There’s a lot that goes into making your app or web-based service successful, however I want to take a closer look at some key takeaways from successful apps that you can apply to your business. So what makes some of the most well-known apps successful and what can we learn from them?
A Great Team:
We consider this to be the most obvious and it serves as the solid foundation that everything else is built upon. You have to have the right people on your team and they have to be comfortable filling various roles early on. The responsibilities for the initial founders will be plenty and they will be doing things they aren’t very good at, but that’s ok. They should focus on the one thing they do well and understand that they can hire someone else in the near future to handle those areas where they aren’t very strong. In the beginning, “getting stuff done” is most important and will make or break your start-up. The initial team is critical and it’s this group who will help pave the way for the future of the company. Choose your team wisely – especially during the early stages. As your team grows and you establish core values be sure that anyone you add to the team shares these values and will stand behind them.
It’s all in the execution and when a passionate founder meets their idea there’s little that can stand in the way of success. Someone else could have had the idea for Flickr, Twitter, or Facebook and there have been competitors but it was a matter of execution that has lead them to where they are today. A “great idea” is just that – an “idea”. It’s tough to get others to help you and impossible to make a positive impact in the world unless you take action. Stop over-analyzing your ideas and asking “what if?” and begin taking action. As you build your business, be aggressive, always have a bias towards action and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Know Your Metrics & Track them Closely:
Start-ups may not always have their numbers together initially and completely understand what they should be tracking and how to properly track it, but if you can get started with the most important numbers it makes things a lot easier as you grow. So what are the critical numbers for your app or web-based service? Here are a few key metrics to think about and begin monitoring if you aren’t already:
Basic website metrics:
- Number of unique visitors to your website
- Number of pageviews
- Bounce rate (shows % of visitors who enter and exit on a single page)
- Drill down into “Traffic Sources” to see how many visitors are finding your website across these various sources.
- Primary keywords visitors are searching for to find your site across the major search engines (if you’re running paid search campaigns be sure to view this by “paid” and “non-paid”). This will provide insight into search volume and opportunities for additional optimization for certain keywords and keywords you can bid more aggressively for your paid search campaigns.
For your website metrics we recommend using a free service such as Google Analytics. It’s simple to set up and once you’re comfortable using it you can begin customizing it for your needs and use it for advanced tracking as well. There’s also a great iPhone app for Google Analytics (Analytics App – http://analyticsapp.com). There are also a number of real-time analytics services including ChartBeat, VisiStat, and Clicky.
Revenue and Conversion Metrics:
- Total revenue per month (across all marketing channels)
- Additional (new) revenue month-over-month across all marketing channels
- Number of trials each month (if applicable)
- Number of paying accounts each month
- Visitor to trial conversion rate (if applicable)
- Visitor to paid conversion rate
- Trial to paid conversion rate
- Average revenue per user or Average rate per user – if you’re selling a subscription-based service. If you are not selling a subscription-based service then you’d want to track your Average Order Value (AOV).
- Cost-per-acquisition (dollars invested divided by number of paying customers)
- Cost-per-acquisition (for trials) – dollars invested divided by number of trials
For the metrics above be sure to look at these from a high-level (across all marketing channels), but also break these out by marketing channel to monitor their effectiveness and which are profitable. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the primary metrics you should be tracking on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
Take a look at Farmville. How were they able to grow to over 80 million active users in such a short amount of time? They have a viral component. You know those annoying Farmville messages you see within your news feed in Facebook from others who are playing? That’s how they’ve grown so quickly by sending those updates via Facebook and attracting other players. It’s the same with Gowalla and Foursquare. This isn’t a recent trend. The same tactic helped Hotmail dominate the free email space. Every email sent had a link back to Hotmail within the footer. Do you have a viral component? If not, how can you incorporate one within your app.
A Focus on Design & Usability:
Have you noticed that some of the most successful apps are also the best designed? It’s not a coincidence. Design and usability alone will not guarantee success but it certainly contributes to the success of some of the most popular apps. Invest time and money in the design of your app. This will give you one of the greatest returns, and advantages, right out of the gate.
Openness and Ability to Build Apps/Plug-ins:
Facebook crushed MySpace for a number of reasons but one of the primary reasons is because Facebook allows developers to build apps and plug-ins which extends the capabilities of Facebook and allows it’s users to get more functionality from the service. The beauty of this model is that it allows each user to extend functionality without adding new features “across the board” and making simple apps cumbersome and bloated. Each user can customize it based on their preference and needs. How can you “open” your app or service and allow others to build apps and plug-ins? Release an API? Build a developer community around these plug-ins? If others are building swarms of apps based on your technology, you know you’re on the right track. Open it up and allow others to build add-ons or plug-ins but keep your core service simple. You don’t want to build a bloated app that tries to be everything to everyone, but by allowing others to extend functionality for their needs, you’ll see some creative implementations come out of this while keeping your core service simple. In addition this will help in building a loyal following for your app and build your brand.
Constraints (or “focusing on a niche”):
Constraints are great. Facebook began by only targeting students (remember when you had to have a .edu email address to sign up?), Twitter only allows 140 characters, 37signals preaches fewer features instead of more features, and the job hunting website, TheLadders.com, is growing quickly focusing solely on jobs that pay $100k or higher. An important lesson that successful apps/services have taught us is that you shouldn’t try to be everything to everyone. Target a smaller audience. Try to do more with less. As your app grows within your niche you can then make a decision as to whether you’d like to extend functionality across the board or, as mentioned in the point above, you can allow other developers to build apps and plug-ins and extend the capabilities on your behalf. Regardless, keep it simple and remember that constraints are good.
Giving it 100% & Creating Your Own “Lucky” Breaks:
Luck isn’t something that falls from the sky and into your lap and you’re instantly successful. Luck happens because you put forth the effort and hard work to create opportunities and if you keep putting yourself in position you’re going to win. Many of the most popular apps were founded by people who have started a number of ventures. Some were also successful, but others you’ve never heard of. They didn’t quit and continued to dedicate themselves to their passion and give it 100%. Take that first step, make a lot of mistakes, learn from those mistakes and keep pushing forward, you’ll have a lot of “luck” along the way.
Be Sure to “Zag”:
Everyday someone is launching a new app and chances are they are entering a crowded market. With access to open source tools it’s easier than ever to get up and running and with the barrier to entry so low many markets are crowded with solutions that are competing for the same users. However, this is good news! Competition is great! It proves that there’s a market willing to pay for a software solution that serves the same market as you’re targeting.
The challenge is differentiating your app from the competition. There are a number of ways you can differentiate your app and it should be clear to users how you differ from the competition. Design can be an excellent differentiator and we provide detail on this later in the book, but think about companies like Apple or a web-based company like 37signals, design has definitely set them apart from the competition and helped them grow rapidly. In terms of your app, think about how you can improve the design and usability. Are there improvements you can make to increase the visual appeal of your website? Is there some process within your app that you could improve and making it easier for users? When we think about comparing one app to another many of us think about features, and while features are critical, there’s more to making your app stand out among the competition than adding more bells and whistles.
Look at the competition and what you are likely to find is a number of competitors chasing one another and adding another feature to “one-up” a competitor. Take a different approach. Look at what they’re doing, let them chase each other, and take a radically different approach. Marty Neumeier, author of Zag, said it best “When everybody zigs, zag.”