So you want to build an app?

It seems a great way to make your millions, but is launching an app really a feasible business venture? We get the low-down from Michelle Gilmore, Founder of global creative experience company, Neo.

Almost anything and everything that you want to do these days can be aided with the use of an app – a mobile application that is basically a computer-generated program designed to run across your phones and tablets. From their humble beginnings in the form of a few simple games (Nokia’s Snake, anyone?), calculator and world clock, apps now appear to be intrinsic and embedded in everyday life.

According to a 2015 Deloitte survey there are 15 million smartphones in use in Australia, meaning almost 80 per cent of Australians own one. And we look at them collectively as a nation more than 440 million times a day. Our smartphone is the go-to device for everything from ordering groceries to checking the weather, from doing your banking to meditating and from buying your clothes to communicating with friends. And this is mostly all done via an app.

The most downloaded app continues to be the social network Facebook, with YouTube second. Addictive games also continue to take the app world by storm, with Crossy Road reaching 120 million downloads in April alone this year. Stalwart Angry Birds is still popular, as is Candy Crush. These games are simple in their design and easy to play, elements that keep people hooked.

With so many people playing and using apps every single day, it seems like the perfect way to make some money. But with such a large number out there, how do you make your millions?

We ask Michelle Gilmore, Design Director and Founder of global creative experience company, Neo to give us a rundown on the world of apps.

How do free apps make money?

There are many ways app remuneration is approached. These include:

  • Partial functionality: gaming apps regularly adopt this, allowing users a free play but demanding a purchase for the full experience
  • Cross suite, cross-sell: the creation of multiple connected apps in a single category that are heavily promoted across each other. These are often built off the same platform, therefore creating economies for the app developer
  • Advertising sales: the traditional model, with activities ranging from classic banner advertising to more engaging video content
  • Subscriptions: akin to the partial functionality model, except for content. Inviting users to subscribe to a product then releasing regular (and valuable) content over the coming weeks or months
  • Sponsorship: approaching a business that stands to benefit from a sponsorship arrangement is a great way to support your app’s growth. However, a sponsor’s interest is often dependent on your app having a large user base. If you don’t, having a strong brand and knowledge of your users is vital to convince the potential sponsor.

What would someone do if they were not tech savvy but had an app idea?

If you have an idea, you don’t need an app developer (yet), but before you do, consider your broader strategy, which will be the foundation of success. This includes your:

  • Customer value proposition: you need to be clear about why someone would download and use this app
  • Target audience: who is this app for? Why would they want it? Will they use it over time? What is the total addressable market?
  • Business model: how are you going to operate? Do you have the time and money to invest in it? What other expertise do you need (marketing, sales, design, development)?
  • Revenue model: how are you going to make money from this idea?

At the same time, you need to understand the behaviours of your chosen target audience by observing and interviewing them – ideally you’d employ a UX design company to do this for you. For example: what other tools do they currently have that serve a similar purpose (either app or not)? In what context might they download the app, then use it? What else do they do at that time? How tech savvy are they? Will they use it alone or with others? Is repeat usage likely? Once you fully understand this behaviour you can move into a design phase of your app – firstly the user interface, before creating production-ready assets for your chosen app developer to build from. This design process should be continually iterated on with the help of your target audience.

What if you take the DIY approach?

  • Read up on UX design, study, then sketch your ideas down. Once this is done, reach out for feedback from friends and family to get a sense as to whether your idea could add value to your audience.
  • Test with real people, often and early. Lay out the steps that people will go through to achieve an action and how the interface will enable this. Then use cheap and simple prototyping tools like or InVision or even static images to gather feedback from those who will use it. This will ensure you make informed, and more objective, design decisions.
  • There are good DIY apps in the editorial space, such as Oomph. Ultimately though, any DIY program will have limitations and will likely compromise your idea.

What is the best way to publicise and promote an app?

  • The initial launch of your application is crucial – this can make or break an app. It is best that your app has an impactful story, one to win international and ongoing press. More press equals more exposure, which equals more downloads.
  • Novel use of native technology (gestures, camera, sensors, etc.) will put you on the radar of Apple/Google, which can lead to many further opportunities for awards, which mainly act as a catalyst for ongoing/repeat press.
  • The app store is overwhelmed with apps that simply haven’t considered human-centred design. Considering UX design is a valued proposition in its own right – even enough to win press.
  • Build a PR strategy, including focusing on bloggers unique to the sector your app sits within, finding relevant speaking opportunities and getting press in mainstream and industry-relevant spaces.

Is it crucial that apps exist on multiple platforms? If not, how would you choose a platform?

You need to understand your audience and choose the platform based on where they are. If you don’t have any idea of the audience, let the marketplace inform your decision:

  • According to a Cloudfront report Android and iOS take a majority 90 per cent plus market share.
  • Forbes reveals that Android has dominated the market year on year for the last six years in terms of user base. However, iOS users offer five times the yield of Android users.

What are some common features that popular apps share?

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as features, but successful apps share one or two things: utility and/or delight. They either solve a real human problem or need or they make people smile and feel engaged. It’s not about loading apps with features, it’s about doing one thing really, really well and better than anyone else.

What are some common mistakes the unpopular apps make?

Not catering to a real human problem or need and/or trying to do too many things and therefore doing nothing well. The other common problem is the go-to market strategy; often marketing and product teams don’t align on narrative and the communications don’t accurately sell the value proposition of the app, leaving it to fend for itself in a saturated market.

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