What It Takes To Get Your App To Market

You've developed a killer app that you know other developers and users want. Are you ready to take it to market? It's time to do some research and see where this new venture can take you. (First in a series.)

You are a developer.  You are at the top of your game.  You can make bits do magical things over the web.  Your database can run circles around anyone else's. You've got a great job. 

Unfortunately, that job is at a soulless corporation. That company sells widgets that have changed very little in the last 125 years. There is a ceiling for you as a developer at this company. You have users in marketing and production. Some of them you love, some you loathe. You long for something more. 

You hear about people making lots of money by starting product companies, but you aren't quite sure what you have to do. You watch Silicon Valley on HBO. You hear about this thing called Y Combinator. Then, one day it happens, you hit upon a great idea. It's something that you see all kinds of need for. What should you do now?

Well, I've been there, and I'd love to share some of the lessons I've learned in scratching out my own business, lessons that I think will help any corporate developer see what's ahead when it comes to bringing an app to market.

Don't Write Code
As a developer, your first instinct to solve a problem is most likely to write code.  I know for the first 30 years of my life that writing code to solve a problem would be the first thing I would do.  This isn't a good idea.  You need to validate your idea.

Another inclination for people to do is to talk to their friends.  Unfortunately, talking to your friends may not be the best thing.  Your friends want you to be happy. Your friends don't want confrontation. The tendency is to not tell you something that might lead to confrontation. Bottom line, you don't get good information by only talking to you friends.

To get good information, you have to get out of your bubble. You must go out of your comfort zone. You must go talk to people. These people need to be outside of your circle of friends and acquaintances. By talking to people outside of your close circle, you are more likely to get accurate information.

How do you get out of your circle of friends and talk to people.  There are several things that I have done:

Start small. I used to frequent a proverbial hole in the wall restaurant in Atlanta when I worked for a startup (2006-2008). They had some food there I just loved. I started to go up to tables and just talk to them. Present yourself as someone doing some market research and ask a few questions. As long as you don't take up too much of their time, less than five minutes, they'll give you some time. The key is to NOT take up too much of their time.

Go into some place in a similar market segment and talk to employees. I've been working on a startup in the golf area. Golf pros are a great resource for information. You are going to find golf pros at golf courses. I walked into a local public golf course and talked to a golf pro during one of their slow times.

Golf pros are sales people, so they love to talk especially about golf. I went in and talked to him while it was raining on a Tuesday morning. He was bored to tears, so it worked out.  It would have been a bad idea to walk in on a Saturday morning of a beautiful day when 30 players are trying to get on the course.

Take social media seriously. One unfortunate effect of talking directly to people is that it is not very scalable. You can get five or six responses until it gets as boring as can be, and you quit talking to people and go with the results. This most likely isn't enough data. Thankfully, there are other options.

If you are a large company, think Microsoft's ASP.NET team, there are tools like UserVoice. UV is a great tool for communicating with a large number of users. For the startup space, there are tools like SurveyMonkey, which allows you to create questions and provides good tools that report the answers.

Now that you have created a survey, what do you do with it?  You have to get it out to people that matter.  You can start with your current set of contacts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever).  You need more people than just your contacts. There are numerous platform forums out there.  LinkedIn, Yahoo!, and others have a number of forums.  Ask for answers from these forums.

Making Sense of the Feedback
Getting data from the previous ideas is a great point to start from.  The best information is gleaned from those that are willing to pay. If you have contacts at a company that wants something, and they are willing to pay for these features, it can make sense to put a lot of weight on this feedback.

As you work through getting this feedback, there are several things that you have to understand:

  • Many times, customers don't know what they need. They only know that they have a problem. You need to spend time figuring out what the problem is that you need to solve in order to provide value to the customer. As you are providing value to the customer, you need to continually think about how their needs are common across an industry. Don't just think about taking a few customers' problems and solving them, but think about how those solutions can be scaled across many customers.
  • Solving problems isn't about doing exactly what customers want. We are all brought up on the line, "The Customer is Always Right." That is just not true. You are not a waiter in a restaurant. You need to work on crafting a solution to their problem that works for them and is also scalable across multiple users/customers.

Consider this a warning: Some people will say that it is worthless to talk to the end user, because they don't know what they want, so they will point you in the wrong direction. That is just crazy talk. Customers may not be able to tell you exactly what they want, but they can talk to you about their problems. Just as you aren't a waiter in a restaurant taking an order, also remember that you are an entrepreneur trying to add value to customers in a scalable way. You take the customers' problems, separate the individual problems from the industry-wide problems, figure out what you can build that is scalable across customers, and work from there.

Next time, we'll talk about some of the ways to make your idea a real thing that can generate income, as well as ways to make your app marketable.

In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article, and if you're a developer who has taken a product to market, share your experiences here: What challenges did you face in creating the idea? What approached worked/didn't work for you when getting feedback? Add your comments here or send them to me care of Editor in Chief Michael Domingo at [email protected].

About the Author

Wallace (Wally) B. McClure has authored books on iPhone programming with Mono/Monotouch, Android programming with Mono for Android, application architecture, ADO.NET, SQL Server and AJAX. He's a Microsoft MVP, an ASPInsider and a partner at Scalable Development Inc. He maintains a blog, and can be followed on Twitter.

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