Build your app. Know Your Competition
When I first started my company in 2005, I wasn’t a freelancer – I was designing and creating apps for Windows Mobile platform and selling them directly to customers (14.95$ for an alarm clock!). I loved it! Being fully my own boss I could experiment with new stuff, spend countless hours on ‘meaningless’ details and just have 100% fun while still making a good income. Times changed, Windows Mobile died, and I started working with others on their projects, building their businesses and got so busy that I couldn’t find a time anymore for my own apps.
Fortunately, recently new contest launched – Get Noticed organized by Maciej Aniserowicz, on of the most popular IT bloggers in Poland. I decided that it’s a great opportunity to build my own app and achieve 3 goals at once:
- Learn and experiment with new technology
- Create a ‘How to build a mobile app’ guide
- Build my own mobile app
Before we start this 3-month journey I have a small favor to ask. I’m afraid that I won’t have time and strength to fight this project after hours so please follow me on social media (twitter, snapchat) or subscribe to the newsletter. And if you don’t hear from me too often, bang on my doors and send me this
Ok, Photoshop closed, back to work. Let start with clarifying the idea.
Describe your app idea in one sentence
When you have this new one-million-dollar idea you might want to quickly buy a domain, start designing your screens, hire a developer, build the app, sell it and move to Hawaii for the rest of your life. All in a period of six to twelve months. I know it’s probably not you, but trust me, there are guys like this out there.
The first step is to clarify your idea, so you could easily describe it to anyone in one sentence. In my case, it’s this:
Mobingo is a mobile app for getting news and notifications relevant to specific location, like alerts about scheduled power outage in your home.
Next time when someone asks you about what you’re currently you’ll be well prepared and the conversation will be much easier.
Oh, and one more tip – don’t get too hung up on the app name or branding, in the end, it doesn’t matter that much. If Nike could go with ‘I don’t love it, but maybe it will grow on me’ for their logo, so can you.
Find and track your competition
A few months ago, a friend called me and asked if I could look at the app idea he had. He sent me a nice, few page document describing the idea. It had nice images, various scenario descriptions and event business model options.
Me: I like the idea. Do you have any competitors?
Friend (excited): No, it’s so unique that I’ve never seen this!
Me (after 15 mins of Googling): Here are few links to existing apps. One was even used at Olympic Games in 2012!
Friend (discouraged): …oh…
My friend got discouraged, but you shouldn’t be! I really doubt that anyone can come up with something totally unique at this point. But it’s good to be 2nd or 3rd on the market as you can get to learn from your competitor mistakes. Also remember what Gary Vaynerchuck, social media guru, said.
Ideas are shit, execution is the game.
With that in mind, launch google.com and start looking for your direct or indirect competitors. Follow them on social media, read through their company history. How long are they in the business? What are their customers saying now and a few months back? Where did they get their money from? Do they also have other apps to maintain?
Learn their strengths and weaknesses and compare them to yours.
Research existing apps
After you made your overall company check, you should be able to find 2-3 most successful competitors. Download their apps, play with them and write down what you like and dislike about them. What I also like to do is to open their page on App Store and scroll down to version history.
That’s a great resource for learning what they did and how long did it take them to get to the current version. Also, you should read through their reviews (switch to All Versions tab on iOS) – For example in my case, the 1.0.0 version of my biggest competitor was created 3 years ago, so it’s safe to assume they have a 4-year start ahead of me. And their users are complaining about the quality and stability – good for me!
After you downloaded and tested their app – don’t uninstall them, try to use them on regular basis to learn more and stay on top of their progress. They might be working on a big update, so you better don’t miss it.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with the fact, that you’re not the first one in the race to the top. Facebook wasn’t first to build a social media site, Apple wasn’t first to build a smartphone, Nike wasn’t first to invent a sport shoe. And there are even more such examples on smaller niches. Staying on top of your competition is an important factor of final success and will actually give you an advantage. When you learn from other people mistakes, you can focus on what’s important and use your limited resources efficiently.
Are you ready to start your research? You can download my notes about Mobingo competitors to help you get started.