Where do I start when launching an app?

Here are 7 things you can do to get the ball rolling.

Question asked by April on March 17, 2017
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Building an App? Do these things.

I work with clients to do some basic marketing when building their apps, and I thought it would be worth compiling a short list. These simple things don’t take much cash and are pretty much the bare necessities if you want anyone to notice you’re launching an app. So do these things no matter what, and then go get some marketing help to finish the job.

I notice that most internet advice, and even some consultants, like to give you choices so you can make your own informed decision. That’s stupid. We have Google to give us tons of information, and plenty of other lists which compare and contrast plenty of things we could do when starting up. So I’m not going to do that in this article. I’m going to give you a list of specific things to do with specific service providers to remove decision paralysis.

I’ll run through the list in a specific order because learning from the early steps helps a lot with the steps later on. You can read the details of each step further down in the article. The nifty timeline below was made using the demo by CodyHouse. I wish I could have used HTML for the timeline, but my only option was an image for this article (mobile readers will have to do some zooming or scroll past it — sorry!).

A Note Before We Dive In

Notice that none of the steps above involve actually building your app? That’s because you can do all this without writing code. Some of the detailed suggestions below, however, do require that you have an app for others to use. I recommend that you run through the list once before you build, once during development, and once after. It’s always good to revisit fundamentals often as you go. Ideas and perspective change a lot while going through the process of starting up. Enjoy!

#1 Discover Your Purpose

It’s worth taking a little time to think about why you’re building an app in the first place. I’ve written a separate article about purpose, so I won’t go into it much here. Have a look at the article here and then come back to finish reading. It's OK, I'll wait.

#2 Create & Validate Your Plan

So now you know what makes you happy and why you’ve formed a startup. It’s time to create a plan for your app which is consistent with that core purpose, and validate the plan with potential customers. There’s a lot of material to cover in this step 2, so I’ve put together a toolkit to walk you through the process. I’ll give you a brief synopsis so you don’t have to get the toolkit until you really want to dive in:

  1. Define your target customers — these are people that are accessible to you, meaning that you know where they hang out at some physical location or somewhere on the internet. For example, people who exercise is a terrible target for a startup, but trail runners in Phoenix (where I live) is better.
  2. Define your problem/frustrations — this is the thing your target customer hates. For example, trail runners like to discover new trails but there is no resource to do that (I’m sure there are plenty of resources, but let’s pretend there’s nothing).
  3. Define your solution — instant nearby trails are shown with length, difficulty, and proximity. Runners can also enter a zip or drop a pin on a map to substitute for their current location.
  4. Define your pricing — subscription based app for $9 per month with a free 3 month trial.
  5. Validate your assumptions — Now that you’ve defined the important stuff, go sit face-to-face with your target customer and ask them about numbers 2, 3, and 4. You did choose an accessible target customer, right?

There are a lot of details and further resources in the Lean App Toolkit, so go get it and have a look (DOWNLOAD HERE!).

Lean App Toolkit Download

#3 Get A Name

Some marketing professionals will tell you that you should choose a descriptive name for your app so that people know exactly what it does when they hear it (or have some idea). I don’t like this advice for two reasons:

  1. It’s boring — who wants to use another app named with some combination to two words that describes how simple or easy it is to do a common task? If you do go with the two-word-descriptive name, at least come up with something original for one of the words :)
  2. Descriptive names are difficult to trademark — if you use common words that allow people to automatically know what the app does, they might also be words people use to describe a common process or industry. Those kinds of names typically get rejected when trying to get a trademark. Although I don’t recommend getting trademarks & patents before the business is off the ground, you might as well avoid a name that can’t be trademarked in the future.

You can also make sure your prospective name isn’t yet taken by doing some standard searches:

  1. Google (you probably already thought to check this one)
  2. App stores (even if your app is web based, you should avoid using a name that’s taken in the app stores)
  3. Trademarkia (find out if similar trademarks exist for names you consider)

You’ll need a URL for your app as well, so the name should not look too confusing when written in all lowercase letters with a dot com after it. Chances are your name will not be available, so you might have to go with a “dot io” or tack on “app” after the name to get a decent URL. There are plenty of places you can search domain names, but I use Godaddy.

QUICK NOTE: choose something that is easy to say too. It’s pretty easy to cram a couple of words together that ends up being awkward to say. Say names out loud to yourself and you’ll know it when it’s hard to pronounce.
QUICKER NOTE: you should name your company something different from your app and more generic (aligned with your purpose) in case you pivot.

Once you get your URL, set up an email address too. An address like me@myapp.com makes you instantly more credible than if you keep using that free Gmail address.

#4 Create A Landing Page

I go into landing pages a bit in the Lean App Toolkit as part of the validation steps. But it’s worth noting that you’ll need a landing page to act as a place holder for your future website too (not just for validation experiments).

Sign up for Instapage and create one.

If you’re not familiar with graphic design, user experience, and marketing, it’s worth getting some help with this one. A good landing page can present your app as something that people will want to check out, or something that is likely a piece of junk (you want the former). Templates can work pretty well here, but you still need some skills to put it all together. A good tagline and some descent copy to explain the benefits of your app are a must.

It’s also a good idea to talk to your visitors as if the app is already available, and provide a “get it now” style call to action. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, you should definitely get some help with a landing page!

Get some help with our Lean App Foundation package.

#5 Write About Your App

Writing is hard. And writing something other people actually want to read is harder. So the more practice you get early on, the faster you’ll have something worth reading.

Start by writing an article on Medium about why you’re building an app, who it’s for and why they want it. You should have all this information already, since you’ve completed the steps in the Lean App Toolkit above (right?). Don’t worry too much about making it great. Just get it published and revisit the article to tweak it every now and then.

To find inspiration for new topics, do some reading of your own. Read every blog post you can find about your app’s industry, competitor apps, and other apps related to yours. A good method for finding topics is to focus on complimentary services or apps that your app users might like too. For example, you might start reviewing running shoes if you’ve built an app for runners. If shoes aren’t your thing, you might write articles about the physical or psychological benefits of running. In any case, it’s important to establish yourself as a trustworthy source of information in your industry. It takes a long time to do this, and starting on day 1 will help a lot with your app’s long term success.

#6 Make A Video

People can get a lot of good information from reading your articles and other marketing material. But people need to be pretty motivated to do that. It’s much easier to watch a quick video which tells them why your app is worth a look. You can drop the video on your landing page, and promote it through social channels and advertising to get more eyeballs on your app.

I’ve done some work recently with the guys at Fabulist, and they’re pretty talented. They use mostly stock footage to produce videos for startups that are priced right (starting at $500). Get in touch with Matt and Team Fabulist about some ideas for your app video.

#7 Shout About Your App

Apart from writing articles and posting on social feeds/groups/hashtags/etc (use Buffer for that), you can proudly shout about your app to anyone who will listen. Obviously, you’ve got your email list (Mailchimp) that you started with your Instapage integration and you send progress emails, offers/contests, beta periods, and article emails. But there are some other places you should list your shiny new idea/beta/launch (depending on which stage you are at). Here’s the run down:

You also have some experience talking about your app in person with interviews and anyone else that will listen. But you need more. Point your browser over to Meetup and find local startup round tables or industry specific meetups that would apply. Go to those meetups and practice talking about your startup (I really don’t like the term “pitch”). If you live in or around Phoenix, you can attend our weekly meetup!

Honorary Mention: A Logo

Your startup does not need a logo (and definitely not business cards). However, people love to make logos for their freshly minted companies to feel special. Apart from wasting some time and money, it’s OK to reward your hard work from steps #1 through #7 with a pretty picture that represents your app or company.

NOTE: this should not be confused with startups that are already servicing paying customers. In that case, having a logo to begin establishing the brand is more than just a pretty picture.

You can probably find thousands of places that will create a logo for you, but use 99designs to save yourself some pain. I’m partial to this service because it has a pretty good process and you get designs from multiple people that have different styles & perspectives.

So, that’s it! Don’t forget to download your free Lean App Toolkit. It’s loaded with step-by-step instructions and other resources to help you build the foundation necessary for a winning app. GET IT HERE! After you’ve gone through this whole list and done some hard work, you’ll be in a great position to start coding your MVP.

In case you’re wondering whether I get paid to reference the various services in this article, I don’t. It’d be nice, but no. If you want me to mention your product or service, you’ll have to convince me that I need it first (or our clients), and then give me a good product or service.

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