Do Not Build That App… yet

Alright, alright that’s a little misleading. What I meant to say is you need to figure out if that app will improve your core business and help solve your customer’s problem better.

I get people coming up to me all the time asking about what it takes to build an app. Coffee shops, consultants, sports memorabilia shops, you name it. And they all struggle with answering the question of what is the goal?

Technology as a means to improve your core

Technology, at its most basic form, is to automate, streamline, and improve the efficiency of a previously “broken” process. Too many people come up to me — and I have made this same mistake — of thinking you have to create an app first.

Photo by Artur Matosyan on Unsplash

What‘s your bullseye?

You may find out that an app will probably improve your business, but let’s confirm that before you spend months and a ton of money developing it. Let’s not forget that you probably won’t get it right with the first version of the app.

I go back to finding out exactly what your core is because that is the most important part of your business. If you are a coffee shop, this app better help you sell more coffee. A mentor of mine, Ben Williams, explains that your core offering is like a bullseye. No matter what you do, every action should point right back to that bullseye. This is especially true in the startup world where you can’t afford to spread yourself thin doing anything else than your core offering.

Prove your concept in the easiest way possible

This is easier said than done. In a world where our attention spans are shrinking by the second, you may only get one chance to make an impression. This leads to people thinking they need to immediately jump to an app.

The problem is they haven’t first figured out what their users need and the problem they are solving.

The Wrong Way

At NativX we thought we had to build an app, then built a strong community. We waited around until the app was out to recruit Natives and build the community.

What happened? Well, we built something that our users didn’t want because we assumed they wanted it.

Quick note: This is a lot easier said than done. It’s pretty difficult to get people excited for a product that isn’t out yet. I get irrationally annoyed at the people that would spew their business book jargon about this. It’s like yah guy, I read that book too, if that’s all you had to do, everyone would be an entrepreneur.

The Right Way

What we should have done was recruited the Natives first and started a newsletter or blog with their favorite places to eat and drink. This way we could create a strong community first and then get feedback from our community on what they wanted us to build. We figured that out later on.

Product Hunt Example

Product Hunt did the same thing. They started as an email to friends to share their favorite new products, then it grew to a newsletter, then a website, and finally, after they were well established, they released the app.

The Power Of Face To Face Meetings

When you are in the early stages of a startup, I can’t stress enough how nothing is “too small”. Ignore investors that say oh that target market is too small or that can’t be scalable. Going after a small group of people makes it easier to meet with them to really understand their problems and needs.

You can always figure out how to scale it later once you have a solid loyal following. At the beginning, it’s better to have a small group of users that are obsessed than a large group that doesn’t get value from it.

The Wrong Way

When NativX first launched, we thought we had to be in all these cities and scale quickly. Turns out, we did everything “alright” and our product suffered because of it.

The Right Way

We decided to back down to just Philadelphia. This was the best decision we made because we were able to meet face to face with our power users to nail down the problem they were having and figure out the right solution.
Being in only one city, we were able to sit down one on one with every Native to make sure they were experts and fit our brand. We also figured out how our platform could help our Natives which was a bonus.

I don’t consider myself an expert in any of this, just using this as a way to document my learnings and experience, since in the startup world, resumes don’t tell the whole story.



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Brenden Coleman

Brenden Coleman

Product @ Premier Lacrosse League | Product Focused | Technical Startup Founder | Air Force Veteran