The Best Ways
To Raise Seed Funding
For Your App Startup

Anybody can launch an app, but if your goal is to build an app startup that has the potential for large scale success – well, at some point you’re likely going to need to know how to raise seed funding. Building an app is an expensive undertaking; it can cost tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring a full-scale app to the market. Once you launch it, you’ll need additional capital to fund your marketing efforts and actually get users to the app. Knowing how to raise seed funding is critical to a startup’s business plans, as many major app startups must go through several funding rounds to maintain progress until profitability is reached.

Everyone with an app idea and a pitch deck believes that they are ready to pitch VCs and secure a large investment to bring their idea to life. Unfortunately, of the millions of app startups (or pre-startups) out there, very few of them are actually in a position to secure even a minimum amount of initial funding. In this guide, we will answer everything you want to know about how to raise seed funding and convince investors to invest in your app startup.

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Is Your App Startup Fundable?

Is Your App Startup Fundable?

Often, entrepreneurs who have not been through the process of obtaining funding mistakenly assume that just having a great app idea is enough. It isn’t. These entrepreneurs are quickly humbled when they pitch their idea for the first time only to be hammered with questions that they weren’t prepared to answer. The truth is, an idea on it’s own has zero value to app investors. Everyone has the next idea that will “completely disrupt the industry!”; or the next “Uber for ____” idea; or the next idea for an app that will “really change our lives!” Mark Hurd (CEO of Oracle) once said, “Without execution, ‘vision’ is just another word for hallucination.” Unfortunately, very few app ideas ever become apps, and very few apps ever become fundable startups.

There are several steps between the app idea stage and the seed capital raising stage – and even if you know how to raise seed funding, you probably won’t if you haven’t at least progressed your startup to a certain position. At minimum, a fundable startup will have reached these three milestones before raising seed capital:

  1. Established Startup Team: A single-member team isn’t a startup team at all. Building a business takes more work than most first-time entrepreneurs can ever imagine, and doing it alone is usually too much work for one individual. Your team should be complete with several professionals that have an extensive breadth of knowledges, experiences and backgrounds. Each member should have a specific job that relates to their skill set, and particular talents that add major value to the overall organization. When you’re raising seed capital, potential investors will lean heavily on the strength of your startup team when making a funding decision.
  2. Validated Idea: It is not always necessary to have a full-fledged and already launched app to get seed funding for a startup business. However, it is necessary that you have tested the idea with real users and that you have validated every assumption. It’s not enough to assume that a demand exists for your app or to assume that your idea is the one that will effectively meet this demand. Ideally, you should have a functional minimal viable product with real customers using it, and should already be producing some type of revenue.
  3. Developed Strong Pitch: Even if you have a great startup, if you can’t communicate why it’s great, you’ll have no chance of convincing investors to trust you with their money. Make sure your business plan is strong, have an effective startup pitch deck in place and practice your pitch until it is ready to be delivered confidently, at a moment’s notice.

If you haven’t accomplished these three requirements, all of your efforts should be going into doing so – especially before seeking initial funding from seed investors.

You Already Know Your First Investor

There is one person out there that is in the perfect position to invest in your app idea – and you already know them. You guessed it…. It’s you! There is a bootstrapping stage to every successful startup. Some startups do so well in this phase that they bootstrap their way to success without giving away any equity for initial funding. Taking just the first steps towards building an app takes time, energy and money; and before you can ask someone else to invest their resources, you’ll need to invest in yourself.

By definition, an entrepreneur is an individual who takes risks to reap a large reward. It is quite the irony that many app entrepreneurs want seed funding firms to risk their funds, but aren’t willing to risk their own. Even those who have very little savings can access funds if they are committed to putting in the effort and taking a risk to pursue their idea. Ready to invest in yourself? Here are a few ways you can access funds to get your app idea into the minimal viable product stages:

  1. Business Plan Contests: Although many business plan contests also require businesses to be at a certain level before entering, some lower-prized contests and events also allow entrepreneurs to pitch in the idea stage. Some of these events may offer several thousands of dollars in prize money which can be used as seed capital funding to build a prototype or launch a first version minimal app.
  2. Crowdfunding: One of the best validation tests for your app idea is crowdfunding. If you believe that consumers in your market would really find value in your app, this method allows you to bring it to them pre-development and allow them to support it with their donation. However, succeeding with a campaign is not as easy as it may seem. It takes much work to successfully promote a contest, and the rewards must be worthwhile. App startups that have been effective with this approach however, have been able to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in initial revenue while forming a strong consumer base.
  3. Loans: We take out loans in our everyday personal lives, but for many entrepreneurs, personal loans have also been used to fund the launch of their startups. To secure a loan, you will need to have decent personal credit – likely you will not have established enough business credit at this point to secure a business loan. Before taking out a loan of any kind, make sure you understand the terms of your agreement and that you can afford to pay back the required monthly payments.
  4. Credit Cards: While only recommended as a last resort, many entrepreneurs have financed portions of their businesses on credit cards. Unfortunately, credit cards often have high interest rates, so you will pay much more to access these funds; but they are also quite easily accessible by anyone with a decent credit score. Again, it is important to only borrow money that you can comfortably pay back. Financing should only be used to better your position, but it can severely worsen your position if not careful.  

How To Find Seed Money For Your App Startup

How To Find Seed Money For Your App Startup

There is no shortage of seed money investors out there – some of them are obvious, some are hidden in plain sight, and some don’t even know that they are investors yet (maybe they need some convincing first). You may not know anyone who meets the requirements of an ‘angel investor’, but without a doubt, you can access investors if you try hard enough. If you want to know how to raise seed funding for your app startup, here’s a few places to start:

  • Explore Your Network: There is no better way to begin a positive relationship with an investor than through a direct referral. A great referral can move the startup/investor relationship several steps ahead before the two even have a chance to officially meet one another. Take inventory of everyone you know, and who they know. Tell people about your business and let them know that you are looking for app investors. Six degrees of separation is a real thing, and you probably don’t have to go six whole degrees to find potential seed money investors to pitch.
  • Join An Incubator: App incubators are made to take apps from their initial phases and to bring them to a fundable level. Many incubators have connections with app angel investors, seed funding firms and VC partners; and some are launched by VC firms themselves. Furthermore, many app incubators provide some type of initial seed money, in exchange for a small equity percentage, to help businesses bring their ideas to life.
  • Promote On Investor Platforms: With software startup financing being at an all time high, app funding sites have sprung up like spring weeds; acting as a bridge between fundable startups and angel investors. Sites such as Gust, AngelList and Dealroom allow businesses to set up profiles and promote their startups directly to investors. Even without knowing exactly how to raise seed fundings, investor platforms give startups direct access to investors that looking for amazing deals. These platforms are extremely competitive however, and to succeed in raising funds startups must meet several requirements to help them stand out against other startups.

How To Prepare for Seed Funding

How To Prepare for Seed Funding

Once you know how to raise seed funding and how to find investors, you will also need to learn how to attract them and convince them to invest in your business. These seven tips will position you for the most success when seeking a seed investment:

  1. Make your elevator pitch count – Sometimes, you only have a few seconds to make a good impression with an app investor. An entrepreneur should be able to effectively explain their business within just a sentence or two. Make sure that your elevator pitch is simple in content but offers enough information to draw curiosity. Your elevator pitch should be refined, reworked and optimized frequently until the most effective version has been established.
  2. Be the expertEntrepreneurs can become so fixated on all the features and functions of their app idea that they miss important things happening within their industry. Investors put their capital in people that they believe have the knowledge and expertise to truly deliver a successful product; and if you want them to invest in you, you must have an above-average knowledge of your market, industry and competitive landscape. Moves that your competitors make will have a direct impact on your startup, as will trends in the industry, government policy, and other important factors that may relate to the potential success of your idea.
  3. Know the numbersThere is one thing every investor cares about, and that is, whether their capital investment will produce a positive return. During your pitch, it is likely that you will be asked about sales, the number of users on your app, revenue, profits, projected revenue, funding requirements and more. Don’t pitch a seed money investor without knowing the numbers that represent your business. If they ask you about these numbers, and they will, you will lose major points if you fumble over their questions and will lose all credibility if you accidentally misrepresent them.
  4. Have a pitch deck readyDon’t wait until you’ve got an investor meeting scheduled to start working on your pitch deck; get it ready ahead of time so that you can focus on perfecting your pitch on the days leading up to your meeting, instead of building slides. Create a pitch deck that is captivating, compelling and that tells a story that investors can easily follow. Design is important, but use it minimally to enhance your pitch so it doesn’t draw attention away from the slide’s content.
  5. Show a demoTalking about how your pre-developed app will operate can possibly help app investors visualize it in real use, but showing a demo leaves a lasting impression. A demo or prototype may not be a totally functional app, but it allows potential investors to interact with your software and “experience” it for themselves.
  6. Pitch it wellThe key to pitching seed money firms or investors confidently is practice, practice and more practice. Practice your pitch in front of a mirror; record yourself and play it back for critique; pitch it in front of friends and family, and get their feedback; pitch it EVERY CHANCE YOU GET! Eventually, pitching your app idea will become second nature – the more you practice it, the quicker your confidence will build.
  7. Evaluate and optimizeUnfortunately, you won’t convince every investor to invest; but you will receive valuable feedback each and every time you pitch your app concept. Don’t lose sleep over an investor’s critique of your startup, but use their feedback to optimize your pitch. Each time you get rejected, you learn more and more about how to raise seed funding. Identify the weaknesses in your pitch and in your business, and strengthen them until they are no longer seen as weaknesses.

How To Raise Seed Funding – The Process

Knowing how to raise seed funding for an app is about as beneficial as having just an app idea – it means nothing without execution. In your startup journey, it is vital to be honest with yourself about whether your startup is truly fundable, or if you need to put in more legwork to validate your idea first. Once you know how to raise seed funding, that’s where the real work begins – because now you have to do it! 

How To Raise Seed Funding - The Process

Can’t decide what the next step is in your seed funding journey? Contact us today and schedule a free consultation with one of our app startup experts!

How To Win A Business Plan Contest

A well developed business plan creates the foundation on which a successful startup will be able to establish itself, and is especially necessary when considering participation in a business plan contest or pitch event. When every factor is considered – market and industry, finance, marketing, operations, and etc. – success becomes a long-term plan as opposed to a hope for a stroke of startup luck. Along with a solid pitch and pitch deck, a business plan is a critical element in your journey to landing a successful seed funding round. Writing an investor-ready business plan can be difficult, but securing funding without a solid plan in place is pretty much impossible.

Once you finally get the perfect business plan written, what’s next? For those who are far enough along in their business, submitting the plan directly to investors might be a wise step. For those who aren’t quite ready to approach VCs yet, but could use a financial boost to get thing going, participating in business plan contests can be a tremendous help. Not only do these competitions often provide significant rewards for the winners, they also often draw the attention of angels, VCs and even corporations looking to invest in or partner with the next billion dollar startup. Unfortunately, where there is honey there are bees – business plan contests often attract some of the brightest minds, and the higher the reward, the more competition you can expect. In this post, we’ll explore everything you need to know to find a great business plan contest, enter it with confidence, and win against other participating startups!

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The Benefits of Winning A Business Plan Contest

Business plan competitions are beneficial platforms that allow entrepreneurs to showcase their idea, product or startup to a group of judges. Often, these competitions involve pitching the idea or startup to judges over one or more rounds. Once each competing startup has presented, judges vote on which business (or businesses) will receive the offered reward.

While business plan competitions highly benefit winning startups, they offer immense benefits to investors who attend them also – access to early stage businesses that they can invest in before others have the opportunity. Furthermore, these competitions work to even out the playing field for entrepreneurs who otherwise may not have access to investors – winning a business plan contest could be the difference between funding your business’ launch or failing before you even get the chance to begin.

The most obvious benefit of winning a business plan contest is winning the offered reward. The reward value of these contests can vary from small amounts to extremely large amounts.  For example, the Panasci Business Plan Competition by Syracuse University offers around $35,000 in total rewards, while the Rice Business Plan Competition offers over $1.2 million in seed funding to it’s winners and runner-ups. Winning the right competition can impact your business greatly; providing you with the app funding required to progress your business from the app idea phase to launch and beyond. There is something that should be considered however – some business plan competitions may come with specific conditions that must be met to receive the funding; such as headquartering the business in a certain location, offering up an equity percentage, or being involved in a startup incubator for some length of time.

High-profile angels and VCs often attend larger business plan competitions, and even participants that don’t win the contest may attract the attention of an investor. In some cases, teams that don’t win may end up with larger investments than those who the judges selected for first place. Investors aren’t always looking for the same things in a startup; your idea might not be of much interest to the judges, but may be exactly what an attending investor was looking for! These investors aren’t only good for the funds they bring – some of them may provide a critical mentorship component to your startup; helping to advise your team for greater success down the line.

Lastly, one of the least recognized but most effective benefits of participating in a business plan competition is having your business plan and startup critically reviewed by experienced judges, entrepreneurs and investors. Even if you don’t win, the insight provided by the panel of judges will offer different perspectives regarding your startup. Ultimately, by applying this insight, you can further position your startup for success when participating in future events.

Finding The Right Business Plan Contest

The unique beauty of business plan contests is that they are relatively ubiquitous – and today, more competitions are popping up than ever before. A variety of organizations, educational institutions, and even individuals organize business plan competitions to seek out investable and fundable business ideas. In general, most business plan contests can be grouped into two categories:

  1. University Competitions: Many major universities organize some type of business plan contest through their business school. Eligibility may vary from contest to contest, but these contests are typically only available to those connected to the business program – students, alumni, and in some cases, even on-staff professionals. Due to these eligibility requirements, competition is generally limited – which means that participants have a much larger chance of winning when compared to contests with less regulation. Furthermore, universities know that any successful startups launched through these contests will give their business program a major boost in visibility and credibility. As a result, universities often go a step above to support winners of these programs – providing additional on-campus resources or even access to alumni professionals that can help them advance their businesses.
  2. Sponsored Contests: Sponsored business plans are those that are planned and hosted by an organization, corporation, individual or other entity. Specifically, these organizers ‘sponsor’ the competition – organizing the event, involving investors and judges, and securing rewards to incentivize winners and participants. Sometimes, these competitions may be sponsored by companies within a specific sector such as biotech, healthcare, urban transit, architecture, and etc.; while other times they may be part of a larger startup incubator or accelerator program.  

Business plan and pitch deck competitions take place several times each year in most major cities – and even in many less popular upcoming startup regions. If you are a student or an alumni, check with your university to see if they have a business plan competition in place – if not, maybe you can help them organize one! For those who are not eligible to join a university-sponsored competition, a simple Google search will provide you with several options. Search for “industry name + business plan contest” or “city + business plan contest” to see what upcoming business plan contest events you may be eligible to participate in.

Winning Big At Your First Business Plan Contest

Participating in a business plan contest can be extremely valuable, but the real goal is to win – and to win big! The key to winning a business plan competition of any type is to know what the judges are looking for and to position your startup, business plan and pitch to exceed their expectations.

Judging The Judges

In general, whether you win a business plan contest or not will hinge upon how your business idea is perceived by the panel of judges, and how they perceive you as an entrepreneur and presenter. It is worth noting that judges often come from various backgrounds with varied experiences; what may be a top consideration for one judge may make little difference to another. However, most judges compare businesses on at least the following three factors:

  1. Originality: Successful business ideas need to be original in nature and able to improve upon an existing solution, solve a wide-scale problem, or effectively meet the current market demand. Businesses that simply spin-off from other successful ideas are not looked upon favorably by judges or investors – since they usually have little advantage to compete against already established players. To win a business plan contest, it is essential that your idea is fresh, scalable, sustainable and eventually, profitable.
  2. Ability To Generate Profit: Even the most creative ideas need to be able to turn a profit at some point. Understandably, most investors aren’t interested in funding businesses that won’t provide them with a return in the long-run. In order to gain interest in your business during a contest, your business plan should show exactly how your business will provide a return for investors in the long-term. While some investors may be interested in other aspects of a business, such as their social consciousness or involvement, the majority of investors are looking for opportunities to grow their portfolio by investing in businesses that are capable of generating strong profits.
  3. Effective Presentation: It’s not always the best idea that wins a business plan competition. A perfect business plan and an exciting idea means very little if an entrepreneur can not properly convey their message during their presentation. In most contests, participants are given a set time limit (such as 10 minutes) to present – and expressing all the necessary information within this time period can be rather difficult. Judges look for confident entrepreneurs who can articulate their business enough to convey the efficacy and scalability of their idea properly. The knowledge an entrepreneur needs to possess doesn’t end with just the text presented in their business plan or pitch deck. Most often, there is a Q&A portion during these events in which the entrepreneur will be required to answer specific questions by judges and investors. The inability to answer these questions properly and confidently can quickly dissuade an investor from investing, or can cause a judge to give a lower score than they would have otherwise.

Preparing For Business Plan Contest Success

Success at these events are often linked to how well an entrepreneur has prepared themselves beforehand. One thing is certain – your competitors will be prepared; and if you aren’t, it will be embarrassingly noticeable. Unfortunately, in a business plan contest, there is no way to mask unpreparedness, especially among an audience of experienced entrepreneurs and investors. To best prepare for an upcoming business plan competition, consider the following tips:

  • Sell A Strong Team: There is one thing that’s more important than having a great business plan – having a strong and experienced team that can actually execute it. Management teams are what bind all the elements of a business plan together; combining the skills necessary to put the plan into action successfully. It is vital that your team encompasses a broad range of skills and that each team member has a specific job that will lead to the startup’s success.
  • Present The Problem First: Startups that win (in contests and in general) are those that truly solve an existing problem – whether the problem is shared by a mass group of people, or by a niche audience. There’s a lot of “cool tech” out there, but even simple ideas can solve major problems. Taxis have existed for decades, but a simple idea like ride-sharing changed the way the world views personal transportation. Prepare a pitch that is challenge/solution heavy by focusing on what the problem is, why individuals experience the issue, why current solutions don’t solve the challenges effectively, and why your product/service is the right solution for the problem.
  • Know Your Funding Requirements: Investors don’t want their funds to just sit in an account; they want to know that there is a plan in place to use these funds and effectively scale a startup from its current position. Have a funding plan in place – know how much funding is required, what actions need to be completed to successfully progress the business, and how each dollar will be spent to meet your launch or growth objectives.
  • Be The Expert: If there is any gap in your business plan, it will be uncovered during the Q&A stage. Investors and judges are highly experienced in asking the right questions to get a full picture of your startup and to gauge whether you are well-informed about your business, market and the issue that you are attempting to solve. It’s not a good sign when an investor or judge knows more about your business than you do. Ensure that your business plan is all-encompassing with vital information, and that you can answer any necessary questions without needing to reference your business plan. During the Q&A session, you should be able to answer questions proficiently, confidently, and with enough expertise to prove that you know exactly what you are talking about.
  • Listen, Learn and Apply: You can’t win every business plan or pitch contest, but you can definitely take the insights given during one competition and use it to propel your potential for success in future contests. It’s not everyday that you’re able to receive critical feedback from a group of investors, and when you can, you should take advantage of it as much as possible. Even if you don’t win anything in a business plan competition, the insights gained can be used to catapult your business to the next level.

Writing A Business Plan That Wins

Even if everything else is perfect – if you want to win, you must begin with a well-thought out, perfectly articulated and investor-ready business plan that tells your startup’s story in an effective manner. There are many factors to consider when writing a business plan from proper market analysis to financial projections – and any weak point in your plan will decrease your chances of winning. If you need more advice on writing a business plan, see our business plan guide or contact one of our experts today for a free business plan 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.

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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 over complicating 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.

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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 office
One 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; 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 room
Building 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.

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Do You Have The Right 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.

Do You Have The Right Idea

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?

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.

Is Your App Really That Different

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.

Is Your App Scalable

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?

What Is App Success

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.

App Success Stories

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.

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Chris Kane
Chris 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 Goldschmidt
Estee 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 Morris
Kyle 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 Lawrence
Thomas-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 Murray
Kevin 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 Corrigan
Brendan 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 HiMama
Ron 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 Cheek
Lori 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, 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 Guccione
Darren 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!