So Facebook buys Instagram for a cool $1bn. Let’s face it, even in real money that’s a lot of cash. Especially for an app that only launched in late 2010. Just goes to show what a great idea, some good execution and 30 million users can do for you.
Of course for every Instagram, there are thousands of apps that never make it beyond a small group of users. But for the lucky few, it’s gold-rush time – either with enough 69p downloads (a la Angry Birds) or with one big acquisition (such as Instagram). And the reality is that the price of entry has plummeted. While the image of two guys in a garage – coding, sleeping and eating pizza – is generally a myth, relatively small teams can create, develop and distribute their apps more easily than ever before.
Even here at Microsoft, not what you’d probably think of as the natural home of the small team, we have pretty modest groups working on numerous apps. This is not to say that these small teams won’t grow into large teams as project progress and you need to scale – but by then you should have a better idea whether you’re onto a winner or if it’s time to cut your losses and move on.
So what will a team of budding Angry Instagrammers need to create the next must-have app? Here are 8 essentials that my boss Matt Ballantine and our team came up with:
- An idea – a good one, preferably original or at the very least a significant improvement on what’s already available.
- Motivation – inspiration is one thing, but being able to stick with the project when everything seems to be going wrong and the bank is demanding you pay the mortgage (again?!) is fundamental to actually shipping something.
- Time and resources – no matter how fast you work, don’t underestimate how long things can take. Make sure you have enough funds to stay the course and keep your costs low.
- Programming capability – it kind of goes without saying but it is useful if you have people who know their way around some code (as much for bug fixing as developing the original app).
- Design skills – design matters. There are thousands of beautiful apps available across the various devices. It’s not surprising that the most popular apps are normally the best designed.
- Business and marketing know-how – if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Then what? Understanding how to get your app in front of the people that matter (both potential users and key influencers) will be fundamental to success.
- Technical platform knowledge – you need people who understand the platforms you’re developing on. Better still are people who can think cross-platform with an eye to future growth.
- Tools and registrations – you’ll need access to developer tools and have a subscription for a developer account (depending on the platform this may or may not cost money).
It’s rare that all these skills and capabilities will exist in a single person. You do come across some people who believe they have everything it takes – they call themselves ‘triple talents’ – personally, I prefer the term ‘frequent self satisfiers’.
Sadly, no matter how T-shaped you are, chance are you won’t be an expert in all of these areas. So, on the whole, you should play to your own strengths and find others who can compensate for your weaknesses.
So there you are: 8 steps to a billion bucks – how’s that for a great value post?