New year, new goals

Happy New Year! The clock struck midnight, and suddenly we all had a clean slate. A new year. A new you. Personal goals abound today, from working out more to eating healthier to getting around to starting that business. If you think 2015 is the year you’re going to make your first app, let’s focus in on some good resolutions for your app before you dive into development.

Brainstorming your app is a fun thing. Ideas build upon other ideas, and suddenly you have an app that can solve world hunger, stop crime and clean the kitchen all by playing a simple arcade game. Fight the impulses, though, and reign things in a bit. Once you have a general idea about your app, it’s time to narrow your goal, not widen it.

One of the biggest mistakes people make with apps is first making a cool product and then deciding who should use it and why. It is far easier to change features or workflows for your users before you have a finished app. Here are the goals you need to set for yourself before pursuing actual development.

Goal #1: Clearly define the problem you’re solving with your app.

In order for anyone to download your app, they have to have a need for it. That need can be simplification of a difficult process, assistance remembering or completing a task, education, entertainment or any number of other things. Solving twenty problems is too broad. Why are you really making this app? If you skip this goal, you can’t achieve any of the other ones.

Goal #2: Figure out who needs help dealing with the problem you’re tackling.

If no one is experiencing the problem, then it isn’t really a problem. This is when you discover exactly who your target audience is. Describe them. Profile them. Why are they uniquely affected by the problem you’re solving? Is it because of where they live, what they do, who they interact with or something else? Once you understand who is going to use your app, you can go about development with them in mind. Features that they will want carry much more weight than features that just sound good to you.

Goal #3: Determine the simplest, most effective way that your app can solve this problem for your audience.

In the lean startup world, we call this your minimum viable product. Apps are constantly evolving and changing through updates, so your first version doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles. It just has to actually solve the problem. List out all the features you’re considering and prioritize them. Determine what is necessary and what would just be nice. Ask yourself “Can my app solve the problem without this?” for each feature. If the answer is no, the feature needs to be in the first version. Stick with this list. It will save you a lot of rabbit trails later.

Goal #4: Make a plan for how you will maintain and grow your app.

An app won’t succeed if you make one version and then walk away. Updates are essential to reflect changing operating systems and hardware. Users are also going to want additional features to keep them coming back to the app. You have to begin by thinking about these things so they don’t catch you off guard later. Will you continue to rely on your first development firm to maintain your app? Will you hire your own developer? Your app is a business that requires work to sustain.

Once you have met all four of these goals, then you’re ready to seriously invest in and pursue development of your app. Develop before reaching these points, and you’re going to spend a lot of time and money backpedaling.

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