We’d all like to know how successful entrepreneurs and business executives do it: What time do they wake up? What do they eat? What books are they reading? And, how did they start out? The truth is that a lot of successful people are successful because they had access to financial capital upfront. And in the world of new businesses, especially in tech where prices can soar for the initial infrastructure, that can be inhibiting.
“There are a lot of Uber drivers who have app ideas,” Mobile App Hero founder Shawn Johnson said. “But they hear it’ll cost $200k to build it and that’s the end. [Mobile App Hero] specializes in working with individuals on modest budgets to make their idea real.”
Johnson has been working in development for over two decades and in mobile development since 2001, a time when it was mostly experimental, unpaid work. He started Mobile App Hero after observing how many people have trouble making the transition from idea to product, and realizing there were a lot of resources unavailable to would-be entrepreneurs on a budget.
His solution? Advise his customers on not just the technical aspects of building an app, but also the strategy that goes into determining how the app fits into a business. He offers business advice as well as flexibility through features such as payment plans.
“We invest in our customers,” Johnson said. “And we’ve seen it turn out amazing. One customer brought me $5000 [in cash]. She was a bartender saving her tip money to invest in her business.”
Although the payment method was unusual, Johnson helped that woman build an app and she eventually made it to Google’s Code2040 residency program for entrepreneurs.
Have an idea for a website or app, but not sure how to take the plunge? Johnson offers the following advice to get started.
Lean into the process
In the beginning, Johnson said he sold his product like most other developers would, by the number of hours and level of difficulty required to build the app a customer asked for. Now, he says it’s much more about the journey and being flexible enough to pivot until the app is a viable product.
“What I’ve learned is that it’s a process,” Johnson said. “It’s taking an idea, streamlining it, and helping them get to a place where an app is possible.”
By being open to the process, business owners can build a lot of different things and find what actually works for them. The first idea is not always the best idea.
“They want you to be as passionate about what you’re building as they are,” Johnson said. “I have to be dispassionate so I can build it correctly.”
Know when you need an app versus a website
Depending on the idea, many new businesses could likely start with a website that’s optimized for mobile. Consider both the product function and the target demographic when making this decision.
According to comScore, the majority of consumers download an average of zero apps per month. But that data includes everyone aged 18 – 55+. The 18-24 age demographic is actually pretty enthusiastic about new apps. So, if your idea is geared towards the younger crowd, that’s a vote in favor of creating the app. If it’s for an older crowd, consider a website with a good mobile version to be more available to new users.
Another reason to consider a website is the level of technical maintenance involved. Johnson makes a point to teach his clients enough about the app and the App Store to be independent, but finds that many people aren’t ready for everything involved, especially if there are a lot of content changes.
Be smart about monetizing
With the ubiquity of apps like Instagram, Uber or Tinder, the world of apps can sound like a magical, money-making dreamscape. Johnson said by and large, people assume apps just make money. However, it is not a “build it and they will come” kind of place, it is not an easy cash windfall, and it does not necessarily reward copycats.
“About 50 percent of pitches are ‘uber for X’,” Johnson said. “It’s an interesting position. They’ve already heard ‘no’ so often that I feel an obligation to say yes, so I say yes but under these circumstances.”
For Johnson, there are certain things that have to be set upfront. For example, whether the function or service is best delivered through mobile app, if the app idea is the business or part of a greater business strategy, and what the user is supposed to do once in the app.
“If you build an app, then you care what they’re doing,” Johnson said about designing apps for user experience and flow. “You buy with your eyes. All the tech could be amazing, but no one will care if it doesn’t feel good.”
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