I spend a lot of my time helping startups in Australia and giving them advice on how to get up & running. A lot of the advice comes from running my own company previous to joining Microsoft, sharing battle stories with others, understanding the mistakes I made and the last few years of working with a great range of amazing advisors and startups through the BizSpark program. I have been also extremely lucky to both attend, be a judge or mentor for & run a number of startup events, this gives me a chance to hear fabulous advice from many many amazing people.
So can I actually practice all I have learnt?
I have been wanting to put together a series of blog posts on how to actually get started if you are like me and have an app idea that you want to take to market. So I decided to finally put a simple idea I have had for an app into action.
Note that this is not business advice as such. This is just me documenting the steps I go through. The thing I know already is that my plan & ideas will change and adapt as I take each step so be sure to read through the proceeding posts as this is just day one!
As I go through the steps of action I have taken, I will try to break down the reasons behind my choices and how successful they have been. Feel free to provide comments on the process as I go as it will only prove to assist others looking to take this plunge in future.
Now I am certainly not the first and certainly not the smartest person to have done something as crazy as this – be sure to check out the great advice from Sebastien Eckersly-Maslin on how he setup his startup in 1 week with just $500 here: http://anthillonline.com/how-to-build-a-business-in-7-days-for-under-500-the-eseries/
As I already had the idea, a Windows Phone Mock up, sample data in Azure and an app name, a lot of the tricky decisions had already been made – but at this stage its pretty basic, looks like I designed it (i.e. not at all impressive) and the sample data is limited to only one council in Ryde.
What does the App need to do"?
The app is for locating a picnic spot nearby, being able to rate & provide feedback on the park. You can also search for parks with specific facilities and in specific areas. The app needs to use Facebook to share the ratings & recommendations. Facebook integration is also important as my initial target market are mums with young children (high usage of facebook). As I also plan to target the application to people with Dogs, I want to track information on how Pet Friendly the park is.
Who would use the app?
People like me would – hence the idea, but I am targeting people who go to parks. I completed some simple market research through facebook friends and also through a survey on a “Mum-Blogger” site (extra big thanks to my cousin Karen who posted on her blog: http://ramblingmum-mummabear1970.blogspot.com/ and to my sister Patricia for posting on her awesome not for profit site Australian Rare Chromo Awareness Network (ARCAN) ) to test the viability of the idea.You too can complete the survey here if you’d like to contribute your feedback before I close it: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/583G3DT The results so far are overwhelmingly positive – and not just from my friends and family. Yay!
Which features are most important for initial launch?
I am a huge fan of the idea of a minimal viable product & tight feedback loop with customers so I also asked the survey takers questions about how often people go to the park, do they always visit the same parks & which features of an app like the one I have planned would be of interest. More importantly I asked people which Phone type they use and if they would pay for the app. I am hoping to determine if there are key functionality that is required and if there is a way of creating a higher functioning paid app. I also need to understand which platforms to target.
Are there Competitors?
One of the other important factors is looking at who the existing competitors are. It would be highly unlikely that my simple idea is completely unique. I did a quick search and turned up a Butter company sponsored picnic app for the UK, and a US based app for finding good places to take the kids – which included parks. Both apps were free and available in iPhone & Android already. I have researched both of these products and need to come up with some good benefits for our application over there ones. So far as both seem very focused on their own locale (UK or US) it seems the Aussie market is still available – and also I will be sourcing a large number of parks to prepopulate the application for Australian capital cities, so launching without needing users to add the data already. Looking at these apps really did highlight another important factor in whether or not I proceed:
How will I make money?
It is clear that to compete with existing applications my app needs to be free or at least have a Free version. This limits my initial planning around monetising the investment I am making in the app by charging a fee (I am including my time in that investment – which many people neglect to include!). Although I can include some advertising in the app I am under no delusions that the app will be that widely used that I will make enough money from in app advertising to generate enough revenue. This leads to further thoughts around having a Paid version with features not available in the free version. I could also look at some strategic relationships with companies that would like to focus advertising/offers to the target marketing I am focusing on such as people who create picnic hampers or gourmet deli’s or even Toy stores like ToysRUs or outdoor activity manufacturers (of course feel free to contact me if this is you!). But more and more as we enter the Data Age, I see the value in the underlying data that I am collecting. Firstly there is no centralised data source for all Australian parks. Secondly the information around feedback & ratings on parks could potentially be of interest to someone. This thought has prompted me to make some legal enquiries to ensure that from the start, my Terms & Conditions at sign up allow me to sell collected data usage information at a later stage.
But to summarise – I haven’t decided which monetisation model (or combination of models) I will eventually go with. This is something I spend so much time advising startups on. I want to know the total addressable market, I want to know what % of that market is accessible, likely to be customers, and how the money will be made. So…. as soon as I get my wireframes finished I will sit down and do that! keep in mind I plan to closely monitor this and adjust my monetisation model as often as needed to generate revenue so stay tuned on that!
Get some feedback from “smart people”
So I am almost convinced to proceed with the idea. And as much as I thought my idea was completely awesome & bullet proof… the next thing I did was ask 2 super smart people to be advisors. I asked them to dinner so that I could bounce ideas off them (in return for providing dinner & wine while we discussed ideas). Through that we decided to split the app into 2 distinct apps. One to target the pet owners looking for Pet friendly parks (stage 2) and one targeting parents looking for a park to take their kids to. The benefit of this is that the strategic alliances are much simpler with the separation of the 2 markets. for example, companies like Vet Chains may be interested in advertising or buying subscriber lists of the people looking for pet friendly parks etc…. The good lesson I made here is that good advice is invaluable. The second lesson is that you have to be flexible enough to adapt your idea when you get really good suggestions!
You haven’t talked me out of it yet… so where do I start??
For me the first thing I always need to do is look at the idea i have had and work out what I should & shouldn’t do. Too often, excited entrepreneurs feel that they need to do everything to get their idea to market because they have no cash flow and think the easiest & cheapest way to get things done is to do it yourself. I however learnt in previous business ventures that there are way too many things that I am really bad at and should never ever, ever do. For example, the above screen shots demonstrate my complete lack of graphic design skills. I don’t even have a logo yet. I have no attention to detail or patience, and the info for these parks is spread in different councils websites and needs manual research and data entry to get. As for developing the solution, although I am happy to develop for Windows Phone & Azure back end... I am in no way skilled as an iPhone, android or blackberry developer and I want to release on all 4 platforms. If I want to get this to market soon, I am going to have to outsource. I identified the initial tasks I would need help with: obtaining the source data, getting a logo and developing apps on the other platforms. Some of these I have been able to get through contacts and some through freelancing sites like www.odesk.com or www.freelancer.com.au. (extra special thanks to the super guys at www.xamling.com for agreeing to once again rescue me with the design side of things!!)
And there is still an hour of day 1 left!!!
What else can I easily do to get my brand building?
One of the things I didn’t mention earlier was that in my market research survey, I asked the people completing it to give me their email address if they’d like to be notified of the launch of the product. Every single person who completed the survey has provided their email address! I am building a database of potential customers on day 1.
Preferably I would also have created a launch page that linked to something like MailChimp to allow me to collect email addresses, but as I keep saying.. I need to get wireframes done! Although its so easy to download WebMatrix, configure a Wordpress blog, give it a Launch theme and hook it up to MailChimp…. Alternatively… that may be just as easy on Azure? No – that can wait till tomorrow!!!
But what else have I done today without outlaying any cash to get my brand building?
I set up a free Live.com.au email address on www.live.com for firstname.lastname@example.org
I bought a domain name: www.picknic.com.au
I signed up to www.BizSpark.com (which thankfully I approved!)
I profiled my app on http://www.microsoftplatformready.com (so I can take advantage of the marketing resources available on there & of course get access to the office 365 benefits though Cloud Essentials!)
Set up Facebook account for the company: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100003043437704
Setup Facebook page for the App itself: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Picknic/247222251994768
Setup developer token for facebook so my application can integrate with facebook: https://developers.facebook.com/apps/208222259247250/summary
Setup twitter account: http://twitter.com/#!/PicknicApp
And now I must stop talking to you all as I need to wireframe my screens for my outsourced developer & myself!
Wish me luck!
Dogfooding. Nice work Catherine!
My old neighbour, Sara Wright, in Manly (I am now in Seattle) recently launched www.babiesandtoddlers.com.au which might be worth checking out and perhaps collaborating with Sara on. Happy to intro...
Hi Matt - that would be great!! Thanks :)
Practicing what you teach. A rare commodity. Go you good thing and I'll be signing up :)
Good luck and have fun!
If I could offer up one piece of advice re your mobile app -> Take all the tips and guides you read about agile/lean/minimal viable product with a man-sized grain of salt.
For example the common advise to a start-up is to just "get it up there" i.e. release early and often. For web apps this makes great sense but for mobile apps that first impression when you release to the AppStore and market really matters. Those star ratings will stay with your app and this heavily effects the decision of later users to try it out or buy it. So don't go live on the AppStore with anything half-arsed :D.
Also keep in mind unlike a web app you can't decide or force users to update your app and in most cases if it is not an app they use regularly they won't update.
Saying that if you release early and often to just your private beta bunnies you can still keep your development lean. When you get your AppStore developer account you will be able to register your testers devices so that they can install your dev builds.
Hope that helps.