’t matter. The main idea is to have very very high quality content. If you choose to hire some people to help you create the content then that is your choice. The main goal is to have very high quality content on all platforms.
Reaching out to influencers
While you may think that influencers will charge a pretty penny for their advertising it’s still worth a shot. If your app idea is original and great then influencers will talk about it if you tell them about it.
If you have reached this phase then the app you have is guaranteed to be great (assuming you followed all the steps in the prototyping and MVP phases).
Talk to as many influencers as possible. The minimum number of influencers you should talk to is 20 per day. More is better.
Where can I find influencers?
Use hashtags on social media. Let’s say your app is a food delivery service. searching in #food will find you people who are interested in food and also have a large follower count. This is a really effective technique.
If you are doing 20 influencers a day you’ll quickly burn through social media influencers.
After that you can go after video content creators. Then bloggers and writers who are interested in the topic.
An influencer is anyone who has >10k followers and is interested in your field.
How do I start talking to influencers?
The first thing you need to realize is that influencers are human too! Keep that in mind as it will lower your stress levels when you contact them.
When you try to contact influencers what you want to do is say something about them and mention one of their recent posts/works
WHAT NOT TO DO: Hi influencer. I am X from X Delivery service Inc. We deliver food products from our app. Would you like to download our app and try it out? Please tell your audience about it too!
This is really bad for several reasons:
- It looks like spam. If your work looks like spam it will be automatically ignored.
- The message doesn’t relate itself to the influencer you are talking to. You must establish rapport with the influencer first.
- The message is too direct. You want the influencer to advertise for you but you don’t want to pay him. If you are this direct about what you want then in all likelihood they’ll send you a link to their pricing page!
A PROPER EXAMPLE: Hi Influencer! I saw your post about ordering food online. It was a really interesting post. I thought you might be interested in this delivery app. The difference between it and the other apps is that it uses drones to deliver food! It’s much cheaper to deliver food this way and it’s much faster! Did i mention that watching a drone delivering your food would make a great instagram post? Would love to hear what you think of it. And if you like it it would be awesome if you let other people know!
This is much better for a few reasons:
- You establish rapport with the influencer by mentioning one of his posts.
- You talk about something he is really interested in.
- You show him the benefits he gets if he talks about your topic
While some people might still be skeptical about contacting influencers it’s still a viable strategy. While you may contact a hundred influencers only a handful will actually tell people about your app. But boy will they give you a huge marketing boost if it happens!
You could also pay influencers directly but I like free marketing!
After you do all of this you will have a bunch of early adopters for your app. And you can repeat the process from the MVP phase till the launch phase over and over to grow your app!
Thanks for reading this extremely long piece. If you enjoyed it please consider sharing it and letting other people know!
Originally published at https://valuegrammer.tech.