How to Come Up With an Idea for an App That Will Sell. And Why You Should Charge for Downloads.

By on June 30, 2014

I know plenty of people who want to get into the app development business. I know this because they are regularly asking me for advice on how to get started/what tools they need etc. They then proceed to ignore my advice usually, but that’s a whole different story for another time…

The thing that holds most people back from actually biting the bullet and taking that step towards developing an app that earns them passive income though is the lack of an idea. To be willing to invest so much time and effort into coding a piece of software and then releasing it, you need to have at least some belief in your idea and to think that it’s really going to sell. You can wait and wait for an idea to come, but sometimes it just doesn’t work like that.

coming up with app ideas

So how do you go about generating ideas? And how do you ensure that those ideas don’t just mean good apps, but that they also mean money?

By the way, if you can’t code apps yourself I just so happen to offer app development services for Android. Get in touch on the services or about me page! Or if you’d rather learn how to build apps yourself then you can check out my e-book ‘A Guide to Making Money From Apps With Basic4Android‘. The link will take you to my GumRoad site where I’m currently selling it.

Choosing a Niche for Your App

As with building a website or a blog, picking a ‘niche’ first can be a successful approach to app development. A niche is basically a subject area that attracts a specific type of person. For instance ‘bodybuilding’ is a niche, and so is ‘self improvement’. A first step towards building an app is often deciding which niche you want to go into.

The first requirement for your niche is that it be an area that you are interested in which will help you to make something actually useful (see below). At the same time though, it’s also important to make sure that the niche you’re targeting is one that you can do well in.

What this means, is that the niche has to be big enough for there to be an audience (so ‘curling for amputees’ might not be the one for you) while being small enough that you aren’t going to be drowned out by the competition. If you were to make a fitness app for instance then you would find you were completely drowned out by the hundreds of thousands of competing apps unless you were to target a smaller niche within fitness. For instance you might make a TRX app (TRX being the suspension straps) which would make your app uniquely interesting to all those people who shelled out for the fitness equipment. You can have that idea for free, it’s genuinely a good one. (There’s a few there already, but contrary to popular belief you don’t necessarily have to develop the very first app)

I did something similar recently when I released my ‘VR Base’ app that was the first app designed to be used with the Oculus Rift. I also released a Parkour App aaaaages ago, long before there were any other in the store. If only I’d been good at developing back then (and done some promotion) I might have been raking it in by now.

Now you might be thinking that you don’t know any topics well that meet these criteria, but don’t worry: you almost definitely do. Just think long and hard about your hobbies, interests and skills, as well as specific topics within that, and at some point something will click.

A Route to Market

Another way to make sure your app will actually sell is to identify your ‘route to market’ before you even get started. A route to market is essentially any direct access path to the people who are interested in your niche.

A brilliant example of this is any small hobbyist or industry magazine. For instance an app of knitting patterns would be ideal because there are hundreds of different magazines and websites that would probably be happy to write about your app if you gave them the inside scoop. Try calling up and see if they’d be interested in writing about what you’re developing. These are much easier targets than trying to go with something like ‘Wired’ magazine to sell a technology app (though of course there are smaller tech sites and magazines you can approach too). Either way, if you can identify some promising ‘routes to market’ then that’s a good area to get into.

Reddit and Google+ communities are also brilliant places to promote to specific niches currently. One of my best apps, Debugger, unfortunately has barely sold any copies because there was no route to market and I didn’t do any promotion for it.

Debugger: Genius Game

Scratch Your Own Itch

So now you’ve chosen what your app will be ‘about’ you still need to decide what you want it to do. This can often be the tricky part, but note first of all that your app doesn’t necessarily have to ‘do’ anything. You can easily sell an app as an information product by simply making it a collection of articles, photos and videos. If you don’t have any ideas forthcoming and you really want to release something quickly, then this might be a good way to go.

But if you want to come up with something that will be massive, then  really you’ll want it to be super useful – and that often means ‘scratching your own itch’. In other words, try to find the points of consternation you face when engaging in your hobby or work. If this is a fitness app then ask yourself… what are the things that frustrate you when you come to workout? What prevented you from getting started sooner? What would make your life easier?

Again this is a strategy I used myself when I created Multiscreen Multitasking. I was a writer with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and I wanted to be able to do my job on my phone – thus I needed a way to be able to use a browser and a text editor at the same time. Thus I created and released the app, and it turned out that thousands of other people needed that too!

The Step Back Technique

I talked a little about this idea in a previous article (How I Made £15,000 From An Android App) and it’s a strategy I invented. The ‘step back’ technique involves asking yourself what the most amazing app possibly imaginable would be – in a perfect world, what would you buy immediately? Ignore the fact that it’s impossible and then just spitball how you might make the ‘closest thing’ possible to that idea. You might be surprised what you can achieve.

Multiscreen Multitasking

This is what I did when I made Multiscreen Multitasking. I knew I wanted to have Windows on my Android phone, but that was impossible. Instead then I asked myself what the next best thing would be… and I decided the answer was to build lots of ‘mini apps’ that could launch in windows into one larger app.

Research Your App

The other way to find out what people want is to do some research and just get it from the horse’s mouth. Head onto Reddit or another online community in your niche and oversee the conversations. Look and see what the common problems people are facing are and think about the ways you could solve those issues with an app. You might even be lucky enough to see people coming up with their own ideas for apps that can serve as direct inspiration. You can even just ask people what they would like to see in an app, and that way you’re also getting the community behind your project and building hype.

This way you are not coming up with ideas for apps yourself, but are smartly crowdsourcing the problem.

Teaming Up

Don’t have an idea yourself? Or perhaps don’t have a good route to market? Then why not team up with someone like a blogger, a YouTuber or an influential figure in your community who has an audience and some clout? That way the idea and the audience are built in and nearly guaranteed. This is the strategy I’m taking with the next project I’m working on, and you can read more about that here.

Why You Should Charge For Your Apps

So now you know how to come up with ideas for apps and hopefully you’re already enjoying a little inspiration… (Anything? Even a little bit maybe?)

The next question is how to make money from that app. And to this I say: charge for the app. When I wrote my article on selling Multiscreen Multitasking a lot of people were surprised that I suggested selling the app rather than using ads or a freemium model (freemium means you provide a free app and then charge for a slightly more polished version).

Well with Multiscreen Multitasking I tried both methods and I can tell you that I sold more copies with a paid app than I did when I had a free ‘trial version’. As for ads, the amount you get paid-per-click was so minimal that we can just completely forget it right away. Forget it, it’s gone…

I was trying to work out why it was that fewer people paid for my app when there was a free trial available. Did it mean my app wasn’t very good and people just didn’t know how to uninstall it? At first I was worried that was the case, except I noticed the trend in some other apps as well. And then I figured it out.

The reason is that for 99% of purchases, we buy impulsively based on emotional reasoning. In other words we buy something because we have an emotional urge to do so, and given time and thought we probably wouldn’t spend that money. This is a sorry state of affairs, but it’s a fact that store managers know well.

“For 99% of purchases, we buy impulsively based on emotional reasoning”

Often what happens is that you get ‘in the zone’ on a subject like productivity, like parkour or like virtual reality and for a while it’s a bit of a fad. In that time you want to gobble up anything that looks good in that niche and when you read about a great looking app you click ‘buy’ without thinking (it’s only a dollar after all). Some people, myself included, will buy games that look good and then never actually play them. That’s because it was an emotional response based on a mood.

This is even truer for something like a Parkour app – in this case some people wanted to download the app almost as an ‘image thing’ – just so they could show off that they liked Parkour by having an app on their phone. People buy things for strange reasons.

If you offer a free version of your app, even if it’s great, there’s a good chance that someone will download it, enjoy it for five minutes and then forget all about it. So to make money you need to get them to commit right then and there while their enthusiasm is at its peak.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule – if you’re hoping to promote your app in some places you may need a free version. In other cases the app may be a vehicle to sell another product or service. In most cases though, I would highly recommend charging for sales. Try both and I think you’ll agree.

By the way, if any of this works and you get rich, feel free to send some money my way by way of thanks. 50% is fine.

To learn the basics of building an app with Basic4Android as I did, check out this link for my eBook. That will take you to my page on GumRoad where you can buy the PDF which will teach you how to go about installing, setting up and learning Basic4Android. You can download Basic4Android here and if you enter the code ‘NQR’ you’ll also get a 30% discount! (You’re welcome…)

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