Overthinking it –
why apps fail before ever seeing a single user

Damjan Dimovski Damjan Dimovski
February 26, 2019

If you are a living, breathing, human being in this day and age, chances are you have an idea (probably even multiple ideas) which you think would make a great app but you’ve never really tried it out.

Without trying to sound presumptuous, I bet I can guess most of the reasons why that is, without knowing a single thing about you, your background or the product you want to create. If you think I’m a douchebag for talking such nonsense, and you would probably be right to do so, then please let me show you what I’ve learned and share my experience with you in these next couple of paragraphs.

 

Why should you listen to me?

Just to gain your trust a little bit, let me start by saying that I’m a Senior iOS Engineer, with over 6 years of pure app-making experience.

With over 200 projects, I have pretty much devoted my professional (and parts of my private) life to the cruel mistress that is the world of mobile apps.

I have never had an app of my own “make it” on the App Store, but I have however worked professionally on a couple of ones that have done so.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, I’m not proposing myself as some sort omniscient app guru which will enlighten you mere mortals and show you the way to the Top Grossing lists, but as someone who is also “suffering” from the symptoms I’m going to talk about.

I’ve decided to trifurcate my experiences into three distinct groups of problems which you can face in the app creation process and will try to lay them all out before you.

I hope that by the end of this post, you will have gained some valuable insight and if this text manages to help get even one new app out there I would consider it a great success.

 

 

Problem 1: Where to start?

So, you don’t know where to begin, right?

Right.

Everyone that’s ever started something new in their life has faced this problem, but luckily the solution this time is very easy: start wherever the hell you want.

This is not rocket science, and although it may look daunting if you are not familiar with the process, I assure you it’s far from it. If you are still clueless, just share your idea with pretty much anyone you know.

One of the most common things I’ve heard, and for me personally the most infuriating one, surely has to be: “What if someone steals my idea?”.

Ugh. Get over yourself.

Almost 6 million apps have been published in the two leading app markets, and god knows how many more have only ever been ideas like yours, and you think that yours is unique and worth “stealing”?

It’s not.

I’ve tried to tell this to everyone that’s come to me with this problem: it’s not your idea that valuable, it’s what you make of it. So go out there, share it, find people to work with to make that idea a reality, stop daydreaming about what the name of your startup or the colors of your logo are going to be and go build your product.

Whatever resource you are missing, you can find it out there for virtually no cost. Developers and designers are a dime a dozen these days, and there are many of them which will work pro bono if they like you and/or your idea. And, especially if this is you dipping your toes in the water for the first time, it really doesn’t matter who makes the app for you, and even how the final product turns out versus your expectations is not that big of a deal.

What matters and what has real, long-term value is the experience you go through to push that product to the markets. (Even if this sounds like a cliché to you.)

 
 

Problem 2: When to stop?

Even more tragic in my opinion, and I’ve seen this more times then I would dare admit publicly, is not knowing when to stop.

At least 80% of the projects I’ve been involved in which have failed in one way or another, have done so because of bad decisions regarding adding or removing features, or making visual modifications.

That’s why I want to stress how important it is to know what you are going for from the start, to realize when you’ve reached your goals and stop. When I say stop, I mean stop developing your product and get it on the market. I cannot begin to tell you how much it hurts when you’ve poured yourself into a product, with all your heart and soul, just to see it die because the road ahead was not properly thought out beforehand, and it’s very easy for this to happen.

Think about it, you had this great idea, you’ve spent time, money and energy on it, and now you are greedily keeping it for yourself instead of letting the users get their hands on it, under the pretense of making it perfect. Rather than do that, decide on an MVP: a minimum viable product, which will have only the core functionality of your product and only the absolutely necessary sub-features to make it work, and push for that. Once you have it, you are done!

I know, I know: it’s your baby and you want to make sure it’s ready, but the sooner you push it out of the nest the better it is for everyone involved. And anyway, you will never make it perfect, no matter how much you fiddle with it, you will only ever make it worse. If you are just getting into the game, you will not be able to predict what the users want, or in some cases even how they are going to use your product, before you gather some usage data and get feedback from the users themselves. Make sure to implement some sort of analytics software in your app, so that you can get that data, and make sure your users can reach out to you.

Chances are, they are going to tell you what you are missing and what they want better than you will ever be able to judge it yourself before going to market, and it’s important that you establish a healthy relationship with your audience and start to form a community around your product.

 

 

Problem 3: What to do NEXT?

Make no mistake about it, the market is seriously saturated, and most of the time the big players are scooping up the majority of the profits and downloads, so you have to be prepared and know what to do next.

It’s likely that your first effort will fail, or will at least fail to fulfill your expectations, and that’s all right. You need to accept this and be ready to move on. Sometimes, moving on means rethinking your app, modifying it, and pushing it back out once again.

Your existing (possibly somewhat unsatisfied) users will appreciate your effort to meet their demands and will surely give you another chance. If you’ve fixed what was wrong, to put it bluntly, they will spread the word themselves and get you more downloads. Other times however, it’s simply best to stop beating the dead horse, however hard that may be, and just let that app die so that you can focus on your next endeavor, now armed with the experience gained from your previous project. I’m not very fond of quotes, but there is one from Sir Richard Branson which for me is golden: “It takes years to become an overnight success”.

This encapsulates rather neatly the message that I’m trying to convey to you and that’s that you will likely fail multiple times, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop trying. Ultimately, this should be fun for you, and if it’s not fun you are either doing it wrong or it’s just not the thing for you. My advice is to try to make it work, and if it doesn’t then you will have gained some very valuable experience, maybe even a few new friends and you will have new insight into how modern day technology works which will make you appreciate more the dozens of apps you use every day and the effort that goes into making them.

And who knows, maybe one day a new opportunity will present itself and you will be ready to jump right in, since you’ve already gotten yourself wet and now know that it’s nothing to be afraid of. Most importantly, at the end of the day you will be able to say that you did your best, and no one will be able to ever take that away from you.