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For every big selling app on the market place today, there are hundreds if not thousands of products that simply didn’t make the cut. So what’s the secret? What makes some developers draw in a steady monthly income, and others cry into their beer over what could have been?

Market Research

According to some experts, you should be spending up to 80% of your time on market research. After all, we’re in a fast moving marketplace. Needs pop up and disappear, and it’s vital for your company to at least keep up with current developments, if not be one step ahead. The top trending apps that are already available in your target market should be your first purchase. If you make it your business to know what your future customers are using right now you will see what characteristics successful apps display, and then apply them to your own work.

How good is your idea, really?

Donald E. Brown listed 67 universals that ‘comprise those features of culture, society, language, behaviour and psyche for which there are no exception. For those elements, patterns, traits, and institutions that are common to all human cultures worldwide.’ As such, if your idea corresponds to fulfilling a need present in this list, you are closer to providing a solution to a problem that is universal to all people across the world. An app to find vegan bistros in New York might be great and wanted, but it’s never going to make a million dollars. Geographic or language specific applications are less likely to fulfil a universal human requirement that separates the million dollar apps from the thousand dollar apps.

Hiring the best developer you can afford

As covered in our last article, you’re going to need a developer who understands the needs of your business. If you’re ready to shoot for the big money, it’s well worth outsourcing to someone with experience and knowhow. You never know how much a fresh perspective on your world beating idea can push along the process. Incidentally this is one of the reasons we advocate for the responsible hiring of quality freelance developers. They’ve seen a massive range of apps and projects in their time, and that’s experience you can tap into. In tandem with this process of producing great UI is constant testing with end users. Focus along the lines of usability and desirability.

The benefits of iterative design workflow

Building a mobile app

The testing process of your app is obviously mission critical. Without repeated testing, it won’t matter that your conceptual product meets the need of your target market – the end result is likely to be poorly executed and directed. The secret behind effective iterative design is taking on board the correct advice to accelerate the process while preserving the integrity of the process. Find the balance between these two concerns, and you’re on track to an effective ROI. You will also discover where your core workflows can be improved. This is done through monitoring metric data collated through the design and redesign of your process, even before you have come up with the idea for your million-dollar app.

Keep a hold on your perfectionist streak

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And if you haven’t found it yet keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matter of the heart, you’ll know when you find it and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs

While Jobs was clearly a perfectionist, what really made him an industry leader was that he knew how and when to let the product run. I’m sure in his mind he had the concept for iPhone 6 way before it actually hit the design board. What he did instead was all the precursor models, for each one following iterative design to make that version the best it could be – and Apple will still be doing this right now for iPhone 7 and onwards. The perfect product doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean churn out anything and hope your marketing does the business, but it does mean being ready to move on to the launch stage. There will be opportunities to improve your product in the future.

What makes a success story? Uber

Making a successful app

A) Your app needs to take advantage of unique features of an iPhone device vs. what is available and frequently used in a desktop/laptop device.

Uber takes advantage of the phone’s GPS and the fact that, unlike a laptop, it’s always with you.

B) Build a marketplace that didn’t exist, with a network effect. The more people in the system the more value the system delivers for each player (more Uber drivers = less time taken by passengers to get to their destination.

C) Make onboarding and use as simple as 1-2-3. The UX design of million-dollar apps is always top notch. Uber’s brilliance is in its simplicity: limited steps needed to sign in, coupled by the luxury of scanning your credit card if you are too lazy to enter it.

D) Big Data. Uber uses big data to match buyers and sellers. Even the often hated surge pricing tries to make sure there are more drivers on the road, to ensure that service doesn’t suffer even if your wallet does.

E) Have a Good UI/UX. A great, appealing interface makes the user interactions with your product pleasurable and frustration free.

F) Add a viral effect component to your app – When you refer a new customer, Uber gives both you and the person you refer a free ride. Repeated, contagious business is thus encouraged.

G) Get feedback from your customers. Uber maintains high quality control by removing their drivers that are poorly rated. Sure, it’s probably stressful for the drivers, but it’s an excellent method for maintaining quality.

Clash of Clans

Examples of successful apps

Clash of Clans is a browser game made by Supercell, which has had an amazing streak of successful titles. Let’s look at why:

A) Resilience. When Supercell debuted in 2010, their first game flopped. Utterly disastrous. Fortunately for them, the business model had been designed to absorb at least this loss, if not more. Hay Day and Clash of Clans, the games that followed the failed debut in 2012, had 8.5 million daily players generating $2.4 million a day just one year later.

B) Company structure/culture. Ilkka Paananen had over thirteen years experience in game development before he started Supercell. When he formed his company, according to Miki Kuusi of Slush, they decided that, “Instead of putting together teams with a hundred mediocre developers, they use small starting line-ups with only the most talented developers. And those developers have the freedom to do exactly what they want. The company is really just the facilitator.”

C) Monetization. The process of making free-to-play games follows a fairly accurate mathematical formula. Not every player will want to pay to advance his/her experience, but if a large enough proportion do, the app can make serious dollars. To do so, this takes repeated use of iterative design to find the balance in game play. There is an analogy to all aspects of business here.

Hotel Tonight

Build a money-making app

In addition to some of the aforementioned techniques, this is a great example of the application of the 67 essentials to a product design process. Hotel Tonight simplified the arduous process of booking a room at short notice with a well-executed mobile-only strategy, friendly UI/UX and competitive pricing. This is the elegant simplicity of meeting the needs of the prospective customer base. Sam Shank, the founder of Hotel Tonight was actually rejected by the first 10 Venture Capitalists he pitched to, but his perseverance and belief that people don’t always manage to plan ahead have come to realization. Now his company has since raised over $80 Million and employs over 200 people.

Evernote

Make a great app

Finally, we come to the Swiss army knife of applications. It is used for note taking and archiving your information and integrates across platforms, on any device or browser. What makes Evernote special is its simplicity and constant improvement of its biggest strengths – precise optical character recognition (OCR) and making everything you put into it searchable.

Again, it fulfils the human need for simplicity and ergonomics. The million-dollar app doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, it can just as easily be making the wheels we already have run a little smoother. In essence, you’re doing this already. You’re identifying a problem that needs solving. That’s what we use apps for, after all.

Final Thoughts

If you make your solution so well-constructed that you have a technological advantage, then you have naturally a major boost to your prospects. The difference between million-dollar apps and everyone else has been shown again and again to be down to attention to detail and forward planning. Follow the lead of the market success stories, at least in terms of their organization if not their products, and you will be onto a great start.

Do you implement iterative design or any of the topics in this article? What do you do to make your apps succeed in today’s market? Let us know!