10 Lessons from Creating an iPhone Application Start Up (Part 1)
This is the first of a two part series from a friend of the Newly Corporate bloggers, Eli Gratz. iPhone Apps and Start Ups are two of the most fascinating things for young professionals today and Eli has done both during his spare time(see http://www.drinkspecialsapp.com)! I asked him to share some of his experiences and got 10 great lessons for young professionals looking to start their own businesses or develop mobile applications! Lessons 5-10 will be posted this Wednesday.
A lot of people ask me about my experience as a first time application developer and new business owner. They wonder how I got the concept for the Drink Specials App and I get near constant questions on sales and revenues for the business, Great Time Apps LLC. For some background, visit www.drinkspecialsapp.com or to view the application in iTunes, http://itunes.com/apps/drinkspecials. This article will focus on the process and lessons learned so far (a month after product launch and 9 months after initial concept creation) and not on the application itself.
Lesson’s I’ve learned:
1. Solve a real problem, and it’s best if it’s your own
This has been very important to me since day 1. I have lots (and I mean lots) of ideas of varying worth, scale and likelihood of existence, and this is the first question I ask of them: Does this actually solve a problem? How many people have this problem? (the market) Is this something you can be the one to solve.
With the Drink Specials App, I am out to solve a simple problem: find accurate, local drink specials quickly. The problem is that there are lots of lists, but few are up–to-date and/or are easy to navigate when you are out. Using the power of the iPhone and wireless connectivity, the problem of verifying information is solved by users around the world who can update the info right from the handset…not sitting at home on their computers.
2. Do one thing, and one thing only
This lesson was taught to me by a very successful internet entrepreneur I met who has made his mark in information products. He said to do one thing. I hear a lot about how new products and web 2.0 ideas are “craigslist meets facebook with some twitter-like concepts…but about helping people go green”. It’s too many things! Only do one thing!
The Drink Specials App does one thing: helps you find drink specials. That’s it. Doesn’t sing to you, doesn’t dance, just does it’s job. The average time a user will have the app open at any one time is under 2 minutes because it’s a utility. There when you need it, not there to bother you when you don’t.
To me this is important because it gives you scope, definition and a niche you can play and excel in. Originally, I had thought this could also be great for live music, event and concert data…but when you would stack it up against something like Eventful.com, it can’t hold a candle. That’s where it would make sense to partner, not a competitor.
The Drink Specials App has a simple mission: Create the World’s largest and most accurate drink specials platform, updated by users
3. Use experts who do one thing, and one thing only
iPhone has a robust, although often hamstrung, software developer kit (SDK) to allow independent developers to make apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I am not an expert in programming, and if I was going to make an application designed to pass not only Apple’s standards for the App Store but also thousands of users, I would need to consult experts.
I found a group that does only mobile application development (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Mobile etc…) based in Bangalore, India. I found that they had expertise in this niche, and began working with them because of it. Many other companies who I showed the specification to said they knew many, many other technologies, but I wanted people who only did one.
If you need surgery, why go to a general practitioner if you can choose a specialist?
I then needed graphics, so I found an artist out of Vladivostok, Russia who had great work. And guess what? She and her partners only do mobile icons and web graphics. They are niche players and damn good at it. The team at HookieTookie.com understood my needs and delivered wonderful icons and web art, and they will be my future go to for all application art.
4. Accept the things you cannot change for the sake of the relationship
Often we forget that negotiations are not a one-time-deal. When I dealt with my development firm in India, we often differed on expectations and interoperations of requirements. Some was due to language, some was due to time difference (one group was usually tired while meeting), but also, it’s just the natural business exchange between two parties with often opposite interests.
I expected a lot out of the application, and some things are just not possible on the iPhone platform, or I had not included in the original scope of work. In this case, you need to get creative to solve your problem, given constraints. I learned that “you never create without constraints” because you don’t have to. With fixed scope and deadlines, you need to compromise on certain points because the relationship that you need to maintain, for potentially a very long time, is an important fact. If you drove the letter of the law home everyday, no one is happy. Who really likes it if you enforce speed limits?
5. If you can’t talk about it because others might do it first, it’s not that good of an idea
This is so important. I found myself thinking of concepts for websites, apps or businesses, but not wanting to talk about them because someone might steal them. Guess what, if it’s that simple to steal, once it’s successful, someone with more time, more money, more experience will steal it. Then what for your great idea? It’s not the quality of the idea; it’s the quality of the execution.
People have created drink directories before. People will after the Drink Specials App. My spin was using the iPhone device, the power of the crowd and committed individuals who share the vision to create something great that is always living and being updated. It’s not a static website that you can submit changes via e-mail for. If something isn’t right…fix it…you’ve got the internet in your hand. The time seems right for this application, and that’s why I was happy to talk about it and share my goals for the application. I think the network effect of so many users, updating the app constantly create something that is difficult to recreate, and it gets better everyday.
Think about Facebook. At the start, it wasn’t that exciting. Even now, it’s fine, but nothing shocking happens on the website itself. It’s the fact that all your friends are there. It’s the fact that you can’t really leave, and wouldn’t really want to. It’s the fact that it’s worldwide, always updating, always current that is the reason it’s a killer app. Taking those concepts, and applying them to a niche (drink specials), is the reason that this app will reach its goal of being the World’s Largest and Most Accurate Drink Specials Platform, updated by users.