So you have a big idea for a technology or service that is going to change the world. You want to build this big idea, but also keep development costs as low as possible until you can prove the business model or concept.
Here are 10 things to keep in mind before you bring in a technology partner that will help you keep costs low and innovation high.
- Validate your idea.
Make sure you have a valid business idea first before you invest money.
It should go without saying, but many times someone has a great idea and runs ahead with it before seeing if is something people want. Do some user research and consider what kind of problem it will solve or how it will add to your customers’ lives. If possible, do the thing you want software to do manually to make sure people actually want it as much as you think they do.
Offer the thing you want to commercialize for free with a Craigslist ad or social media post, for example. Does anyone respond to it?
2. Scale something you already do.
Do you already offer the service that you want the app to do, and already have people who want it? Draw a literal picture of the process you are following, step by step, listing all the things that are involved. This can serve as your prototype “user flows.” When you look at this map, pick the part of it that can be automated, then get quotes for automating that part.
If you can’t map what you’re doing start to finish, you probably need to go back to tip #1 and validate your idea.
3. Create a one-sentence goal statement.
Rather than start out to design something with tons of bells and whistles, narrow down what you want the app to do to a one-sentence goal statement. What is the one thing that this app needs to do to unlock value for the user? Have you proven that your users agree with that goal and understand it the same way you do?
Everyone wants to build a billion dollar idea, but the best way to NOT get there is to try to build a billion dollar concept with a tight budget. Starting with the essentials means you won’t blow your budget on features until you know people want them.
4. Develop an MVP with your users.
Take your one-sentence goal statement and develop an MVP. A minimum viable product (MVP) is all about testing your idea and discovering what essential things will meet your goal and add value for your user. Ask your designer to develop only the core needs to solve a specific problem. Then test the designs as a clickable prototype on early adopters and get their input, if possible.
This will keep you from putting any more dollars down against programming something that no one wants.
5. Mobile app or responsive site?
Which device types do you expect to use for your mobile app? The most popular platforms out there right now are iOS and Android on mobile and MacOS and Windows for desktop. Each has its own design and technical requirements that cost development budget to do well. Do you want a native mobile app that’s custom-branded? What would the benefits of that be, as opposed to using a responsive website for the first launch that could make the same code work across multiple device types?
It might be faster, easier and cheaper to launch with a responsive website, then build your mobile app after launching the MVP and raising enough capital to complete your big idea.
6. Get your funding approved.
Ideally, you’ll have funding for your app before you start looking at development. Also, get sign-off from anyone who needs to approve the spending, long before you need them to.
In practice, especially for founders from marginalized backgrounds, your financial backers may want to see a lot of progress before agreeing to fund you. As you try your idea manually and test concepts with your users, keep detailed records of any feedback you receive. If possible, include how they come to you – if you have an idea that people seek out after hearing about it, even if it’s not an app yet, that can help you raise money.
Whatever you do, though, don’t start building on the budget you *think* you’ll raise. The budget you actually have should be seen as the cap on your development cost. You will probably need to sacrifice some features to make that budget work.
7. Create a user flow diagram.
By now, you should have your user process not only documented, but highly refined. Document what you’ve learned from talking to the types of people you want to use your product (NOT just your friend, who will tell you friendly lies about how cool your idea is).
Now, turn your process diagram into “User flows.” Include each step in the process that is going to be automated in this flow, and keep your notes on what’s still manual. Split the flow up by not just the screens the user sees, but also any actions they take on each page or section. What paths do you expect people to follow throughout their experience? Identify any challenges they may encounter or steps that feel incomplete this way, so you can come up with solutions ahead of time.
8. Create detailed user personas.
What is your target user’s demographics? What are their struggles? How is your app going to help them and meet their needs? Will they be tech-savvy enough to use your app? What devices are they actually using, and how does your MVP solve their problems? Design for the least tech-savvy person you know and see how intuitive it actually is.
9. Have a style guide ready.
This includes logos, colors, fonts, and anything else that is part of branding for your company. An individual developer shouldn’t waste time creating these for you, as it’s not their specialty if they’re actually good at building apps. Since you know your users best, you know what visual styles will speak to them. It’s preferable to have a style guide ready for your developer to expedite the process and avoid repeating work.
One thing to note: brand identity work isn’t cheap, either. If you don’t have at least a few thousand dollars to do this right, you can skip it – but ask yourself seriously whether you really have the budget for an app.
10. Map out the data and technology flow.
Draw more, but now include what happens behind the screens the user sees. List any technology you already have that needs to integrate with your app upfront. Some examples include CRM software, social media sharing, a data warehouse, and credit card processing. Every digital space your app will touch needs to be considered in the planning phase of development if you want to minimize unexpected costs.
Not mentioning these requirements upfront can cause a developer to have to rebuild once they learn about them. The more detailed documentation you share with your developer at the planning phase, the better they understand your needs up front. This will ultimately lead to a better plan and more efficient project.
We hope these tips help you bring your big idea to market faster and with less wasted capital!
If you are in need of a development partner, we’d love to chat.