So you’ve got a killer app idea? You’re probably excited to get it into the market before someone beats you to it. But hold on, not so fast. You need to do a lot of work to ensure it’s worth sinking your time and money into the project before you begin to develop your app.
The simple fact is that most apps fail to make money or get an audience. That number would be far lower if each publisher or developer took the time to validate their idea correctly.
In this article, we’ll take you through several steps you should take before you develop your app idea.
The current market
There is an insatiable demand for mobile apps. In 2021, users downloaded about 33 billion apps from the App Store and over 110 billion from Google Play. But despite these vast numbers, most apps fail. Statistics suggest that users abandon around 90% of apps after just one use.
If you dig further into the data on why apps fail, the most commonly cited reason is a lack of market need. You can throw an endless amount of money into developing an app. You can spend massive sums advertising and marketing it. But none of that matters if the core idea isn’t something people need.
Even some fantastic ideas are destined to fail. But what’s most important is the point in time that you realise your app isn’t viable.
You can figure it out before you develop your app. Or, you can do it when it’s in the app store, and you’ve sunk your time and money into the project.
Obviously, the earlier you figure things out, the better. You save more time and don’t spend too much money on an app that won’t get off the ground.
If you want to avoid an expensive failure, here are some steps you need to take to decide whether to develop your app idea.
Step 1: Identify the problem you want to solve
The best apps solve a problem. If your app idea doesn’t solve a problem or improve your customer’s life, you don’t have an idea. It’s really that simple.
The thing is, your app idea doesn’t need to solve a massive problem. Even a minor annoyance could do. But, overall, if you want people to engage with your app, it needs to help them with something.
Types of problems to solve
There is no limit to the types of problems we face as humans. The problem you solve can be huge or something minor. It could relate to a lack of solutions on the market, or it could be about frustration with current products.
However, almost all issues that apps can solve fall into one of these four categories.
Your potential audience can often have a solution to their problem already. In fact, they might even be happy enough with the service. However, the problem arises because they spend too much money on it.
If you have an app idea that promises to solve their issue just as well, but at a lower price point, you could be on to a winner.
Similarly, if there are solutions on the market already — but they cost a lot of money — some people will be priced out of the market. Going in at a lower price, even with a slightly more limited product, can be enough to win a portion of the market.
Time is another resource that customers cherish. Alongside money, it’s one of those things that we can never have enough of. Everyone has goals. However, there are always roadblocks to achieving them.
So, while there may be solutions to your problem on the market already if achieving objectives with them takes too much time, your target audience will be looking for something else.
Solutions that solve productivity problems allow your target audience to achieve the same objective but without sacrificing their time. If users can achieve similar results in less time, there will be a market for your app idea.
Achieve new outcomes:
Some of the best app ideas make the impossible possible. These ideas tend to be something that allows your target audience to achieve things that weren’t possible for them before.
Take an app like Canva. It was built so people with no graphic designer skills or experience could design professional-looking graphical designs. Sure, it can’t compete with a professional job, but it saves time and money and allows the target audience to do stuff that would otherwise be out of reach.
Another way your app can be a success is by providing a superior process. This solution could be related to work and touch on more efficient operations, or it could be something as simple as a video game that is enjoyable and great for passing the time.
Not every app idea needs to reinvent the wheel. But it does need to do something better if you want it to outwork your competitors.
Before you develop an app idea, you should run it through this framework. Figure out exactly how it provides value to your target audience. If you’re unclear on how it delivers value, you might need to get back to the drawing board.
Step 2: How to validate your idea with research
Your next big step is figuring out how to validate your idea with research. The best way to do that is to get out there and talk to people. In particular, the type of people interested in your solution.
There are a few different ways you can go about this. Here are some places where you can seek out opinions.
Social media is a great place for connecting with people. Often, users will congregate around hashtags or comment on topics. You can use this as a chance to reach out to people and get their opinions.
Alternatively, you can just listen. Find accounts and groups and see how they talk about the problem you want to solve. Listen to their gripes. See what they want from their current solution, be it a better process, greater efficiency, or lower prices.
LinkedIn is another place where you can just listen by joining groups or following people in your niche. Otherwise, you can post about your solution or contact people to see if they can offer opinions on your app idea.
Blogs or forums
Blogs or forums work in a similar way. Go online, scour relevant forums, and find out what people are talking about. See if they are frustrated with current solutions. Figure out why to get a sense of where your product fits into the landscape. Places like Quora and Reddit are good starting points.
Surveys are another great way to get powerful insights. There are lots of survey sites that can line you up with your target demographic. Otherwise, you can build your own survey and reach out to relevant people.
What sort of survey questions should you ask?
If you are going to ask questions in a survey, you need to find a way to frame the questions in a way that will uncover valuable insights.
Here is a list of the type of questions to ask:
- Show me how you currently address or solve your problem.
- What do you like or dislike about your current solutions?
- What would it mean for you to solve this problem?
- What other tools are you using or have you used to solve this problem?
- How did you find out about your current solution?
- How much do you pay for your current solution?
The answers to these questions will provide you with:
- Excellent data on how your target audience feels about their problem
- What their current tools don’t get right
- Give you insights on how you could monetise your app idea.
So once you’ve spoken to the users, it’s time to move on to the next stage: Does your app idea have a market?
Step 3: Find out if the problem is actually worth solving
By now, you should know:
- What problem you want to solve
- That some of your target audience would use your product.
If you’ve gotten positive feedback so far, that’s great. But you’re still not ready to develop your app just yet.
You’ve got to figure out if the problem you are addressing is actually worth solving. To get an answer to that question, you need to know if there is a market for your solution.
A lot of this comes down to monetisation. Your app can’t survive without paying customers. Or at least advertisements. So, for this next step, it’s about seeing if there is a market for your app idea.
Developing an app can cost a lot of time and money. So, it’s important to cycle through this step before committing a line of code.
What are TAM, SAM and SOM?
TAM, SAM and SOM each represent segments of the audience your app idea might serve.
They stand for:
TAM or Total Available Market is everyone who could buy your app. This figure could range from everyone with a smartphone to people within specific age or gender demographics.
SAM or Serviceable Available Market is the portion of the TAM that you can access. These restrictions could be about geographical location limits, the languages your app will support, price point, the type of problem your app solves, etc.
SOM or Serviceable Obtainable Market is the realistic section of the SAM that you could get to use your app. The SOM will, in effect, constitute your target market. The SOM might be limited by your current resources, advertising budget or reach.
How to calculate your SOM?
Again, market research is required at this stage. The type of app you want to develop will dictate how broad your TAM is.
For example, let’s say that you calculate based on age and interest that about 10 million people worldwide will be interested in your app. So, you take your TAM of 10 million and refine that down to, for example, 1 million people in the English-speaking world that are within your geographical location.
This calculation gives you a SAM of 1 million people.
Then, to get your SOM, you estimate how many of these people you could get to use your app based on your current resources.
Is there a large enough market for your mobile app idea?
This is the crucial question that you should be able to answer once you’ve done the research. The best app ideas in the world mean nothing if there is no user need. Before you build your app, you need to understand your SAM and your SOM, or your app development efforts will be for nothing.
Step 4: Do competitor research
Once you’re sure your idea solves a problem and has a market, you should look at your competition.
Competitor research is an essential element of validating your app idea. By examining the alternative options available to your target market, you should be able to answer a series of questions.
Some of these questions to ask about your competitor’s products are:
- What is the unique value proposition (UVP)?
- What does their app get right?
- What does it get wrong?
- What are their business models?
- What features do they provide?
- What do people like about their apps?
Competitor research methods can take many forms, below are a few of the common means of gathering competitive information.
Look through the app store
Trawl through the app store and note down all the apps and startups that offer customers an app similar to your idea. Take a list and look at each one separately.
At this stage, you might see that someone has already made the perfect version of your app, with all the features you’d want and more and it’s not been a success. As heartbreaking as this moment could be, you need to ask why your app would fare any better. If you don’t have a definite answer, you might not have a good app idea.
Use social listening
Check out your competitor’s social media. What are their users tweeting about? What hashtags do they use? Check out the comments and opinions they have about the current solutions.
This research could be a source of great information about the product’s shortcomings or features you need to add. Make sure to learn from their mistakes by listening to their users. Additionally, you can find whole communities who are passionate about these products and crying out for a solution.
Trawl their user reviews
To get an even more in-depth idea of what their users think about their products, seek out reviews on Google Play, the App Store, Amazon, Crunchbase, Product Hunt and more. Find out their users’ sentiments and use this feedback to power and inform your future app development.
Perform a SWOT analysis
The next step is to take all your information on your competitor’s apps and perform a SWOT Analysis. For this, you’ll need to list your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
- What does your app do that others don’t?
- What resources and skills do you have that put you at an advantage?
- What are the qualities that separate your startup from the others?
- What advantages do your competitors have over you?
- What resources and skills does your team lack?
- What opportunities are available to your app?
- Is there a marketplace inefficiency you can exploit like price, productivity or process?
- Can you create an app that many customers would need?
- What could hold you back?
- Are there regulatory changes coming?
- Are there new competitors on the horizon?
- Will any new technology render your app obsolete?
Once you understand the business environment you are building an app for, you’ll be better positioned to decide if your product can make a mark. Finding all this out at an early stage is crucial.
Step 5: Build a landing page
While this stage isn’t mandatory, it can give you solid proof that you have a workable idea.
Surveys can only tell you so much. Quite often, people will say they’d buy or download your product within the context of a survey, but when it comes to the crunch, they keep their wallets in their pockets.
When you need solid proof that you’ve got a winning app idea, you must take things out of the hypothetical. A landing page can help you do just that.
You can follow a few simple steps to test your idea out before you develop your app.
1. Build a simple landing page. Make sure it looks like the real thing.
2. Think about how you plan to monetise your app and list the price. (subscription, one-off payment, free with ads, etc.)
3. Make sure you add a call-to-action button
4. Record your page impressions and conversion rates
5. Collect email addresses for anyone who wants the product and tell them it’s available soon.
Collecting money for a product that isn’t built yet is a bad idea. So, if you have a BUY NOW button, it should direct users to a page that says your idea is coming soon.
Not every app needs to build a landing page. However, it’s an excellent way to get rock-solid proof that your app idea is something people want. And if you don’t get good results, it can help you rethink your app idea or, at the very least, how you execute your sales and marketing.
Step 6: Build a prototype
OK, now that you’ve gotten all that research out of the way, it’s time to build a prototype.
There are four types of prototypes that you can build. Each of them is a very basic replica of your app idea. The different types are:
- Lo-fi prototype
- Hi-fi prototype
- Functional prototypes
We will briefly touch on each of these prototypes. However, if you want a deep dive into the subject, check out our article Mobile App Prototypes Explained.
Once you’ve validated your app idea, you need to get something on the page. However, it’s not quite time to start coding. Prototypes provide a perfect middle ground between these stages.
There are lots of advantages to building prototypes. Here are a few of the reasons why you should explore building a prototype before you develop\ your app.
Benefits of building a prototype
1. Visualise your idea
You can tell someone that you have a great app idea. You can even plonk down a document teaming with audience and market research data. But sometimes, they just need to see how it will work.
A prototype lets your potential users (or backers) experience your app, even in a limited way. That can be very powerful.
2. Get feedback
Prototypes help you get feedback on your app. Even without committing a line of code, you can have a version of what your app will look like, how users can navigate it, and what the user interface and user experience will feel like.
Showing people these things will help them evaluate your app’s relative strengths and weaknesses. It will also provide insights into what is missing or what elements are unnecessary.
3. Focus your thinking
The ideation stage is exciting. Your mind is whirring with ideas, exotic functions, and features that will set your app apart from your competitors. But, a prototype forces you to get grounded. You need to think about the fundamentals, like user experience. Once you start putting things down on the page, you’re forced to make decisions.
4. Identify problems early
Carefully validating an idea is about saving resource waste. Instead of powering full steam ahead into development, you take your time to identify (and hopefully resolve) any issues surrounding your app idea.
A prototype is an excellent way to identify any problems. Some of these issues could be fatal and make you realise your app idea is doomed. Other issues can be confronted and overcome with simple fixes.
The point is that you are identifying issues early. Once you’ve started development, making changes becomes expensive and inefficient.
Understanding where your product could go wrong in these early stages will save you so much hassle.
Different kinds of prototypes
Let’s explore the four different kinds of prototypes that you can build. Depending on your idea, you can use each format to explain your app. The beauty here is that you aren’t committing any code, which is typically your most considerable expense when you want to develop your app.
Wireframes are like a blueprint for your app. They are a basic 2D outline of your app’s appearance and function. The key here is simplicity.
Most wireframes are black and white. You can draw them by hand or with computer-assisted drawing. Typically, they allow users to “navigate” around the blueprint and get some experience of what it would be like to use the app.
The wireframe stage is about conceptualising your app. This stage is an excellent time to get feedback and opinions that you can use to power the next iteration of your idea. They’re not expensive to make, but they definitely give you a feeling of what the app will look like.
Of course, you can make your wireframes more complex too. Some developers add graphics and interfaces that represent something very close to the app’s final version.
Lo-fi prototypes are a great way to show screen layout and limited navigation. Again, these prototypes are all about delivering something very simple that communicates your app idea.
The key here is to use your prototype to highlight problems and get feedback. Again, you want to do this before more complex UI features are built.
Hi-fi prototypes — also called mockups — are typically built during the late design phase. They are far more detailed and closely resemble a finished app.
When you get to this stage, you’ll have hopefully collected and actioned most of the feedback on your app idea.
Basically, a hi-fi prototype is almost ready for the development version of your app. Users can navigate the app; it has icons, polish, and other visual elements. Yes, you haven’t committed any code just yet, but it’s basically a version of what the app should look like when development has finished.
Functional prototypes, also called proof-of-concept designs, are built to mimic the feel of using the app. While the other prototypes we’ve listed here can have basic functionality, they are more concerned with the visual aspects of the app.
As the name suggests, functional prototypes are all about how the app functions. You can click around the app just like you would with the finished project. Again, there is no coding involved yet, but this is the closest you can get to the real thing.
How to choose between prototypes?
The main thing to consider here is resources. All prototypes are useful. They help you understand how your app will look and what its strengths and weaknesses are, and they give you something to show users.
Prototypes take your app idea out of the ideation stage and into something more fundamental. They are something to put into your user’s hands.
Of course, as you make your prototype more complex, it requires more time and money to achieve them.
When choosing which prototype is best for testing your app idea, there are a couple of things to consider.
1. Your budget
If you’re operating on a small budget, sometimes you just need something to take to investors. Wireframes and lo-fi prototypes are good options for these scenarios. They’re cheap and quick to build, and they’ll allow you to get precious feedback about the good and the bad of your app.
2. How important are the visual aspects of your app idea?
Some apps are defined by their aesthetics. Others are more notable because of what they help you achieve. So think about what the WOW factor of your app will be and choose the right prototype to fit.
It’s all about communicating your ideas. If you don’t feel like a wireframe can adequately express your vision, you might need a hi-fi prototype or proof of concept to help users understand why your app is special.
3. What stage of design and development are you at?
Another way to decide what prototype you need is to think about what design stage you are at. If you’re at an early stage, you don’t want to rush in without validating your app idea. While we would recommend that you do as much research as possible into your app idea first, it’s also true that sometimes you need something to explain your idea fully. In these scenarios, it can be useful to have a basic outline of your app to show users while you gather research.
Step 7: Build an MVP
After you’ve built a few prototypes and received and implemented feedback, it’s time to move to the next stage: building an MVP.
An MVP — or minimum viable product — is the simplest possible version of your app. MVPs aren’t concerned with flashy features and functions. Instead, they are about capturing the most fundamental element of your app.
For a deeper dive into all things MVP, read our article How to Plan and Execute an MVP.
Building an MVAP is a step on the road to development. But it’s about taking an iterative approach. MVPs are about allocating your budget wisely. You can’t spend months or years in development only to find out that you’ve been chasing the wrong goals. Or worse still, you’ve been agonising over features that users don’t really want.
When you build an MVP, you make a very streamlined version of your app. In effect, you make sure that the foundations are in place. Once you’re sure that the core functionality of your app works you can start to invest more in development.
The other excellent advantage of building an MVP is that you can start adding features based on user feedback. When your target audience gets your product into their hands, it can trigger all sorts of feelings and ideas.
Feedback is incredibly important at all stages of app development. An MVP is no different. Many app authors can lose sight of the fact that their product is being made for people. As such, you need to give them what they want, not what you think they want.
Getting initial users
One of the best functions of an MVP is that it forces you to get initial users. Surprisingly, many apps fall at this hurdle and find it difficult to get buy-in from early users.
Think about the problem you want to solve. Then think about the people who are struggling the most with the problem. Find and identify the people who will benefit the most from your app idea, and get the product into their hands.
These initial users will be an incredible source of feedback about your app. They will be able to tell you what you got right and what you got wrong. From there, you can invest time and money into more complex versions of your app.
Coming up with an app idea is exciting. However, the failure rate of published apps is so high that it proves that excitement can get the better of some entrepreneurs.
We are all operating with limited resources. You can’t just develop every app idea you have. You need to research the idea, the market, and your competitors. From there, it’s best to take an iterative approach, which includes building wireframes and prototypes.
Feedback and criticism are vital before you develop your app idea. It’s the only way to know if you’re on to something good or if you need to make big improvements.
While it’s normal to be eager to get a finished product into people’s hands, you can save yourself a lot of time (and heartache) by taking these steps to validate your app.
About the Author
Joseph Russell is an award-winning app designer, app strategist and founder of DreamWalk. Over his 11 year career, Joseph has helped hundreds of businesses and startup founders plan, design, develop and launch successful apps.
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