Is every app idea already invented? Between “There’s an app for that!” and the 500+ apps that get published in the App Store every day, you would think so.

The App Store and its app economy are far from done, though. In the past year, the interest of app developers and marketers in marketing strategies that don’t involve the App Store itself, such as content marketing, have surged.

You can’t simply upload an app to the App Store and expect thousands of app installs on your first day. It’s not 2008 anymore! Apps need to become grown-up online businesses, and the first step in that process is ideation and validation.

In this article, you’ll take a look at:

  • What makes a great app idea?
  • How can you research your app’s target audience before spending $$$ on development?
  • What are ways to gain traction before your app has even launched?

The Elusive “Unique Idea”

When you’re talking about very successful apps, a few names always come to mind. Flappy Bird. Monument Valley. THREES (or 2048, its rip-off). Angry Birds.

To the naked eye these apps all seem unique. When these apps were published, the app ideas they were based on were completely novel, original and anything like it didn’t exist yet in the App Store. Moreover, apps like Flappy Bird gained the infamous “overnight success” – the presumed characteristic of an app that makes it take off, go viral, for unknown reasons, in a matter of hours.

Digging deeper into the stories of these “unicorn” apps reveals a shocking truth: overnight success doesn’t exist.

Flappy Bird, a game app from a Vietnamese developer, was released 8 months before its sudden rise in early 2014, without as much as a whisper. THREES, a popular arcade game, was meticulously crafted for over a year before it was released in the App Store. A few months after its appearance, a game called 2048 appeared, which was almost identical, and very quickly overtook the original game’s ranking and popularity in the App Store. Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, has yet to find the major mainstream success of Bad Piggies, the game they released after million-dollar franchise Angry Birds.

Aspiring app makers often search for an idea that doesn’t exist yet, because that’s the story we were made to believe. While taking in the news on websites and social media, you get the feeling that all these successful apps were somehow so great that they went viral overnight. Often, we attribute a game’s success to uniqueness, when in fact many successful apps are iterations upon iterations of hard work, good timing, and luck – not to mention the blatant rip-offs.

How do you save yourself from searching indefinitely for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Simply know that the rainbow is made up of physics, instead of believing it’s put there by a magical unicorn and a bunch of leprechauns.

Pivot, Go Bust, Or… Just Launch

The Lean Startup Movement taught online entrepreneurs and startup founders to be “lean and mean.” The numbers don’t lie: the majority of startups, in tech or otherwise, fail.

By being lean, startups hedge themselves against failure, for instance by nurturing early-adopters, using rapid prototyping tools and ruthlessly changing their business ideas as if it were a wild rollercoaster ride.

In business term, this practice of “pivot or go bust” is called validation. An entrepreneur validates the business: is this a tool, product or app that customers are willing to pay for?

After lean and mean came The $100 Startup, another movement. This particular practice of entrepreneurship said: forget about validating, just launch!

The launch would be minimal, with the least effort necessary, possibly in a matter of days or weeks since the inception of the business idea. Such a launch would be used as a measuring point. Who is sticking around? What kind of early feedback are we getting? Should we continue along this path, or try something else?

The simplest method to validate a business is:

  1. Pick an idea, ideally a product that solves a problem
  2. Pitch the product and its benefits, for instance with an online landing page
  3. Generate traffic, leads or prospects and send them over to the landing page
  4. Put a call-to-action on the landing page, and measure clicks, opt-ins or even potential pre-orders
  5. Evaluate, and repeat or pivot

You can even forgo coming up with an idea yourself, and start with a target audience or customer group. If you have access to a particular group you can ask them what kinds of problems they are dealing with, then solve those, and sell it back to them.

Are Your Wheels Spinning?

The days of blindly developing an app idea, without validation, and hoping it’ll go viral in the App Store are over.

Strategies to launch online businesses, including apps, are getting more sophisticated and accessible for you and me. You don’t need an MBA to be an entrepreneur, all you need is an app landing page and $79 for your Apple Developer Account!

One thing is missing from this story about ideation and validation, though. Traction! It’s a term popularized by a book with the same name by Justin Mares and Gabriel Weinberg (from DuckDuckGo). Although almost no one can put into words what “traction” exactly is, we all know it when we have it and when we don’t.

Are you moving forward, or are your wheels just spinning in the dirt?

Building a very efficient app development team, having the best tools available, content writers revving up exceptional articles about your app’s theme, and your app’s designers splitting pixels until perfection – it’s all in vain if you don’t gain traction.

If there’s one thing I learned from Gary Vaynerchuck, all-round entrepreneur and heavy-hitter on social media, it’s that action trumps everything. In a game of Rock, Paper, Execution, those who take action always win.

We’re living in a world where almost everyone is smarter than us, faster than us, and has more resources than we have. The only way you can get ahead is by consistently putting in the work, taking action, and doing that in a way that puts yourself out there.

Forget your Ivory Tower, Stealth Mode in your parent’s basement, or a seed investment round based on the team and your idea – the action is what puts you forward, and ahead of everyone else.

A long time ago I heard a story about a skilled individual who lost his job, and needed to find another one. His new employer of choice had a 100+ candidates, and he recognized that his chances of getting hired would minimize as more and more candidates signed up for an interview.

So what did he do? He made a big sign that said: “My name is [John Doe] and I want to work here!” and camped outside their office campus. Guess who works at that company now?