Entrepreneurs often see apps as a path to success — after all, a way to automate or simplify services and processes can’t be bad, right? The problem is that many adopt the wrong approach, dooming their apps from the start.
Take Quibi, for example: The micro-streaming service raised $2 billion and had industry vet Jeffrey Katzenberg at the helm. On paper, everything seemed perfect, but the company went defunct and closed within two years, becoming the mascot for failed streaming services in the process.
Even outside of reputational damage, that’s a lot of money down the tubes. A simple app can cost about $50,000 to develop, while a more complex app can come with a development price tag of $300,000 or more. This is an expensive and time-consuming process, and it requires a solid plan from the beginning. Companies can’t afford to be laissez-faire with app development, and any missteps in planning and development can seriously derail a project in an ultra-competitive environment.
The 4 mistakes to avoid when building an app
As the expression goes, you’re only as good as what you built today, so it’s important to avoid making one of these cardinal app-building mistakes:
1. Starting app development before validating a user need
When genius strikes, it’s tempting to put those ideas into action immediately. But validating your concept and your approach early and often is vital.
“It’s easy to fall in love with your own idea instead of taking a step back and validating whether users actually need what you’re building,” says Chris Cardinal, founding principal of app development consultancy Synapse Studios. “I call the phenomenon ‘Visionary Complex.’ Every founder believes they’re Steve Jobs.”
When embarking on app development, enlist a good product manager who will run small user studies and observe how people interact with prototypes. Listen to that feedback and adjust your expectations accordingly. The worst thing you can do is develop in a “black box” where you don’t show anything to anyone until you’re in too deep.
The reality is that most businesses don’t need an app, so it’s essential to assess whether your company really does. When you’ve determined that you do, set aside enough time to set yourself up for success. About 4 in every 5 mobile startups fail due to poor planning and development mistakes—so don’t be one of them. Go slow in the beginning. Open your mind and be willing to pivot or change tack when presented with compelling new information.
2. Failing to build their app for their customers
Users make (or break) the success of the app, so you can’t take shortcuts when finding out what your users actually want. Building an app that’s designed for the customer requires considering the end users’ real wants and needs. A combined 4 million apps are available across the Google Play and Apple App stores, and this crowded marketplace demands user-friendly design.
Far too often, developers build an app to fit a business need rather than a customer need. They come up with an idea and start building to make it work, using an “if we build it, they will come” mentality. The problem? About 99.5% of consumer apps fail (and only about 13% of B2B mobile apps succeed). A well-thought-out platform that takes care of a task—but doesn’t consider the end user—isn’t actually thought out at all.
Customers equate good user experience and design with quality and trustworthiness, and any interruption or glitch can make the customer think twice about sharing their information and represent a death knell for an app. If the app won’t convert users into customers, your company is out thousands of dollars in development fees without any revenue growth to show for it.
And a good user experience is not easy to accomplish—a sleek interface like Netflix’s looks simple, but it’s very complicated. Even the streaming giant has some UX flaws, like its hover auto-play feature vexing some customers by automatically playing a loud trailer rather than showing written details about the program, so don’t expect to get out of the woods without some major bug fixes. Keeping in communication with your customer about what serves them and what doesn’t is key to keeping their attention and their business.
3. Building an MVP with the assumption that early glitches will fade away
Entrepreneurs looking for quick momentum will sidestep technical glitches on the assumption that they’ll get worked out as the app is built out further. But early failures can doom your user conversion and keep you from earning the money needed for future buildouts.
We saw this happen to Clubhouse, the social audio app that was buzzing in 2020. Initially available only on iPhone, the app underwent growing pains as it struggled to keep up with early demand. But the platform started fizzling out by the end of 2021, in terms of the hype around it and monthly active users, because the team took too long to respond to users begging for features like dark mode and closed captioning. By the time the company relented to its user requests and began implementing feedback, much of its core user base had moved on to alternatives like Twitter Spaces.
4. Not vetting software development teams thoroughly before signing a contract
Many companies will outsource their app development, which especially makes sense for non-technical companies such as retailers and restaurants. If your company isn’t filled with software engineers, bringing in a third-party vendor is often the right way to go. That said, companies must perform due diligence to select the right software development partner.
Picking a vendor to build out your app requires considerations beyond cost. In fact, cost is often the least important factor to consider when choosing a developer, though finding a vendor who’s transparent about price is always essential. Timelines, communication, the development firm’s ability to act as consultants and partners, their ability to deliver a rapid prototype, the user experience they can create, and many more pieces must fit well before you sign on the dotted line and engage an app development vendor. Vetting your options involves looking at their portfolios, checking their references, asking all the questions you have, and listening for how clearly they communicate with you. You want to find someone you trust to build an app your customers can similarly trust.
Does an app complete your mobile strategy?
With the world shifted to a mobile-first internet, it’s tempting to automatically build an app to supplement your website. But this isn’t always true: An app is necessary only if it adds to your overall strategy while fixing a problem that can’t be resolved by a mobile-friendly website design.
If you’re going to design an app or engage with a developer to have one designed, make sure it adds to the customer experience with a sleek and intuitive user interface. And keep user feedback at the front of your mind while developing and updating the product. These are the end users who will ultimately determine where and whether your app fits into their lives.