Chapter 4

May the Force Be With You

(Understanding the Competitive Forces)

“Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.”

– Arnold H. Glasow

You want your development studio to be more profitable and your apps less vulnerable to competition, don’t you?

Of course you do!

Hopefully by now, you’ve started mapping out your strategies. If not, at least take a little time to think through the strategies previously discussed and write down the ones that spoke to you. Do it now before you continue with the rest of book.

Done? Great! Now it’s time to refine those strategies based on the competitive forces that are always at play when you run a business. To be successful, you need to understand these forces and tailor your strategies accordingly.

The Force of “Established Rivals” – Who are your existing competitors?

This is easy. Check out the app markets. There’s a wealth of information there. Research the marketplace and put the information you find in a spreadsheet. Information like the name of the app, price, number of downloads, benefits/features of the app and its target audience. And most importantly, read ALL of your competitors’ reviews!

The reviews are a goldmine where you can find out direct from the users exactly what’s working and what’s not. This is especially helpful if you’re a little late to the game. Using the reviews, you can identify competitors’ strengths and exploit their weaknesses.

The Force of “Savvy Customers” – They’ve already done their homework.

If you don’t know who your competitors are, your potential customers certainly do. With information so readily available and reviews giving them a quick and mindless way to choose between similar apps, savvy customers have the upper hand.

Since customers can easily compare features and benefits, unless there’s something to differentiate your app from your rivals’, you will be forced to compete on price. And we all know what happens when businesses compete on price: the price drops … along with your revenue. Good for customers, not so good for you.

The Force of “Aspiring Entrants” – Never stop looking over your shoulders.

No matter where you are in your business development, there will always be someone bigger, better, smarter, hungrier, greedier, more motivated, or better funded ready to take you on. Even if you’ve been doing well, there’s always the threat of a new competitor looming in the background.

You cannot afford to be complacent.

The Force of “Substitute Offerings” – What makes you different?

If you can’t answer this question to a potential user’s satisfaction then you might as well pack up your bags and go home. If a user can easily find an alternative/substitute to your app, especially a cheaper one, what’s to keep them from downloading that app instead of yours?

Now that you know the forces at play, you can tailor your strategies to make these forces work in your favor.

Tailoring Your Strategies

Tailoring your strategies is about making your business stronger by actively eliminating the potentially damaging forces around you.

Instead of sitting around reacting to what others are doing. You are actively shaping and influencing these forces. You are transforming your company into a market leader.

So how do you do it? How do you eliminate the damaging forces?

You differentiate and innovate.

You need to raise the damn bar!

Do a SWOT analysis based on the spreadsheet you did earlier on your competition. Find out what your rivals’ strengths are, any weaknesses you can exploit, potential opportunities you can explore, and possible threats you can neutralize.

Look for points of differentiation from your competitors.

If customers cannot see the benefit of choosing your app over an established rival’s, they’re more likely to go with the more established, time-tested app, don’t you think?

Don’t want savvy customers to dictate your price and become the victim of a price war? Then you must raise the bar with your app through upgrades and enhancements.

Expand the features to your app, increase accessibility (by being on more platforms) and deliver more value so customers are less likely to leave you for another competitor with similar offerings. Keep innovating and keep coming up with new ideas. The more time and effort you spend innovating, the more difficult it is for new people entering the market to compete with you.

Find the pockets of opportunity that competitors haven’t tapped into yet.

Take the pulse of the market. Be it a niche, group of users, or type of apps, is there a segment of the market that is underserved? Is there a weak link that you can exploit? The ever-changing landscape of the mobile apps business is rife with opportunities for you to seize if you just take the time to look.

CAVEAT: The essence of strategy is to choose activities (developing, hiring, marketing, etc.) that are different from your competitors. But don’t be different just for the sake of being different. Each activity you add into the mix must work together to create a strategy that moves you toward your goals.

Look at it this way: Does adding vinegar to a dish really make it taste better (because it needs a little acid)? Or are you just throwing in as many ingredients as you can into one dish with no thought given to how it will contribute to the overall taste of the dish?

When you are adding new features, do you think about how these features will enhance or detract from the overall function of your app? Remember, to have a winning strategy, all the features in your app must reinforce and complement each other, just like the ingredients in a great recipe.

Other Considerations

In addition to the competitive forces, here are some other things you need to consider:

Multiple Devices and Operating Systems

One of the biggest challenges facing developers is how to deal with the ever-increasing types of mobile devices with different operating systems.

Did you know that there are now almost 12,000 distinct Android devices operating on different platform versions currently in the market? If you’re an Android developer, are you going to let device fragmentation undermine your app development? Or will you see this challenge as a way to differentiate yourself from the competition?

Multiple distribution platforms

You have many choices when it comes to where to distribute your apps: from major ones like the iTunes App Store and Google Play, to independent app stores like GetJar and SlideME, to the game-changing Mozilla Marketplace.

The Mozilla Apps Platform allows you to build an app that can be used on any HTML5-enabled device. With Mozilla, the apps are no longer platform-specific. Instead, users will be able to buy an app once and use it on any HTML5-enabled device, across different platforms and operating systems.

What does this mean for your business?

Untapped niche markets

The App Store and Google Play (formerly Android Market) both went online in 2008, and in just a few short years, the number of apps downloaded are already in the tens of billions. While the market may seem saturated, there are still many untapped niche markets. Instead of diving in with the first idea you come up with, take the time to identify these markets and you’ll drastically increase your chance for success.

So what’s the takeaway? You’ve got to have the right mindset to succeed in this business. That means seeing opportunities where others only see problems/challenges.

Don’t be afraid of taking chances or failing. Just do it quickly. What you should really be afraid of is wasting months, if not years following the herd because you were too risk-averse to innovate. All the while, the pioneers, the risk takers are the ones getting all the glory and leaving you behind in the dust.

← Go to Chapter 3: That’ll Be $999.99 (Pricing and Monetization Strategies)

→ Go to Chapter 5: Wax On, Wax Off  (Know the “Why”)

Return to beginning of book.