Top 10 Things to Avoid When Starting an App

APPS! They seem to be everywhere these days, and with all the hype and excitement around them, there are more and more people jumping into the tech scene. However there are a lot of things to look out for, so here are my top 10 things to avoid.


I think I should start by saying that apps are not easy. And neither is being an entrepreneur. It's easy to get started these days, so people are jumping in to "have a go", without realising that business is hard. Not everyone is cut out for it, so before you invest a lot of time, energy and effort into an app (or any entrepreneurial venture), have a think about your personal goals and whether this is the right thing for you.

1. Lack of preparation. 

This one is the most important to it comes first. Here comes the timeless mantra... 'Failing to plan, is planning to fail'. An app is just like any other business, and so it requires a LOT of thought and preparation. Just because you're in your twenties and you know your way around basic technology, doesn't mean your new app will take off.

I see WAY too many people asking me to be put in touch with developers when they haven't even written down how their app will work!!! WHAT!? What are you going to say to a developer? 'Hey I have an idea for this. How much is it?'. No. Coders speak are very literal language, so this is where preparation and communication is CRITICAL. Entrepreneur's traditionally are 'visionaries' and can paint a picture of what the future will look like - but that's not how technical people operate. They are the polar opposite, and need very clear, understandable and actionable information. Coding is not like marketing. Coding is a step by step process that needs a clear outline of the functionality as well as the end goals and vision.

At the very least you need a business outline and a lean canvas (click here to read more about this), a clear understanding of what the app is and how it works, as well as some wireframes with descriptions. Wireframes can be done simply on a word or pages document (or anything really) with text boxes, rectangles and arrows. I attached a super simple example of a section of mine. This is how basic it can be!

When you pay a developer, you are paying them for their time, so if you don't figure this out now, you will be paying them to figure it out for you. That's a huge chunk of money you can save by just doing it yourself (which you should be doing anyway). 


2. Not talking to anyone with experience.

This is something I didn't do. Talk to people with experience in apps or technology to get their advice on your situation. It may just save you tens of thousands of dollars, or maybe more if they make you realise your idea wasn't viable. Learn from other people's mistakes to save you time and money. Nothing can prepare you for entrepreneurship because it cannot be taught, and you will make your own mistakes, but hopefully you can dodge a few bullets by talking to someone that has done it before. 

Feel free to comment on this article or hit me up on Twitter and I'll do my best to help! You can also download my free eBook 'How to Start an App' for free by clicking here or the button below.


3. Not doing your research with developers.

This is something I didn’t do. I called up the first people I saw and went with that. Classic move by a young, inexperienced and impatient entrepreneur with too much motivation, waiting to take action. 

Don’t let development companies boss you around. Remember that you have a lot of leverage (this goes for lawyers and other services too) because there are a bunch of other companies that all want your business too. Tell them exactly what you want, back yourself, even get someone to communicate or negotiate with you that has done it before (from the above tip). If they take too long, quote too much, or try to screw you around, tell them you will take your business elsewhere. They will walk all over you if you don’t be the boss (trust me, I know). 

4. Paying too much for... everything.

Alright. Big lesson I learned here. This is something I talk about in my article '3 Reasons Having No Money is a Good Thing'. If you are new to business and have money available (which you will need in this circumstance), you can get ripped off. Having money but little experience can be very dangerous. It's usually not your fault, you're just getting told you need all of these things from salespeople trying to steal your money. This is a very real scenario that you need to be careful of.

5. Getting hustled by salespeople.

This is an expansion on tip number 4. If you’ve never done this before, you don’t know what you need. So when anybody tells you that you ‘MUST HAVE THIS!’ you don’t know any better, so why not listen to the professional? WRONG! These people HAVE THEIR HANDS IN YOUR POCKETS. 9 times out of 10 they could not care less if you succeed or not, they just want you to pay for their product or service. I had people try to charge me thousands of dollars a month just for Facebook advertising. They sold me a pretty picture of what they could do, combined with a dark and gloomy picture of what life is like without them. But it’s all a sales pitch. Ignore it. 

This is where it is CRITICAL to be the boss again. I know, it can be hard, because you don’t know when you’re being hustled or not. This is why it’s so important to talk to someone with experience. Get advice before you make decisions. 

6. Not knowing the revenue model.

This ties in to tip number 1. You need to know how you’re actually going to make money from this investment. Whether it’s a subscription, a paid app, advertising, software as a service, eCommerce… there are lots of different ways. Even if you just want to get a tonne of traction and sell it via acquisition to a larger company. This needs planning before you start so you can adjust your app accordingly, and have a strategy for monetising later if that’s the plan. If you want to do it via advertising, you will need a lot of users. So knowing what type of advertising or what type of model you are going with, will help you steer the entire business.

However as important as this is, you also need to be flexible. Be prepared to pivot your model (and the whole app if necessary, but that’s another topic) based on the data you discover from the market. For example my app AroundAbout (you can check it out here) is like Tinder for food, drinks and activities. It is free, although originally we had a premium version for $1.29 where users could upgrade to get direct navigation, opening hours of the places as well as their website. I was never totally on board with this, although the development team recommended it. Compared to how many downloads we had, we had under 5% of people actually upgrading. So we ditched this, and I worked backwards (also known as reverse engineering). Our money comes from advertising > advertising comes from users > users come from value > value comes from making it all free. So be flexible.

7. Not making something people want.

This is a problem that occurs in lots of businesses. You can’t force people to like something just because you do. Think about the market, build a product around something that you know people want, or a solution to a common problem. 

Now the flip side -  if you do have a successful product market fit, think about what would make YOU use it. What would it need to do for you to actually use it yourself? What would make you download it? What ads do you respond to? This is something that seems so simple and obvious, but even I fell into the trap of making it for this hypothetical person when I wasn’t even using my own app at one point. Think about why you and all your friends should be using this thing. If it’s a very niche app, or not something you or your friends would use personally, think about the audience that you're making it for. Why should they use it? Ask them, and LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY! Never assume you know exactly what they want, always pay attention to what the market is saying. Because the market is what makes or breaks your app.

8. Having a bad team.

Your team is critical when it comes to business, and creating an app with partners is no different to any other industry. The vision might seem exciting now, teaming up with your room mate and making the 'next Facebook' (by the way never, ever, ever, EVER say that your idea is the next Facebook), but in reality everybody needs to have a clear understanding of who they are, what they do and where they sit. There is often a power struggle amongst young entrepreneurs. Combined with lack of clear communication and no clear outline of roles, this can lead to cofounders secretly building up resentment for one another. Whether it's because someone is doing all the work and the other is slacking off, if someone isn't doing their job correctly, if they don't listen etc. this can absolutely ruin a company for both legal and personal reasons. There's nothing worse than having dead weight. Imagine you start a company together but you end up doing all of the work, they aren't doing anything, but they own 50% because you wanted to be partners. Sheesh!! 

9. Things taking too long and costing too much.

I probably should have made a whole topic about the important of being the boss. If you let the people you’re paying slack off or let them walk all over you, they will do just that! You need to have strict deadlines, a strict budget, and don’t let them take you for a ride. Things tend to always to cost too much and take too long.

There are several contradictions in this article and here is one more. Whilst it’s incredibly important to be on top of everything, things do happen. Have a tiny bit of wiggle room (in time and money) to allow for hiccups. Sometimes what happens is out of everyone’s control. For example I was using Branch for deep linking in my app, although when iOS 9 came out, Branch wigged out completely. It wouldn’t work, which was a big pain in the neck, but this isn’t the fault of the development team. It just happens.

10. Not having the rest of the stuff thought out.

Last but DEFINITELY not least! Too many people think ‘I’ll make a cool app, launch it, and then sit back and watch the money pile up’. 

You could not be more wrong.

Development is ONE thing. There is so much more to business than just the product, like accounting, legal (very important), marketing (spectacularly important), content creation and much more. To help you with some of this check out my article ‘How to Set Up a Business in One Day’.

Set up your legal correctly, protecting yourself matters a lot. Marketing is a whole other topic in itself, and should be taken incredibly seriously. I would say it’s even more important than your product, however the product does need to be solid. If your product or app sucks, all the marketing in the world won’t make it work. But make sure you have a marketing plan!

Take all of these things into account. This (again) goes back to talking to people with experience. The good thing here, is that for this section you can also talk to people with general business knowledge because there are fundamentals that apply to every business.

BONUS TIP

I could write a book on this entire topic but I could only write 10 points. Anyway I wanted to sneak this last one in. Lower your expectations for your app, it's not going to go viral in 3 days. It doesn't work like that. This goes back to what I said at the very start, about how it's not as easy as you think. I'm saying lower your expectations, because I don't want you to see the results and give up. It isn't, and it's not meant to, be that easy. Focus on making a great product that people want, putting out great content, and build a great company, not just a cool app. That will be what makes you successful.

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If you're considering doing an app, I'm pretty sure I just saved you a stack of time and money with this article! Take into account all of these points, and best of luck with your app! Feel free to hit me up on Twitter for any questions, I'd love to hear from you!

MITCH HILLS 

(Twitter @mitchills)


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