making it hAPPen

Please feel free to download and share comments on my recently created apps here: http://goo.gl/un0wT

I have worked on online/internet related business in a commercial capacity for 5 years now and have always been in awe of the technical guys that build products and ship them in an almost effortless manner. For the last few years, I have been really keen to build mobile apps but had no idea where to start. During my recent recovery from injury, I picked up an excellent post from Chad Mureta and decided that it was time for me to start talking less and doing more about this long-standing ambition. Here are some lessons I learnt as I created my first 2 apps this week:

1. If you want to learn a new skill, it can be tough to start alone. I attended an app building class and while it was pretty bad, it gave me the one thing I needed - an assurance that even non-technical people could build apps that solve problems and make money. The social element of a class allowed me to find a couple of buddies to share notes with over the week as we struggled to digest what we had learnt. (To my surprise there were a large number of 40-something housewives in my class...!)

2. Figure out early on exactly what you want to get out of the experience and how you will measure whether you got it. My aim here was to learn how to make a good app. I know how well I will have done by the comments and feedback users share when they have tried the product. Over time the success metric may become revenue, number of countries sold in or number of downloads. Pick something that means something to you.

3. Before you start to build anything, ask your friends what apps they use and what problems they face. One friend of mine said he enjoyed reading jokes on the way to work but hated loading 5 or 6 apps to navigate through. Gigglybot simply combines the funny content on 7 apps into 1 easy to use app.

4. Before you list anything on the market, let your friends and family play with your app and share their feedback. Good friends will be honest and tell you if you are wasting your time. Ask them how much they would pay to download it and set your actual price lower - if your friends and family wont download it, you have to wonder who will ;)

5. If you start the process of building the app and are not enjoying it, then ask yourself if this is the best use of your time. I found the building process to be very addictive and I was unable to sleep until my first few sales came through. If it is not fun, do not bother - life is too short to do things you think you ought to do but don't really want to do.

6. Build, Test, Iterate, Improve x 1000000. Your first few attempts will likely be awful but do not be discouraged. Pick a simple concept and do not try to be too innovative at first. For the first apps try taking something that sells well and adding an additional feature to it. Try the basics first before building the next Angry Birds or Draw Something ;)

7. The Android and Apple marketplaces are full of many apps that are likely better than your first app. Think about how your target users might browse these stores and what captures your attention. A memorable name and a visually pleasing icon can help to grab attention in the crowded marketplace

8. Over the first few weeks, do not be afraid to iterate your product if you have ideas on how to improve based on user feedback. Your customers will be happy to spend 30 seconds a week downloading an update if you are giving them a better product experience in exchange.

9. Become familiar with the data about your customers and target your updates to match their needs. If you find a lot of Koreans are downloading your app, think about adding a splashscreen or a sharing feature that appeals to Korean users. Happy users tell their friends about good apps so if you get traction with a particular demographic, make sure that you make it easy for your happy users to shout about your product.

10. Sharing is caring. Make sure you build sharability features into your app so your users can share their content across multiple social networks. If you are able to tag the shared content with your app name then you are essentially benefitting from free marketing. If a user shares content from Smilybot via FB, Twitter, WhatsApp, Gmail or any other sharing mechanism, the recepient will see a small tag saying "Shared from Smilybot, an Android app"

11. If you are looking to learn anything new, there is no better time to start than NOW. Pick a skill, make a plan and go book that karate/tennis/piano/spanish/cooking/poker/winetasting/ class right now!

12. At the end of the day you face a win-win. If your apps take off you can make a ton of money. If your apps are crap, at least you had a go and realised it was not for you. There is always something rewarding about building a tangible product and putting it up for sale...!