In 2015 I launched a score keeper app for both iOS and Android systems. At the time I was still working a full time job during the day, which meant that I could only work on this app in the evenings and weekends. Overall it took me four months to take it from an idea all the way through development and finally launching, marketing and promoting the apps. While I did everything my research taught me to do, the apps failed financially but taught me invaluable lessons, of which I am currently sharing with the community.
If you’re new here, take some time to check out the entire case study.
So how did these app fail? What were the main causes and what could I have done better?
A lot actually. You could say that hindsight is 20/20. During development I had many red flags waved in my face at the pending doom of this project but I chose to ignore them and push ever forward due to time constraints and stubbornness.
After reviewing the data, my journals and metrics, I was able pick out the top six issues that would give cause for any app to fail (including mine).
1. Poor Marketing Research
“I have the best idea in the world” you tell yourself, “This is totally going to work, people are going to love it“, all the while you’re scared to death to do a simple Google search to see if it’s already been done. The problem is a lot of times we don’t want too or out of blind ignorance we push forward with our ground breaking idea without doing proper marketing research.
This is me, all the time.
No body wants to be told that their idea sucks or that its sketchy at best. Doing proper marketing and keyword research is the make or break of an idea, website, app or business. That research will
- If the market is already saturated
- What you could do to innovate
- If a market exists at all
- What monetization methods are working best for this industry or idea
In light of this, I could have done better marketing research on the score keeping app I was building in the niche I was targeting.
The market was saturated with many different scorekeeping, scorecard and score board apps. That’s not always a bad thing, where there is demand there will be supply. Seeing the amount of scoring type apps out there was enough of a metric to tell me it was worth my efforts for a piece of the pie.
How was I going to rise above all the other similar apps on the market?
Pushing forward, my plan was to innovate, look at the complaints, reviews and requests people were making on the most popular versions of those apps and incorporate those functionality’s into my super awesome score keeping app. All together not a bad strategy.
What I really should have been looking at were the competitor’s app lifetime VS downloads. Going forward this is an important metric I will be looking at for the viability of future apps. A lot like doing keyword research for sites. You want to make sure there is competition, but not too much. Basic economics, you want to find high demand with low supply and target that niche.
The score keeping niche was saturated with high supply and very low demand. Even if I had created the ultimate score keeping app to rule them all, there was not enough of a market to justify a ROI.
2. Bad App Icon
Your app icon will make or break the app. Your icon is what is going to differentiate your app from the other similar apps within the app store search listings.
The app icon needs to look professional, beautiful and convey with one glance what the app is all about.
I look at the purpose of an app icon the same way I look at resumes. What’s the purpose of the resume? To initially separate yourself from all the other applicants going for the same job. A resumes purpose is to get your foot in the door for an interview, at which point you can sell yourself to get the job. App icons are the same and need to be professional and beautiful enough to stand out from the rest of the apps in the store result pages.
A usual app conversion should happen like this:
- Someone does a search within the app store.
- They see your app icon among the sea of other similar apps. This is the most important part of the sale. Sale them with the look of your icon, which will…
- Get them to your app store front page. At this point your apps screen shots, videos and description will make the conversion.
My score keeper app ICON sucked. Badly. And I knew it. I had hired out to three different people to come up with a decent app icon and none of them delivered. I took the best of the best, diced it up a bit and tried to make it work. This could have been done much better.
3. Poor App UI and UX
If your app looks ugly or is difficult to navigate, people will head straight for the un-install button.
I have no problem when it comes to the actual programming of features in apps. For me the hardest part of developing an app is the UI. I had a fantastic wireframe to go off of, but turning a picture into good UX for all device sizes and types is easier said than done.
Android and iOS development environments are completely separate worlds when it comes to development, UI and UX.
Creating the iOS UX is not too bad using Xcode’s storyboard’s and size classes. I am actually really happy the way
the final iOS version of my score keeper came out.Android UI/UX is another story. There is no easy way to design for all tablet and phone sizes. It is a very tedious and time consuming process.
Needless to say I was pretty burned out by the time I had to work on the Android UI/UX and opted for a “stuck in landscape” UI to prevent more development time. This resulted in the majority of the content to be cut off, or below the fold of the screen. It was still all encapsulated within a scroll view, but still you lose a lot of the essence of the apps purpose having to scroll so much. This on part I believe is responsible for the score keeper’s poor Android installs VS usage.
4. Bad Developer VS Business Decisions
You already know how to develop? That’s wonderful. Are you good at design and UX? That’s super. Do you rock at writing content? That’s rad. Is it always beneficial for the business to do these things yourself? Absolutely not.
For me, a four week project turned into four month project, solely because of development time. This comes down to bad time management and delegation.
The apps long development cycle was in part because I only had weekends and after hours to work on this project.
Yes I was working a full time day job, trying to be a dad, husband and house fixer upper. But that’s LIFE. There will always be an excuse. We need to make best of the situation with the tools that we have. I did not.
Did I really need to build this score keeping app myself? I have a skill set that allows me to fully develop websites, apps and various software’s, but is it always beneficial for the business to do so?
What I should have done was put my ego to rest and delegated some parts of the development toward a third party service, or at the very least purchased code that could have given me a head start. SellMyApp.com and SellMyApplication.com are great examples of sites that exist with the sole purpose of buying and selling app source code.
If I would have bought some code to give me a head start I could have focused more on the business/marketing and not so much on the nitty gritty development.
Deeper Developer Mistakes
For those developers reading this, yes I could have developed smarter as well.
I decided to develop both iOS and Android apps in their native IDE environments which included both Android Studio and XCode. Java vs Objective C. Two completely different worlds and ways of thinking. Very time consuming.
What I should have done was use a universal app IDE like CodeNameOne to save some time. Building everything natively was a personal choice because it’s a good skill set to keep up, but again, not always beneficial for the kind of business I am trying to run. I do have other issues with universal app IDE’s that I would love to go deeper into, but it’s out of the scope of this study.
5. Bad App Launch Cycle
If an app is successful in one market it should be successful in all the others. That’s the idea at least.
I actually finished the Android version of the score keeper first, then I spent the next two months building the iOS version.
What I should have done was launched the Android version as soon as I finished it to test the market. If it did well with Android users, then port it over to iOS.
While not always beneficial to do so, staggering app brand launches can help ensure you are on the right track and the market does exist for what your trying to accomplish.
6. Poor App Billing Monetization
When I initially launched this app I did not make it free. After reading an article on how we should never give our apps away for free, I launched them both as paid apps. $1 price point.
This was a huge mistake for the following reasons:
- There were already a lot of score keeping apps that I was competing against that were already free.
- Paid apps tend to have harsher reviews than free apps.
- Free apps are easier to get reviews for because of the number of installs, which in turn helps position you higher on the charts
After a about a week I switched the apps over to be free with in app advertising. I did see a difference in amount of installs and earned $ from in app advertisements but the damage was done.
Is there any way to recover? At this point I’m not sure if the market is big enough to justify the ROI for these apps.
If I were to move ahead, these would be the actionable items I would try:
- Brand new app ICON
- Rebuild the Android UI for a better UX
- Add some kind of in app purchases. Maybe based off of unlockable score card templates I originally planned for (golf, bowling, tennis…)
- Different Marketing and Promotional Avenues
It’s not where you start – it’s where you finish that counts. – Zig Ziglar
Trying to build a business entirely around apps is a hit or miss game. But we can take comfort knowing that a lot of people have made this work. Personally I’m choosing to make apps part of my overall business portfolio and wont let this failure stop me.
I feel a large part of the failure of this app was in part due to my personal burn out. If you’re going to put that much hard work into something, make sure you finish strong. If you’re burning out, it’s better to step back, breath and take some time off.
It also helps to do proper marketing research beforehand to test the viability of your idea and to make sure there is enough of a market to justify an ROI in both your money and time.
Final App Reveal
If you have followed along on these case studies I’m sure you have wondered what score keeping app I actually built.
Android: Google Play Store Link