While many developers dream of turning their new mobile app into the next Instagram or Vine, the truth is a lot of great designers struggle to make money building apps. They work a day job while tinkering with projects on the side.
Building a successful app or design business takes more than technical skills. But once a few key concepts have been mastered, it’s possible to build a lucrative and sustainable business.
Here are few tips that helped us grow:
Develop something that people will pay for
Building a successful and sustainable business requires a steady source of revenue. For developers, this means finding an audience that’s willing to pay, preferably on a subscription basis.
Generally speaking, developing for the enterprise can be more lucrative than consumer apps. Indeed, a recent survey found that enterprise app developers were more than twice as likely to make $10,000 per month than their counterparts who focused on consumer apps.
At my company Bold Commerce, an app provider for Shopify, we have found that commerce is a great space to build for, since it’s so closely tied to a business’s bottom line. A client will happily spend money on a mobile or web app, if it results in a direct increase in their sales or bottom line.
Customer support has to be a priority once customers are paying for an app. There’s no chance a business will survive if there are a flurry of negative reviews or subscription customers leave because no one is available to help them. As a solo developer, this may mean answering emails for a few hours each day until hiring is possible.
Build on top of a platform
Developing for a platform offers two key advantages: a quicker time to market and instant access to a massive customer base. Since platforms take care of all the basic functionality, developers can focus efforts on the more creative, specialized aspects.
In the past we’ve developed apps outside of a platform, but they require twice as much marketing and sales effort. At my company we focus on ecommerce apps so we’ve chosen to build for Shopify, but you could just as easily develop productivity apps for Evernote or customer support apps for Zendesk.
When selecting a platform, it’s important to look for a large and very satisfied user base, as well as ease of use. It’s a red flag if you need to dig around for documentation, or don’t get the support you need.
Stay within your core expertise
Hungry for revenue, most independent professionals take on any and every project request that comes their way. However, no business, particularly a small one, can be all things to all people. The more you spread your resources across multiple targets, the less likely you are to become an expert.
Figure out your company’s wheelhouse and stick with it, even if it means turning down a good project or two. Steve Jobs once said he was just as proud of the things they didn’t do at Apple as the things they did: “Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”
If you have an ambition to build the next app empire, you need to think beyond the technical aspects. Invest time in getting to know your customers and finding your product-market fit. Then choose the right platform and hosting partners so you can focus your efforts on bringing something unique and important to the market.