I just wasted a month of my life. I’ve been working on an iPhone app (a password manager like 1password/lastpass but competing on price), thinking it was a brilliant idea, and now it’s come time to market it. Having seen Patrick McKenzie’s open invitation to send him emails, I thought i’d give him a try. Anyway, a couple of succinct emails later, I now realise what a fool i’ve been. (Props to Patrick for being so helpful, though!)

Basically, I got things the wrong way around: I wrote an app, got it ready to ship, and then thought ‘now, time to sprinkle a bit of marketing on top’. But what is now clear to me, is that the marketing should have come first. In fact, the customers should have been in the drivers seat the whole time. In hindsight, its a little obvious.

Lets call this ‘MDD’ – Marketing Driven Development. Or, maybe People Driven Development? I like that more, it sounds a little less like an MBA term… The idea being, that you find a bunch of people who want an app, and make it for them, keep them updated as you work through the development process, get their feedback as you go (basically just keep them involved), then once it’s done your marketing is pretty much already done. Plus, you might have made a few more friends along the way.

So, going forwards, my strategy is going to look like this:

  • Don’t roll my eyes (not that i currently do, anyway) when friends suggest an app idea that is obvious to me, saying i’ve already got plenty of ideas. Realise that my ideas suit a very small audience: people like me. Listen to their ideas.
  • If its a good idea, look for a popular internet forum for that kindof thing, where the moderators are friendly to commercial types getting involved (a lot aren’t – I’m looking at you, whirlpool).
  • Start a thread, talking to people about the app idea, show a couple screenshot mockups, and see if anyone is interested
  • If i get, say, 5 people say ‘i’d buy that!’, crack open Xcode and get busy
  • Post updates and questions and requests for opinions ongoing. Get people involved. Take their feedback. Get them excited about how they can influence the direction of the app.
  • Launch the app free for a week, get them to install it, and ask them to write nice reviews. Make it free, with IAP to unlock pro features.
  • Hope for the best.

Anyway, i’ve now got an app with no prospects of finding a community who’ll want it. All because I developed what I thought was a good idea, but will certainly struggle to find anyone who’ll want it. I should have started with what people want first. Still, i’m happy to learn a lesson the hard way rather than not at all.

So, next time you start work on a project, find a community forum where lots of people want it. Or at least 5 people who promise they’ll buy it if you build it.

Thanks for reading! And if you want to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you: chris.hulbert at gmail.