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!

How To Find App Funding For Your Awesome App Idea

It’s not easy to secure app funding to bring your app idea to reality. Most people believe that as long as you have a good idea and a business plan, investors will be kicking down your door to invest. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case and those who find funding from any source, usually have to work extremely hard to do so. Finding someone to believe in your app as much as you do takes a tremendous level of convincing, and usually, there are many steps an entrepreneur must take before approaching investors with their ideas.

Is Your App Positioned for Funding?

The word “investor” gets thrown around so much in the app development world that it almost seems to describe one specific individual — a rich person who thinks a certain way, dresses a certain way, and invests a certain way. In reality, every app investor is different, has their own style of investing, and has their own formula for analyzing whether an investment is right for their portfolio.

Wise investors will typically consider several aspects before deciding to invest into your app startup. Typically, they want to know:   

  1. Is your app idea unique enough to succeed? Having a great idea is one thing, but having an industry-changing idea with the potential to absolutely crush competitors — well, that’s something totally different! A fundable idea is one that has an obvious unique advantage over every other competing solution; faster, cheaper, better, or so uniquely different that it supersedes any current option. Certainly, there are businesses that have succeeded by copying the exact model of another business but in today’s age, where innovation is evident amongst almost every industry, investors are more keen to invest in new ideas that are profitable, validated and scalable.
  2. Who’s on your team? Investors know that the success of any startup will be largely dependent upon the dedication and knowledge of its founding team. By nature, startup ventures are difficult to grow and require the expertise of individuals across a wide spectrum of fields: product development, finance, marketing, operations, etc. While some investors do fund sole-founders, most investors seek startups that have a team (two members at least) with a varied range of skills and expertise; members who have been successful in their fields previously, have a vast knowledge of their particular specialty, and have already established relationships that can help progress the business quickly.  
  3. Is it a business or just an idea? There is a VERY long road between “startup idea” and “launched startup”. Entrepreneurs who have not yet launched, will find themselves parked at one of a million points along this road – either closer to “idea” or closer to “launch”. Investors will want to know what you have done up to date to progress your business from point A (idea) to point B (launch). App entrepreneurs who have tested the market, researched the market, created a business plan, or successfully launched a prototype, will gain the upper hand on investors. Not only does each step help to prove their concept, but their dedication is often noticed and appreciated. Even without funding, there are many things that can be done to push the development of your app startup forward, and investors will expect to see that you have made all efforts to do so even while bootstrapping the business yourself.
  4. What’s the plan? Investors also want to know your plans — where your business goes from here, and how you will reach your objectives and goals. Typically, this is displayed through an all-inclusive business plan and pitch deck, which will show investors each step that you will take to bring your idea into fruition successfully. Having a solid plan is essential to attracting seed funding, as it shows the potential of your business and provides a strategic schematic for how you will get there.

App Funding – Angels & VCs

In many cases, when app entrepreneurs mention that they are “seeking funding”, they are referring to financing through angel investors and venture capitalists (VCs). These two terms are not interchangeable, and have completely different definitions.

  • Angel Investors are usually wealthy entrepreneurs who are less experienced in investing (when compared to VCs), and invest their own money on their own terms. Angels are usually able to fund app investments quickly, as they are the final financial decision makers. As entrepreneurs themselves, angels often have a slew of knowledge that they can share, and are valuable in helping advise the businesses in their portfolio as they progress.
  • Venture Capitalists on the other hand, invest other people’s money and are often much more experienced in investing. Usually, VCs are much slower to invest, require much more time and information, and must go through several avenues before receiving final approval. In general, venture capitalists have access to much more cash than angel investors and mostly make larger investments.

Traditionally, VCs would fund early-stage apps, as opposed to startups in the seed funding stages. However, today’s scene is much different and there are VCs that also invest in app startups — and some firms that now specifically focus on funding new promising companies.

App Funding: How it Really Happens

Although angel investors and VCs are the most “talked about” funding options, the truth is, most app ideas don’t get developed this way.

There is something to realize about funding app startups. The first investor you’re going to have to convince to make an investment, is yourself. Determined app entrepreneurs believe in their idea and their team so much that they are willing to put their finances on the line early on. Most people won’t invest in someone who isn’t willing to invest in themselves.

If three founders invest $5,000 a piece into an app idea, they will likely be able to either build several prototypes or a first version minimal viable product app. Launch your prototype to a limited number of beta customers to see whether they behave the way you believe that they would. If you don’t have a team, take the same $5,000 and invest it in effective market testing strategies such as surveys, customer interviews, smoke tests, and landing pages.

Don’t know how to come up with money to invest into your own business? Many entrepreneurs consider the following:

  • Savings: It can be scary emptying your next-egg to invest in your app idea. Entrepreneurship however, is about taking calculated risks with the expectation of a high return. Don’t expect someone else to take their savings and invest in your venture if you aren’t.  
  • Retirement Accounts: Any asset that can be liquidated can be used to fund your business, including your home equity and your retirement accounts. If you have the belief that you will one day be a multi-millionaire app entrepreneur, then you really don’t need a 401k anyway right? It takes real dedication to risk your future retirement comfort for a dream, but essentially, that’s what you’re asking others to do.
  • Loans: If you don’t have any savings or assets, you can borrow the money from someone who does, such as a bank or lending institution. Likely, your startup will not be in a position to take out a business loan, so your personal credit history will used to determine your worthiness. As a last ditch effort, you can also finance your app with credit cards — sometime an entrepreneur has to make tough decisions to move forward.

Once you have completed initial testing and have collected a significant quantity of data that supports your concept, you can start seeking outside funding. However, at this point, you still aren’t ready to approach angel investors and VCs. Instead, identify what it would take to move your app into the next stage and look for initial seed funding through:

  • Family and Friends – I already know what just went through your mind. You just said to yourself, “There’s no way I would go begging my family and friends for money to start my app.” That’s a very emotional reaction, but not the thought process of a committed app entrepreneur. You’re not ‘begging’ your friends, you are offering an opportunity to be a part of something great. Many people advise against doing business with family and friends, as it can cause issues in the relationship if any disagreements arise. In reality though, there are thousands and thousands of family-owned businesses throughout the country who have issues like every other family, but otherwise work together for their own financial gain. It can be difficult to get a stranger to believe in you and your app idea. Sometimes the only people who will believe in you are the people who know you personally and know how passionate you are about your business.
  • Crowdfunding – This option is often overlooked by startups, and in many cases, I’m not sure if its because they don’t believe that others have literally raised millions of dollars this way; or if deep down they just fear facing whether their app idea will succeed or not. Crowdfunding will tell you a lot about your app idea. Your ability to identify and reach your target market will be put to the test; whether they care for your solution enough to pre-order it will be identified; and the viability of your concept may be questioned. However, if you have built an amazing MVP and a strong following, crowdfunding can be one of the quickest routes to startup funding.
  • Incubators – This option has been increasing in popularity, resulting in more incubators popping up all over the country. The great thing about many incubators is that some fund app startups in their idea/conceptual stages. In addition to providing funding for low equity amounts (i.e. $20,000 seed funding in exchange for 8% of the brand), these incubators often provide access to experienced advisors who can assist in propelling the app in its operation, and also provide further assistance with seeking venture capital.

Making The First Step Towards App Funding

Funding is the single reason that 95% of app ideas never get built. Many people think it is extremely difficult to find the money to build an app, but if it is worth the risk to you, there are many options available. The first step towards funding your app solution to is make a decision. Make it clear to yourself just how serious you are about starting your app.

Need to speak to an app startup expert about how to fund your app startup? Contact us and see what options are best for you.

How To Write The Best Investor-Ready Mobile App Business Plan

When it comes to launching an app startup, having a strong mobile app business plan is important. In the beginning, an app startup business plan helps you plot out your ideas and view your business across several perspectives. During the funding stage, having a business plan becomes a key piece in showcasing the details of your app startup to investors. Writing a business plan can seem difficult – there are many factors to consider and it isn’t easy turning it all into one cohesive strategy. A Google search on business plans pulls up a million different opinions, and 5,000 different templates. Selecting which is the “right” template to use can prove to be tricky, and taking the wrong advice can prove harmful to your funding efforts.

Here at ThinkLions, we’ve written hundreds of business plans and have worked with entrepreneurs across the world to develop app business plans that have raised millions of dollars in seed funding. If it’s one thing we know, it’s business plans for apps – and we want to teach you everything there is to know! While it would take us years to write up everything we have learned over our many years of business, in this post, we’ll give you some really awesome tips to help you draft the perfect business plan.

Do I Need A Business Plan For My App Idea?

While opinions vary on whether app startups need business plans, in our experience, a solid mobile app business plan is always useful. In essence, a mobile app business plan will effectively present your app idea and tie together multiple operational elements to create the story of how your app business will grow from an idea to success. Business plans come in handy across many situations when trying to present your app idea to another person. Here are a few examples of previous clients who were definitely happy that they had a business plan for their mobile app concept:

  1. James was a solo entrepreneur when he asked us to write his business plan. When he hired us for business planning services, his goal was to submit his business plan to a local startup incubator that would help grow his business. The incubator rejected him because they only accepted teams with two or more founders. James was later introduced to an interested tech-entrepreneur who already had two mobile applications launched in the market. Chris, the entrepreneur, was interested in James’ idea and asked him for his business plan so he could understand it better. Luckily for him, James already had one handy. James never made it to the incubator; instead, Chris partnered with him 50/50 and funded the launch of his app idea!
  2. An app startup team approached us last year with the idea of launching an app in the financial space. Initially, they wanted an app business plan so that they could understand their business and market better. After the plan was completed, they submitted it to gain entry into a Pitch Competition. With some consultation, they landed first place in the competition and earned $10,000 towards developing their app. Furthermore, an investor in the audience was so impressed with their pitch, that they offered a seed funding of $75,000 in exchange for an early ownership in the business.
  3. Kelly had launched a bare-bones app for pet owners, along with 6 of her friends. While they all had invested money, they had no idea what to do going forward. Members of the team were spending money irresponsibly on any trendy marketing technique, and they had no cohesive strategy to move forward. After working with ThinkLions, Kelly was able to clearly identify a niche market and come up with a plan to reach this market with her app. With a plan, the team was quickly able to stay on track and increased registrations to their app by over 100% in less than 60 days. After updating the mobile app business plan with new achievements, Kelly’s team was able to secure a seed funding investment of $25,000 from a local investor.

A business plan ensures that you know specific things about your business, before seeking funds or going into the development stages. Writing the best mobile app business plan early on can save you the headache of rushing to write one when an interested investor says, “Sounds good, let me see your plan!”

What’s In A Mobile App Business Plan?

Sometimes, specific business plan layouts are required when seeking funding from investors, incubators and banks. Generally however, there are several particular sections that will be included in some form, no matter what the layout. Even with our international clients, we have found that these informational categories are still pertinent.

You won’t be hard pressed to find a business plan template online. Instead of simply giving you the structure of a app startup business plan, I thought it would be more informative to use my experience and summarize the thought process of each of these sections. Knowing how to approach this information will help you feel more confident when you begin writing out the details for your own business plan.   

Executive Summary

Mobile app business plans begin with an executive summary, although this section is typically written last. By most definitions, an executive summary would be a short version of each section of your business plan. I agree… sort of. A great executive summary DOES summarize all the important details of your business into just a couple of pages, but furthermore, it should also be a persuasive and informative sales pitch. What are you selling, you ask? You are selling your worthiness for their attention. Your executive summary should say, “This is a great app business. It’s bound to grow, it’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s everything that you want to be a part of.” It should do this by the way, without exceeding two pages. The payoff for an executive summary is rarely an investment into your app business, but instead, it is an attention magnet to make readers curious for more.

Tip: Put all of your best details into the executive summary. Avoid any fluff. Make sure to highlight the business’ current achievements. Think of the executive summary like the back of a novel. Does it leave you anxious to dive in and read the rest of the book?

Business Description & Information

Use this section to explain your mobile app concept and introduce your business. This section includes information related to corporate values, objectives & goals, product description and key success factors. The point of this section is not only to describe your business, but to explain what your business has accomplished and what they plan to accomplish in the future.

Tip: Stick to the facts, but make sure the facts are worthy enough to put on the paper. It’s easy to go on and on about your idea and to explain 20 different functions that your app will have. In an app startup business plan though, stick to the things that make your app different or better suited to the market. Describe the problem that your consumers face and make sure that you implicitly show how your app will solve this problem. Think of this section as the “What?” Every following section will be “How?”. Tell them what your app idea is in this section, and in the following sections, we’ll tell them how you’ll get that idea to the market, and eventually, to success.

Market & Customer Analysis

This research section is where you provide the background for your story. In this section, the mobile app business plan shifts from what you believe your app business is, to the hard data that proves your business is viable and that there is actually a need and demand for your solution. Analyze your market through secondary research, industry surveys, market reports, and most importantly – first hand primary research. Use your research to estimate how large your market is (by revenue or number of consumers, for example), and try to discover how the industry is performing, trending and transitioning. Typically in a mobile app business plan, we stick to the following process:

  1. Customer Profile: First, we plot out who our target consumers are. We don’t just explain them, we give them a face and a name. We imagine who they are, what their life is like, what they do for a living, how much money they make, and the challenges they face. We also analyze how our solution can be used to help that specific customer – how they would find the app, why they would use it, how they would use it, and etc. This allows readers to easily visualize what type of consumer we serve and how the app would fit into their life.
  2. Research: Now that we know what customers we serve, we move into the research phase. We take any pre-existing knowledge we have of the market and combine it with industry research to form a profile of the total market. We seek to identify how many people face the problem that we are trying to solve, where they seek information, how they currently solve their issue, and how much money they spend each year. With this information, we perform a TAM-SAM-SOM analysis to help us identify not only how many people are in our market, but how many of them we can realistically reach with the mobile app solution.
  3. Insights: Finally, we consider how all this research pertains to our app idea. Is there a real market? Is there enough people in the market, spending enough money? Would people pay to have their challenge solved? The entire point of the research section is to prove that a need exists for your particular app — have you proven it?

Marketing Strategy

At this point in your plan, you’ve detailed your awesome mobile app concept, identified a niche market, and proved a sufficient need within that market. Using this information, you now must decide how you will reach potential users, introduce them to your app, and persuade them to download and use it.

Investors want to know that there is a clarified strategy in place for getting your app to the market. The better you can explain this plan with clear steps, backed with accurate data, the more likely you are to persuade an investor to help fund your the development of your app.

Tip: There are many marketing strategies and techniques available from PPC to social media, and beyond. Choosing which one is right for your business can be difficult. Start small, test your ideas. Over time, as you identify techniques that are working on a small level, scale them upwards and eliminate the strategies that aren’t showing potential. Furthermore, look at your competitors and identify how they are successfully reaching consumers. The more you know about what has and has not worked for your competitors, the easier it will be to avoid the obstacles that they may have faced previously.

Competitive Analysis

If you haven’t heard this before, let me stress a very important point: No matter how innovative your app is, there ARE competitors. Maybe no other app offers exactly what you offer, but there is some other app, process, product or service that consumers are currently using to solve their problem.

Knowing who your competitors are is important, but knowing their position and operation within the market is a vital key to building a successful business. Investors will want to know that you have detailed knowledge of your competitors and that you have identified valid methods to exploit their weaknesses through your product strengths; creating a path to position yourself ahead of them.

Operational Strategy

To be effective, it is vital to consider how your app business will operate on a day-to-day basis and how you will build and maintain customer relations. This section will contain information related to how customer service will be handled, how quality assurance will be maintained, how your app will be developed, who will manage the business, and more. In addition, this section will highlight the user process – how the user will behave from the moment they learn about your app until they spend their first dollar. One of the largest components of this section is the personnel plan, which outlines when and how employees will be hired; how their salaries will be expensed; and how their positions will help progress the business.

Management & Advisor Bios

As mentioned previously, investors heavily consider the abilities of the “team” behind the app startups that they fund. In this section of the business plan, these members can be showcased, and their skills be highlighted to prove that the team has what it takes to propel the startup to success. In addition to co-founders and board members, this section will allow you to explain different advisor relationships you have secured; valuable relationships with non-executive members who are successful in related fields who have agreed to consult and advise the founders as they launch and grow their business.

Financial Model

Once all of this information has been compiled (excluding the executive summary), the financial model can be prepared. App entrepreneurs often find preparing their financial model to be difficult and beyond their comprehension. However, if you have prepared all of the previous information correctly, you should know exactly what you will need to fund in order to push the plan forward. The financial model should include a 3 to 5-year projection of all the essential forecast models, including: Profit & Loss, Cash Flow, Balance Sheet, Startup Table, and Valuation.

It’s Not Just Words And Numbers

That finishes the easy stuff. Many entrepreneurs mistakenly think that a mobile app startup business plan is just about plopping down some words on a page. They rush off to download a free business plan program, answer a few questions or fill in a few blanks, and believe that they now have a business plan that will help them reach their goals. What your business plan says, is important; but how you deliver the message may be the determining factor to whether you win or lose at securing funding for your app. These three elements are what we refer to as the ‘secret sauce’ of business plans.

  1. Passion: I must admit, I’ve been suckered in to more late-night infomercial products than I care to admit. On another occasion, I allowed this great door-to-door salesman to convince me to buy a huge box of steaks that were tougher than leather and tasted like Alpo Dog Food. Passion and enthusiasm sells… in a business plan too. It’s not just the words on a page, it’s the passion that is felt behind those words. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious traits, and your enthusiasm alone may be enough to make someone else passionate about what you are doing. Don’t write your plan to simply fill in paragraphs in a “template”, make every word count and make every thought express your tremendous passion for your business, brand, and app idea.
  2. The Story: Innovative apps are cool, but an app startup with a story… well that’s captivating! What situation happened that led the founders to come up with the app idea? What problem did it solve for them specifically, that they know it will also solve for others? It’s not just about having a story, it’s about having a story that is relatable to the reader (or investor) – one that aligns with their experience or differs you from your competitors. Consider a company that is building a GPS device for dogs, where owners can use their mobile device to track exactly where their dog is at any moment, in case they get lost. Maybe the founder lost her dog that she had for 10 years and looked at as her own child. Maybe she invented the device and app to ensure that no other pet owner would ever have to go through the heartbreak that she did after never recovering her companion. An investor who has gone through a similar situation would be able to relate instantly, and would be more prone to have an interest in the idea than if the story was never told.
  3. Viability: Is the plan you present truly viable? Could you actually reach the goals that you have set forth? It’s more than just having a “dreamer’s vision” here, it is about truly showcasing that your idea has legs to stand on. The single most important factor for most investors, is whether they will make money. They don’t want your dreams, they want evidence, and the more your plan showcases this viability, the more potential you have to getting an investment.

Getting Started With Your Mobile App Business Plan

The hardest part of a mobile app business plan is writing the first page. Many people quit on their business plan before they even get started on it. Writing a business plan for apps isn’t easy; there is a lot that needs to be known about your business, a lot of research that needs to be accomplished, and a lot of specialty knowledge needed to properly transform your thoughts into a successful document.

If you’re finding it tough to write your own app startup business plan, we have an expert team ready to help you get on a track! Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and find how we can help you reach your app dreams!