7 steps to Launch 3rd World Apps: The story of FillApp

Read more about the FillApp app here

Single-purpose apps are awesome. Here at TouchFoundry, we decided to test our mettle and jam one up in a month-long hackathon in order to solve a real-world problem and document our findings along the way. And what better way to help a 3rd Worlder than by creating an app that saves an end-user money? This nifty little applauded app that we’ve dubbed FillApp does just that. It monitors the fluctuating price of fuel and alerts you as to the best time to fill up your tank in order to save some cash. A tiny breath of fresh air in our unstable economy.

Now single purpose apps only do one thing, but they do that one thing amazingly well. They are to the app marketplace as what chia seeds are to food – small but pack a punch. We, along with many others including Mark Zuckerberg, are seeing an upward growth trend in the popularity of single purpose apps and believe them to be the way forward in the evolution of apps and, more in general, mankind itself. No pressure. With all the clutter, noise and ads that have appeared in app user interfaces across the app stores, there is a new niche that is emerging – a need for premium apps on a freemium model. It’s forcing industry leaders such as ourselves to be creative with new ways to create, market and monetise apps.

Now it’s all fine and large to just ‘make an app’ – heck, everyone’s doing it, right? Most people go full tunnel-vision when musing over the ‘next big app idea’ that they completely forget about business strategy, an ongoing support model and the overall marketing strategy. At the end of the day, what good is an app if nobody knows about it? We wanted to make sure that we had all these components locked in place before we started off on our little project. I’ll attempt to slightly graze over a few important things we’ve learned, and continue to learn, along the way as we continue down this journey of love, hate, and tech – which let’s face it is a Freudian love-hate relationship in any case.

So what have we learned? I hear you all asking…

1. The ‘A’ Team

The very first step is to assemble an A-team ASAP. Sure, B-team players are great at filling general roles, but they just don’t have the commitment, experience, agility, energy and edge of A-team players. We were fortunate enough to have access to these key players – masters in their fields. Craft your skeleton crew very early on, and you won’t be disappointed with the results.

Making magic becomes effortless with A-teamers.

2. POC. MVP. Iterate.

Ok, so what do all these letters stand for? A POC, or proof of concept, is a great way to test product viability by putting on your thinking hat and hacker gloves and smashing out some very quick and dirty code. We just need to know that it’s physically possible to achieve the desired outcome, before potentially wasting hours, days and weeks on developing a product that might just never take flight – due to technical hurdles and challenges.

Working towards an MVP, or minimum viable product, is the next step forward. Consolidate all your app’s potential features onto a page and divide them into the categories Must, Should, Could, Would (as per the MoSCoW method). However, in the case of a single-purpose app, you should aim to throw out all the features that are in Could, Should and Would – and then start offing the sneaky ‘Shoulds’ that crept into your Must column. You need the bare bones here. The absolute necessaries. This helps both focus and streamline the production workflow ahead. Having too much on one’s to-do list is a sure-fire way to kill passion and slump team morale to an absolute low.

You need the bare bones here. The absolute necessaries. This helps both focus and streamline the production workflow ahead. Having too much on one’s to-do list is a sure-fire way to kill passion and slump team morale to an absolute low.

Once you have your MVP ready for prime time – it’s time to cast it into the wild. Knowing that it’s not going to be perfect on version 1 – the long term view is to firstly listen to what consumers are saying about your product, and then iterate on those suggestions and feedback. This way you can be sure you’re including features that people actually want and not those that you assumed they would want. It gets you to market faster, keeps you more agile on your toes, and is an all-round fun and engaging process if you get active! (see point 4)

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3. Start with a bang

You’ve got a shiny new product, but now if only people knew about it…

Well, load up the barrel, put on your Cowboy hat and clink them spurs together because it’s PR time people…

Be proud and tell everyone you know. I mean everyone. Blogs, Forums, Friends, people who aren’t really even your friends anymore – the absolute lot of them. Your entire social circle – over, and over, and over again. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even that other one. Family. Tell your family. Sure they might think that you fix printers for a living, but tell them in any case. Set your grandma up with an email address just so that you can invite her to download your awesome new app because, yes, she has a Galaxy S5 but doesn’t know how to use email. The. Whole. Enchilada.

Because every download counts. Every active user on your app is a brand advocate. Because you’ve made a single-purpose app that is amazing and solves a real-world problem and has enormous value for the end-user, people will share it and love it, and share it again while loving it. They will become your own passive little sales force. They will appreciate you for the time and effort taken to craft such a delightful experience, applaud you for not ‘selling out’ by placing crusty ads in your app and most of all, support and acknowledge you for your hard work and vision.

4. Get active

Now we’re live and rolling. People are chanting your name. Others are screaming at you because their buddy at the water cooler installed it on his iPhone 6 but their iPhone 4S is experiencing a bug. It’s all good. Let everyone be heard. And give them various options and channels to be heard on! In our app we include a feedback mechanism which opens up the device’s default mail client with some handy error-logging information for us, should people wish to reach out they can do so relatively easily. It’s amazing at the amount of traction this feature has gained. Like you, we initially also thought, ‘Oh, no one is going to use that’ – but they are. And are using it ever so wonderfully.

There are many benefits to this. The first being that if someone is experiencing technical difficulties, it gives them a direct line to you so as to prevent them ignorantly flaming you on the various public app stores. It opens up communication. It lends itself to feeling like more of a personalised service. Not only for bugs and glitches – we’re also getting some pretty darn cool suggestions for features and new monetisation options going forward. We then get the opportunity to reply. This is great because A) it increases brand love between you and the end user, winning over a brand advocate for life and B) gives you an opportunity to score a great rating in the app stores. The email signature of all our replies contain links to the app stores with some subtext asking the user to rate the app if they think it’s great. It works!

Also, do not be exclusive. Share the love for everyone.

We made our app for iOS and Android, a decision made on market-share statistics, but that doesn’t mean we’ve excluded everyone else. We additionally support an email alert service for consumers without these devices so they too can get email alerts on their Blackberries and such at the same time that their more fortunate buddies would receive Push Notifications on Android and iOS devices.

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5. Support

You’ve made this baby… now feed it! It’s your responsibility as a parent to keep it clothed, schooled, entertained and to watch it grow. Shed a tear as it takes its first steps – gasp in horror as it blotches into a table and face-plants head first into the ground. It’s all part of the journey – and it’s great. Ups, downs and sideways are all learning experiences. And, most importantly, opportunities to watch and benefit from something unfolding before your eyes and, with a crafter’s hand, being able to mold and polish along the way.

6. Rinse & Repeat

Repeat steps 2 to 4 cyclically. Almost religiously, to build traction. Market, engage, support. Market, engage, support. This is your little product mantra.

7. Monetise

You’ve read this far and noticed that monetisation is at the very bottom of my list. Nice! Pat yourself on the back for me please! Why is monetisation at the bottom? Because making money is not everything – yes I know what you’re thinking but I challenge you to read on. Of course it’s important, particularly if you want to see your product (and yourself / your team) ultimately succeed. A child won’t grow (well, very much at least) if not furnished with adequate nutrition. But truth be told, if your product is crap, people won’t pay you for it. They won’t feel obliged to part with their money for your benefit and, in fact, would be rather repulsed at the idea of it. Via a show of hands – how many of you have paid for an app in the stores and opened it only to be sorely disappointed that it didn’t meet your expectations. I know I have. I’ve heard it been equated to broad daylight robbery, and even a good old fashion one-sided game of roshambo at times.

Point is – get your product polished and your priorities straight, mister. No achievement that is great is easy and likewise none that are great and easy, are free. So prepare to pay your way. It’s costly. The cost is your time, passion and commitment. And that’s a cost we’ll all be willing to pay over and over again if it’s in the name of our love work.

Make it good, and they will come.

Read more about the FillApp app here