Jul 30

Jul 28

A Checklist for App Developers in 2014

This weekend I thought a lot about the trouble app developers have breaking through the noise. It’s clear we’ve hit an inflection point in app development. As production became easier and distribution became democratized, a new problem emerged: yes, we can all build global apps in our garage, but so can everyone else.

The balance between supply and demand is difficult in every medium (film, music, TV, podcasts…) because demand is capped by a variable we cannot control: the time can spend people discovering and consuming. We can try to make each discovery and consumption easier or lower our costs of production, but the customer’s time itself is fixed. At some point, we always hit this wall.

And apps have hit this wall.

Our problem now is not how we build apps, but how we breakthrough. Great development isn’t enough. Only when development, design, and marketing are planned together can we succeed. Because an app isn’t good if nobody knows it exists.

Given this, I’ve assembled a quick and dirty checklist for marketing-phobic app developers inspired by both my experience as an app developer and my experiences crafting brand strategies for major companies.

  1. What is the single, simple mission of your app? If you had to reduce your app down to a single sound bite, what would it be? Is that sound bite compelling? Is it unique to you? It’s important for your app to have a simple purpose because almost every person you want to use your app won’t have more than a few moments to evaluate it. If your app doesn’t fit into a sound bite, you’re probably spinning your wheels on features that people won’t care about or, worse, will make your app more confusing.
  2. What existing community will your app appeal to? What group of people will care about and talk about your app? The biggest challenge here is (a) not picking a community that is already saturated with other apps and (b) picking a socially active community. If the community you want to target is being messaged about a new app almost daily, the odds are against you no matter how great your app. If the community doesn’t have an active online presence, they certainly aren’t going to talk about you. Find a community that’s underserved, vocal, and cares about your mission. Bonus question: how will you start a discussion with this community?
  3. How will your app be naturally shared via social networks? In today’s market, building an app without Facebook and Twitter integration (at least) is like playing baseball without a glove. You could do it. But you’ll disappoint your team, audience, and probably hurt yourself. I’m not advocating forced sharing (“Tell your friends now to unlock a level!”), though that may have its place. I’m arguing that you invest time and development into building a social sharing feature that makes sense and helps communicate your selected mission to your selected community.

This may seem like basics, but based on my dealings with app developers and surveys of the app store, I don’t think these questions are being clearly answered early in the process.

As app developers, we often become attached to features that impress us. Worse, we over-simplify planning with platitudes and ‘principles’ people apply to apps which have succeeded in different contexts. “Build something that solves a problem you have,” works when there’s only a handful of developers like you. Today, that’s probably not the case.

Treat these questions as a 3-part venn diagram. The features that sit in the overlap are the ones which should be focused on.

But, in a nutshell, here is my advice to everyone developing apps in 2014:

Identify a social, underserved community which has a problem you can solve. Build a simple app for them and give them a reason to talk about your solution.

In a future post perhaps I’ll break down how we stepped through this plan for Reporter (and yes, we dropped the ball on #3).


Two different developers (Jared Sinclair and Tyler Hall) published relevant case studies today highlighting their income from two apps, one iOS and one Mac.

In addition to being interesting financial snapshots, these cases highlight the discovery and pace of app installs (lots of hockey sticks). For one, they both target themselves, the developer/app nerd audience. To underscore this, Sinclair talks about how his biggest days were when bloggers featured his app, but the bloggers he mentions are Federico Viticci and Shawn Blanc, two dyed in the wool Mac bloggers. Sinclair’s RSS app Unread is excellent, but he’s stuck inside his community, not one which might support him. (Selling an RSS app to Mac nerds is like selling ice to Eskimos).

Unread also raises a bonus question for question #1: is your mission unique to you? Compounding the problem of Unread being an RSS app in a sea of RSS apps, its minimalistic approach isn’t unique, especially among RSS apps geared towards this community. If your mission is already owned by an established player who’s selling to your community, why do you exist?

Jul 27

From the Craigslist Factsheet

Nothing should scare the consumer app market more than Product Hunt. Supply has outstripped not only demand, but the time users need to evaluate if something meets their needs. Due to this constraint, good products are bottlenecked by dumb luck. The only reason cracks haven’t appeared yet is production is so cheap.

So what’s next? I imagine a greater focus on marketing and branding. Major capital isn’t needed for development, but it is needed for branding if you want adoption (or even awareness) to achieve any sort of critical mass. I expect app holding companies to emerge, or distributors. Like EA is to it’s many game studios or music labels were to bands. Marketing will be centralized in the next model.

Jul 26

“There were no rules for nicknames, to begin with, and a sportswriter—who might be the only one in town—could call a player whatever he wanted. Charlie Pabor was called “The Old Woman in the Red Cap,” probably the only seven-word nickname ever; a similarly outstanding handle was “Death to Flying Things,” assigned to the overbearing defensive wizard Bob Ferguson.” — Bill James on baseball nicknames of the 1870s.

Jul 24

Guy Walks Into a Bar, The New Yorker -

Simon Rich has already won “Shouts and Murmurs” for the year:

So the guy walks out of the men’s room and he’s, like, “Hey, bartender, I think your genie might be hard of hearing.”

And the bartender’s, like, “No kidding. You think I wished for a twelve-inch pianist?”

So the guy processes this. And he’s, like, “Does that mean you wished for a twelve-inch penis?”

And the bartender’s, like, “Yeah. Why, what did you wish for?”

And the guy’s, like, “World peace.”

So the bartender is understandably ashamed. And the guy orders a beer, like everything is normal, but it’s obvious that something has changed between him and the bartender.

The whole thing is a Rosetta Stone for the New Yorker’s humor.

Jul 19

This afternoon, uptown.

This afternoon, uptown.

"Twitterbot catches Russian State Media anonymously editing MH17 Wikipedia entry"

Jul 18

Jul 17

"My new teammate that I’m throwing lobs 2 now haaaa." – Dwyane Wade

"My new teammate that I’m throwing lobs 2 now haaaa." – Dwyane Wade