So your company wants to build a mobile app?

It happens several times a year. An email or a phone call. Usually from the head pof marketing, sometimes the CEO. They want to build a mobile app. They’re missing opportunities and they have some great ideas on how to monetize a mobile app. Money while they sleep. Better customer service. These are usually the result of a board meeting where a few directors pushed the CEO and senior management to “get in the mobile game” or from an annual off-site strategy meeting where all decided “mobile” was where the company needed to go. Of the calls we take, only one or two end up going down the mobile app road. Most turn away fairly quickly. A few will plod down the road a bit but the idea loses steam. It drifts into the aether.

Before you build a mobile app
Yes, it can be a great idea and we’ve seen a few successes. But 95% of the time, we advise clients to take a different route. That costs us revenue, but building something for the sake of building it is a short-term view. Not our cup of tea.

Building a mobile app means building a digital product. Creating and launching products is one thing. If you want them to be successful in the digital world, they will need bug fixing, customer support, excellent UX (User Experience), a proper UX strategy, nurturing and decication from marketing people and budgets, to grow. It is a product. If you don’t treat it as such, it will quickly fail. Consider too that people who download an app tend to use it on average, three times before never using it again. So not only do you have to get people to download the app, you have to also keep them using the app.

You must also consider the most important first part: What is the business model? If it’s purely to provide customer service such as instruction manuals or tutorials, that’s one thing. If it is supposed to be a profit centre and support company revenues, that is another thing entirely. Will it be a subscription model? If so, will it be tiered by various levels? Paid monthly, annually or an option? What about an enterprise pricing model? How will it be distributed? If it’s going to be an iOS app, then that means approvals by Apple and paying to play on their App Store and of course the backend hosting costs. Or just Android?

Operating a Mobile App
Designing a mobile app as a product can be relatively easy today. Consider that in the end, they’re just nice ways to access a database. Mobile apps, like pretty much any software app, is a database and information management.

But you will need to maintain it. As iOS and Android update their systems, you will have to update them as well. Tweaks to the UI are constant. Features break. Things happen. If the app becomes hugely successful, you will need to scale the backend to keep it working so you can handle the traffic volumes. That means engineering.

It Isn’t As Easy As It Looks
Yes, you can build and launch a basic mobile app fairly quickly and at low cost, even using low or no-code tools. But they don’t scale. They often break and will only work for a limited time. As they grow, they become expensive and you will inevitably end up paying more to get it fixed and making all kinds of changes. That costs.

You may use Outlook or Newton Mail on your smartphone or someone dazzled you with a productivity tool like Things3 or ToDoIst. The reason they work so well and seem so easy is because they have a product team constantly working at them. A good mobile app or digital product team will have a product manager, UX and UI designer, UX researcher, DevOps, data analyst, engineers and so on. They agonize over every little details, such as the colour, size and placement of a button. And just one button can make or break a good mobile app.

Before You Go Mobile App Crazy
This needs a serious executive level decision to go all-in on a mobile app. To develop and get a half-decent product out the door, you’ll need to budget at least $80,000. You “might” get away with one under $20,000, but you get what you pay for. You will have ongoing support costs every year as well. Plus hosting and services costs. Then there’s marketing the app itself, getting in on the App Store and Google Play and promoting it.

You will want to be sure of your business model. If you’re going to drive revenues, you need that business model well worked out. How long to ROI? What is invested in both development and promotion? What will be your metrics for success? Who will sponsor the project at the executive level and be held responsible?
While it can seem like a great idea to launch a mobile app, if you’re in a traditional product business manufacturing real-world products or you run a content business perhaps, think about all the bits and pieces it takes to run your current business. Now extrapolate that to the digital world. The job titles may be different, but they’re no less complex. Changing the background colour of a PowerPoint slide is easy. Not when it comes to a mobile app.

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