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3 Questions To Ask Before You Get A Mobile App

14 Nov 2013

Mobile apps are ubiquitous. It feels like almost everybody who is anybody has a mobile app specifically to promote their brand. So what's stopping you from getting in on the action?

While that's a valid question, the decision to develop a mobile app is not for whimsy. Mobile apps may be the "next big thing" that everybody is doing, but they're by no means cheap. A quick Google search will tell you that mobile apps can cost anywhere from six thousand dollars to one hundred thousand dollars and beyond. Just like you would never embark on a business venture without answering some very simple guiding questions, you should make sure you have an answer to the following three questions.

[In fact, as any of my clients (and a few would-be clients) can tell you, I will make sure I know your answers to these questions before agreeing to help build a custom mobile app (but that's a topic for another post)]

1. Who (ultimately) is paying for the development?

Lots of times this might seem like a silly question. Of course the developer's expectation is that 100% of his effort will be compensated by his client. Likewise, some clients expect that he or she can find a developer that is just as super-charged about the idea as they are that the development will be free in exchange for some sort of partnership or equity. The latter is certainly unlikely at best. However, regardless of who pays what or how everybody gets their fair compensation, the important aspect of this answer is why the arrangement is the way it is.

If you don't know why you would partner with a developer, what's the point? Is it worthwhile to share the success of the product to excite the developer about continuing to improve on it? Is the developer even interested in partnering or would he rather do his part, get paid, and move on to the next job?

If you don't have the right business arrangement and know why that arrangement is right for you, you are not ready for a custom mobile app.

2. How do you recover the development costs?

There are essentially two possible answers to this question: directly or indirectly. If you decide to recover your costs directly, this means charging a fee for using the app, making it subscription-based, or leveraging in-app purchases. Recovering costs indirectly is along the lines of using the app as a marketing piece, encouraging customers to buy more and encouraging non-customers to become customers. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and which strategy is best often depends primarily on the company and the audience.

Further, it's also best to know why the strategy you choose to recover costs is the best one for you. Don't assume that a particular strategy is better simply because that's how your industry usually works.

For example, a couple of weeks ago a company approached me to develop an app, intending to release it to the app store at a nominal price point, both to help their customers and to build a small additional revenue stream. This would have introduced a barrier to their current customers while making an almost meaningless amount of money off of their non-customers (and ultimately not resulting in conversions). After a few brainstorming sessions, we shifted course to a free app (accessible without barrier to both customers and non-customers) with additional features that were available to customers.

If you don't have a business case for how you will recover development costs, you are not ready for a custom mobile app.

2. How will your users find out about the app?

This final question is definitely the hardest for me, as someone with a disproportionate technical background, to wrap my head around. The frighteningly honest truth is that people often assume that "if we build it, they will come." Even if every marketing, sales, or business book disagrees on every other concept, they all agree that "they" will not automatically come without some form of marketing. Someone will have to find out about your app somehow, be that on your web site, your twitter feed, your facebook page, or via old-fashioned word of mouth.

Similarly, educating your market to the existence of your app is not something that will happen overnight. It's not something that will happen in a month, or two months, or three months. It may take a year to get a comfortable number of users. It may take several.

If you don't know, or haven't given any thought to, how your prospective users will find out about your app, you are not ready for a custom mobile app.

Your Turn

Are there any questions you ask yourself before making a significant and open-ended technical purchase (choosing a platform or technology, redesigning a web site, etc.)? How does it make you feel when you have difficulty answering them? Answer below in the comments.