Inspired by Harvard Business Review’s 2-Minute Opportunity Checklist for Entrepreneurs, I decided to create the 2-Minute Opportunity Checklist for iPhone Entrepreneurs. Making an iPhone app might be a smaller task than building an entire technology business, but the same fundamentals rules still apply: you need a solid product, a market for that product, a way to cost effectively reach that market, and a way to make money.So you’ve got a great idea for an app. You’ve spent hours poking around the app store and you haven’t found anything that does quite what you’re thinking. Good start. But before you throw yourself wholeheartedly at the project, ask yourself these questions:
1) Does your idea excite others?
Passionate customers are vocal customers. If your apps doesn’t scratch some itch or get people excited, it’s probably not worth doing in the first place.
Do eyes light up when you share your idea? How about when you show mockups or an early prototype? One girl literally jumped up and down screaming when I showed her an early version of Exit Strategy NYC. Awesome.
Your product doesn’t have to impress *everyone* you show it to — just your target market. When GateGuru’s Dan Gellert showed me an early demo of his product (‘Yelp for airports’) last year, I wasn’t blown away. I don’t travel enough to truly appreciate the product and the need it serves. But frequent fliers totally *got* it and the product has been very well received.
2) Is there a big market for what you’re making?
Always do your back of the envelope calculations. Refer to my earlier Definitive Guide to iPhone App Market Sizing. Be careful of niche hyperlocal applications. Making an app for Boston residents? Consider that there are 750,000 residents and about 20% have apple devices and 3% of those will buy the app. That’s 4500 people. If your product costs 99c and your developer costs $125 an hour, you’re probably not going to make back your investment. Making a product to serve Boston wheelchair riders? You’re looking at about 32 purchases. Fuhgettaboutit.
3) Is it inherently mobile?
Some ideas are native to a mobile platform because they take advantage of the iPhone’s unique features. Yelp’s app uses GPS location to show you nearby restrooms. Grindr take advantage of proximityto show you nearby users. Brushes uses touch to recreate painting and Trainyard uses it to easily lay down railroad tracks. Real Racing takes advantage of the phone’s accelerometer to make racing fun. Everyday looper takes advantage of the device’s rich audio capabilities.
Other ideas thrive because the iPhone is a mobile device and people almost always have it. Instapaper, for example, makes online articles available to read later on your phone. Similarly, Evernote works because it’s available to record notes, memos, or photos on-the-go. Exit Strategy NYC succeeds because it’s there when you need it — when you’re in the subway station waiting for the train. It simply wouldn’t be useful as a desktop application.
3a) Would it be easy to use on a mobile device?
Mobile devices have two big constraints: small screen size and poor typing experience. Does your idea require convey large amounts of information all at once (perhaps a stock trading platform)? Or are you collecting a large amount of information from a user (perhaps as part of a lengthy registration process or a mobile blogging idea)? These make poor candidates for mobile apps. Be sure to design your app with economy of taps in mind.
4) Is it pressworthy or buzzworthy?
There are over 300,000 apps in the app store. How will yours stand out? Make sure you have a good answer to this question. Getting noticed is the toughest part of launching an app (assuming you’re not Facebook, PayPal, or the MLB). Apps are cheap so customer acquisitions costs must be zero or close to it. This means most traditional paid marketing methods simply won’t work. Either your idea has to be wacky and press-worthy, extremely polished and addictive (Angry Birds, Cut the Rope), technologically impressive (RedLaser). Or it should be viral in its design (Instagram, Kik Messenger) or tap into some pent up demand (Skyfire bringing flash on the iPhone).
Hopefully this gives you some guidance for thinking about making a mobile app. Be sure your app is inherently mobile, serves a big market, and will be found by the world. If you can check those items off your list, you’re well on your way to app success!
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