Updated: Sep 26, 2020
Many people have asked me, how do I start an app? So I wanted to talk a little bit about that because there's huge amounts of complexity that goes into it and I don't really think people realize everything that it takes to go from an idea to actually publishing your software on the app store.
President and Founder of HiredUp, Evan York
Are You a Solution Looking For a Problem?
The first thing to determine is, are you a solution looking for a problem? This is the biggest mistake that software founders make in my opinion. It takes a lot of honestly to answer this question without involving your own ego or love for your idea, but it can make or break a business and the person starting it. There are really cool gadgets and features out there that add complexity to the space. They're really cool. And they may be neat and innovative, but they're truly not subtracting complexity and removing buffers from an industry to make things more simple for people. Too many creators get caught up in feature land where they are so in love with an idea they think is going to change the world when really all they're doing is making things more complicated for people. Think about Uber and Amazon, two examples of companies that make it easy for customers to give them money because they remove every ounce of friction form the process. That is a quality problem solve.
So determine that as honestly as possible because if you're about to go all in, it's so much better to alter that idea now than it is to get six months down the road and realize you built something nobody needed.
Do People Really Want It?
The second thing that is the most obvious but I believe many miss, is to survey your market and determine do people actually want this? When we started HiredUp, we sent out tons of surveys to collect data where we could decide, do the people that would actually be using this app want something like this in the first place? Would they use it? What would they change? Thankfully we determined the answer based on the data was yet, but there were parts of it they didn't want and those features never made into the final build. It was valuable to us because it helped us shape the software from the beginning instead of having to rewrite it later on and make changes that would waste massive amounts of time and money. I would highly recommend taking your idea, condensing it into some sort of a survey, and sending that out to your target market, friends, family, companies, users, whoever, and decide honestly the direction you want to go. So many people are afraid to do this because they think people are going to steal their idea. PLEASE do not let that stop you from this research process. Here's the reality, 99.99% of you reading this article will never create and develop your own idea/product, so why would strangers suddenly have the enormous pain tolerance to get your cool idea off the ground instead of you? THEY WON'T. It is perfectly okay to be quiet about your idea, but don't make everyone you speak to sign an NDA and go around telling people that you refuse to share your plan with them. Not a good look and people don't want to help you when you do that.
Fast and Cheap VS Correct and Scalable
Once you've decided this is something that people really truly want, you need to understand there are two ways to build this thing.
Number one is you can do it inexpensively, very quickly, most likely overseas, and you're really only proving a concept. That's probably going to cost you about $50,000. You will take this idea to overseas developers and have them build it and in the end, you'll have a product that you can test.
Now, let me break down the issues with this method. First, this is very non-scalable. You are essentially creating a shell to prove the concept of a company that you later hope will become something bigger. The problem is that the software here is very minimal and baseline and so if you're app explodes and grows like you want it to, you're probably going to have to break the entire thing back down and rebuild it. As you can imagine, the worst thing that can happen to a technology company is to have thousands of users on your system, then having to pull them all off and rebuild the software. Odds are, you're never going to get those users back. I had people advise me to do it this way with HiredUp, and I was vehemently opposed. I actually lost an investor because I was so strongly against this. I never second guessed that decision for a moment because I refused to start with a bad product and a bad system.
The second way to build an app is much more expensive, much more time consuming, but I believe much more effective because it's scalable and sustainable. This is the way we did it. If you're going to do this, it's probably going to cost you somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000, which yes, very, very expensive, but if the idea is there, you've proven it has a market, and you are willing to bet your life on it, you're probably in good shape.
Wireframes and Mockups
The next thing is going to be wire framing. This is so important and you as the business owner and thought leader with the original idea must do this so you can translate your idea and your process from your head into the actual software. Apps like Sketch are great for as it basically allows you to drag and drop on iPhone screens exactly what you want your app to look like and how you want it to flow. For us, it put us 10 steps ahead because my developers didn't have to get creative. Instead, I was able to show them exactly what I wanted it leaving them to do what they do best, build code.
Where do I find people who know how to to build software? Now, there's a lot of complexity when it comes to coding so if you don't know anything about developing or writing software, it's very important to educate yourself. Like anything in life, it's smart to understand at least a little bit about what you're getting yourself into before you go and communicate with experts in that subject. Listen, you can determine which code language you're going to be using with your development team, but it's important to have a little bit of background on that before you actually talk with them.
When it comes to hiring developers, the number one thing they must have is good process hygiene. You'll hear words like SCRUM and Agile, which are different ways to workflow a development team. You need this because developers work on tasks and timelines. You tell them what you want and when you want it, and you get a finished design. Inside of that though are so many different to-do items that they have to be mindful of. If you don't have a rigid and well understood process, you won't get anything anywhere. Process is key and everyone has to be on the same page for this engine to run. It's like a row boat, if one person is off pace, the entire boat goes in the wrong direction.
In the beginning of HiredUp, I tried to piece together developers from LinkedIn and different engineer hiring websites. The problem with that is that not everybody has the same background, not everybody has the same experience and not everybody works well together. After much contemplation and struggle, we actually hired a contract team in Dallas who we paid to design and build the app. This was the best way for us to quickly get our app built and towards the end of the build, we've brought our own development team in house, but it was extremely helpful to have this group set up because they also helped train our developers once we hired them. If you're going to use a 3rd party group, make sure you vet them heavily. Ask to see some of the work that they've done in the past and even talk to a few of their clients to see if they are the right fit for what you're trying to do. This is why you have to educate yourself in the world of software development because these companies can tell you whatever they want and you'd have no idea if it were right or wrong. I believe most people are good, but it's pretty easy to get hung out to dry in an environment where you're a complete tourist who doesn't speak the language.
Getting It Out There
Now you have an app built, you're months down the road and you have your software, how do you actually get that out to the masses? We're around two weeks away from our app launch as of today so I can't tell you with certainty what works and what doesn't but what I can tell you is that hitting the market from every angle you can possibly think of in terms of marketing is much more effective and much safer than letting everything ride on one marketing initiative.
There are a couple things we've done to basically hedge this for our company. First thing is we've hired brand ambassadors all over the United States who will going around, signing up companies and individual people for our app. We pay them extremely well at $80 every time they sign up a business, which is pretty exceptional for an ambassador. We also have great incentives like $500 every month to the person in the region that has the most signups. Even if I forgot about every other marketing effort that we're doing and just stuck with that, I'd be pretty confident, but like I said, I will never let the company ride on one avenue alone.
The second thing that we're doing is a huge digital advertising push. I'm sure all of you have heard of Gary Vaynerchuk. His company, the Sasha Group and Vayner Media are creating and executing the digital content for the launch for our business. We feel very confident that with that and with our brand ambassadors together, we can really create something powerful quickly.
And the third thing we're doing is myself and our whole executive team are going out there ourselves. So, once we get to the point to where we've actually launched, we're out there hustling and getting people signed up, and this is obvious. I mean, the business owner and everybody else on the team is obviously going to go out there and sell this product to everybody we can find. I think sometimes people sit back and they think they need to delegate that task to others. There's nothing like actually going out there and selling your product yourself, and you must be willing to do it.
Those are three things we're doing to hedge ourselves. Like I said, if one of those fails, we still have two others for backup. If two of those fail, we still have one other. We are never going to put ourselves in a situation to where if one thing fails, the whole company doesn't work, never going to do it...ever.
One disclaimer I must put in here for marketing companies is if you're going to go with an external marketing group, make sure you vet them and see work they've actually done. I cannot even tell you how companies tried to screw us and what they tried to say they could do. They will literally say anything because if you think about it, marketing's a very ethereal thing. We don't really know where it lives, in the early days, we are never sure what exactly will stick, it's how do we get people to decide, yes, I'm going to download that app and do it over and over and over and over again. An example of a rip off pitch we were given was a company that come at us and said that they could get us something crazy, like 500,000 downloads within, two months or something, which is insane.
And so after really digging into it, every question that we would ask was brought back to us with a lengthy email and just all kinds of garbage that they would come up with. Finally, I said, you know, you guys can't actually show and quantify your success. I'm also fairly convinces they were using bots and computers to fake download applications. Who knows.
Anyways, there are people and companies out there who try to screw you. So look out for that. Never sign up with a company that you haven't sufficiently vetted and actually seen the results of their work.
You Need Watch Dogs.
Put a significant amount of time, energy and money into hiring the best people. Hire people that are going to challenge you and challenge your ideas in a good way. At the end of the day, as the business owner, you have the final say. You can say yes, or you can say no to anything that anyone brings you but having people around you that can bring different perspectives is unbelievably valuable and really is a must especially in building a technology.
The way that I always say it is, I want to be in the driver's seat with my foot flat on the gas and I want my entire team in the front seat with me and as we're speeding down the road, they're saying, watch out for that tree, don't hit that, look out for that! They're not sitting there on the brake pedal telling me why I can't do things, rather they're telling me to watch out for obstacles I may not be seeing. It's really important. Put the good team around you, spend the money on them, they're worth it.
Go Do It!
So that's it. These are a few of the things that we've learned and mistakes that we've made over the last few months in building this app that hopefully can help others when they're starting an app or a tech company in general. If you are starting a new business, reach out to me. I'd love to talk about it and I always enjoy hearing app & company ideas.
I am convinced that so many people are not doing the thing they are passionate about because they are scared of creating instability in their life if they were to jump ship and do "the thing." In reality, those are the people who end up with regret and actually create massive amounts of instability mentally, and especially financially.
I quit a great job where I was making six figures because I knew that this was a never ending cycle of me not being fully happy. After starting a recruiting company targeting high level sales positions, I made a 180 with my company. That leads me to starting HiredUp, a mobile application that allows candidates and companies to interact with each other through short form video before they ever meet.
I love sharing the process of this startup, my podcast, and other content by bringing people along for the ride of success and failure.
Go be Risky,