I often get asked: “How do I start a technology company (or build an app)?”
I put together a quick video on this summarizing the things I’ve learnt from my mistakes (and successes) along the way and h
ow we launched our products. I'd like to share with you some best practices and ideas on how to do that. If you’ve already built your technology and need to know how to launch it best then read “How Do I Get My Idea Off The Ground”. Obviously do your research before beginning but I’m here to help. The video
has been written below for further reading.
1. Don't Build Your App Yet... Validate It.
So, the first thing you have to realize when you have an idea for an app, or a platform, or some sort of software development idea; is to NOT go and develop that software just yet. What you need to do is you need to validate your idea first and foremost, no matter how good of an idea you think it is. You need to ensure that it solves a problem or brings value to your prospective user or client, and also define who that prospective user or client is, and then validate that assumption as well.
What are you assumptions about your idea and how can you validate them?
So, you want to first start asking a lot of questions to your prospective clients, or who you think would actually utilize this. You can call them up or visit them, or say "this is my idea, I'm building this, would this solve your problems or would this help? And they might say, n
o I don't really have that problem, or they might say, yeah, but it would need to solve this problem and that problem or whatever the case is. Understanding what their actual concerns or problems are is key. Sometimes you talk to three to five people, and your idea completely changes. Lastly, does your idea have REAL VALUE. <- Link coming soon about that topic on it’s own.
2. During Validation get documented interest ideally through a signature or pre-payment.
So you have to understand what their concern is. Now, this is a really critical time that you
can actually get “indicators of interest”; meaning when you go and talk to those people, what you can say is: “okay, sir/ ma'am, if I built this, and it satisfied the needs of this, this, and this, a, b, c, would you buy this?” And if they say, yeah, I would buy it. Make them understand “obviously we're going to show you a product before you have to actually financially commit to anything, but if I build this would you buy it?” And if they say “yeah, I probably would” you respond “awesome, can you just sign this paper letting me know that you're interested, and you would consider buying this at this price if we satisfied these three to five needs”.
3. Show Traction
So what that does, is show proof of interest (or proof of concept). Once you get enough of those and talk to enough people; you can use that as a way to get investors, because you're actually showing that you've gone out and done your homework and that there is a demand, and there is a market for it and most importantly you KNOW who your market is and what they want. So that will help with validation and the initial stages of TRACTION.
Traction basically means your idea is starting to stick. You will often be asked “what traction do you have” or “what’s your traction”.
The first thing that you will need to do when you're starting an app or software company or anything like that, is to not actually build any software at all, is to just get out there and ask some questions.
4. Build a Wireframe
Once you've got some questions asked and you have a concept of what the actual needs are
for your target market, and what their demands are then what you do is build a wireframe. And this can be super basic as it does not have to be complicated. You can draw it on a whiteboard if need be. A wireframe shows what the screens will look like in black and white without any design, just what the main features are of it, how it would flow, and how a user would flow through the platform. Now before you do this, it would be best to keep in mind some layout principles, so you'll want to look at the most commonly used and intuitive layouts that people naturally know. So you'll have one for iPhone and you'll have one for Android or desktop. By building those, you actually have a foundation, an idea of what it will look like and how it will function.
5. Build a Prototype
Next, you can use some fairly inexpensive software online to bring those wireframes to life. A prototype will show the LOOK, FEEL, FLOW and ideal FUNCTIONS (but will not actually function as that requires working data etc) Some good prototype builders are Invision, Marvel, Proto.io, or if you like Adobe there is Adobe XD.
That will allow you to build those wireframes, meaning a basic image of the screens; and allow you to add hotspots to those screens so that you can click through. That way you get the look and the feel of how it flows as well as the initial design you’d like to apply. It's not going to have the functionality or be hooked up to any databases or anything, so it won't actually be the app, but it will allow you to have a prototype of what the app would look like and get more feedback from users on the usability and intuitiveness of it.
6. Test Your Prototype
So once you've asked the right questions, you've got indicators of interest from your prospective market, now you actually have a wireframe of what it would look like, feel like, and do. Then you go about testing your wireframes, and you go back to those same people ideally, and you ask them, hey can you use this? You put it in their hands and say, just tell me what you're thinking as you walk through this. And there's a really great principle that you can use, it's called the Google Design Sprint, and you can use that methodology to get the right feedback on the user experience of your software. Oftentimes you'll talk to three to five people, these people should be actual potential customers or your target market; not your friends and your family who might just tell ya, like yeah, you're doing awesome and give you all this awesome support but it might not be the actual feedback that you need. So, so, go and get strangers or your target market or like real colleagues that would use this to give you feedback. And oftentimes after three to five people, you might realize that there's a flaw in your design, or in the flow, or there are questions that aren't being answered, so go into that process with as much of an open mind as possible.
7. Write Out Your User Stories
Once you've done that, you've gotten the feedback, you've tweaked your wireframes now, and you've gotten approval from people saying “this is really good, I really like this”. You've got your indicators of interest (and everything like that. At that point, you would actually start to put together the framework to give to a developer. You do this through “user stories”. And your user stories you want to be as specific as possible because you have to realize that non-technical founders and developers speak two different languages. You will also want to do this to understand your customer Persona and what they are doing. And you have to be incredibly specific as to what you want from those functions that they're going to build for you.
So a user story would be like: “As a user, I am prompted to sign up with my email and password. Log in credentials would include my name, or sign up credentials would include my name, email, and a password.” If you wanted to have additional functionality on there, like sign up with Google, sign up with Facebook, that would be an additional user story. You would have to add to that, so that on every page of that wire frame, you actually have user stories as to every possible thing a user could do on that, and what that means.
That way the developer has super clear instructions on how to build that page out for you, so you have less back and forth. The more clarity that you have, the better and the happier that your tech team is gonna be.
8. Architect it
So from there, you need to then talk to a developer or somebody about the architecture of it; where's your data being stored? What services are you using to store data? Is it cloud or is it your server? What front end are you using? What back-end coding are you using? So you want to understand some basics on that stuff, so do some research there (I’ll be posting additional information about that). Then you will either need to get funding to pay your developers. You'll need to raise money from investors, put your own money in, get a loan, or whatever the case is. Or you need to find a co-founder that's okay with working for very little or for free, while you build this in exchange for equity or future payment.
Once you find that person, you want to ideally have this person vetted. Not all developers are created equal. There are good ones, and there are bad ones. So you want to put extra time into finding the right one to help you kick start things and be on the right track. If you find the wrong one, and you start working with them, it can lead to a lot of problems down the road. So ideally have a mentor, an advisor, or a proven professional help you vet this person, and that way you can move forward with confidence. Generally speaking, to get a Minimum Viable Product off the ground, you only need one developer to start.
So build your prototype, which doesn't do anything, but it gives you the look and the feel. Then you're building the actual MVP, which is the Minimum Viable Product. And one thing I forgot to mention is that when you're building out your Minimum Viable Product, you want to start with as few features as possible, based on the feedback that you've received from your interviews and your surveys with your target market. So get that feedback, scale it down to ideally one, two, three features tops; but one or two ideally. Just stick with those features, build the Minimum Viable Product, but structure your app or your software in a way where you can add features later based on feedback. Don't just build features just because you thought it was a good idea. Just because you thought it was a good idea doesn't mean anybody's going to buy it.
Get some initial traction, and then roll from there. So that's how to get from the idea of technology all the way through to a Minimum Viable Product that you can actually roll out, and start to get your first few customers or fans. I'll do another video/post on how to take your Minimum Viable Product into a full-scale, fully-featured software package.
10. Build a business around it
Don’t forget, just because you’ve built a cool app or software doesn’t mean it will automatically be a successful business. You’ve got Marketing, Operations, HR, Finance and more to consider as well. Do your homework and surround yourself with intelligent, successful people to make your dream a reality! Check out “How Do I Get My Idea Off The Ground” for more information on the first steps to launching your business.