12 questions to ask before you build an app

Ian Lurie
Rick Santorum did not approve this blog post

Rick Santorum did not approve this blog post<br />Photo by Gage Skidmore

Rick Santorum throws up at JFK speeches. I throw up when someone says “We want to build an i[whatever] app!”

I have one question.


Have you really, really considered why you’re building your app? Here’s 10 questions to help you decide:

  1. Can I afford it? I’m sorry, but you can’t build a quality mobile app for $750. Billy-Bob’s House of Apps isn’t going to give you something that’s worth showing the public. Between wireframing, concept, design and development, you’re going to spend a nice chunk of change.
  2. Does my existing audience use any apps? Huh. Might be worth thinking that one through for a second. If 75% of your customers have never touched an iPad, much less played Angry Birds, you may not get much from a shiny new app.
  3. Is there a new audience I can reach with an app? No new audience + no old audience = zilch. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nicht.
  4. Does anyone come to my web site using a mobile device? Only 1% of visitors to your site are using an iPad, iPhone or smartphone. That might not mean an app is a bad bet. Yeah. The same way SuperPACs might not mean more crappy campaign ads.
  5. Can I get the same result by making my site mobile-friendly? Ah. This one gets to the heart of things. If all you’re going to do with your app is deliver a list of headlines from your web site (don’t laugh, I’ve seen plenty of those), maybe you can tweak your site so it behaves itself on a little screen. Even if you end up building an app later, this is a great interim step. It lets you test the waters a little.
  6. Can I get the same result with an HTML 5, mobile-dedicated site? If so, it’ll likely be a hell of a lot easier than building an app from scratch.
  7. Is there already an app like mine? Hey! I know! Let’s build an app called ‘angry Portents,’ where you use a slingshot to shoot angry Portent logos at little pigs! It’ll be great! Wait.
  8. Can I support it? Yeah. For every 1,000 people who download your app with zero issues, someone’s going to have something go wrong. You’re going to have to help them fix it, or pay someone else to fix it.
  9. Can I handle the haters? People love to release their angst on app review pages. The happy app users rarely write anything. It’s the miserable ones, living in their house with 32 cats while they plan for the coming zombie infestation, who tend to review your software. If you’re going to panic the first time you get one star, consider a pause.
  10. Do I have a goal for this software? If you’re building an app because a competitor has one, you’re liable to end up roadkill.
  11. Can I offer something as a premium? If you can use your app to deliver premium content, or a better shopping experience, or just a warm tingly feeling because I don’t have get up off my couch any more, it might be worth it. People like to feel special. If your app can do that, you should build it.
  12. Can I reduce costs? Maybe switching a print manual or journal will result in huge cost savings. OK then. Go build that sucker.

I love apps—don’t get me wrong. They’re fantastic, and I’m an iPad addict. But those little mobile programs are a lot more complicated than they look. Building one is a big investment, not just up front but in long-term support. Make sure there’s a reason, and that you’re ready.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Nothing like a good afternoon humor break. Thanks Ian.
    For my tastes I’d like to see #10 as #1 and #5 and #6 as #2. Truth be told, if I had five bucks for every bad idea that was me-too’ed I be rich enough to pay someone to read these blog posts to me. Probably even enough cash flow to have them think for me as well.
    Whether it’s apps or something else, just because someone else does it doesn’t mean you should too, eh? But common sense and executive egos don’t exactly go hand in hand do they?

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