Building an app often comes with a serious catch-22; you want to build an app that users will love, but you can’t find out what people love without first building the app. If you’ve done it – you know, it can be quite frustrating. So what’s the answer?
Iterations. Especially if this is your first mobile app, you will need a ton of assistance from your potential users. When you build in iterations, you can make rapid, small steps and constantly seek feedback from users. Take that feedback seriously. Record it, implement it, and communicate back to your users that you’ve made updates.
You may be asking yourself, “Well what are the iterations?” You may even say, “I’m not a developer or designer, what can I even do?” If you think that building a mobile app is only about the design and development, then you are deeply mistaken. I want to share with you a handful of different iterations that you can take before you even have an app in hand to demonstrate. These techniques are inexpensive and do not require advanced knowledge, just a bit of hustle.
1. The Landing Page
This one is critical. Think about the last time you tried to remember a new business you heard about in an article or at a networking event, what did you do to learn more about it? You Googled it. To stay in contact with potential first users, you must have a home on the internet where you can explain your concept and collect contact information.
Good news – landing pages are incredibly easy to launch. There are so many resources available designed to let you launch your landing page in a matter of hours, so I won’t cover them in too much detail. I mention my favorite three resources in this post. Essentially, the main ingredients are that you buy a custom domain name, spend time explaining your solution on the webpage, and including some form of contact form for users to tell you what they think. That’s what this is all about.
You read that correctly. In the internet era, it’s almost taboo to get out of the office and speak to actual people when there are a gazillion different websites that provide unique ways to interact with people through web browsers. However, you can’t pay for the amount of learning you achieve when you watch someone’s facial expressions and body language as you explain your idea. The greatest part – it’s free! Sign up for as many networking events (best suggestion – Startup Weekend) as possible in your city, prepare your elevator pitch and bring a notebook to record the reactions.
These interviews should be your opportunity to prove that others experience the exact same problem as you and that you have found a solution to that problem. Do not forget that interviews can occur anywhere and everywhere – in a coffee shop, at a dinner party, at a bar, wherever you find someone that might share a similar experience with you.
A really neat way to talk to users is to make a few advertisements describing the problem you are encountering and connecting them to a domain name that you own so that you can track the traffic. That may be confusing, so let me break it down.
- Create a small ad describing your product or the problem it solves. For example, if you wanted to build the Tinder for Pet Turtles, create a graphic that says, “Is your turtle tired of being lonely?”
- If you haven’t created a landing page already, at least purchase a domain name that you can track
- Setup a Google Analytics account for that domain name.
- Create a Google Ad campaign for the graphic you created
- Put a few dollars into the campaign and target the users you think may be interested
- Once the campaign is complete, check out how successful it is. How many people visited the link? How long were they on your landing page? Did they submit contact information?
This is very powerful data. Even if you have absolutely no product built – you can collect data about people who want that product built! You can even build a list of users that want to hear when your product is complete. It’s at least worth experimenting with.
4. Fake It
Your product doesn’t need to be fully built for you to begin talking to customers about their experience with your solution. Think about ways you could handle the backend of the service manually and launch a much smaller product that involves you connecting the dots behind the website.
For instance, imagine you are creating a food delivery system for your city. You don’t necessarily need to build the entire technical product that you are dreaming of to talk to users about their experience with the solution. Create a website that explains how the service works, and a contact form that lets them submit all of the information that you need to fulfill their wish. You can handle all of the grunt work using spreadsheets and phone calls. They submit a request for a gallon of milk and eggs, and you go get the groceries they need and deliver it to them personally. This is exactly what my team at Grosh.co did during a Startup Weekend, and we made $180 without a functioning product. On a much bigger scale, that’s what the founder of Zerocater did. In fact, here’s a glimpse into the spreadsheet he used to manage the backend manually.
5. Paper Prototype
Get your ideas on paper. Even if you don’t consider yourself Picasso, draw out how you think the app will look and how the user will interact with it. Cut these drawings out and staple them together. Include these paper prototypes in the interviews you are conducting or on the landing page that you created so that people can better understand the solution you want to build. You will hear much more direct and refined criticism of your prototype that will make it infinitely better as you begin designing and developing the app. Scan the drawings so that you have digital versions of the them so that you won’t feel bad drawing all over them and hacking them up. Give your users a pencil and ask them to draw the app how they would like it to be.
If you are sharing the idea primarily over email, try using a service like InvisionApp to let people navigate through your app and provide feedback. Even if it’s simply sketches, you’d be surprised how much you will learn.
6. Pre-Order Pages
In a similar fashion to how a landing page gauges people’s interest in your product idea, a pre-order page will gauge how large that interest is and most importantly, will people pay for it. Keep in mind that this iteration should occur once you are confident you will be able to deliver the product. You should not be taking people’s money without confidence that you will deliver a product in return. If you are building a mobile app that you plan on charging for, you can offer a discount for people who pre-order your app. These pages are easy to setup, but if you are looking for a great resource, check out Tilt.
Remember, even if you have hired a design and development firm to execute your app idea, there is plenty of work lined up for you to complete to ensure you are building the right product. Of course, this is a short list of ideas, but these are the most powerful suggestions that we make to clients on a regular basis. There are plenty of other ad-hoc marketing techniques you can use to find your user and ask them questions. If you’d like to hear about other suggestions, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!