Jumping into development without properly validating the core idea of a product is one of the worst mistakes a business can make. We could end up investing a lot of time and effort in something that already exists or nobody really wants.
But time and again we see this happening all around. Startups spending millions on developing an incredible product… just to discover after launch that only a few people will really use it. Business TV contestants who didn’t make a simple Google research… And app developers publishing apps that took months to develop but never take off in the rankings.
Sometimes we get so invested in our idea that we don’t even consider the possibility that it might be the wrong one. We’ll show you here three simple steps to quickly validate your app idea and avoid wasting your precious time.
1. FIND IF YOUR IDEA ALREADY EXISTS
In markets as crowded as Google Play (1.6 million apps in mid-2015) and the Apple Store (1.2 million), it’s really hard to find a new idea nobody found before. Companies and developers are constantly looking for new concepts and ways to engage mobile users.
But don’t worry, here’s the first thing you need to know: Competition is good. Many people get obsessed trying to find that unique idea nobody has ever seen. And while it could be great if you find one, it has a great risk too. You’ll have to be extra-careful and collect a healthy amount of validations to make sure people will really like it and use it. Don’t get too blinded by it.
On the other hand, if your idea has competition it means there’s already a demand for your app. And that’s a really good thing to know beforehand. What matters here is the quality of that competition. If your competitors are going to be big players on the market (Instagram, Evernote, Whatsapp…), take a step back and think why someone would choose your app instead of them. If you can’t find a good reason, maybe it’s time to rethink your idea.
But if your competitors are on the mid-range, you’ll have found one of the best things you can find: A chance to stand out. Make an app that works better than those of your competitors, offers new functionality or uses a better approach. People will immediately thank you for it.
In TimeTune we made a very extensive investigation before writing a single line of code. We found several apps in Google Play about habit creation, time logging, task planning or goal achievement, but none of them were using the exact same approach we wanted to use. In the Apple Store there were more similar apps, but not totally equal and with no Android version in the works. Therefore, we knew there was a demand for our app in the scheduling sector and we knew we could offer something extra.
So remember, when you start your validation:
- Examine Google Play in depth. Install and test similar apps and possible competitors.
- Examine the Apple Store in depth. Someone might have a similar app on this platform and might become a competitor soon.
- Research for similar tools on the web. A web-based tool might already exist or someone might have a resembling app in the works.
2. FIND IF YOUR IDEA HAS AN AUDIENCE
Some developers ask a few friends and relatives for their opinion and think their validation is enough. They are so eager to start coding that everything else is given low priority. But a survey like this is too small (and not really objective!) for a reliable validation. You’ll need more and different opinions to know for sure if your idea has a valid audience.
Research is essential here too. You already know that if there’s competition, there’s an audience. But there’s more you can do to validate this:
- Read reviews on your competitors’ apps. Read a lot of reviews. You’ll find what users need and ask for. And sometimes (without even knowing it themselves) what they ask for is a different app. Keep your eyes open on these opportunities, you can find your way to stand out here.
- Make validation tests on forums and social media. There are several forums, Google+ communities and Reddit groups who will be pleased to give you feedback about your app idea. Showing some sketches or mockup screens can help a lot.
- Make a teaser for your app. Many companies use this method to validate demand for a new product. Create a ‘Coming soon’ website, show some mockups, setup a ‘More info’ button and track how many people are interested. But this validation is not completely free, you’ll need to run a small ad campaign to make the website visible to the public.
- Make a keyword research using the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. Here you can find how many people are searching for products like the one you’re trying to build and problems like the one you’re trying to solve.
3. CREATE A MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT
Great! You made it to the third step. It’s time to start developing your app. But this doesn’t mean your success is guaranteed. Until now all we’ve done is validate a theoretical concept. The final true validation will come when users can interact with your app and send you real feedback about it.
Besides, you need to be careful to avoid a common error in this stage. Some developers try to implement all the bells and whistles into their app before launch. They spend months retouching even the smallest detail because they want everything to be perfect. This is very counter-productive. You could waste a lot of time and effort in secondary features when you still don’t know if your app will be well-received or not.
What we really need to do is test the main core of our app and get real feedback as soon as possible. Here is where the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) appears. Popularized by lean startup techniques, an MVP is defined as the minimum expression of a product that contains its core features and is fully functional. For example, if your app is a music player, your MVP should obviously be able to play media, but other secondary features (like random play or shuffle) should be left for later. This way you can put your app to the test really fast.
You don’t even need to publish it. One way to test your MVP without publishing your app is creating a Beta program. Announce it on forums and communities and distribute your app by sharing the apk file on the cloud. There’s nothing like real feedback to know if you’re going in the right direction.
The objective here is to iterate your product fast and evolve quickly, optimizing your effort and avoiding the wrong path. In another post we can talk more about lean startup techniques and MVPs, but for now just remember they are an awesome way to validate your idea and grow efficiently.
We applied this approach when we first launched TimeTune on Google Play. The original app wasn’t too pretty and didn’t have too many options, but the core idea was there and it was functional. A lot of modifications were made during the first weeks according to the feedback received, and this approach helped us shape the app in the right direction. We had to be very fast in our modifications because we didn’t go through a Beta phase, and that caused a lot of stress and made us lose some momentum. If we had to start again, we would do a Beta program without a doubt.
THE JOURNEY STARTS HERE
You alredy found a good idea, you validated the product and users gave their feedback. But this is just the start. How far you’ll get will now depend on how you differentiate from your competitors and how your app evolves.
Success is never guaranteed. But at least now you know that you are on the right path, you saved yourself a lot of headaches and your chances are much higher.
What’s your take on validation? Did you use other validation methods for your app? Leave a comment below and tell us your experience. And if you’re about to develop a new app, we wish you the best of luck! 😉