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10 Tips for Planning a Mobile App

Building a successful mobile app is no easy feat. It requires planning, audience research, staff and consulting resources for the design and the development, etc. More often than not, building a mobile app comes with a hefty price tag – about $25K and up.  But most importantly building a mobile app requires an organizational commitment to iterate until you get the mobile app right – meaning your audience finds it valuable enough to use it.

Successful apps like Angry Birds failed to catch on over 50 times, before Riovio, the creators got it right.  And Facebook is still pouring money into their mobile app to improve its UX issues and clunky code.  

If your nonprofit is considering building a mobile app you will need a concrete plan to get you started.

Here are 10 tips based on my experiences in the mobile app world.

  1. Define your top 3 goals and objectives. This is a crucial point, because the more objectives and goals you have the less focused your app becomes.
  2. Who is your target audience for the app? Think niche audiences. Don’t aim for broad based audiences or you set yourself up for unrealistic expectations. Unless you’re the Weather Channel, not everyone is going to be interested in using your app.
  3. Do focus groups with your target audiences. Ask them specific questions to find out what they will find valuable in an app.  Some of their answers may surprise you. What other apps and technologies do they use? The people in the focus groups will also be good for testing a prototype down the road.
  4. Focus, focus, focus. During the planning process you will hear a ton of great ideas from staff, consultants, and focus groups. Be disciplined and don’t try and implement all the different ideas. The most successful mobile apps focus on one thing and they do it well. For example, the popular mobile app Flixster helps users find movies that are playing in local theaters.
  5. Assess other popular mobile apps. Look at mobile apps that may or may not be similar to the type of app you are building. What are they doing right? What is their UX like? What do their users expect out of the apps? What would make the apps better?
  6. Be prepared to fail quickly and iterate numerous times. You will learn quickly from your community what’s working and what needs to be improved upon for the next release. If you think that you are going to build a mobile app and get it right first time you release it – stop right now and don’t waste your time and money building a mobile app.
  7. Determine how you will develop your mobile app from a technical perspective. Will it be built in HTML5? Will it be a native app? Whatever approach you take, make sure it’s something you can use to scale.
  8. How will the app be managed? Where will it be hosted? Who will be responsible for security issues? Who in your organization will be responsible for managing or updating the data and content? If your app relies on Facebook, who will be responsible for updating the app when Facebook change its code and causes a major coding error.
  9. What analytics will you use to measure success? There are many factors to consider when measuring the success of a mobile app. Some questions you may want to think about include: How many downloads would you consider a success? If you are planning to charge for your app, how many downloads do you need to break even and to make a profit?
  10. Now that you read through the nine tips to plan your mobile app, is your organization really ready to commit to building a mobile app and iterating until you get it right?

Reader Comments (1)

Great tips, Allyson Kapin. Sounds so much like the Lean Startup Methodology. It’s very important to test first whether or not what you are building is actually needed by consumers, not just chase an idea that you think is brilliant or revolutionary enough.
September 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPamela Young

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