Get Your App Idea on Paper

Getting Your App Idea onto Paper

By Tim Oldenhuis

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July 10, 2017 2:28 am

So you’ve come up with an idea for an app and you’re thinking of approaching a developer to have it created. But going in with nothing but a great idea isn’t necessarily going to give developers confidence in your product. Before making your pitch it’s a good idea to arm yourself with  a basic app brief – a short written document outlining some fundamental information that will make the process much easier, and more actionable. As well as showing you’ve put a reasonable amount of thought into your idea, a brief will allow you to communicate it more efficiently, and the process of creating it will give you the opportunity to think about some practical issues you might not have considered.

Define your minimum viable product

In most cases, simply having an idea of the purpose of your app – and what problem it’s going to solve – isn’t sufficient. Before approaching a developer it’s important to have a concise understanding of how your app is going to fulfil its goals, and a great way to gain this is to write down your minimum viable product (MVP). Your MVP is your app in its simplest form, without all the bells and whistles that could be added later. It should only include the features that are essential to accomplishing its purpose and satisfying your initial customers. When deciding whether to include a specific feature, ask yourself ‘If this feature was left out, would the app still be able to complete its main function? Would the user still be able to use the app for its primary purpose?’ If the answer is yes, then it’s a nice-to-have and can be included in a later iteration of your product. Think of something like Microsoft Outlook. Its core purpose is sending and receiving emails. The Tasks and Groups features are add-ons that wouldn’t be included in its MVP.

Another valuable process to work through (and possibly something to consider before mapping your MVP) is planning out the big picture using a Lean Business Model Canvas. This process will help you develop actionable and entrepreneur-focused plans that focuses on problems, solutions, key metrics and competitive advantages.

Lean Business Model Canvas
Defining an MVP and completing a Business plan will allow you to develop your idea and get it to market much sooner, and much cheaper. Once your app has been created you can look at user feedback to determine if the idea is worth pursuing further, and if so what extra features might your users want. By starting with an MVP you ensure no resources are wasted on features your users don’t want or need.

Competitor research

As at May this year, the Apple App Store contained 2.2 million apps. In March, the Google Play Store counted 2.8 million apps; and the rate at which these stores are growing is increasing rapidly. With numbers like this the chances that your idea hasn’t been thought of in some form or another aren’t high. Before pouring your time and money into creating an app you should take a good look  into your potential competition. The easiest way to start this is by searching Google, the App Store and Google Play for keywords or potential app names relating to your idea.

You can also use products designed to track and provide statistics for apps, such as apptrace or appstatistics. These will not only allow you to search for potential competitors but also show you how they are performing based on their ranking in the app store, number of downloads, etc. If you can’t find any similar apps this way, it might also be a good idea to search Patentscope or similar databases for existing patents relating to your idea. Just because it hasn’t been developed yet doesn’t mean your idea hasn’t been thought of already.

Finding competitors in your space isn’t necessarily a reason to give up. If your idea already existed in its perfect form, chances are you would have heard of it before doing your research. Instead, this is your opportunity to see if the idea could be improved. Download your competitors’ apps and use them. Look for pain points and go through user ratings and reviews to identify common problems. Then, implement this feedback into your own idea and execute it better.

app research

If you can’t find any apps similar to your idea there are a few possible reasons… ideally it’s because your idea is truly unique, but it’s also possible your idea is impossible or, that no one actually wants it. This is where market validation comes in.

Market validation

Market validation involves testing your product concept with your target market. It’s essentially selling or creating measurable interest in your product, without having to actually build it. Answering the question of whether there’s a market for your app can be easy if your idea already exists, as you can use the stats and performance of the existing version as a guide. If you think your idea is unique though, you’re going to need to go to some effort to confirm this. You can start by simply asking family, friends, co-workers, and anyone you think will be honest with you. To validate your concept further though, you’ll need to look outside of your social circles.

An easy way to do this would be looking at keywords in Google Trends to see if anyone out there is looking for your idea or a solution to the problem it solves. To get even more structured feedback you could create an online survey targeted at who you think your customer demographic will be. A tool such as SurveyMonkey is great for this as it can be used to not only create your survey, but also distribute it if you don’t already have an email list or some other way of contacting potential users. While online surveys can give you better feedback than simply asking your friends, they do come with some disadvantages. For one, people don’t often do what they say they would do. So while people may respond to your survey that yes, they would use your app, the amount of confidence you can place in this is limited.

One option to gain some concrete validation would be to use Unbounce or a similar service to create a basic landing page. The landing page should contain a call-to-action such as an email sign-up to let potential users know when the app is available, or an actual ‘purchase’ button that is met with a message advising the app will be available in the near future.

By doing this you’ll be able to see just how many people are interested in your product and actually want to use it. As an added benefit, including an email sign up option gives you a way to directly contact your first users.

To get people to your landing page,  you can spend a few dollars on Google Adwords, or Facebook Ads. It’s better to spend a few dollars up front to validate your concept then to spend months building something that nobody needs or wants.

Sketch your interface

Having some rough sketches of your app’s interface will not only solidify your own understanding of your idea, but you’ll also have a much easier time communicating it to potential developers. This in turn will allow them to give you a more accurate timeline and quote than they’d be able to with just a description.

You don’t need to sketch every screen of your app in minute detail. While you might have an idea of what you want them to look like, the colour scheme and your ‘Contact’ page probably aren’t particulars you need to have worked out just yet (i.e. forget about the design).

Instead, you should focus on a select few screens that show the key features and usage of the app. When thinking about these steps and what they will look like, keep the goal of your app in mind. For example if the purpose of the app is to carry out a simple action, the interface and amount of steps and screens involved should reflect this.

There are plenty of tools available for sketching some basic wireframes and mockups, but simply using a pen and paper is your best starting point. Once you have an idea of how the overall layout of the interface is going to look you can then use software for tidying up your concept and adding further detail.

Some of the most popular software available for this is Balsamiq and Adobe XD, while my personal favourite is Sketch (for Mac users only). These are paid tools however each allows for a free trial. Ultimately though, you can use anything that allows you to communicate your idea effectively – even if it is just pen and paper.

Balsamiq Wireframe

You may also want to use your sketches to do some basic user testing. By sketching each step of a process in your app, you can have people pretend to carry out some of the main tasks using the sketches to confirm the information and steps flow clearly. A great platform to share design concepts for feedback is InVision. After uploading your design files, you can easily add animations and transitions to transform your static screens into clickable, interactive prototypes.

InVision Mockups

While this isn’t an imperative step you need to take before approaching a developer, doing it will allow you to address any obvious pain points early on rather than later when you’re spending money.


One more thing you might want to think about prior to approaching a developer is just how your app is going to make money. Apps can cost a significant amount to make, so it may seem that the quickest way to recoup your costs would be to charge for it. In addition to costs, how much you charge will be guided by the purpose and complexity of your app, the price of competitors and whether there’s a free alternative available.

If you are going to go down this route, it might be a good idea to gauge how much your target market is willing to pay during market validation. You could do this in an online survey by simply asking people, or by conducting some A/B testing using your landing pages (e.g. have a number of landing pages with different prices to see which receives the greatest response).


It’s also important to consider that people can be reluctant to pay for apps, particularly when they’re unsure of exactly what features it contains. This will be especially true with the first few iterations of your app, where the available features might change. A common option is to offer both a free and paid version, or offer in-app purchases. Structuring your price this way can be beneficial because it gives people who wouldn’t pay for your app sight unseen an opportunity to test it out before making a decision.

If you’re not happy with either of these options, or your app doesn’t provide a service warranting payment (a basic game for example), another option is advertising. Be cautious though; if you’re going to use advertising as a source of revenue you’ll need to consider how you’ll go about this in a way that doesn’t hinder the user experience. Think of a basic game on your phone that has ad popups between each level or death, or even interrupts gameplay. Chances are it won’t stay on there for very long.

By using the above as a guide you’ll be able to create a basic app brief that you can use when presenting your idea to developers. While you might want to get your idea to a developer as soon as possible, these are actions that are going to need to be taken at some point if you want to see it created.

By doing them early, you’ll not only allow developers to give you a more accurate quote and timeline, you’ll have a much clearer idea of the feasibility of your app and you’ll no doubt save yourself a lot of time (and money).

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