Owning an App: A Day in the Life

Owning an app! Something that interests a lot of people, however to some, the amount of work is often underestimated. Today we are going to take a look into the every day life of two startup founders, Mitch Hills from AroundAbout and Ben Burton from Zeppee

It's not uncommon for people to think that apps are 'different' to normal businesses. Some people think you create a kick ass app, launch it, sit back and watch the money roll in. Unfortunately, this is quite far from the truth. Apps operate like all other businesses but often have even more challenges.

Every business is broken up into it's three core elements: Operations, Marketing and Finance. So let's take a look into each section and see what founders get up to!

Operations.

Development

Mitch: When it comes to tech, obviously a lot of time has to be spent on development and product tweaks or improvements. This one section of the business requires a lot of effort. First of all you need to understand your entire business and then get creative, brainstorming about what users want, design changes, work flows and much more. Once you've got the things you want to create, the hardest part then is actually bringing it to life. Having ideas is one thing - designing it, creating development scopes and then communicating that clearly with your developer to make it happen the way you want is a whole thing in itself. Lucky I like design!

Ben: Mitch hit the nail on the head. You may have an idea… Which seemingly a lot of people do, and will be very quick to explain. Mitch and I have both been from the “lightbulb moment” through to being live in the app store, and let me be the first to tell you, there is HUGE amounts of work involved bringing it to life. For example, the first thing I say to people saying that they have an app idea, is: “Have you got it wire-framed”, which is essentially a screen by screen flow blueprint, that you hand to the developers, and they build off that. Great.

Not so great, is when you realise mid build, that you are missing screens. And your developer will only build what you give him.  An example would be that HOME is one page. HOME> SIDE BAR MENU is another screen, and SIDE BAR MENU > SETTINGS is another. There is so much work involved in just this process that its mind boggling to come out of it thinking that there is any ease in starting an app.

Content Management

Mitch: AroundAbout is all about having highly curated content so we can add as much value as possible to our users. We don't have everything, we just have the best. This obviously requires a lot of monitoring and management to make sure we know what's up. Our content it almost more important than our app, without this our app is pointless!

Ben: For us, content management is super important, as we are working in an industry based on sympathy and empathy. Basically what this means is that we need to make sure that the animals coming on, and off the app are all from reputable breeders, or shelters, as we are working in a space where pets are as much a part of family as the children. I spend half my life monitoring our app making sure no one is using and abusing, as the ramifications of this will be huge.

Research 

Mitch: Most of my research comes down to what I said above with content. It's also important to know what's going on in the space that you're in so you're in the loop. 

Ben: Our research is based around the feedback of users. This refers back to the “never assume that what you like is what everyone likes”, so for us, as soon as we get feedback on certain features etc, we research whats involved, the benefits of, and pivot to what fits. Our product isn't exactly the most complicated platform, so normally its small things, but it ads up, and keeps you at the front of the game in the industry.

Competitive Analysis

Mitch: It's always a good idea to see what your competition is up to. I like to take the best bits and pieces from all of the competition to create one epic product. The 80/20 rule suggests that 20% of your products or services are making up 80% of the results. I like to take everyone's 20%, take out all the fluff and turn that into mine.  However: Focusing on your competition too much can be damaging - it can take you away from focusing on your customer and the market. Microsoft and Google were so focused on each other that Apple came in and roared past them all. Keep an eye on them but remember that your core focus should be the customer.

Ben: Yep, exactly what Mitch said. You have two real options in tech especially, as there is always the risk of someone coming out and doing the same thing. 

  1. If this happens, pivot to something else and own your niche again
  2. Be better. Simple as that. If a competitor pops up, be better. And you will always stay on top. There is no blanket rule to what ‘being better’ is, but always research and develop to stay at the front of your game.

Communication & Collaboration

Mitch: To me, this is one of the absolute most important parts of business. Communication is absolutely critical, with your team, developers, customers, suppliers, everything. Although for some context, this is about working with your team and making sure everyone's on the same page and everything's running smoothly. You've obviously got to do administration work and communicate with customers as well.

Ben: So in our team, there are now 8 of us. And I am the go to for everything, for all day to day running. Communication is critical, and unfortunately that means many late nights, notifications on Whatsapp, Skype, email and text 24/7, and never being able to put your phone down. BUT if you can stay on top of communication, your app will run like a well oiled machine. Then throw in the emails from people your working with (shelters, breeders, customers and potential partnerships), and you have a busy life.

Other operational tasks include managing your repository (files and source code), administration tasks and all the other communications management. 

Marketing

Creating Content

Mitch: Blogging has been one of the best tools we have used for getting out awareness. Marketing in 2016 is all about being a part of the conversation instead of interrupting it. So instead of saying 'GET OUR APP!', great articles about things like 'Brisbane's Best Pizza' is a much better way to reach people. You need to add value to your audience, not get in their way.

Ben: Blogging is big for us too. Our blog creates the content that goes across Facebook and Instagram, as well as providing a great leg in to shelters or customers. As opposed to the phone call saying “I’m Ben from Zeppee, and you should come on our app”, the conversation is, “I’m Ben from Zeppee, and we would like to do a feature on you on our blog”, which always ends in a conversion and fresh content on the app.

Social Media

Mitch: Social media is huge for AroundAbout, it's our main distribution platform with at least 80% going through Instagram and Facebook. It's where our audience is and it's been fantastic for growth and awareness. Facebook is the best for distribution of content, and Instagram is the best for humanising us, as well as being active and engaging with people (so important).

Ben: Our main marketing is through Facebook and Instagram, with most downloads and app store views coming from there. This involves a lot of graphic design, creating new content, new ad campaigns, seeing what works and what doesn’t, always testing, and when you hit a winner, rinse and repeat. 

Getting in the Press

Mitch: After blogging and social media, PR is the final addition to our marketing trio. PR is a terrific way to reach thousands of people for free and also give you massive social proof, making it a lot easier to sell to future customers. Getting in the media just comes down to finding and contacting the right people, frequently networking and responding to current events or stories that relate to you, so you can contact that journalist or reporter. 

My most important tip for getting in the media is tell a good story. Give them something interesting that's worth sharing, if you just blast your product they will ignore you or send you to the advertising department.

--> Read The Beginners Guide to Getting in the Press here. <--

Ben: Yes. And a big point here, is when your app or business is ready, DO NOT just go and start blasting your home grown press release to every email you find. You need to be researching the journalist, find a story that they wrote relating to your specific industry, referencing it, adding in what relevance your story holds to their readers, and leave a little pitch at the bottom for them to respond too. 

Always remember that these people get 1000’s of pitches for press daily. Be different. Your story may be good, but show them that they are special in your eyes, and that you want them to exclusively cover you.

Forever Networking

Mitch: Always be networking!

Ben: ALWAYS! You'll be blown away what opportunities come out of meeting the right people. 

Finance

Accounting

Mitch: As mentioned at the start, apps operate just the same as every other standard company. Accounting is the language of business, and something that cannot be overlooked. Even if it's boring! A lot of people get this part wrong because they don't want to do it. I actually had someone ask me once 'Do I have to pay tax though?'. I replied with a great quote from my accountant uncle that says 'You don't pay tax in jail!'. 

Ben: Track your expenses, only spend where necessary, calculate your burn rate of your investment, be frugal where you can be. If things aren't working, kill it, and find what will work. An app is a business, so treat is as such.

Revenue Stream Nurturing

Mitch: This section often results in face palming. If you're even making money in early stages you need to look at how you can increase profits by either generating revenue or reducing costs. It you're not making money you need to look at your forecasts and work towards your targets. It's critical to have a firm grip on your revenue model.

Ben: Apps are wonderful in that there are 40 different ways to make money. But work towards the best, and then expand slowly. Normally revenue comes through making new features, but if you add too many, your new users will get lost in the app. 

It sounds silly, but your focus must be on growing your user base, not your income. Because income won't exist without users, and you will be dead in the water with all these monetisation streams, and no users, and no money coming in. Be smart. Don't scare people off asking for money in very way shape and form, as a little bit of money off a lot of people is always better than none. 

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Welcome to the lives of app founders! Check out AroundAbout and Zeppee to keep up with the boys, and remember you can join the Exceptions for free at any time and join the conversation. 


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