Surviving the hordes at Barcelona’s annual Mobile World Congress stampeding the Samsung stand for Galaxy S5 news and sidestepping Neil Young’s PONO audio launch at SXSW, we bring you the shiny launch of part four of our top ten tips for creating a mobile startup. Following on from our guide to mobile analytics and why you should bother, we move swiftly on to the latest buzzword in startups, becoming ‘lean’ and creating your mobile MVP. What does that mean for me I hear you wonder?
“Hide not your talents, they for use were made,
What’s a sundial in the shade?”
― Benjamin Franklin
Stay lean, MVP, wherever you can
The concept of being lean seems to apply to most things in life and has now hit the startup world. Is your project lean? Well, consult the following lean principles:
- Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere – you don’t have to work in a garage to be in a startup.
- Entrepreneurship Is Management - A startup is an institution, not just a product, so it requires management, a new kind of management specifically geared to its context.
- Validated Learning - Startups exist not to make stuff, make money, or serve customers. They exist to learn how to build a sustainable business. This learning can be validated scientifically, by running experiments that allow us to test each element of our vision.
- Innovation Accounting – To improve entrepreneurial outcomes, and to hold entrepreneurs accountable, we need to focus on the boring stuff: how to measure progress, how to setup milestones, how to prioritize work. This requires a new kind of accounting, specific to startups.
- Build-Measure-Learn – The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate that feedback loop.
For many mobile startups, these principles apply to two key areas. Firstly, the people you need to bring on board for your project to get things up and running, during your first year and secondly, the product you need to be able to build. Taking the people side first of all, would would be your M.V.T. or Minimum Valuable Team…three you say? Oh, you mean…
A Hacker, Hipster and a Hustler…
These three areas break down into the three key focus areas for any new mobile startup. The hipster deals with design and user experience, how the app is going to look compared to others on the market, current trends and the brand. They also make sure the app feels good in the hand, that it meets the overall business purpose and looks great (with or without hipster facial hair of course). Expect a strong view on everything from the Windows Metro interface to the one year iOS7 birthday and the colour of their shoes.
The hacker, clothed in black and spare pizza, eats, sleeps (rarely) and breathes developing, working on all of your coding as well as creating the backend systems that allow you to control your mobile app and find out about your users. They will keep up to date in trends and convince you to use *insert-name-of-new-database-software-here* without really being able to tell you why. They won’t like sitting next to hipsters.
The hustler is a more precise animal, often spending large amounts of time out on the road, looking for new business opportunities and partners for your app project. When they are back, they will be busily updating social media, amending the latest marketing plan to work out how to tell which demographic about the amazing new app you are working on. They will be constantly pushing the hacker and hipster to move faster towards the “we are selling to Facebook for 1 zillion dollars” moment. This may not come. Possibly.
Next time, we will focus on where you can get these skills if you only have one or two of these areas covered, which you can outsource and which you should try to grow from within, if that is achievable on your project.
I have people what do I build? An M.V.P.
Once you have your team in place, creating a first version as soon as you can is imperative. We explored earlier some new techniques for creating interactive app prototypes so hopefully, Blue Peter style, you have done that already before arriving here. The reason why people focus on their Minimum Valuable Product is the realisation that you won’t capture everything in version 1, but you need to have version one out there in the world so that you can listen to your users and hear how things go.
- To that end, what are the key features for your app?
- In your elevator pitch of thirty seconds, what do you list and talk about?
- If you had to get that down to ten words, or five, what would they be?
- Which features are essential for your app, which desirable?
- What features would you like to have after one year, two, five?
Once you have that list of features boiled down to the key ones, you are ready to build your M.V.P. without too much worry. The team at 37 Signals often mention in their Getting Real book focusing on lean software development about how handle request for features. The plain and simple truth is that your users will contact you repeatedly about the features they really want and rarely about ones that don’t matter, allowing you to jump and plan accordingly, but only once you have your M.V.P. out there, for review.
Release early, release often
Once you have your shiny, new M.V.P. , lucky you, how and when should you release it? The mantra of startups has always been R.E.R.O. or relase early and release often, from the wise words of Eric Graham. Traditionally cited as one of the ‘hardest lessons for startups to learn‘, this process of pushing out releases more often that either the hacker or hipster may be comfortable with does one valuable thing. It shortens the feedback loop, getting you valuable information back from the people that really matter, your users. As Matt from WordPress even vouches, usage is definitely the oxygen of ideas, the trick now is how to capture those and when to record them.
Life in perpetual beta
So, because you are always testing and releasing your app project, does that mean you are in perpetual beta mode or should be? Gmail is the industry standard joke on the subject as it appeared to be in Beta for about five years or more. It did however release feature after feature, platform after platform and continually develop during this period. Heck, after they eventually rolled out, they even allow you to turn the Beta logo back on! Love ‘em. espite the recent film about this, being in this particular phase of development doesn’t really matter as long as you are constantly developing and listening to user feedback while you do so.
What do you mean, does it come in white?
Channeling user feedback is always difficult but necessary to provide some direction as to what phases should come next in your software development. We covered how to create a community for your app project and why previously, as well as the tools such as Testflight and HockeyApp to distribute and monitor your releases. Since then, Testflight has been purchased by Apple so watch this space for future development. Android apps can still use the free and great beta release service that runs from the Google Developer console. Even Mark’s using it for his Facebook App on Android at the moment so do check that out.
Do I have a Minimum Loveable Product?
At the end of the day, you need to make sure you still love your product. Lawrence from Spook Studio talks about his Minimum Loveable Product, Hiut Denim just try Do One Thing Well and even Google try to do One Thing Really, Really, Well. By keeping your app startup lean you will create an amazing M.V.P. and take over the world. Well, one at a time anyway. Let us know how that goes and send us your comments below. Next time? Come with us and learn how to, “Choose your design and development partner wisely”. If you have any questions or want us to cover a particular area in a future post, leave a comment below and we can follow up. Thanks y’all and see you next time! [Image credit "Bike outside house" - Florian Klauer via Unsplash ]
Stepping through floods, high water and the remains of the turkey, we emerge bleary eyed into the new year to open the wrapped present marked part three of our top ten tips for creating a mobile startup. Following from our guide to creating a community around your app, we arrive now at the sticky issue of all things number shaped, analytics style.
“How can you get 1 million paying customers? Easy! Get 1 billion users!” Phil Libin, CEO, Evernote
Digital marketing is full of analytics in a way that traditional media still struggles to compete with. Hits, plays, views and downloads are common phrases in the app world, joined recently by the key metric for apps, the Average Return Per User or Per Paying User. To work out whether your app is a success or not, you need to break down the key questions that your data needs to answer, then look to see what solutions are in place to help you measure that. Let’s start with the key questions first and why you need to ask them:
You want to know what…and why?
- Which platform and device are people using to access my project?
During 2013 we saw increasing Android growth to the point where even Android tablets overtook iPads. Typically a mobile startup will be tightly focused on their budget from day one so choosing the right platform and device is key. Our advice here is always match this to the user your startup is targeting and check the most up to date stats of app device ownership and usage you can before you start.
- What level of software OS are they using?
As soon as Apple released the wonder-i-Cloud with iOS5 then the Facebook-friendly-iOS6 which left behind the first generation iPads, the issue of what level of software version your app users will be running came to the fore. Apple now display the level of iOS usage from store analytics, with iOS7 running at over 75%, but if your app is targetting older devices, you need to check whether that unique feature is supported for those devices. Android fans have similar issues with over 75% of their users running over version 4, but arguably better support for deprecated features.
- Which country are your users coming from?
Localisation is now a key requirement for any mobile startup creating an app that instantly has access to a global marketplace. Both Google Play and Apple iTunes allow a rollout across the globe with the ability to create both a store listing and app content in other languages. The key issue for an app owner is to find out which countries their users are coming from and then assess which languages need to be employed. Companies have now sprung up to offer this service, with Google even including this in their app store listings as part of their analytics.
- How many new users are you adding over time?
The golden numbers of any project are new users, being added monthly, so this is a key metric to ensure you are recording. You can then demonstrate user growth as a result of marketing and other promotional efforts you are making so it is worth recording which dates these are made on so you can correlate between the two at a later date.
- How many active users do you have each month?
Following on from the number of new users you are adding each month, is this key metric, whether they are actually active or not over a set period of time. This will differ wildly depending on the nature of your app project. A photo sharing app would expect usage every single week from their analytics, whereas a pet vaccination reminder system might have a monthly or even annual usage base.
- How long are people using your app for each month?
App duration is increasingly important to record, to gauge how sticky or attractive your app is for your intended audience. It will also help you attract in advertising or sponsorship, depending on the business model you have chosen for your app, so you can convince others how many eyes are regularly visiting your app to use your service and may see that brand or organisation willing to get involved.
- Are there any peak times of day or week for use?
The longer that your mobile startup is trading, knowing your peak time of day or night that your users are engaging with you becomes more important. As you start to grow from one country across the globe, rolling out an update or even a price difference requires changes to be made over several days before everyone will see it. It will also allow you to schedule your maintenance windows to target the times when users aren’t busy. With scalable cloud providers powering many apps rolling out autoscaling, even your servers can change to match times of peak traffic, so making sure your analytics can capture this is important.
- How buggy is your app for your users?
For those app owners without a technical knowledge, it can be hard to assess how solid the codebase is that your project is founded on. The speed of agile development often leads to technical debts where code is created quickly to suit a purpose and never re-factored on a stronger footing. As a metric, if you record the number of support tickets or incidents that you get reported then divide this by the number of active users you have, voila, one instant buggy metric! This also helps you project how much time and resource you may need to dedicate to supporting your users as that particular metric grows as well.
- What is the average return per user?
For those paid apps or those with in-app purchases that seem raise the money, the key metric is the A.R.P.U. or Average Return Per User, extended to Per Paid User in some cases is the key element. If you have a user-based method of supporting your startup, then this is simply a product of the revenue you take in each month versus the active user base you have during that period. If you are supporting the app via sponsorship or advertising, then this may still be an interesting metric for you, but altered slightly, to see your average earnings per user to then evaluate whether a particular marketing effort is worth pursuing to add each new user, based on the advertising or sponsorship value they may have.
- What is the overall satisfaction level with your app users?
One for the office wall really, to keep your team focussed on making the best product in the world. Retailers and product manufacturers employ third parties or their own vast teams to carry out user surveys to gauge their customer satisfaction levels. App owners are already one step ahead here as you have access to appstore ratings for each version you publish. These are famously inaccurate so a quick user survey may be a better source for this, to help show the human side of your app users.
Okay, before you start to panic and wonder how on earth you are going to gather all that information, just stop. No, not Hammertime, or time to Collaborate or Listen. Let me run through some of the tools you can use to gather this information so that you can create your own infographic of app use, and ride the analytics wave to success.
How on earth do I find all that out?
1. In-app analytics
Launch an app onto any app store without analytics is madness. Most if not all of these services are free, or have a free account level including ones such as Google Universal Analytics, Flurry, Localytics or BugSense. Each will provide you with user data (new and recurring users) as well as devices (type and operating system) as well as custom goal and event tracking (users clicking on a particular button or using a feature).
Discovery analytics are also becoming increasingly important to add into your app. How did people come to download your app, was it from a website or social media? There are now services from both Tapstream and Parse to allow you to collect this from within your app by including additional analytics services.
2. Appstore analytics
Once your app(s) are published, analytics data can be gathered from the appstores directly about your userbase and sales. This will help you calculate the sales and values per user metrics listed above, updated automatically to include new data. Services such as Distimo again offer a free account for you to use, but they do aggregate data and sell this commercially, in their annual reports and more. Alternatives include Mopapp, AppAnnie and AppFigures.
3. Your users
We covered earlier how to recruit a community around your app and why this is important. One of the great sources of data are the testing services we covered such as TestFlight and HockeyApp. If you open up a beta phase and invite testers to apply, the services automatically log great analytics including user data to help you answer questions above about which devices, platforms, software levels and countries are being used in your mobile startup. If not, tools such as SurveyMonkey offer a free service which is optimized for mobile devices so you can create a quick, simple survey to gather user opinion then include this in the app and highlight it to your users.
4. Other apps or Benchmarking
Most mobile startups are often aimed at doing something better in a busy technological sector rather than being a true innovator. Whichever side of the divide your startup falls under, you can start to benchmark your app(s) against others in many different ways using analytics. Services like MobileDevHQ allow you to add your app then compare analytics with other apps, your competitors, in your particular category to flag up trends and changes in data. Many offer app store optimisation services as a result, there are even enough firms out there competing for your apps, that there is a top ten list of providers, all with some level of free and paid accounts.
Okay, I get the picture, but how many users is enough?
Many mobile startups struggle with this particular question and obviously, it varies depending on the overall goals of your organisation and your company size as well as your overall view on analytics. One interesting answer to this recently was posed by the startup guitar-based network Strumm. For them, they felt that having over 1,000 meant it was a ‘thing’ for them and proved they had enough support from their community to take it further. How many and of what do you think you need for your app-based mobile startup? Let us know and send us your comments below. Next week? Come with us and learn how to, “Choose your design and development partner wisely”. If you have any questions or want us to cover a particular area in a future post, leave a comment below and we can follow up. Thanks y’all and see you next time! [Image credit "Bike outside house" - Florian Klauer via Unsplash ]
We continue in our quest to reach the final goal of our top ten tips for creating a mobile startup, arriving at part two. Following on from wonderful top ten tips for your mobile startup, this week we tackle the community. What is it and why is it important?
“And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”. Margaret Thatcher, 1987
Roll forward a few years and unless you have been hiding in quite a remote cave, you will have seen the world of crowd funding arrive and develop for a wide range of businesses, creating a new set of economic families. Kickstarter now has everything from mobile apps to Christmas glow in the dark t-shirts. Luckily not all are funded, but the best are. Involving the community of users that might take up your app is a great way of starting the development of your mobile app. If you still need convincing, let me run through some of the key questions mobile startups tend to face and see whether the community can help with any of that. Here goes:
- What devices and which versions do you need to support? – the community can help.
- Which features should your mobile app have? Ask the community.
- Who is going to download your app from day one? The community. If it is there.
- How will you know what bugs and issues need fixing in your app? Ask the community.
- Why will you be able to charge users for your app or service? Because you asked the community.
- How do we answer the quest for world peace? Ask the…hmn, maybe just get Kevin Bacon on that one…he seems to be able to connect everyone these days. Or that lovely Van Damme Man, he seems to build bridges everywhere.
Hopefully are all now all down with the community. They have turned up. The stage is lit. What to do, what to do…practically, there are three useful steps to take now to start engaging with them over the mosh pit, with / without leather trousers:
- Online community engagement tools
- Community engagement website
- Test community recruitment
1. Online community engagement tools
There are a variety of great customer / community engagement tools around product support. Uservoice, GetSatisfaction and other similar services such as UseResponse and UserEcho aim at providing an independent service to owners of product and services, to support their user community. Suggestions, amends and ideas for developments and improvements from users are all allowed to have their voice here with one main difference. The clever part is driving users to vote on their favourite amends to allow the business owner to review the current app then start to plan for the features to roll out over time, to satisfy the needs of the community.
Most services included here have APIs available too so they can be embedded within the actual apps themselves e.g. the UserVoice iOS SDK. This means that app users can engage with you as a business owner without having to leave the app and more importantly without leaving negative comments on the app store and rating you badly. By providing a community and support service easily to the app user, as they are using the app, the barrier to interacting with you is set very low and engagement is much higher.
2. Community engagement website
Once again, there are again a variety of different services you can choose from including the hosted Launchrock and KickoffLabs or even a WordPress powered solution via Launcheffect App . All of them have a common goal, which is to provide one central point for users interested in your app project to register their interest before you launch. Typically this fires off their details into an email newsletter, for you to send out details at your will, but also this tends to include social media links as well so the users can choose how to keep themselves updated. Design-wise the idea tends to be less = more, with the intrigue being built up by large background images and esoteric marketing strap lines to tease the user. Often this is because Jorge the ROCKSTAR DESIGNER still hasn’t work out which shade of teal your app icon needs to be and wants it to be featured on http://iosicongallery.com/ as soon as possible. While all that is being decided, best probably to keep the design and layout simple as you can always update this over time to match the app as it develops.
I would advise here, if you have diligently followed my previous step and established a presence on any of the community tools I mentioned, to simply link out to that here instead of embedding it. Why? Well, users can be unpredictable and can create content at will at a speed that is terrifying and strange in equal measures. As a result, you don’t want to put off new app users, potential funders, advertisers and beyond by showing off the extremes of your user community, but you still want to have them involved. Keeping this on a separate site as well allows community members to feel a sense of ownership over the content and means the feedback or interaction should be more informal and truthful. This might be painful but it is also beneficial in the long run to provide you with greater insight into what your users are thinking about your app at that time. Starting this process early and getting your URL up and running as well provides additional SEO benefits as well. If you have a working title for your app project that there could well be competition for, starting the holding site allows you to start capturing some of that traffic as well as allowing you to collect analytics about site visitors. If you do have a name or brand decided, even trademarked no less, you can add your app name into the store before you have even cut a line of code. As long as you follow up with the real app in less than 180 days in Apple Land or forever if you are in Google Land; you can leave that there as a placeholder to make sure nobody else produces an app with that name.
3. Test community recruitment
The third and final strand I am suggesting is around establishing app testers from within your user community. Hosted services were set up a few years ago to use the Apple iOS features for O.T.A distribution of apps to users, the leaders being TestFlight and HockeyApp, whereas bug trackers such as BugSense, Crittercism and Applause also handle some of these elements. The main aim of both is to allow you to test your app with your community during a beta or pre-live release. In both systems, you set a recruitment link here and here, on both systems respectively. You can then send these links out to your community however you wish, for them to sign up to. When they sign up, you will then get a copy of their UDID to pop into your provisioning profile, but more importantly information about their level of iOS and also their device. You can then login and see what kind of split you have across both of those elements, to check whether you are supporting all of them or whether you actually need to! Once you issue the app to those users, their feedback and more importantly app crash logs, will be invaluable to help you improve the performance and quality of your app before it goes live in the iTunes store.
These services include Android as well as iOS platforms, but luckly Android only apps could well use the new Google Developer service for beta testing, rolled out first at the Google I/O Conference in 2013. This provides you with a range of advanced tools to do rollouts for testing, including:
- Community engagement – setting up a testing group via Google Plus or Google Group
- Alpha and beta stages – providing flexibility in rollouts
- Staged rollouts – giving apps to percentages of your group over time
- All running through Google Play – for ease of access and use
- Crash reporting as standard – all included for free
There is also a limited automated testing service in open beta from Amazon for its Android / HTML Appstore - currently it doesn’t involve community engagement but watch this space. I am sure as they have figured out those drones, that will be the next amend on the cards. Subscribe to our blog for updates as we unpick these top ten ideas and give advice and guidance about how to tackle these in your startup. Next week? Come with us and learn how to, “Work out how to measure success before you start”. If you have any questions or want us to cover a particular area in a future post, leave a comment below and we can follow up. Thanks y’all and see you next time! [Image credit "Bike outside house" - Florian Klauer via Unsplash ]
As the First Lady of Country once said, working nine to five is a hard way to make a living. Heck, even the Daily Telegraph agree that this is a thing of the past but what has this been replaced with? The five to nine of course, creating your own start up business in your bedroom to follow the Zuckerburg dream and route to success.
“I think the biggest mistake that we made, as a company, is betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native… because it just wasn’t there - Zuckerburg”
Well, nearly always success. Here at Big Orange Software, where we develop lovely, shiny mobile things called iPhone apps and Android apps, we have worked for a range of startups over the last couple of years and have seen a real growth in this area. If you have a great app idea and want to take this further, let me run through my top ten tips or everything you wanted to know about setting up a mobile startup but were afraid to ask. Here goes:
- Follow the DIY approach and build your own prototype - I will run through a range of tools here from paper and pencil to digital wireframing software to show how you can create your own free, clickable prototype to share and wow your friends with.
- Create a community around your product early on - learning lessons from the crowd-funding business model, I will show you how to gather your community together before you release your first app, as they are your future customers and funders.
- Work out how to measure success before you start - analytics drive modern digital businesses these days so deciding what statistics you will need to collect for your infographics to include in your future pitches at the start is key. I will run through some examples here and discuss how to measure these.
- Adopt a lean startup approach in everything you do – the release early and often mantra now extends to businesses with a lean startup approach. I will explain how you need to question each feature request and use your customers and their activity to drive what you need to include in your mobile startup.
- Choose your design and development partner wisely - from incubators, to offshore suppliers, freelancers to large digital agencies, how do you choose the right partner for the design and development of your app? I run through some check lists of key questions to ask before you commit your money to anyone.
- Match your app to the power of the cloud – mobile apps are increasingly integrated into websites, across other devices and social networks or push notification services. I explore hosted cloud-based solutions for data storage and messages and look at some pros and cons for hosted versus self-build to see what is best for your mobile startup.
- Tell your audience about your app - if the hard work of producing your app has been done, how do you tell your audience about it? There are several low-cost options for marketing your app to mobile users as well as other opportunities to maximise the PR you can get. I outline some good practice in this area with some case studies.
- Support your product and your customers – users downloading apps for free or paid expect a service and support mechanism, like any other product purchase, and will soon rate your app badly if you don’t respond. I will describe a couple of hosted solutions and amends to your app that will increase the support you are giving.
- Be clear about your funding path – for anyone signing up and joining you on the journey for your mobile app startup, be clear in all of your marketing materials and collateral about how you are going to be seeking funding for the platform. I will describe several options you have here and how to represent these online.
- Show your passion for everything – you are probably starting this new business because you have a passion for it and believe in the goals you have set. Don’t hide those under a bushel as I explain here how in the mobile startup world, those are one of your greatest assets and can help you spread socially to reach customers.
I will tackle these in individual posts over the coming days, weeks and months and expand on them in a bit more detail to help you to understand what steps you need to take with your mobile startup. Let’s tackle number one first:
1. Follow the DIY approach:
build your own prototype
If you have an idea about an app, it can often be something to solve a problem that you see with the world around you, a handy way to save your children’s artwork from the fridge before it meets the bin for example. Whatever the concept is, you can start by building it on a paper with a pen or pencil yourself.
Start by creating a sitemap first of all, a map of all the pages you might need. Where do users start? Is there a splash page first, then a login box and registration form? Is there an error message if that fails? Where is the home screen? Lay all of these out first of all and see how things are looking. Want some examples? Google is your friend as usual, see some of these app sitemaps, or an online sitemap generator to do the trick.
Once you have the overall map of app pages, you can start to sketch out how these might look. For analog fans, you can use an iPhone stencil or an iPhone stamp to get sketching. For digital fans, you can try either some of the great iPhone Photoshop templates available, or even kits for PowerPoint or Keynote to get you up to speed. Oh and for you hardcore Visio fans, there are even kits for Visio mockups as well.
Once you have your screens built, I would highly recommend building your app in the new, wonderful *no referrer fees paid to us here* Paper On Prototype service, available on iPhone as well as Android. It has some lovely features, namely the ability to share online with others for feedback. Check out the sample POP app mockup to see what I mean.
This is a great way to create a clickable prototype that you can then share with others to get feedback. The only cost to you is your own time and maybe the odd pencil, but it means you can do some early user testing with friends, family or any other interested parties before you start cutting any code at all. You can revise this as well, taking out pages you don’t like and adding in new ones to get the app right.
Subscribe to our blog for updates as we unpick these top ten ideas and give advice and guidance about how to tackle these in your startup. Next week? Come with us and learn how to, “Create a community around your product”. If you have any questions or want us to cover a particular area in a future post, leave a comment below and we can follow up. Thanks y’all and see you next time!