How to Make Your App Go Insanely Viral

From the offices of app startups to the boardrooms of multinational corporations, going “viral” has been a huge topic of discussion over the last several years. Viral traction is organic and quick acting, and if taken advantage of, can put your product or service in front of millions of eyes in the matter of days or even hours. These days, every app entrepreneur wants to know how to make an app go viral. With traditional routes, app developers may take years just to establish an initial base of a few thousand users. Those who go viral on the other hand, may be able to attract thousands of downloads within a matter of a minutes.

From the outside, app virality seems like a stroke of luck – a cool app gets released at the right time and people love it so much that they want to tell all of their friends about it. It seems that the only difference between the overnight success of an app like Pokemon, and your new mobile app or game, is mere chance. However, this just simply isn’t the case. Apps go viral for the same reason that anything goes viral – and it’s more a matter of psychology and positioning than anything. If you’ve ever wondered how to make an app go viral, you’re in luck; in this guide we’re going to give you what you need to know to generate and maintain viral success for your mobile application.

How To Make An App Go Viral – The Psychology

Have you ever considered why some things go viral and why some things don’t? Consider this – a brand can spend thousands of dollars promoting a contest with the offer of a great reward and get no traction at all; while an individual can spend zero dollars pouring ice cold water on themselves – spurring the #IceBucketChallenge and generating engagement from hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of days.

Social media especially, has given brands the opportunity to interact and attract consumers instantly; but with so many brands vying for their attention – consumers are in complete control of what they choose to read, view, download and share. Brands spend millions and millions of dollars creating content that consumers like, but ‘liking’ something doesn’t compel them to share it. What makes users share something? According to a study by The New York Times Customer Insight Group, there are five main reasons why people share things online:

  1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to others.
  2. To define ourselves to others.
  3. To grow and nourish our relationships.
  4. Self-fulfillment
  5. To get the word out about causes or brands.

In other words, sharing is both about providing value to one’s self and to others. In some cases, people share things that define who they are as a person or their stance on an issue; while in other cases they share things because they truly believe it will benefit someone else. Some people share things because they get some sort of fulfillment out of it – whether it’s some physical reward or some type of recognition. Sharing isn’t about liking something, it’s about believing that something has the power to achieve one of the five listed objectives.

Consider these stats from the same NYTimes Customer Insight Group study:

  • 94% carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient.
  • 85% stated that reading other people’s responses helps them understand and process information and events.
  • 84% stated that they share because it allows them to support causes or issues that they care about.
  • 78% responded that they share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
  • 73% share information because it helps them connect with others who share their interests.

When you are able to truly understand why your customers share things, it is much easier to create campaigns that will meet their specific objectives. Viral app campaigns are built around the psychology of their target markets; users don’t just respond to and share campaigns simply because they exist.

3 Techniques To Make Your App Go Viral

There is no one size fits all strategy to making an app go viral, but by combining the right product with the right strategy to achieve a consumer’s “sharing objective”; you can create a successful app campaign that will significantly boost the visibility of your mobile app. In the following sections, we will examine five proven techniques for generating viral traction.

Gain Exposure from the Right Influencers

The simplest way to make your app go viral is to get the right people talking about it. In the days of social media, influencers are king. Influencers exist in every industry, and persuading a single influencer could make your app visible to thousands and thousands of potential users within your influencer’s network. A single tweet by the right person; a video of the right person saying how cool your app is; a post from the right person about how your app solved their challenge – influencer mentions give your app instant social proof and credibility, and immediately positions your app as “industry accepted”.

Make sure you understand who your clients listen to on social media – who influences the market? If you were launching a Bitcoin strategy app for instance, you would want to find leading cryptocurrency strategists that consumers turn to for trading advice. By having them mention your application as a part of their buying/selling process; their followers will immediately equate your app as a viable and credible solution. Some apps have more “mass” appeal than others and may have more potential for mass adoption, but even influencers in niche markets can drive considerable traffic to an industry-specific app.

Obviously, your app doesn’t go viral just by figuring out who the influencers are – you’ll need to contact them and convince them that your app is worthy of being mentioned. Real influencers get flooded with requests daily, so make sure your pitch stands out and that you offer them something of value. In our Bitcoin app example, the founder may invite the influencer as a limited beta user and offer them a lifetime upgrade to a paid subscription package. By doing so, they are provided value, shown that their opinion matters and further encouraged to use the app. If your app actually provides a worthy solution, the influencer will most likely share the new app they “discovered” with their social following. Keep in mind – influencers want to influence, and their reputation is on the line; they’ll only share apps that are truly beneficial for their readers or viewers (remember: sharing objectives).  

Create The Fear Factor

It is scientifically proven that people hate losing much more than they love winning. By nature, we are wired to want to be on the “inside” of everything that is great; and not looking in from the outside. Many viral apps and campaigns have used this psychological weakness to quickly boost downloads by building high anticipation through limited access or by creating fear of missing out (FOMO).

Here’s a personal story: I can remember the launch of Facebook like it was yesterday. I was a college student at the time. While visiting home, a friend of mine who attended another college showed me his “Facebook page”. After being a MySpace addict for the previous 18 months, I was eager to setup my Facebook page immediately – but, I couldn’t! Facebook rolled out access to the platform school by school and since they hadn’t released to my school yet, I couldn’t register an account with my college email address. When I returned to school that Monday, Facebook was the only thing people were talking about. Everywhere I turned someone would tell me, “Hey man, did you hear? We’re getting Facebook this week!” Everyone was so pumped! The anticipation was at a peak. What happened? The day Facebook opened it’s platform to our school, it seemed the entire school population registered immediately.

Facebook rolled out this strategy school by school across the country, building anticipation all along the way. Consumers want to be part of the club – and when they can’t… they want it even more! This is how anticipation works – if you make people aware of something that they can’t yet have, they begin to build it up in their mind as something that they MUST have.

There’s one thing that makes you want something more than having to wait – missing out. Take a travel booking website for example. When we look up a deal, we are presented with how many people have already bought the package and how many are left. For example, a search for a hotel booking in San Diego may state, “27 people have booked this room. There are 2 rooms available.” To the user this means – this deal is moving fast and if you wait, you’ll miss it. Beta stage is a perfect time to run a FOMO campaign. Let consumers know that your app will be available on a certain date, but only available to a certain number of users; if they don’t beat the clock, they’ll miss out!

A few months ago, Bitcoin instantly became all the rage. Every media source was covering and mentioning the explosive growth of Cryptocurrency and people began seeing Bitcoin as a pathway to undeniable success. Those who didn’t have any Bitcoin instantly began buying in because they didn’t want to be left out when all of their friends got rich. Within the matter of a few days, the price of Bitcoin had doubled as hundreds of thousands of new investors began trading their cash for Bitcoin. The rapid growth of Bitcoin during this time was driven through two main factors – the anticipation of getting rich and the fear of missing out on the chance to be rich.

Bait, Hook and Download

According to Nir Eyal’s guide, “How To Build Habit-Forming Products”, any app can go viral if it meets specific requirements and has the ability to “hook” users. This technique focuses on the psychology of what people want, and what helps them progress through the purchase stage. The hook model is based upon four steps – Trigger, Action, Reward and Investment:

  • Trigger – Users need a trigger to enter the buying cycle. Internal triggers are what people hope to get out of your app – whether it be socialization (social media), a solution for boredom (mobile games) or to solve a challenge or issue (business apps). External triggers refer to information or stimuli that comes from outside sources such as ads, ratings/reviews, blog mentions, etc. Internal and external triggers work together to persuade consumers to download and use apps. Someone who has been single for years will immediately peak in curiousity when they read an article about a new dating app. The article (external trigger) responds to their desire to date (internal trigger).
  • Action – A consumer who is triggered properly will be compelled to take your intended action (such as downloading your app). To take an action, people must be motivated and have the ability to do so. Someone who is compelled to download your app but can’t find it in the App Store will be unable to complete your intended action. Make it simple for users to follow through on your trigger, otherwise they may give up during the act of trying.
  • RewardOnce a user has completed the action, they should be rewarded with the result that they expected. Signing into a great mobile game immediately curbs your boredom, while registering to Facebook allows you to immediately begin finding your friends and socializing.
  • InvestmentWhen the user finds that they are rewarded by signing into your app and that they are able to achieve whatever objective they were hoping to achieve – they make an investment by making purchases, revisiting the app again, sharing it on their social media pages and telling their peers about it.

By successfully hooking consumers and providing them with a viable solution to their challenge, they will be compelled to tell others about your app – giving you the viral push that you desire.  

Does Going Viral Mean Instant Success?

It seems that “going viral” is the equivalent of success – if only a million people could see your product, you’d be set forever… right? Unfortunately this isn’t the case. For many apps, going viral can be nightmare. Becoming a “fad” in the app world means that you only remain relevant until the next “fad” comes around. The weight of going viral will crack the seams of any app startup that hasn’t established a strong foundation.

Take Peach for instance. Essentially, this app was a combination of Twitter and Slack and allowed users to post status, gifs and “magic words” – keywords that allow you to post what you’re doing and instantly compile gifs related to those words. Peach quickly went viral as word about the app rocketed through the market; but just as quickly as it hit the Top 10 in the App Store, it faded away, never to be heard from again. The initial fun of “magic words” was enough to draw uses in, but not enough to retain them. Without a strong core, users didn’t find this single feature valuable enough to want to use the app over and over again.

Before Instagram introduced videos, there was Vine. This short video/social media platform quickly rose to meteoric heights early on. For a short period, Vine was considered as the quickest growing video sharing application in the world. One of Vine’s largest marketing advantages was the adoption by social influencers, whose fans followed them over to the app. While Vine had clear unique selling proposition with their short videos, it was one that was easily duplicable by other platforms. Soon after larger platforms began offering short video capabilities, influencers began leaving Vine for other platforms that now offered short-video capabilities in addition to the several other popular features that users desired.  

Going viral is only valuable if you’re able to capture the traffic and maintain the growth after the initial craze has worn off. Most viral traffic subsides after 48 hours and if there isn’t a plan in place, you’ll look up a week later and it will be like going viral never even happened. Consider the following suggestions for maintaining growth after going viral:

  • Push Notifications can be a great way to reignite your audience’s attention once the hype dies down. Some people may simply forget about your app after using it once or twice – push notifications can remind them of your app and encourage them to give it another try. The potential for these notifications are intensified when you add in a great offer such as, “Play now and receive 500 free credits!”
  • App Store Optimization (ASO) helps to ensure that your app has high visibility in the App Store. If your product is difficult to find, users may give up trying before they actually locate it. Optimizing for different platforms (iOS vs Android) can be difficult. It is recommended that you consult with a professional ASO expert to help you better your positioning within the App Store.
  • User Reviews are one of the most advantageous benefits of going viral – if people actually liked your app. Reviews play a huge part in user psyche as they decide which apps are worth their time, and which apps aren’t. An app that is able to gain thousands of positive reviews quickly will be able to leverage those reviews in the future when potential users come across their app in the App Store.  

Winning The Viral Game

The quicker you ascend the viral ladder, the more dangerous the fall will become. For app startups, success is about developing a strong foundation with brick-by-brick growth. However, if you can combine human psychology insights, technology and a long term strategy – real tangible app success could be in your short term future.

Ultimately, app success is about building awesome technology and implementing great business models. We’ve helped dozens of businesses bring their app ideas to life – not just through development, but by following a true app startup process. If you’d like to learn more about how to best position your app startup for viral success, contact us today for a free consultation!

How To Identify The Most Profitable App Business Model

When it comes to developing a successful app startup, figuring out an app monetization strategy is critical – but often overlooked. The quicker you can begin turning a revenue with your app, the more likely it is that you will be able to financially sustain the growth of your startup. Even with a great app, the lack of a revenue strategy can limit your access to investor capital and your mobile app pitch deck will never be effective without a cohesive revenue driven strategy in place.

The app startup industry is full of competition. The market has become so oversaturated that most apps fail to turn over any consistent revenue, if they generate any revenue at all. Without a clear and effective monetization strategy, app entrepreneurs quickly find their budgets dwindling as they promote the app to gain new users, but fail to turn them into customers. Many founding teams make the critical mistake of focusing all their attention on developing the app, and comparatively little attention on perfecting the business model behind it.

The Basics of Monetization Business Models

Establishing a mobile app revenue model is essential, and if implemented properly, can allow your startup to hit the ground running. Fortunately, there is no need to reinvent the wheel – there are a number of tried and tested models that app startups have used over and over to generate long-term revenue. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated and complex either. Most successful apps have super simple app business models that are familiar and easy to understand.

Before we break down specific app monetization strategies, it’s important to look at the fundamentals of app monetization. One of the most important factors to understand when launching an app startup is that a large base of users alone won’t sustain your business in the long term; a strong app monetization strategy is vital to success. Building an app startup is expensive and you will never realize a return on investment if you can’t convert users into customers. Your business model should allow you begin earning a profit, even without a large user base.

Build a financial model through Microsoft Excel to test different monetization strategies before you go live. Displaying how your chosen monetization strategy will convert into profit is key to establishing a business plan that stands up to scrutiny. By testing and planning thoroughly, you can optimize your model to ideal performance and ensure that it is ready to meet the demands of the open market.

When you first launch your app, we recommend launching in a “testing state”. Until real users are interacting with your app, you don’t know how your app and services will be received or how much people will be willing to pay for it. From the outset, you should launch as a lean startup – delivering a minimal viable product (MVP) with specific testable objectives in mind. As you build your user base, analyze user behavior and tweak your app monetization strategy accordingly. Live testing of your monetization strategy forces you to put the theoretical ideas from your business plan into a real-life scenario.

Ideally, you want to implement a business model that is profitable without thousands of users; one that is scalable as your business expands; and one that provides the opportunity to monetize a significant portion of active users.

1. Freemium

One of most effective and scalable business models comes in the form of freemium apps. With a freemium app, you provide a limited version of your app to the user for free and encourage them to become customers by offering a full-featured version of the app for a price. This model works because the quality of your core app demonstrates your product’s value, and entices users to invest money to attain additional features. Never underestimate the power of “free”. Free apps are much more accessible and customers are more willing to download them without having to think it over.

When implementing a freemium model, focus on acquiring new users by keeping the barrier to entry extremely low. Users who find the application beneficial will be anxious to increase this value by purchasing upgraded access.

One of the best examples of a freemium model was designed by Dropbox. The Dropbox app offers users 2GB of storage space for free and allows them to buy more storage space if required. Dropbox has since established a reputation as one of the leading virtual storage solution providers in the world. Other apps like Temple Run and Fruit Ninja have used the freemium model to encourage users to upgrade their apps to avoid advertisements.

A major benefit of freemium apps is that they don’t require thousands of installs in order to generate revenue. There are two main ways to monetize with this method; one-off payments and subscription fees.

With subscription fees, you can charge a small pool of users consistently until they cancel; giving your startup the opportunity to generate a residual income on each paying customer. In contrast, one-off payments can only be taken once, and therefore more users must be converted in order to generate the same amount of revenue.

The freemium model lends itself well to the lean startup process. If you want to identify how enthusiastic users are about your product (and whether they’ll pay for it), you can easily test the waters by altering what features you offer in the free app and which you offer in the upgrade. This model makes it simple to find out what features are important to your audience, and which they are willing to pay for.

There are a number of ways the Freemium model can be used. Here are a few successful methods that you may want to consider:

  • Feature-led Freemium: Provide a free version of your app, but limit it’s functions. Allow users to access additional functions at a price. Minecraft is currently operating under a model where users can only save the worlds that they’ve created on the “pro” version.
  • Capacity Limited Freemium – The user can access your application for free until they reach their allotted capacity. This may be a certain number of free uses or a specific amount of storage that users cannot exceed without upgrading at a cost. Companies like Dropbox and Evernote are currently operating under this model.
  • Limited Time Offer Freemium – Offer a free version of your app for a limited amount of time, under a free trial. Audible and Spotify both use this model to build value for the user before encouraging them to upgrade to a paid subscription.

2. Virtual Goods with In-App Purchases (The Addictive Model)

Building an addictive app with in-app purchases has become a popular app monetization model, especially for mobile games. The widespread success of games like FarmVille and The Sims has given app entrepreneurs an insight into the lucrative potential of producing virtual goods and allowing them to be accessed through in-app purchases. One of the biggest advantages of this model is its simplicity, versatility and scalability.

To succeed with this model, all you need is an addictive app that allows users to advance their value with some type of in-app virtual goods. Although his model lends itself well to games and gamification, it can also be applied to other apps as well. For example, a dating app where users can buy in-app credits to purchase additional features would also fall under this monetization strategy.

The core premise of this model is that the virtual goods you’re selling need to offer something of high value to the user. Whether its extra levels or playable characters on a game, or the ability to buy credits to see when another user has viewed your profile on a dating app; your offer needs to allow the user to accomplish something that they highly desire. The clearer that your value proposition is, the more you can incentivize the user to spend money within the app.

One major downside to using in-app purchases as a standalone monetization strategy is that it requires a considerable number of users in order to generate significant returns. Doing so may take extensive customer acquisition efforts through platforms like Facebook, which can be costly to a new startup. This type of marketing situation may be far from ideal when you’re newly launched and haven’t yet quantified the value of a single user.

The key to making this business model work is to avoid overcomplicating your app. Start with one in-app purchase option that rewards the user for making a purchase and see how users respond. You will find much more value in having one strong in-app purchase option that provides significant value to the user than 10 options that users don’t find beneficial. Be creative with this strategy; sometimes it’s more valuable to offer these additional features in exchange for social shares or referrals.

3. Advertising And Sponsorship

For more ambitious app entrepreneurs, or those with over 125,000 monthly active users (MAUs), monetizing apps through advertising and sponsorships can be extremely profitable. App entrepreneurs with a smaller audience however, will typically find that this model alone doesn’t provide enough revenue to sustain the growth of their business. In order to generate a substantial and consistent revenue, this model requires an extremely large base of users who interact with the app frequently.

As an example, if your app received $1 for each 1000 impressions, it would take 1000 users viewing ads on a single occasion, or 500 users viewing ads twice (and so on), before you’d make even a single dollar. In other words, your ability to scale your income with this model will be directly tied to how large you can grow your audience and how well you engage them with your app’s offering. However, using advertising along with other monetization methods may allow even a smaller app to maximize the monetization of each of its users.

It’s worth mentioning that advertisements do run the risk of alienating or overwhelming your users. Advertisements can have a dramatic effect on the user experience, especially if they are shown more than occasionally. Modern mobile users are particularly hostile to ads and often feel as if they are intrusive and that they ruin the user experience. Companies that incorporate advertising on their apps need to be strategic and find the optimal way to introduce ads to their users without damaging the experience or creating an off-putting moment for users on the app.  

4. Paid Apps

Offering download for payment is perhaps the simplest monetization model available for app startups in terms of implementation. With a paid app, startups earn a revenue every time a user purchases (and subsequently downloads) their app. After making a one-time payment, users are given access to the app forever (in theory). As a monetization strategy,  paid apps are highly transparent and customer spending is easy to track.

With a paid app model, your revenue is directly tied to the number of individuals you can convince to pay for and download the application. The caveat is that you need a high number of users in order to make a substantial profit, and will need to continue bringing in new users to sustain the business in the future. As a standalone model, there is little opportunity to increase customer lifetime value or to create any type of residual spending situation with current users.

It’s also very difficult to get potential users to pull the trigger and purchase an app. The App Store is highly competitive, and there is no shortage of free apps out there. Without strong brand awareness, paid apps only have a slim chance of competing. Studies show that paid apps are installed 90% less than free apps, and this is likely due to the high barrier of entry on the customer side.

Successful paid apps generally rely on having a strong brand presence throughout other marketing channels (print, digital, social media, e-mail etc.); or by already having a strong brand awareness as a non-app business (such as a popular brick-and-mortar store introducing an app). Established brands can successfully earn profit from paid apps because they have already proven their value to consumers. Smaller apps have yet to prove themselves and therefore, customers are less likely to trust that their money will be well spent by downloading the app – even if it’s only a dollar or two. As a new app startup, relying on customers to purchase your app without proving value first will likely end in app monetization failure.

5. Alternative & Additional Monetization Strategies

Successful app entrepreneurs aren’t just able to implement a single monetization strategy, but in many cases, also include alternative and additional strategies to even further their revenue generation potential. Two especially popular strategies include affiliate marketing/sales and lead generation.

In-App Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing allows you to advertise and sell third-party products to your audience. Since you already have a specific user base, this method allows you to earn commissions by promoting products on behalf of another company. When users from your app purchase these items, you earn a commission on the sale. Affiliate marketing can be an ideal situation for all parties involved – app entrepreneurs are able to further monetize their audience, the third party company gets access to new customers, and users get to hear about new products that they wouldn’t have been familiar with otherwise. There are many apps that operate under this model, some of the most popular including Podcast Addict and Clash of Clans.  

Lead Generation

As you scale your app to reach a larger audience, you will have access to a ton of user data – from names and e-mails to demographic features. Depending on your app, your demographic and the size of your audience, providing this data to third party entities can be fairly lucrative. Demographic and usage data can be key to helping other businesses understand user behavior, and can help them improve the buying process for their own products and services.

Apps like Mint have used this process successfully. Offering tools that enable users to track their monthly expenditure and create financial budgets; Mint has access to a host of data about how people from certain demographics spend their money. Furthermore, Mint has implemented affiliate sales as an additional generation method – allowing users to sign up for third-party credit cards that are specifically suited for their financial situation.

If you’re considering selling leads on to a third party, it is important to make sure that you are following federal data regulations and that you are operating within the limits of the law. Depending on your locality, data regulations can be considerably strict – have an attorney review your data-monetization strategy before executing it.

What Monetization Model Should I Choose?

Ultimately, the app monetization model you choose should be the one that allows your app to attract the most users and convert them into purchasers most effectively and efficiently. No two businesses are the same, but by experimenting with a lean strategy, over time you can optimize your monetization plan for ideal revenue generation. Seek to discover an effective strategy that delivers large returns with minimal effort. Rather than cramming your app to the gills with complex pro features and in-app purchases, its much more effective to start small and build your apps features (and monetization opportunities) up over time.

If you’d like help to bring your app idea to reality we have a variety of resources and and a team of expert app consultants to assist you with each stage of the process. Contact us today for a free consultation and let us help you discover the best app monetization strategy for your app!

What Can An App Incubator Really Do For Your Startup?

Startup app incubators have definitely cemented themselves as an important piece of mobile app culture. Some of the largest and most successful mobile app startups to date have spent time at incubators and accelerators, accessing seed capital and resources that propel their businesses to the next level. Entrepreneurs frequently ask us, “How do I fund my app idea?”; and joining an app incubator is often the route we recommend. During app incubation periods, entrepreneurs often have the support needed to finalize their app business plan and pitch deck, build their MVP, launch it to the public, bring in initial testers and users, and truly learn how to start an app idea the right way.

There are new startup incubators popping up all over the country (and world), even in some places that have extremely limited startup scenes. For many app startups, they could be a game changer – but will it give you the advantage you need to bring your app idea to a mass scale? In this post we want to examine incubators and give you the information needed to decide whether a particular app incubator is right for your startup.

Is Your App Right For The Incubator?

Before you can decide whether a specific incubator is right for your app, you need to consider if your app is truly in a position where an incubator can help. Due to the resources that they provide to startups, incubators are extremely competitive, and the vast majority of applicants are rejected. Larger incubators may receive thousands of applications each semester and if your startup isn’t a head-turner, your application may not even be read.

Incubators are for startups, not for people who just have a ‘good idea’. If your idea isn’t far enough along in the startup process, incubators likely won’t be interested. Shaun Savage, founder of GoShare, experienced this firsthand. He told us, “When we first applied to the EvoNexus program all we had was an idea and we were flat out rejected. The idea was too broad and the rejection was harsh but it was a much needed lesson. We decided to refocus our business plan and team up with a former colleague of mine to develop a Minimal Viable Product. After about 6 months of product development we applied to EvoNexus with our MVP and GoShare was accepted into the program.

The incubation period isn’t about building an idea into business; it’s about incubating a startup mobile app business to prepare it for proper market entry. Most incubators will require that you have a minimal viable product and some level of traction before being accepted. On a very rare occasion, smaller incubators (or those at universities) may accept startups at the idea level – but may still require them to have a business plan and pitch their business idea to see how much progress they have already made.

Does The Incubator Offer The Resources You Need?

app idea contests and incubator - entrepreneurs being mentored in officeOne of the leading reasons that app businesses fail to establish and grow is lack of resources. First time app entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that capital is the only thing keeping them from their goals; but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many aspects that go into launching a business, especially an app business. From validation to launch, from marketing to retention – a founding team must be knowledgeable in several critical areas. The most beneficial aspect of attending an incubator is the exposure to mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs who are involved in the program.

Before you choose to apply to an incubator, consider what resources you currently lack that could really help your business. Some incubators offer app funding, some don’t. Some incubators offer a “Pitch Day” at the end where they bring in potential investors, while others only serve niche markets like medical technology or education technology. Don’t just jump into an incubator because it exists, but find an incubator that offers investment, mentorship, or industry exposure that your startup really needs. Seed capital is great, but mentorship from the right individual can be priceless. You can’t purchase experience, and when it comes to app startups, resources and connections are more valuable than gold.

Bo Lais, founder of Lula points out that mentorship was only one of the many resources that they were provided when they participated in the “Pitch Perfect Bootcamp”. When asked about these resources he said, “This particular startup accelerator didn’t invest (money) in our startup, but it was home to the Mid America Angels. We had the opportunity to pitch in front of many local and regional investors on three different occasions throughout the program. Additionally, the accelerator paid for some legal and graphic design services as we needed them. The accelerator assigned us each a mentor to help advise and guide us on difficult startup decisions. They provided legal and graphic design resources without any cost to us. We were able to take advantage of 12 months of free software and hosting from select companies that were only offered through the startup accelerator program.

Aneela Idnani, cofounder of HabitAware was also provided with a host of resources when participating in HAX.co; one of the world’s leading hardware accelerator programs. Aneela told us, “The program is based in Shenzhen China, the hardware manufacturing capital of the world. Without their help, we would have made it to market much slower. Being right across the street from the electronics markets helped us rapidly move through the prototype stages. As part of the program, HAX not only provided funding, but also mentorship and expertise in marketing and manufacturing. Their team of graphic designers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and industrial designers filled the gaps and were an extension of our team.

Will The Incubator Help You Progress Your Business?

The value of an app incubator isn’t just being involved with one. The key is to choose an incubator that will help you meet the specific goals of your business. In many cases, incubators will make you sign over a percentage of equity (usually around 10%) in exchange for their investment in your startup. If you’re going to be giving away a part of your company, it’s best to know what you’re getting in return for that equity. Make sure that the incubator you’re applying for aligns with your goals.

The EvoNexus program allowed GoShare to push their business forward. Shaun Savage said, “Being part of EvoNexus’s program has been instrumental to the launch of our business. One of the aspects that I enjoyed was our bi-weekly founder meetings. These round table meetings allowed a leader from each company to track their progress, discuss their highs and lows, and seek advice that may help solve their problems. Collaborating with like minded entrepreneurs at EvoNexus helped us learn how to improve our product, build our team, and build relationships with key members of the startup community.

Pitch Perfect Bootcamp gave the Lula app access to the investors they were looking for. Bo Lais said, “The accelerator helped us tremendously with introductions to many investors that eventually led to helping us fund and close our seed round. We also had the opportunity to meet and hear from successful local entrepreneurs that could give us great advice based on their first-hand experience. The program educated us about the fundraising process and different types of term sheets we might see. In addition, we were introduced to many local publications that were interested in hearing and writing about our story.

How Strong Is Your Startup Team?

incubators for mobile startups - team meeting in conference roomBuilding a successful app is hard work, and it’s usually more work than a single founder can handle. It is important to establish a strong founding team that is strong but varied in skillsets. An engineer building an industry application for example, may not be strong in marketing and may need to partner with an experienced marketer to strengthen the core of their team. Write out the strengths of your startup’s founders and find out if there are any gap areas where your team may lack experience. Incubators look for strong business with strong teams – individuals that collectively have enough experience and knowledge to progress the business rapidly.

A Final Word On App Incubators

The last question you need to ask yourself is whether you are truly committed to joining an app incubator program. These programs are meant to be fast-paced and the intensity can be overwhelming for some people. Some incubators will require that you spend a certain amount of time on-site and a certain amount of time dedicated to working on your business off-site. This means that maintaining a regular job can be complicated or downright impossible.

If you are really ready to move forward and believe that an app incubator can help you reach your goals, start searching around for incubators in your area and those within your industry. Sometimes dedication may mean living in another city or state for a few months during the incubation period to be closer to the program that will help you most. Once you’ve decided on an incubator that suits your startup, find out the requirements for their application submission. Get your business plan and pitch deck in place, and start working on your pitching skills.

And of course, if you ever need assistance, contact us! We’ve worked with dozens of app businesses to secure positions in startup incubators, and we’d love to help you too.

App Success Stories: How To Build An Amazing App That Wins

As app entrepreneurs, we each have our own idea of what a “successful app” is. For some, the first 10,000 users is a milestone of app success, while for others, just getting one user to download the app would be considered a major accomplishment. There are so many amazing app success stories out there, and we all believe that if we could just get our idea developed, we’d find app success too.

Unfortunately, many app entrepreneurs won’t have a success story to share when all is said and done. App startups fail everyday, and some apps that once had thousands of users now struggle to survive. Developing an app, getting users to download and actually use it, and retaining that position for the long run has proven to be a rather difficult undertaking – too difficult for most. As it seems, what may look like a smooth journey on the pages of your mobile app business plan will probably be quite the bumpy road in actual execution. App success stories aren’t overnight successes, they overcome many hurdles along the way.

Most app ideas will never become an actual app, and most apps will never even have a glimmer of hope in competing with more dominant apps within their industry. Many startup teams who once aspired to be on the list of app success stories will only become a short story. Ranging from bad app ideas to a lack of commitment, there are several factors that prevent 95% of app entrepreneurs from reaching their app success goals. We recently spoke to several app startup founders about their app success stories to give you some mobile app inspiration and find out what it takes to become an app store success.

Do You Have The Right Idea?

iphone app success stories - silhouette of man with bright idea

Ask any successful app startup founder (or any entrepreneur for that matter) and they will tell you that app ideas are truly a dime a dozen. However, you need to have a solid app idea in place before you can execute it and introduce it to consumers. Successful apps don’t just ‘exist’, and users don’t download them just because they are in the App Store. Startups that become “app success stories” solve problems and attract users who are facing that specific problem and seeking a solution. There are entrepreneurs making millions from apps, because the platforms that they have built solve millions of problems each and every day.

Steven Benson, founder of Badger Maps, found that a problem existed while working in his industry. Steven told us, “My career has been spent in field sales, and so I understood the challenges faced by field sales people first hand…

Some say that success is the result of what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Sometimes, when you prepare yourself enough, the opportunity will find you; instead of the other way around. In the case of Badger Maps, Steven said, “Looking back at it, it was a combination of my role in sales and my industry background with software and mapping that made me well positioned to launch a company and solve the problems of field sales. I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right background to come up with the idea and start the company.

SportMe founder, Andrew Greenstein, had a similar story of being prepared. With a background in AI and automation, he was able to identify how his expertise would be beneficial to the sporting industry. When we asked about his app idea, he said, “I’ve always believed that technology can play a strong role in helping everyone improve themselves, every day. We started SportMe to apply my technology, AI and automation experience to participatory sports; choosing marathon training because of it’s supportive and rapidly growing community.

There’s an insight here – sometimes the best ideas will come to you when you are most prepared to receive them. The more you know about something, the better prepared you will be able to identify challenges that need a solution and opportunities where your knowledge can be applied to solve niche issues.

What Will Stop You From Succeeding?

There is one common theme present in all app success stories – overcoming obstacles. Building any business is tough, but app startups have unique challenges that founders must overcome to reach their goals and objectives. Sometimes, overcoming these challenges will require you to be extremely creative and to put yourself in positions that may make you uncomfortable. Just how far will you go to overcome your challenges and become an app success? The founders of Friendz App pushed the limits — and it worked! Here’s an awesome story that co-founder Alessandro Cadoni shared with us:

“At the beginning, everything was a challenge! That is why we spoke with every relevant person in the field. We took part in startup competitions, filled white papers with ideas and improvised ourselves as skilled graphic designers, developers and salesmen. We improvised and we tried, a lot. Initially, one of the biggest issues was getting the attention of big brands and marketing managers: we didn’t have a track record or a product yet, but we had the courage to dare and to try every route. Stalking? We tried that too (and it worked!). We stationed in front of the headquarters of big brands, close to the smoking areas, hoping that someone at some point would have left the door open for us to enter and meet all those people we emailed who never answered back. And finally, the lucky day arrived: we were able to sneak in unknown corridors and nobody never noticed us or called the security (fortunately). Directly knocking at the doors, we were able to tell managers what we wanted to do and ask them for feedback in order to develop a service that could perfectly answer the needs of their future clients. From that day on, nothing scared us anymore!”

You probably won’t have to stalk anyone during your journey, but you will likely have to shake many hands, deliver your pitch to a million people, convince customers, and complete many other tasks that you may not be used to doing. Will it stop you from reaching your goal and writing your own app success story?

Is Your App Really That Different?

app success stories 2017 - single yellow figure among many red figures

There are far too many ‘copies’ in the App Store today. For every Uber, there are 20 more ride-sharing apps that offers the exact same service but has failed to catch on. Successful app developers approach unmarked territory, they don’t just follow suit because they catch wind of a gold rush. Apps that win big are those that have clear competitive advantages and unique selling propositions that make them significantly different than their competitors – even if the core of their app idea is the similar.

No matter what your app solution is or what industry you serve, some type of competition exists. Even if there are no other apps providing the same solution, there’s always some other way that consumers are solving their problem; although it may be inefficient or ineffective. For Steven Benson, Badger Maps gave sales reps a more streamlined way of completing an inefficient process:

Since we’ve created a new category of software, meaning that it didn’t exist before we made it, our biggest competitor is our user doing what we do by hand. They’ve been solving the problem that we solve with our app by hand for years, and our biggest job is letting them know that we can solve it for them. Sales Reps have always had paper maps, lists of where their customers and prospects are, and a paper (and later a computer based) calendar. What we did was combine all of these things together and put them on a mobile device to create a mobile solution for Field Sales Reps to be more successful. Field Sales Reps have a very unique workflow because they’re always on the move, so they need mobile solutions more than anyone. As a result, Badger differentiates itself by prioritizing a great mobile experience via iPhone, Android, iPad and tablet – not just a desktop.”

Is Your App Scalable?

Successful apps are able to take their initial momentum and scale it rapidly across their industry. They don’t just work for a handful of people, but they provide a solution that can be adopted by a great proportion of a specific niche market. Most app success stories start small with a handful of testers or early adopters, but are able to scale consistently to reach more and more users each and every month.

When Steve Carlton first founded Invitd, only a handful of people downloaded it, but he was able to scale drastically to increase his user base at an exponential rate. Invitd allows event hosts to create an invitation in under 60 seconds and send out invitations via text message. Steve told us, “The day the app launched in 2014 was a rush, we got a total of 34 downloads! Since day one our mission has been focused on making the process of sending invitations as easy as possible. We have focused on making a great experience for the host and the guest. Just over 3 years later, we surpassed over 250,000 registered users and 5 million invitations sent.

What Is App Success, Really?

Success in any capacity is never ‘one-size-fits-all’. An app in a niche market might be widely successful with 20,000 users, while a mass-market app may need a million users to be considered a successful app. Some apps may need to convert 50% of their users into subscribers to reach their definition of success, while others may need 100,000 active users per day to earn enough ad revenue to turn a profit.

Andrew Greenstein of SportMe met a major milestone when, “we reached a six figure revenue and our smart marathon run trainer started ranking as the #2 Marathon Trainer in the Apple App Store.

For Alessandro Cadoni, the Friends App team found success when, “in 2017, we consolidated the Italian market, creating a community of nearly 200k users with a Monthly Active Users (MAU) of 27%. Last summer, we organized the ‘Friendz Tour’ – offline meetings with our community in several Italian cities where we had picnics together and spent some afternoons talking about the app, pictures, their life, and their interests. In the last several months, we have been working with more than 120 clients, mostly multinational enterprises (FMCG). We made more than 200 brand campaigns and published more than 2 million photos; earning over a million Euro in revenue.

App Success Stories – Will You Be Next?

The first step to building a successful app is to define exactly what success means for you, your app, your team and your business. The second step is to get started. Over 95% of app ideas die within one of these two stages; either the founders never define success and therefore can never reach their unspecified goal, or they define success and realize that it’s a much bigger journey than they are committed to pursuing.

If you’re serious about building a successful app, but confused on where to start, ThinkLions can help. We have worked with dozens of app entrepreneurs to define their ideas, launch minimal viable products, secure app funding and bring their app ideas to reality. Contact us today for a free consultation!

10 of The Most Useful Secrets For Bringing An App Idea to Reality

For a new app startup entrepreneur, bringing an app idea to reality can seem like a monstrous undertaking. Let’s be fair, it is. Transforming an app idea into a great piece of mobile software is difficult; it’s three times as expensive as you thought it would be and takes twice as long to launch. It takes time, energy and effort; blood, sweat and tears.

The light at the end of the tunnel is, as difficult as it may seem, it’s doable. In fact, it’s so doable that hundreds of thousands of regular people (just like you) have launched their app ideas to the public. If they can do it, so can you. To give you some inspiration as you take the first step into building your app, we asked 10 app entrepreneurs how they brought their app ideas to reality. Here’s what they had to say.

Chris KaneChris Kane,Founder of MunchMoney

Finding The App Idea

I’ve always been an entrepreneurial person in many ways. Growing up that was always clear to me. After I graduated from college, I began my career in the hedge fund industry without any clear direction of where I wanted to go long-term. Over time, I increasingly became unhappy and began looking for alternatives. It was at this point that my entrepreneurial spirit took hold.

I came up with several business ideas. One day, as I was getting money out of my wallet to go to Chipotle for lunch, I thought, “Man, I really miss my college meal plan.” With some inspiration from the Virginia Tech meal plan system, the initial idea for MunchMoney was born.

Funding a Minimal Viable Product

MunchMoney is currently bootstrapped by its founders; mainly using savings from full-time jobs while the idea was still in development.

Advice for Bringing an App Idea to Reality

Simply, you don’t know what you don’t know. There are so many intricacies around startups/apps that it can be overwhelming. Start by becoming familiar with launching apps by reading books such as How to Build a Billion Dollar App by George Berkowski), taking online courses, and attending industry/networking events. Furthermore:

  1. Just Ask. People are always willing to help if you are a kind and genuine person who is sincerely willing to ask for help.
  2. Self-awareness. Know what you are good at and what you are not, and then, surround yourself with people who can fill in the gaps.

Estee GoldschmidtEstee Goldschmidt, Co-founder of ShopDrop App

Finding the App Idea

ShopDrop is an app that aggregates information about every sample sale in one single location. The concept was simple: there are over 50 weekly events where designers put up their excess inventory for 60%-90% off, and yet finding out about those events is laborious and requires knowing people in the industry; following 20 different blogs and specific brands. The idea of the app was to simplify the process and democratize access to these fashion events.

Building the Team and Product

I had a marketing background, and Bill – my co-founder had a tech background. He had built 26 apps. Together, we joined forces to get the app idea off the ground. We only recently started generating revenue, but haven’t paid ourselves yet. We ran events and pilots to self-fund the project. We also won an entrepreneurial grant to keep us going.

Advice for Bringing an App Idea to Reality

My advice to someone starting out is three-pronged:

  1. Figure out whether your idea has potential. Ask people if they would use the product. Mock up images of what it would look like and show to friends and strangers.
  2. Assess the competition. Check to see if a similar product already exists or existed in the market. Did it fail? If yes, what does that mean to you?
  3. Build an MVP. Figure out the quickest way to get a basic product onto the market (whether it means using tools, outsourcing or partnering with a tech-genius). Work on it, get feedback, implement and repeat!

The secret to success is not giving up. As long as there is interest, your business has potential. Keep on pushing until you can’t anymore.

Steven Benson, Founder of Badger Maps

Finding the App Idea

I didn’t start out with the goal of building an app. My career has been spent in field sales with companies like IBM and Google, and so I understood the challenges faced by field sales people first hand. When I was working on the Google Maps team, I got to know how powerful mobile mapping could be, and had experience with the types of solutions and apps that mobile was capable of enabling. I knew I could improve my performance at my job as a field sales rep if I could combine my customer data with a mobile mapping system, and I could envision a solution that could schedule and plan my time selling in the field more efficiently. Looking back at it, it was a combination of my role in sales and the industry background with software and mapping that made me well positioned to launch a company to solve the problems of field sales. I was in the right place at the right time, with the right background, and was able to completely bootstrap the business.

Monetizing the App

When coming up with the idea for an app, it’s crucial to have a clear monetization strategy and make sure you build something that people are willing to pay for. There are a lot of businesses that don’t make it, although they were great ideas that seemed to have major potential. What they often lack is a clear way to make money.

One key thing is to find the balance between how much your customers are willing to pay for your app and how much you need to scale your company. However you plan to monetize, make sure it’s enough to keep the lights on as you grow. If your expenses require that each user pays $10 for your app, but they’re only willing to pay $1, you’ll need to focus on getting 10x more users. Pricing is a hard thing to get right the first time, so don’t be afraid to experiment and talk to your customers to find the sweet spot.

Key to Success

I think the key to my success is focus. The major players in tech today do so many things at once and solve so many problems at the same time – as a startup, you win by having a laser focus on a solution to a single problem that people would pay for

Really though, the true secret to a successful startup is creating an environment where your team can thrive, grow and be happy. Managing and motivating people is so much harder when you don’t have anything than when you are a large and well funded company.

Kyle MorrisKyle Morris of Sifdata

Launch and Iteration

I came up with our app idea while running business ops at a tech company in Silicon Valley. I came home one day wanting to learn to code and played around for a couple of months. On a trip to New Zealand I got the inspiration for what would become SifData. I immediately got to work on the project as soon as I got home. In passing, I mentioned to a friend what I was working on. A few days later, a well known tech company’s CEO reached out, mentioning that he was looking for this very product. He got me in touch with their head of operations and they decided to buy.

From there I kept iterating on the product and came out of beta in April. We’ve had some great wins along the way and, as you can imagine, a lot of challenges being a self-taught, solo entrepreneur.

Thomas-Ryan LawrenceThomas-Ryan Lawrence, COO of Gayborhood

Finding the App Idea

For nearly 18 years, my business partner had been producing The Gay Community Yellow Pages across the country.  GCYP was a niche market yellow pages focusing on businesses that promised to treat the LGBTQ community with the same dignity and respect as everyone else. The year was 2009 and the print industry, along with the rest of the economy, was struggling. At the same time, Apple had recently launched the iPhone, thereby kicking off the smartphone revolution and creating an entirely new industry.  Our idea: take the concept of The Gay Community Yellow Pages and make it available on smartphones. Bring the safety and comfort of The Gay Community Yellow Pages, that has served our community for nearly twenty years, to the fingertips of every smartphone user. Thus, Gayborhood was born! Today, Gayborhood serves LGBTQ communities in over twenty cities across the country and continues to grow.

Funding the App Idea

Did I mention this was 2009 and the print industry was struggling?  Okay, I did.  So, funding was interesting.  We had no money!  We went to friends and borrowed $30,000 at a higher than usual interest rate (flat rate of 50% regardless of how long it took us to pay them back.  Side note, it took 3 years) to get Gayborhood off the ground. We were lucky to find a developer that built an “out of the box” solution and allowed us to customize it with our own look and feel.  This saved us tons in the beginning, but also led to some functionality and reliability issues down the road. Regardless of the issues we faced with our legacy developer, it was enough to get us up and running and launched on both iOS and Android.

Advice for Bringing an App Idea to Reality

Simply, just do it!  Once you’ve completed some modest level of market research to ensure consumers want your product, find a developer, get a bid, and make it happen. You can’t be successful with a product that doesn’t exist. It may not be “the perfect version” on the first launch…Lord knows Gayborhood wasn’t!  But you’ve gotta start somewhere and then work on improvements.  If you’re strapped for cash, this may mean going after some non traditional financing – but if you really believe in your product and you stand behind it, then you just have to do it!  You may pay a little more in the beginning, but once you are successful, it will all be worth it.

Marketing the App

It’s not enough to simply develop an app and plop it on the app store hoping people will download it. Believe me, that will not happen! You have to know how to market it. Gayborhood employed a mixed marketing strategy in the beginning and continues to do so today. We started with a combination of CPI (cost per install), PR (get your name out there any way you can), event-based and guerilla marketing efforts and continue to incorporate each of those and more into our strategies today. We’ve done bar posters, cocktail napkins, promotional fliers, palm cards, koozies, chapstick…you name it and Gayborhood has probably done it!  Our goal is to have omnipresence; wherever our target market is, we want to be in their faces!

Kevin MurrayKevin Murray, Founder of SpyWarn 2.0

Finding the App Idea

I created an app for detecting spyware on Android smartphones. The idea for it evolved from my clients, and the general public, asking me, “Is my cell phone bugged?” My original protocol for determining the answer became the basis for my book, “Is My Cell Phone Bugged?” The directions in the book transformed into the basis for my app, SpyWarn 2.0. It was an enjoyable project, and the app is still available today on Google Play.

Advice for Bringing an App Idea to Reality

  1. Be persistent. The concept for the app was very unique. It took a lot of time and explaining to get the concept and technical details across to to the people who worked on it.
  2. Shop around for an app design company. Explain your idea. Pick the company based on their enthusiasm, experience and ease of communications. Their quote will likely not be the cheapest. Pay attention to their human interface design recommendations.
  3. Even after the first version of the app was launched, I kept trying to make it better. Also, I learned early on that very detailed instructions were necessary. Early feedback and ratings revealed many users were either using the app incorrectly, or didn’t understand that SpyWarn worked very differently from other security apps.

Brendan CorriganBrendan Corrigan, Founder of Commit

Finding the App Idea

Commit is an iOS app that helps motivate people to achieve their goals through social and financial accountability. The idea for Commit came about over a year ago, when I was struggling (once again) to follow through on some goals I had set for myself.

One goal in particular that I was particularly feeling bad about was volunteering at my local soup kitchen. I had been going on a weekly basis for years, but that had recently become monthly, and more recently even less than that. I had never been in a position to give much in terms of money, so it was always important to give what I could of my time, and I wasn’t doing either! This is when the idea for Commit came about, and what I think was the key to progressing my idea – time and testing.

I thought if I could use money as a motivator, maybe it would be easier to get myself into the soup kitchen, or to feel less guilty when I couldn’t. I decided every time I didn’t go I would donate $10, an amount that would certainly motivate me on my laziest of Saturday mornings, but not dramatically affect my financial situation if I didn’t make it. At first it worked, except when I didn’t make it and realized no one was really holding me accountable to donating the money! I realized accountability was the important factor to this, and tested it by giving money up front to a family member who also volunteered there with me. He had no hesitation in giving the money to the soup kitchen if I couldn’t make it, and we decided he would eventually give me the balance back after 2 months, to see if it really worked. The result: it did! I made it 7 out of 8 weekends, and on that one missed weekend nothing would have made me get out of bed!

Launching the App

Once the concept was finalized, I did a lot of market researching and testing to see if others thought it would work for them, and then I decided to pursue it. I was in a fortunate position to self-fund the venture and considered it my best option at this stage, to build a minimum viable product.

Advice for Bringing an App Idea to Reality

My advice to someone else interested in pursuing their own ideas would be research, research and more research! It has helped me make the right decisions plenty of times and has gotten me this far – and a lack of research in certain cases has hurt me just as much! I have succeeded in many ways, such as successfully launching after 10 months of actual work, and being able to see the promise in the initial response, but I have a ways to go to achieve what I want. I’d say the secret that got me this far and will push me to my vision of success is persistence and never doubting my vision.

app idea to reality - Ron Spreeuwenberg of HiMamaRon Spreeuwenberg, CEO of HiMama Child Care App

Finding the App Idea

Our advice to forming an app idea is to confirm you are solving a real problem. Establishing product market fit means speaking directly to many potential customers. Sometimes, entrepreneurs assume that an interest in a product is equal to a commitment to pay for a product. It’s not. Ron met directly with hundreds of child care professionals with nothing more than a powerpoint presentation before he formally launched HiMama.

Funding the App Idea

HiMama has grown with no traditional VC funding. Funding and launching an app means you need to get out from behind your computer. Sometimes app marketers believe there are quick wins through digital marketing and social media. Real “growth hacking” requires hustle and grit. Phone calls, site visits and quiet soft launches are tried-and-true pathways to building a committed user base with sustainable growth. Important advice – monetize from the first sale.

Advice to Bringing an App Idea to Reality

Don’t overspend in your early days. Conserving cash through discovery and validation is key. Startups can waste a ton of money too quickly – do not spend a million dollars on advertising a product no one wants. Mr. Spreeuwenberg used two approaches for scaling HiMama – don’t overspend on marketing and avoid venture capital investment in the early days.

By operating on a shoestring budget, HiMama has been able to scale effectively and maintain consistent staff growth (doubling staff in the last year). Often startups feel they have to fail fast to scale, but consistent slow growth with affordable testing pays off substantially long-term.

Lori CheekLori Cheek, Founder of Cheekd

Finding the App Idea

In February of 2008, I was out to dinner with an architectural colleague. He’d spotted an attractive woman at a nearby table and scribbled, “Want to have dinner?” on the back of his business card and slipped it to her as we were leaving the restaurant. He left with a date. I left with an idea. After over two years of brainstorming how to remove the “business” out of the business card, I launched Cheekd– a deck of ice-breaking dating cards with a unique code that lead the recipient to the privacy protected online dating profile of the mysterious stranger who slipped them the card where the two could start communicating online. It was like online dating but backwards. We’ve since pivoted Cheekd into a hyper-speed mobile dating app that gives users the ability to never miss a real-life potential “love connection” thanks to a cross-platform low energy Bluetooth technology, which sends users an immediate notification when someone (within their criteria) comes within a 30-foot radius of them. It’s real-time and works on a subway or a plane without any cellular connection.

Funding the Idea

After finishing off my savings from my 15 year career in architecture, I had to get extremely creative to continue funding my business and this is where the financial sacrifices began. I made nearly $75,000 by selling my designer clothes at consignment shops and on eBay, doing focus groups, secret shopping, app testing, dog walking, house sitting, watering plants and by selling my electronics and other odds and ends around my apartment on Craigslist that all went straight back into my business. The biggest chunk of cash came from renting out my West Village Studio in NYC on AirBnB, while I couch surfed for 14 months, nearly got evicted and ultimately lost my lease of 5 years in my gorgeous apartment.

And finally, after four tumultuous years of building my startup with the wrong partners, lots of bad decisions and some major rookie mistakes, I was determined to find a way to take my business to the next level … and what better way than to apply to ABC’s Shark Tank.

In September of 2013, I found myself walking down that scary shark infested hallway into a stare off with 5 of the harshest millionaire investors in the world. I’d never been more nervous in my entire life. When I proclaimed I was going to change the population with my reverse engineered online dating business, serial entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, rolled his eyes, called me delusional and immediately snapped, “I’m out.” Billionaire investor, Kevin O’Leary, demanded that I quit my “hobby” and shoot my business—my passion– like a rabid dog. After getting shot down by all five Sharks, I looked them in the eye and said, “Trust that you’ll all see me again.” Although those final bold words of mine ended up on the cutting room floor (adding insult to injury), in the 48 hours after the broadcast, Cheekd.com received a record breaking 100K unique visitors and our inbox filled up with thousands of emails insisting that the Sharks were “out of their minds” for not investing. A little under 50 of those emails were from interested investors.

Since the Shark Tank aired in February of 2014, I found the missing links from years before. We’ve raised 5 times the amount I’d sought on the show and I’ve gotten a CTO on board who’s helped facilitate and finance the new face and technology behind the new Cheekd. The newly launched dating app allows users to solve missed connections with a new technology that was not available when the patented Cheekd idea was launched in 2010. It was only a matter of time and I’m thankful I didn’t take the Sharks advice to quit and move on.

Advice to Bringing an App Idea to Reality

Entrepreneurship is being on a mission where nothing can stop you. It will take twice as long as you’d hoped, cost exceedingly more than you’d ever budgeted and will be more challenging than anything you’ll ever try but if you give it your all and refuse to give up, you can trust it will be the ride of a lifetime. My strongest advice for others considering taking the leap is if you truly believe in your idea, give up excuses and doubt, surround yourself by a trusted and talented team, bulldoze forward and DON’T LOOK BACK.

Be focused. I’ve got a laser-focused vision to succeed and will do almost anything to keep this business flourishing.  I’m actually not surprised by my determination because as long as I can remember, I’ve been extremely stubborn. When most people would have quit, I only pushed harder. I think my personal approach, passion and dedication mixed, with my relentless conviction that failure is not an option, has been the recipe that has lead to my current success. I could be the poster child for the statement “what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.” No matter what… in the end, I’m going to have a magical and cheeky story to tell.

Darren GuccioneDarren Guccione and Craig Lurey, Co-founders of Keeper Security

Finding the App Idea

On a 40 hour flight to China and back to the United States Craig showed Darren a password manager application he was working on for his personal use. He called it his “Keeper” because the digital, encrypted vault kept all of his passwords organized and generated high strength, military-grade passwords for each of his logins. This was back in 2008 when the iPhone was about to launch; and when Darren did some research on apps that were launching in iTunes, he realized that none of them addressed this security and productivity solution on smartphones. He knew that it would be a success. By the time the two returned to the states from their plane trip the app was created and ready to launch. Keeper was bootstrapped by Darren and became profitable within 5 months.  

Advice for Bringing an App Idea to Reality

Don’t be afraid.. Most businesses fail or never even get off the ground because of fear. Develop discipline and focus. These are two habits – but they are interconnected as one in my mind. It takes discipline to stay focused and the premise of being focused is absolutely the most critical thing. I see people fail because they lack focus or give up too quickly on something.

Darren says, “Trends are concerning to me because they trap companies into thinking that production is more important than innovation. The truth is that one cannot exist without the other. I never want to be in a business that is mostly dependent on making it faster and cheaper than the others in a market. Commoditized markets are for well-established companies with massive balance sheets and money to burn if they wind up being wrong. The thing that excites me are problems or voids inside large markets.”

App Idea to Reality – Taking The First Step

If there is one piece of advice that is consistent across every app entrepreneur, it is that taking the first step is the most important. May app dreams die before they ever even start. Launching an app startup, or any business for that matter, is a learning experience. While you can learn many things by reading books and watching YouTube videos, the real information you need to grow your business comes from getting your product to your market as soon as possible – by any means necessary. Need more information before you take that first step? Contact us or set up a consultation with one of our app startup experts, and get started on bringing your awesome app idea to reality!

An Expert’s Perspective on Better App Startup Business Plans

During the seed funding stage, app entrepreneurs often turn to Google for information on writing effective app startup business plans for their mobile concepts. There is some really awesome information floating around the internet for how to write a business plan for an app, but this information doesn’t always translate into an effective and investor-ready plan. A great template will offer a general guide to organize information, but does not provide a successful approach to writing an engaging, informative and successful plan.

Have you read through sample app startup business plan PDFs on Google? Read five of them in a row, and you will be bored to death by the sixth. The secret for connecting to investors through a mobile app business plan is very similar to how authors structure novels to connect with readers. In this article, we will introduce the components of a Mobile App Startup Business Plan, and teach you how to build an awesome plan using our “Novel” approach.

What is the “Novel” Approach to Writing App Startup Business Plans?

I’d guess that the average tech investor receives dozens of business plans for apps to their e-mail each month. I’d also guess that the average app startup entrepreneur believes that this investor routinely and excitedly reads the thousands of pages they receive. Truth is, investors are either excited about or disengaged with a plan from the moment they look at the cover page.

Think about shopping in a bookstore. You’re looking randomly at a bookshelf for a great mystery novel. You see an awesome cover, and you grab the book off the shelf. Then, you flip the book over and read the summary. Sounds boring, you put it back. You repeat this process until you find one that is worth purchasing and reading.

This is the same process that investors go through when reviewing mobile application business proposals. If they see something that looks interesting, they read the executive summary, and then make a decision on whether it is worth reading or whether it fails to peak their interest.

The ThinkLions “Novel” approach to writing a business plan adopts the same principles that make novels interesting to readers. What is it about a summary that makes a reader anticipate reading an entire novel? What is it about a novel that captivates readers to willingly engage with 200 pages of text? The “Novel” approach answers these questions and applies them to the business plan writing process to create plans that are better written, more captivating, and ultimately, more successful.

Why a Mobile App Startup Business Plan is Different than a Traditional Plan

The “Novel” approach works especially well for representing a mobile app business model. While a mobile app plan has many of the same components as a traditional business plan, there are also many vast differences and considerations that must be accounted for. App startup business plans must especially consider:

  1. Size of Market: Physical businesses don’t have the reach that mobile apps do. Since 25% of the entire world is connected to a smartphone, phone app business plans must consider a much larger market. As a result, market number expectations for mobile apps can often seem unrealistic to investors.
  2. Design: UI/UX and design are extremely important in software. Your business plan should consider and explain how your application will look, feel and navigate. This is especially important if you have not built a prototype or MVP, as you will have to detail the user journey through text and visual examples.
  3. Revenue Model: Apps typically have very specific revenue model types. For example, many apps use one (or several) of the following mobile app business models to generate revenue: freemium, advertising, in-app purchases, subscriptions, or one-time fees (upfront payment to download app). Finding the right revenue model is critical for an app startup, as in some cases, there are benefits to using one specific revenue model over another.
  4. Proof of Concept: New apps are launched every day and competition is extremely high for those seeking investor funding. In the software world, investors want to see that there is a clear need and demand for your software. They don’t just want research; they want proof. Your app startup business plan should show how you have tested your concept thoroughly, and explain how results of that testing proves that there is a demand for your solution.

App Startup Business Plan: The “Novel” Mindset

There are hundreds of business plan templates available on Google. Most of them are acceptable formats for organizing your information. What’s more important than the format of your plan, is the mindframe that you have while writing your plan.

Consider what your business plan says about your brand. Not what it literally says, but what is said between the lines.

  • Tone: Depending on your brand and industry, your brand personality should be expressed through the tone of your writing. Does your brand foster a culture of humor, or expertise, or even aggression? If so, the language and tone that you use should introduce and expose these qualities.
  • Precision: When writing business plans for apps, be sure to never make opinionated assumptions. State facts or opinions that are based on strong evidence, and prove any assumptions before you write them in your plan. There is a huge difference in stating that “Teachers need apps to help them grade better” and that “78% of teachers agree that a mobile app would help them grade better”. One is an opinion, while the other is a statistic based upon real survey data.
  • Brevity & Completion: Experts often say to keep your business plan under a certain number of pages — say, 20 or 30 pages. Realistically, your plan needs to be whatever length allows you to tell the complete story of your app startup in a brief but complete manner. Sometimes however, such as when applying for incubators or accelerators, there may be a certain page length requirement. Otherwise, it’s much better to have a longer plan than a plan that leaves questions and confusion. The trick is to be direct with each point and eliminate any fluff or unnecessary information.
  • The Plot: In some ways, you are literally telling a story — the story of how your concept will grow into a sustainable and successful business. No one likes reading textbooks. We read them when we have to, but no one actually enjoys it (well, I don’t anyway). Think of your app business plan like a novel — you want to draw emotion and take readers on a journey from start to finish. Successful app startup business plans not only inform the reader, but they engage them, and in some cases, even entertain them.

Writing the App Story

To people who don’t read plans all day, the individual sections of a business plan can seem somewhat disconnected and independent of one another. However, we’re writing a novel and not a textbook. This means that each chapter isn’t a separate lesson, but a continuation of the story. The journey for a successful business plan moves from chapter to chapter, building upon the story with new information. Consider the following plot:

  • Description of the business: A great story always starts with an introduction of the character, or in the case of an app startup business plan, the Company or brand. The goal in the beginning of the story is to explain the character’s personality and mission, and to build a connection between the character (brand) and the reader. If this story were about Batman, we would start by introducing Bruce Wayne and establishing him as an important part of the story.
  • Business Objectives: In our Batman story, the first chapter would introduce us to the character, and by the next chapter, we’d know that the character’s mission and goal was to save Gotham City. Now that we have identified your character, or your brand, the next chapter of the business plan will be to display what your character hopes to achieve throughout the story, or in the case of an app startup, throughout the first several years of business.
  • Identify the Problem: At this point in a novel, the plot would present the “challenge” in the story. In a superhero story, this is where the city is being terrorized by the villain. For an app business plan, this is where you identify what issue is terrorizing your market. This chapter presents the information that builds a valid case, and proves that a problem exists and a solution is needed.
  • Present the Solution:  As Penguin reeks havoc upon Gotham City, everyone knows there is only one person who can beat him… Batman! Looking at Batman’s history, we know that he possesses the required skills and knowledge, and has the unique advantage to win a battle against Gotham’s enemies. The operational strategy portion of your app business plan will do something similar. While your app solution probably doesn’t involve wearing a cool costume, this chapter will identify why your brand is the perfect solution for the problem that your market (or your Gotham City) is facing. The management portion of your business plan will prove why your team is ideal for defeating the Joker, and why it has the unique advantage over any other superhero or brand (don’t forget, Bruce Wayne was a billionaire entrepreneur — Wayne Enterprises).
  • Show the Result: After Batman finishes kicking ass all over Gotham, the story concludes by showing the city revived back to it’s former crime-free glory. At the end, there is usually a successful ending that perfectly concludes the story with the character achieving his or her goals. In an app business plan, the result of your solution is displayed in your sales expectations, financial forecasts and valuation projections. In other words, your financials conclude your story and show the success of your character/brand as it solves the market’s problems.

I’ll admit now that I know much more about app startup business plans than I do about Batman. My apologies to any Batman fans, I haven’t watched a Batman movie since I was a kid… Does Gotham still even exist? Anyway, don’t let that deter you from the point of the article!

Investors are Human

Always keep in mind that there is a human on the other side of your business plan. If your plan is your only way to present your idea to them, make sure it is presented in a way that is compelling, captivating and worthy of their time. Use our “Novel” approach to create an app startup business plan that stands out and demands attention! Be Batman!

Do you have any tips to writing business plans that stand out? If so, leave them in the comments below!