Chapter 1

Quit Stuffing Yourself, It’s Not a Buffet

(Strategies: The Big Picture)

“You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-range failures.”

– Charles C. Noble

A common newbie developer mistake is to build way too many features than is necessary into an app. “Stuffing” the app this way makes it bloated and difficult to use, breaking one of the basic rules when creating an app: you must make it very easy for a user to perform the app’s primary function.

If it takes too many steps/taps? Fail.

If it takes too long? Major fail.

Choosing what features to include in your app is just one of the hundreds of decisions you’ll have to make in your business. Don’t get crippled by all the decisions you have to make. Think it through. Develop a clear strategy to help you answer questions about your app and where your business is headed. Everything after that is about making sure the decisions you make are in sync with your strategy.

Would You Like a Grilled Chicken Salad or a Bacon Double Cheeseburger?

When you make a choice to do something, it’s also a choice to forego doing something else. When you pick a burger over a salad, it comes at the expense of a healthy diet.

When you choose to focus on a development platform over another, it comes at the expense of users of the other platforms.

“I’ll just develop for multiple platforms, then.” Well, cross-platform apps may reach more users, but the complexity of developing for multiple platforms increases your cost.

There’s always a trade-off.

Apple iOS, Android or Cross-Platform Development?

So which should you choose? Code for iOS or Android using their SDKs, or use cross-platform development tools like Appcelerator, PhoneGap, or Corona?

Since iOS and Android together comprise 96.4% of the smartphone sales in the second quarter of 2014, the prudent strategy for a newbie would be to go with one of the top two. Here’s a good article on choosing which platform to go after first.

Must you choose one or the other? Or can you develop for iOS and Android at the same time? Here are two perspectives:

Example 1: The developers of the popular photo-sharing app, Instagram, had chosen to only focus on the iOS platform. Why? Because “[b]y focusing on being the best it could be on one platform, it could properly give its attention to making it work, fine-tuning it, responding to user feedback and generally testing the market. Furthermore, existing on one platform meant the team could remain small and nimble, and they could look at growing the app in other ways,” (like translating the app into other languages). (Source: Kevin Systrom interview on The Next Web, September 18, 2011) However, a few months later, it seems that the developer of Instagram has changed its mind and will now release an Android version of the popular app.

Example 2: The developers of Battleheart decided to drop support for its Android app, choosing to only focus on the iOS platform. Why? Because 20% of their total man-hours accounted for only 5% of their revenue, a ratio which they find “unsustainable”.

What about cross-platform development, then? Code once and deploy everywhere sure sounds better than having to choose one platform over another. Well, there are many challenges to overcome when using one of these cross-platform development tools. If you want to avoid what some developers describe as the “write once, debug everywhere” solution, then you’re better off going with iOS or Android.

Speed, Quality or Cost?

You can have two, but not all three. Which combination would you choose?

Speed and Quality. Developing a quality app quickly means you need extra help (in man hours and level of expertise). And that extra help comes at a price: development cost is increased.

Speed and Cost. When you’re able to develop an app quickly at low cost, it usually means not enough time was spent beta-testing it. Or, you outsourced the coding to the lowest bidder (who usually has the least expertise). Either way, you’re likely to end up with an unstable app with a lot of bugs. Quality is compromised.

Quality and Cost. Developing a quality app at low cost requires you to do most, if not all the coding yourself while still taking the necessary time to properly test and debug the app. Development timeline is extended.

So, which one are you more willing to sacrifice: time, quality, or money?

Go Wide or Go Deep?

Going Wide: Create multiple, relatively simpler apps. Your development timeline is shorter, allowing you to publish on the market sooner and start generating revenue quicker.

Example: Indie developer Edward Kim currently has 18 apps on Google Play. Back in 2010, he posted his app sales at $13,000/month for his Car Locator app. According to his book on Android development, he’s now generating around $25,000 a month from his apps. So we’re talking about $300,000 a year in revenue. Not bad for a lone developer.

But there are downsides to the going-wide approach.

If it’s easy for you to program the app, it’ll also be easy for others to imitate. Nothing brings the sharks around faster than the smell of success. For each popular app you find on the market today, you can usually find dozens of other similar apps.

Going wide can also lead to a lack of focus, especially if you’re trying to develop more than one app at a time. More apps may mean more sales, but it also means more expenses. And if you’re not careful, your Return on Sales (ROS) might end up being lower than if you had just concentrated on one app.

Going Deep: Create a flagship app that is complex and rich in features. This is the approach you want to take if you want to discourage competitors from entering your space. The more complex the app, the harder it is to imitate, and the longer it will take to develop. This prevents a lot of opportunity seekers who like to go after the low-hanging fruit. Of course, a longer development timeline equals higher costs. Though it may take longer to start generating sales, but boy, is it worth it when you hit a home run!

Example: The developers of Exchange by TouchDown™ released the first version of their app back in 2008 right after the first Android phone came out. Today, their app is still going strong. More than 6 years later, their app is still a top paid app on Google Play where it’s being sold for $19.99! That’s $2,000,000 in total sales (on the low-end) based on Google’s download figures.

Talk about a barrier to entry! They developed a top-notch app and continually improved it to the point that it would be very difficult for a competitor to try to come in and imitate. This just goes to show you that a single, high-quality app CAN sustain a long-term business.

Whether you want to go wide or go deep, you must build a quality app in order to have a sustainable business. If you try to pull a fast one over your customers, you might make a quick buck, but it ain’t gonna last. And you’ll always be chasing the money instead of attracting the money. Can you see how, with a quality app like Exchange that’s not a fad or subject to trends, you’ll have a much higher return on time and money invested?

So Which is the Better Strategy? Going Wide or Going Deep?

It’s a business choice. One that only you can answer for yourself.

But I would argue that it’s better to go deep. By going wide, you’re not staking your position. New competitors can easily copy you, making you into a “me-too” commodity. By going deep, you have the advantage of more in-depth knowledge of your market and the loyalty of a nurtured fan base.

The longer your flagship app stays on the market, building its reputation and increasing its fan base, the harder it will be for a newcomer to break in. So, instead of creating a bunch of apps that are easily imitated and where the only advantage you get is if you’re the first to market, you should build a flagship app or suite of apps that can be continually improved.

It would take a potential rival too much time and cost them too much money to try to replicate what you have. The more value you add to your app, the stronger the barrier you create between you and your competitors. Most people want to follow the path of least resistance. If you make it hard for them to replicate, they’ll just move on to something else.

Another benefit of developing a flagship app is you’ll be spending less money on research and development of new apps.

More is Not Better. Better is Better.

Beware not to fall into the trap of adding more features just for the sake of having more features.

If an additional feature does not provide real value, the app becomes bloated. Here, communicating with your customers is key. Talk to them. Understand their needs. Know your customers like no one else and you’ll gain their loyalty like no one else.

Reach out to your true fans, those that truly value your innovation and deep understanding of the market. Cater your app to them and nurture your relationship with them. That’s how you create brand evangelists.

The going-deep approach takes discipline and a long-term view. It’s not for everyone. But for those with the ambition, drive, passion, patience, stamina and unwavering self-belief to push through a long and difficult process, the end result is very sweet indeed.

Fast Rise or Slow Growth?

Do you want fast, meteoric rise or slow, incremental growth? Wait, is this a trick question? The first one, of course, right?!

Nope, not necessarily.

Overnight success can be a devil in disguise.

Let’s say that you managed to create some early buzz around an app you’re still developing. Wanting to take advantage of the early buzz, you push up the launch date by cutting short the beta-testing period. By a stroke of luck, the buzz gets your app featured on a major tech blog. Within days, you get thousands of downloads due to the publicity. You’re overjoyed!

Then one by one, you start seeing negative user reviews come in …

“This app sucks!”

“Total waste of money!”

“Crashed my phone!”

“Doesn’t work for me. Uninstalled.

“Won’t load. Force closes. 1 star.”

“TOTAL disappointment.”

What happened?

You short-changed your app and you short-changed your customers by rushing to launch instead of taking the time to test and work out any bugs.

Now you got low ratings in the app store, negative word-of-mouth spreading through social media like wildfire, and months of development work went down the drain in a matter of days, if not hours.

All because you released the app before it’s ready.

Make Sure You Are Ready

Do you have a system in place to handle a sudden influx of users? How fast can you fix a bug? Do you know how to properly respond to complaints? Do you even RESPOND to complaints? How about bad PR?

Many developers wish for a fast, meteoric rise, but fast growth without support is like those factory farm-raised chickens whose bones and internal organs cannot keep up with the forced rapid growth caused by selective breeding. These chickens get so heavy so fast that they can’t even stand on their feet.

Bigger is not better if you can’t withstand the weight of the pressure. Faster is not better if you’re more likely to spin out of control.

To use a different analogy, in the sports world, when you try to do too much too soon, you end up with injuries. Whereas if you go at a slower pace, methodically and incrementally, your body has time to adjust and repair. You end up stronger than before. But when you try to take a shortcut, like taking steroids, your fast growth may have unintended and sometimes severe consequences.

By taking it slower, you give yourself time to learn, evolve, and reflect on whether you’re going in the right direction. Did you know that Instagram became a hit only AFTER it had made a course correction?

You don’t always end up with what you envisioned.

Sometimes that can be a very good thing.

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→ Go to Chapter 2: No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service (Who Do You Want For Customers?)