How to Find and Develop App Ideas that Make Money
There’s a myth about entrepreneurship, and if you buy into it, it could keep you chained to your corporate job until you retire.
The most dangerous lie a budding entrepreneur could believe in is the myth of creative genius—the idea that the unicorns of the world (those 700+ startups worth more than $1 billion USD) only came about because their founders experienced a rare flash of insight.
The truth is, for every truly novel idea like Airbnb, there are many more successful startups that took a systematic approach to finding an app idea. First and foremost, they set out to solve a problem. Then, they validated the concept technically, verified that people were likely to purchase it, and built highly profitable businesses around these solutions.
At Net Solutions, we’ve designed and developed some nine hundred apps over the past decade, and we’ve seen some wild success stories.
What are some good app ideas and how do you bring them to life? Read on to find out.
Before You Begin: A Realistic Look at Costs
When software developers do their job well, it’s hard for an end-user to imagine the many hours of planning, design, and development that went into the app. It’s supposed to feel seamless on the customer’s end, but if anyone promises they can design and build a highly usable software product for dirt cheap? Don’t believe it.
Dirt cheap developers will not take a strategic approach that analyzes user workflows to create an optimal User Experience (UX). That requires talented staff, and talented staff charge a premium for their services.
What’s worse? Those cheap developers are likely to rush the project, skip key steps, and create a sub-par product that isn’t future-proofed. In other words, if your app does succeed despite any usability problems, you’ll spend a whole lot more money fixing those technical issues down the line.
Your best bet is to find a mobile app developer that offers competitive rates while refusing to compromise on quality. That means skipping the dirt-cheap, one-person-shop and aiming for a full-scale agency whose team asks probing questions, brings optimal value, and sees itself as a strategic partner that understands cross-platform development (not just a gang of coders).
We’ve published another post that goes into great detail about how much an app costs, so feel free to check it out. There are a number of factors, but this will give you a ballpark idea.
How to Come Up with a Good App Idea?
In an episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley, lovable loser Erlich Bachmann eats a bag of magic mushrooms and heads to the California Desert, seeking the creative insight he feels he needs to name a new app. Spoiler alert: His mission fails.
The truth about winning tech ideas is that the best ones usually arise from common-sense problem-solving. Hotjar is a bootstrapped startup that now earns more than $29 million USD in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR), and they’ve never taken venture capital. Impressive, right?
What may surprise you is that Hotjar Founder David Darmanin’s first two startups failed miserably (his words). He thought the first two ideas were so good they’d sell themselves, but he was wrong. Darmanin did things differently with Hotjar, first validating the idea for a marketing technology platform, then building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and only then refining the product based on user feedback.
That’s great news for the rest of us because it dispels the myth of creative genius. You don’t need to catch lightning in a bottle to find your winning app idea.
Instead, try these techniques, and see what app ideas they spark.
1. Browse through the App Stores
Like a band of Hobbits, you’re going on an adventure! It’s time to wander the app stores, entering keywords for products or concepts that intrigue you, and follow each thread. This is the “explorer” phase, where you poke around and see what you find. Don’t restrict your imagination here. Open your mind to all the possibilities. There will be time to refine and critique later, but don’t restrict your creative flow right now.
2. Find User Pain Points
Study the review section of any app that interests you. There’s gold here!
Does someone complain that they can’t find an Android reminder app that keeps the notifications at the top of the screen, like the native iOS reminder app does? That might be a winning idea.
Or maybe it won’t be? Maybe reminder apps are limited by the Android platform, or maybe some other app already does this well and our reviewer just hasn’t found it. Your next step is to Google that issue to see if (1) it’s a widespread problem that’s ruffled plenty of feathers, (2) if a solution already exists, and (3) whether you can improve upon any existing solutions.
Step 3 is critical. Even if a solution does exist, you might be able to do it better, advertise it more successfully, or create a better User Experience (UX) that soaks up most of the market share. If you can do any of these things, you’ve stumbled across a great app idea.
3. Brainstorm with Colleagues, Family, and Friends
When it comes to idea generation, a certain magic happens when you bounce ideas off intelligent, creative people. The key is to find someone who is an expansive thinker, as opposed to a critic.
Later, when it’s time to validate your idea, it will be time to hit up your more critical friends whose opinions you respect. A good critic will find the flaws in your ideas before you spend a bunch of money pursuing them. They’ll play a valuable role, but critics are not as helpful during the idea generation phase, when your mind needs to remain open to all the possibilities.
4. Search for Web App Ideas on Social Media
Never before in history has so much consumer data been available to entrepreneurs. You can learn a lot by studying Facebook groups, Instagram posts, LinkedIn groups, and other social media sites. Look for groups and influencers related to the audience you want to serve.
You can also use sentiment analysis tools like Audiense to scrape user insights off social media, giving you full reports of what different demographics are thinking, feeling, and posting en masse about a subject.
5. Browse New App Ideas on Reddit, Kickstarter, AngelList, and Product Hunt
Reddit and other internet forums like Quora can spark all sorts of cool app ideas, with people openly sharing the problems they want you to come along and solve.
Kickstarter, AngelList, and Product Hunt feature new software startups and platforms, and browsing those sites might unlock some inspiration.
6. Off-line Networking: Attend Meetups and Events for Founders
Author and podcaster Tim Ferriss frequently reminds his audience that they are “the average of the five closest people to them.” If you want to be a tech entrepreneur, connect with other tech entrepreneurs. They will inspire you and hold you to a higher standard. Plus, talking shop with them just may spark your next big idea.
How to Validate Your App Idea?
Alright. You’ve stumbled across an idea that just might be the next big thing—or even the next small thing that generates regular revenue and lets you live life on your own terms. Whatever the case, it’s an exciting time for you.
And now? We’re going to ask you to calm down. It’s time to take a step back and ask the difficult, critical questions. Two questions, in particular, should drive your analysis at this point.
Question #1: Is your app idea technologically feasible?
Here’s the true story of an entrepreneurial Uber driver who came up with a cool app idea. Since most rideshare drivers work for Uber and its competitors at the same time, they run multiple driver apps simultaneously—accepting rides as they come and shutting down the other apps. It’s a manual process, and it’s a huge hassle for drivers, especially when two ride requests come in at the same time. In fact, at the time, Uber made it so that if they missed too many ride requests, they could miss out on certain bonuses.
He came up with an idea for an app that would allow rideshare drivers to run multiple driver apps at the same time, automatically accepting the first ride request that came in and shutting down the competing apps until the ride was complete. This sounded like a winning idea, until he learned how APIs work.
An API is the technology that allows one app to interface with another app (e.g., Expedia connects with the airlines’ APIs to aggregate fares and book tickets). Since this ridesharing driver app would need permission to interface with each of the competing rideshare apps’ APIs, it was not technologically feasible. Uber would have no incentive to grant him access to their API, since it would draw drivers away from their dominant platform. Even if Uber and the others did grant him access to their API in the beginning, they could revoke access at any time, so his business could disappear overnight.
The app idea was a bust. It may have been a good app idea in terms of market demand, but it was not likely to work as a long-term business strategy. Luckily, he spoke with an honest developer who explained the issues before he spent loads of time and money on the project.
The good news? Shortly afterwards, he launched a different business, which remains profitable today and allows him to travel the world as a digital nomad.
This is a good reminder that there are plenty of viable business models out there. If your current idea is a bad one, you need to figure that out sooner rather than later, so you can start building the one that will set you free. As they say in Silicon Valley, “Fail fast. Fail Forward.”
Curious to see if your app idea has technological legs? Contact us.
Question #2: Are people willing to pay for your app?
This is a question of market demand. Unless there’s a significant demand for the product you envision, you won’t be able to cover your startup and development costs, much less turn a profit.
The following steps will help you validate your idea from a market demand perspective:
- Analyze similar apps on Crunchbase, app store reviews, G2, etc.
- Conduct keyword research, paying attention to search volume
- Ask potential customers, using surveys, social media polls, and Reddit forums. While these are not scientific surveys, they’ll give you a sense of the market demand
Understanding Your Audience
You’ve no doubt stumbled across some poorly designed apps in your day, and you probably wondered who on earth they had in mind when they designed them. Certainly not you!
That’s the exact question you don’t want your users asking themselves, and you can avoid this by understanding your target audience intimately. This will not only inform your app’s look and feel, but it will guide your marketing strategy, workflow design, pricing strategy, and more.
Getting to know your target audience means asking the following questions.
Who Will Primarily Use Your App?
Don’t just think in terms of demographics (e.g., age, gender). Think in terms of psychographics (e.g., urban hipsters who love craft beer and live music). The way people think is more indicative of their behavior than immutable characteristics like ethnicity and biological sex.
What Will They Use Your App to Accomplish?
This might seem obvious, until it’s not. Your users might end up using your app in ways you never intended, and that’s fine. Silicon Valley abounds with pivot stories. Instagram began as a check-in app called Burbn that integrated games like Mafia Wars, but it was the photo sharing element that took off. Once that happened, Instagram scrapped all the other features crowding their interface and became the world’s premier photo-sharing app.
Pivots happen. Watch closely so you can adapt.
What Makes Your App Idea Different?
Before Facebook and Myspace, a social networking site called Friendster captured the world’s attention, very briefly. People loved it. In fact, they loved it so much that boatloads of users tried to access it too quickly, and those early 2000’s pre-cloud servers couldn’t handle all the traffic. Nobody wanted to wait 30 seconds for a page to load, so they dropped Friendster like a hot brick.
When Facebook came along, they took a different approach. They began with universities, launching one-by-one at different institutions, waiting until the hype built up from nearby schools and the students who were left out started to complain. This allowed Facebook to gate their usership and buy up new server space as demand grew. It also created the sense of being part of an exclusive club, unlike Myspace, which “old people” and high school students couldn’t access. Facebook continued with this strategy until 2008, when they opened the platform to everyone. The rest is history.
The moral of the story? Facebook stood out not because of its technology, per se, but because the founders adopted a strategy that ensured quick download speeds and social exclusivity to early adopters.
How will your app stand out?
Marketing and Funding Your App
In addition to understanding your target audience, you’ll need to give a great deal of thought to both your marketing and your funding strategy.
While these two concepts may seem distinct, they’re related in more ways than you might think. A bootstrapped startup will likely use a product-led growth strategy, which relies on end-user, word-of-mouth recommendations to drive adoption. By contrast, a startup with $1 million USD in angel funding can employ all sorts of tactics, from influencer marketing to paid advertising.
How Will You Market Your App?
There are many different marketing channels for apps these days, and we can’t even scratch the surface here. Whether you use blogs, influencer marketing, social media marketing, product-led growth, or any combination of strategies, you’ll want to take this question seriously and tailor it to your product.
The most important thing is to adapt your strategy to your audience. Are you targeting sales professionals with a business-to-business app? If so, your target audience is probably not hanging out on Tumblr. On the other hand, if you’re selling a fitness app, Instagram could be the perfect channel.
How Will You Fund Your App?
Every new business has startup costs. Even if you’re an experienced developer who can design and build an app from scratch, there are opportunity costs in doing everything by yourself—and limits to what one person can accomplish.
Most app founders reach into their own pocketbooks and reach out to family and friends for their initial seed money. Once they start showing revenue, even if they aren’t yet making a profit, they often turn to venture capitalists for infusions of cash and guidance.
Other startups, like Hotjar and ClickFunnels, never ended up taking venture capital. They grew slower, but the founders maintained complete control of their businesses. That has its advantages as well.
The decision to take or reject funding is a personal choice, but it’s one that requires serious thought. Choose the strategy that makes sense for the long-term success of your startup, and consult an attorney who understands startups before signing any paperwork with investors.
What Are Some Trending App Ideas in 2021?
One good way to find a niche in the marketplace of apps is to look at what’s trending today. While you probably won’t end up going head-to-head with the big guys, you just might discover an underserved niche within one of these categories.
In any case, it’s a good place to start if you want to find simple app ideas for beginners. And some simple app ideas can grow into some of the best app ideas. Here are some apps that are in demand in 2021.
Dating apps have captured the world’s imagination, with total revenues expected to read $3.85 billion USD in 2021. The winners all found a unique angle, like Bumble’s “women message first” approach. Others target niche populations, like Nomad Soulmates, which helps location-independent globetrotters find love.
Social Networking Apps
Everyone knows that social media is big business, and while you’re not likely to become the next Facebook (Facebook seems to have that #1 position on lock for the foreseeable future), there are plenty of niche social networking sites that have made a name for themselves. Nextdoor, for instance, targets people who want to connect with their neighbors to sell items and solve local problems.
Quiz apps are a category within mobile gaming that has gained popularity lately, with niche apps like Newsmeister, which tests your knowledge of current events. Others have come up with a clever twist on the quiz format. For example, the Psych! App will have you coming up with fake answers to trivia questions and seeing if your friends can tell them apart from real answers.
Food Delivery Apps
We’re lazy creatures, and that’s why so many of us are willing to spend $20 to get Taco Bell delivered straight to our door. Food delivery apps like UberEats dominate that market, but many smaller apps have popped up that add something unique to the market. MealDrop, for instance, connects hungry customers with local chefs for a one-of-a-kind experience.
Taxi Booking Apps
If you travel around the world, you’ll find Uber in just about every major city. What you’ll also find, if you look deeper, are local challengers to Uber that often do it cheaper. We posted a blog about 7 rideshare apps, so check it out if you want to emulate their success.
You probably mostly think of airfare and car rental services like Kayak and Expedia when you think of travel apps, but there are many other ways to target this industry. For example, XE Currency Converter makes it easy to see what something costs in your own currency, and PackPoint puts your packing list on your phone.
Betting apps like 22Bet and MyBookie tap into the $262 billion USD market for gambling. Just be sure to understand your local and regional gambling laws before jumping into this heavily regulated field.
Have you heard of the Covid-15? That’s the 15 extra pounds so many Americans have put on since Covid started (that’s around 6.8 kg for the rest of the world). Many are trying to lose that extra weight, and fitness apps like MyFitnessPal (which counts calories) and JEFIT (which is ideal for tracking weight lifting workouts) are helping people reach their goals.
Video Editing Apps
You’ve probably heard of the big names in video editing, like Apple’s iMovie (for iOS) and Adobe’s cross-platform Premier Rush, but there are plenty of small video editing apps that have their own unique benefits—like Filmmaker Pro, which is touted for its greenscreen feature.
Photo Editing Apps
As with video editing, there are lots of big players like Photoshop on the market, but there are many others that let you play around with special effects. FaceApp became wildly popular overnight because it allowed users to swap gender, change their age, and play around with different hairstyles.
Ticket Booking Apps
When we think of ticket booking apps, the airfare aggregators usually come to mind, but this is a much wider category. For example, the Peek app allows you to book tours from your iPhone when you’re on vacation.
An entire industry has sprouted up surrounding cryptocurrency trade, and apps like Robinhood and Coinbase have made solid profits off it. Each has its own business model, with some making money off commissions and others making money off membership fees.
Personal Finance Apps
The personal finance app market is a wide one. Tracking investments is one area of focus, which you can do with the aforementioned Robinhood or any of its competitors. However, you can also do things like record your expenses and make a budget with apps like YNAB (which stands for You Need a Budget).
All the major news services offer apps to keep their readers informed, but there’s an entire industry for news aggregator apps that take a different approach. The AllSides app, for instance, uses an algorithm to assess an article’s political slant. That way users can get a sense of what the culture-makers are saying across the political spectrum.
Video Communication Apps
We’re all familiar with Zoom and FaceTime, but there are countless video communication apps out there, each with its own features. Maybe you can add a unique set of features that captures a niche? Remember, there was a pre-pandemic time when Zoom didn’t dominate the market. They came along and offered a better solution than Skype, and their timing couldn’t have been better.
Video Streaming Apps
Getting organized is a massive industry, and there are many apps out there that take a different approach to getting things done. In fact, there’s a popular methodology called Getting Things Done (GTD), and many apps like OmniFocus have built their entire business out of the philosophy created by David Alan. If you can come up with your own take on task management, you may have a winning app idea.
Book Reading Apps
Kindle and iBooks are the only players in town when it comes to reading apps. Other apps offer some unique features. Oodles, for instance, offers over 50,000 free eBooks in many different languages.
Grocery Shopping Apps
There’s a whole industry of apps built around grocery shopping, from delivery services like Instacart to coupon-finding apps like Flipp. Maybe there’s a unique take you can offer on the $11.7 trillion USD grocery industry?
We’re all familiar with apps like Ticketmaster and Eventbrite, which help you find and book concert tickets and tickets for other events. What you may not realize is that there are smaller niches within the event space, like 10Times, which helps you find events and expos. This uniquely serves marketing professionals, helping it carve out its place in a crowded field.
Job Search Apps
LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed all have apps that help you find jobs—but what about smaller, more niche sites? There are plenty of apps that target specific industries (like creative professionals) or job seekers in specific locations. While it’s hard to take on the big guys, you just may stumble across a niche that one particular industry falls in love with.
Finding the Right Development Partner
Choosing the right software development partner to build your app is about more than technical skills. This may sound counterintuitive if you’ve never seen a development team at work, but there’s much more to software than coding. Focusing solely on coding is like hiring the strongest bricklayer to build your house—without hiring an architect or looking at blueprints.
Here at Net Solutions, we have a team of Business Analysts who will help you understand your user workflow, Designers who specialize in User Experience, and Project Managers who work with you to translate your vision and interface with our technical team.
That’s the absolute minimum you should look for in a development partner, but we recommend going a step beyond those requirements. Whether you work with Net Solutions or another talented team, be sure to choose partners who communicate clearly and aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions.
Is your vision feasible? Does it need some tweaks? Does it make sense to build everything you’re looking for into the first version of the app, or should you take a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach—saving money and allowing you to base future feature development on customer feedback?
Finding an honest, straightforward team that understands the big picture puts you well on your way toward building a successful app.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. I have an app idea. Where do I start?
It’s important to make sure the app is both (1) technologically feasible, and (2) people are willing to pay for it. To determine whether there’s a market for your app, you can study existing products, read reviews for similar products, and conduct surveys and interviews with your target market.
To determine whether it’s technologically feasible, talk to a professional at Net Solutions. We’ll give it to you straight.
2. I have an app idea, but how can I make money from it?
At its core, making money from an app is no different than making money from any other product. Since the dawn of trade, supply and demand have driven profits.
A successful blacksmith in 12th century Scotland solved a problem. People needed horseshoes, farm equipment, and other metal goods, and the highest-priced blacksmith in town turned profits by making these products better than anyone else.
The trick to making money from an app is to identify a problem that people are willing to spend money to solve. If your app can make their lives easier, and you market it well, you’ll probably make money.
There’s a Market for Your App Idea. What now?
You’ve done all your homework. You’ve solved a problem, you’ve validated your idea, and you’re ready to take the next step.
Net Solutions has spent the past 20 years helping tech entrepreneurs follow their dreams, building award-winning apps for iOS and Android devices, along with web-based platforms that have turned startups into multi-million dollar companies.
Contact Net Solutions today, and we’ll help you bring your vision to life.
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