9: Is Your App Idea Good or Bad?

Published March 16, 2018
Run time: 00:13:18
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Validating an app idea requires objectivity, introspection, and a bit of blind faith. Tim and Rob discuss three metrics they use when approached to determine whether or not it would make a good mobile app.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Why you need to find 10 people who are dying for your app to exist before you begin building it
  • How much commitment it takes to see an app succeed
  • The importance of thinking long-term when crafting an app idea

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, who builds mobile software solutions for the on-demand economy. Learn more at http://jmg.mn.

Recorded February 22, 2018 | Edited by Jordan Daoust

Show Notes

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to constant variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at mobile app development. I'm Tim Bornholdt.

Rob Bentley 0:05
And I'm Rob Bentley. Let's get nerdy.

Tim Bornholdt 0:22
All right, so today, we thought we would talk about a topic that's been coming up for me a lot doing app sales lately. People always ask, "Is this a good idea for an app or not?" And so I think today, we're going to talk about ways you can objectively review your idea to determine if it's a good app idea or a not so good app idea.

Rob Bentley 0:42
The first thing I always say is "I don't know."

Tim Bornholdt 0:45
Well, yeah, don't jump the gun. So as I was thinking through this, I thought of three major categories that we can touch on and they'll kind of intermingle but there's three different categories that I guess I use to determine whether I think an idea that I come up with is any good or not. So I'm going to start with number one, which should be number one anytime you're trying to start a business, is how much money can it make? Or how much value can it generate for you?

Rob Bentley 1:12
Exactly; it costs a lot of time and energy and money to build an app. So if you're going to be doing that, you've got to make sure your idea is worth money to someone.

Tim Bornholdt 1:20
Well, and not just time and money to develop the app, but you have to build a business around it, too. So it's not just like, I'm gonna put an app in the store and make millions. You have to actually build all the business and the tools and the infrastructure around that app to be able to make it profitable.

Rob Bentley 1:35
Right. It's a lot more than just writing a check and watching it go in the app store and making millions. It doesn't happen like it did in iOS 3 days.

Tim Bornholdt 1:43
Right. That would be nice, where you just put up an app in the store, charge a buck for it and a million people download it and you just retire to the Cayman Islands.

Rob Bentley 1:51
Yeah, cause you made a calculator.

Tim Bornholdt 1:55
So in that category of whether it can make any money or generate some value for you, a couple questions we ask is, "Who's going to be giving you money for the app?" I think that one question alone has made a lot of people that I've talked to be like, "Oh, I guess no one." And then that kind of kills the idea right there. If you can't clearly think of somebody who's going to give you money, and that somebody needs to actually be a person and not just "Oh, advertisements," or whatever, if you can't think of one person who's actually going to pay to use your app, then, I mean, it could be a good idea, but probably not worth your time to build out.

Rob Bentley 2:33
Right. So before you start spending any money, really make sure you can identify a clear target market for your idea.

Tim Bornholdt 2:39
Yeah. And I think if you can name 10 people or companies that would actually give you money to build this app, if people are just like trying to shove money into your hands to be like, "Give me this product now," that's when you're onto something. But if you're just thinking, "Oh, it'd be kind of cool if there was an app that kind of did this" and it's really wishy-washy and you're not sure who would actually pay for that problem to be solved, maybe it's not a good idea.

Rob Bentley 3:03
Yeah, I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Well, how are you gonna make money?" "I'll just put ads in it." Like it's that easy.

Tim Bornholdt 3:09
Right. Yeah. You need to be able to have millions of people using your app every day in order to make ads even moderately effective for you.

Rob Bentley 3:19
So even then it's not the greatest.

Tim Bornholdt 3:21
Exactly; you still have to deal with a lot of scummy things, which we'll get into in one of our future points. But moving on to our second point, "How committed are you to the idea?" It's really tough in building an app; it takes a lot of work. It's really hard. And just like building a business, if it's an idea that you just kind of had a fleeting idea of, "Oh, it'd be really cool if an app did this.", It's like, "No." You need to be willing to- if you're not waking up every night, like dying because this app doesn't exist, that's not commitment to the app. A lot of our successful clients arepeople who are like, "This is a problem that exists in the world and I'm going to make this problem go away."

Rob Bentley 4:00
Yeah, usually you have to have a lot of patience if you're having an app developed. There's a lot of unknown things that come up that you have to deal with while you're in development. We do our best to plan as well as we can. But there's always those unknowns that come up. And it just keeps taking time, and it's a long, hard process. So you have to be, like, really prepared to go in for the long haul, if you really want your idea to succeed.

Tim Bornholdt 4:24
Exactly. And usually, one of the best barometers I've had that I've seen work is, if you can say that the app that you're trying to build honestly solves a problem that you have. With our last episode, we talked about the craft beer tracker that solved the problem that I had. And it's something that I had been really mad that it didn't exist in the world yet. So I built it because it was literally day and night I felt like I was dying to have this app, but it was not out there. And it really bothered me, so I sat down and did it. And that's kind of the level of commitment you need to have, at least, if you are trying to validate whether your idea is good or bad. That's a really good barometer. If it's something that it's, like, keeping you awake at night because it doesn't exist.

Rob Bentley 5:05
Right. And I mean, it's not like we just spent all our effort on that one thing, and it was 40 hours a week, but it was a three year process from beginning to launch in the App Store.

Tim Bornholdt 5:14
Yeah. It doesn't mean that you're able to just like dedicate your full time to it. But if it's something that is just always bugging you in the back of your head, then you're probably on to something.

Rob Bentley 5:24
Yeah, then do it.

Tim Bornholdt 5:25
And on the same vein, it doesn't necessarily need to be you that has that problem. If like my wife, for example, like if she had a problem at work that she constantly complained about, and you're like, "Hmm, maybe I could take that and make it into an app." Or if you hear from somebody, if you know of a group of people that are being underserved that somehow an app could solve that problem, you know, that's probably another great idea of an app. Kind of goes back to having people that will pay you to have it exist in the world.

Rob Bentley 5:55
Yeah, you'll have this existential "Aha!" moment and then you'll just need to make it happen because, you know, people will want it and use it and pay for it.

Tim Bornholdt 6:02
And one other point here too... I feel like I'm one of the worst app salesmen because I spend a lot of my time actively dissuading people from buying apps, because frankly, you don't really need to have a lot of apps. Like the world has enough apps. It's not necessarily, like we were saying before, you can't just put an app in the app store and a million people download it for a buck and you're a millionaire. It doesn't work like that anymore. And a lot of times, you don't need to have an app. People only use a handful of apps in a given day. I think the one paper I read was like, you don't use any more than 10 or 12 apps in a day total. And that includes like the clock, the phone, and text messaging. So if you're not one of those apps, why don't you just become a website.

Rob Bentley 6:44
Yeah, and people do use apps but they don't like using apps anymore. The novelty has really worn off now. It has to matter to them. It has to really improve their life; otherwise, it might sit on their phone, if they have it, but using it every day is a lot different.

Tim Bornholdt 7:00
It'll move to that dreaded second screen inside a sub folder that never gets touched. One other way to helping you judge your commitment to an app idea is seeing if there's already a solution out there for it. I've had, a few times, people approach me with app ideas, and they're like, "Nothing like this exists." And I do a five-second Google search, and there's four apps right there that do it.

Rob Bentley 7:23
It's usually really easy to find if you just do a simple search.

Tim Bornholdt 7:26
Right.

Rob Bentley 7:27
There's a couple of different ways you can look at it. If the idea does exist in the world, and there's way too many apps doing it, it might not be worth pursuing, because you'll probably get lost in the clutter of everyone trying to solve that problem. On the other side, if you can't find that solution out there, you might have to start wondering, why hasn't someone done this yet? Is it way too difficult? Is it just really hard to get into the market? Like, what's the barriers there? Usually the sweet spot is if you can find one or two competitors, and then you can find a better angle to do it better than they are, that's usually where you can be successful of the ideas if you can find it.

Tim Bornholdt 8:05
Yeah, seeing if there's apps that already exist, that kind of does validate your idea for an app, because somebody already took the time to build it. So right there, you've got instant validation of the idea. Now, if the idea already exists, and the app is already out there, then that already proves it. And if you can somehow improve on that app with a couple of features, or doing it in a slightly different way, that's going to make it that you can take away those customers, or that you can get customers of your own to use your features, then you've got a great idea right there.

Rob Bentley 8:33
Exactly.

Tim Bornholdt 8:34
The third metric that we use frequently to judge whether or not an idea is good is, actually, speaking of good, it's whether or not you're putting good into the world by building this app. And this is the area that things get a little subjective and what is art and that whole kind of thing. But I think there's so much crap out there on the app store, and there's so many nefarious schemes to get rich and to exploit user data and to do a lot of not-so-great things, that you're not really contributing to the benefit of the world. And that's a lofty thing to say, but I think it's true. Like, we don't need another app that's just exploiting your user information of your location in order to make someone else rich. Like, it might make you a lot of money, but you're also kind of being a jerk.

Rob Bentley 9:22
Yeah, or you might have a real problem, but maybe an app isn't the best solution for it. We play Super Smash Brothers every day. I don't know if we've mentioned that or not. But we had trouble remembering which level and which characters we are facing. So we concepted this app where we built a server and a front end and we're doing it, then we realized a better solution was just writing it down on a whiteboard in our office.

Tim Bornholdt 9:46
Yeah, it was a lot easier than the, like, 80 hours of coding that we did to try to make that work.

Rob Bentley 9:51
Albeit, that 80 hours was fun. It just wasn't necessary, and it was a good lesson learned.

Tim Bornholdt 9:55
Exactly. So yeah, it's thinking through whether or not what you're putting out into the world is valuable to somebody. If you're not being a jerk and exploiting people to make money, and if you're actually really committed to making this app idea work and to build a business around it, those are really the three metrics that we use to determine whether or not an idea for an app is good or bad.

Rob Bentley 10:19
Yeah, and like we said, this is our opinion, but hopefully that helps you as you're trying to think of your own idea.

Tim Bornholdt 10:25
Absolutely. So our final thoughts revolving around that. So we are probably the worst people at validating an idea. And saying that after we just talked about all of our thoughts about validating ideas, but you'd be amazed at how many ideas we hear that we think are terrible, and then you check back two years later, and they built it and they're really successful. Conversely, too, you hear a lot of ideas where you're like, "Man, that is a slam dunk." It's a great idea, and it just is a total flop when it makes it out to market. That being said, we have a pretty good handle on what could be successful. And that's really what you want to do when you're validating an idea. If anyone comes up to you and tells you, "That's a great idea, it's a slam dunk, you're gonna absolutely make millions.", they're a charlatan, or they're just completely fooling themselves. No one knows for sure whether or not it's gonna work. They're either right or they're wrong, but it's still as much of a coin toss as my opinion. All we can do is take a look at what has worked in the past and not just in the past six years that the app store has been around, or 10 years or whatever, but looking back at like hundreds of years of commerce, in general, and seeing what principles behind ideas have been successful in the past and applying those to this modern approach of mobile app development so that we can help set you up for success. The only other final thought that I had with this as we talked, one of our big points is if you're committed to the idea or not, and I think that regardless of what anybody else says, me or Rob are talking to your spouse or whoever else about your idea, at the end of the day, the most successful apps and all the successful apps we've seen have been driven by people who are super committed to the idea. And they say strong opinion's loosely held, where you're not completely rigid that you're not going to change your opinions. But once you've made an opinion, and once you have, like, the belief that this app idea is going to succeed, then that should be the best metric for you to determine whether or not this app is a good idea or not.

Rob Bentley 12:28
Yeah, go and make it succeed. If you really believe in it, don't let anyone get in your way.

Tim Bornholdt 12:32
That's right. Well, that's it for today's show then. Show notes for this episode can be found at ConstantVariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constantvariables.co. I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter. And Rob is @ScottMahonis. Today's episode was edited by the bodacious Jordan Daoust. This episode is brought to you by the Jed Mahonis Group who builds mobile software solutions for the ondemand economy. Learn more at JMG.mn.