Get Tips on App Development from Rob Johnson

November 21st, 2013  |  By PreApps Admin


PreApps Guest Blog by: Kate Kotler from ComboApp


Earlier this week, VentureBeat hosted a guest post from self-taught app developer Rob Johnson (Hobbyist, hot apps include VLC Streamer and Watchover) offering six tips/observations to help up-and-coming app devs successfully navigate a crowded marketplace.

His Tips Include:

1. Satisfy your own needs — Johnson says the most successful apps he’s developed have addressed his own needs on technologies that personally excited him. This comes down to the ideal “love what you do and do what you love.” Obviously, projects that stimulate you creatively and hold personal meaning for you are going to garner more enthusiasm and dedicated effort than those which you’re doing “just to get by.”


2. Take feedback and act on it — In the new (and, sometimes weird) world of user generated reviews (UGR), many developers overlook or dismiss feedback as not relevant to their final product or endpoint user. Quite the opposite actually, as direct customer feedback is a great tool to identify pain points and bugs within an app and fix them quickly, ensuring an evergreen and high functioning product that remains relevant and grows over time. Johnson advises devs to look closely at the feedback from their most engaged users, responding to emails personally when possible as this breeds a customer loyalty which promotes the ever valuable “word of mouth recommendation” for apps.

3. Keep it simple, but not TOO simple — Johnson recommends that apps be as streamlined as possible to provide simplicity of use for the average user. He says, “You’ll typically get most feedback from the highly technical users who want lots of complicated features and options. These guys are great, they have some killer ideas, but they are not the majority of your users. In order to keep the broader base happy, you need to keep things simple.” This is great advice, as the majority of the consumer public is of the “point-n’-click” demographic, who wants an app to be intuitive and as easy to use in as few taps as humanly possible. 


4. Looks matter — Like it or not, app aesthetics are a primary selling feature, users are far more likely to download, use and highly rate an app that is “shiny” in appearance with basic functionality vs. a tech rich app which appears clunky and hard to use. Johnson recommends that app developers invest extra time (or capital if their graphics skills aren’t up to snuff) in polishing up their app pre-release so it appeals to the mass market. 

5. You can’t predict success — Johnson cautions devs that apps are much like pop-songs: You can’t predict what will be a hit or a flop, you just do your best to release a tight, polished app into the market and then you move on. Likewise, our newest addition to the ComboApp Chicago office, PR Writer-Kate Kotler shares an amusing anecdote from her years working in a San Francisco based interactive marketing company, “One time we had a client come in and ask us directly to make them a ‘viral video.’ I had to carefully explain that there is no formula to produce content that goes viral and that our objective needed to be to produce a quality, entertaining, original branded video based on the tangible qualities we’ve identified most viral content as having and hope for the best. This is not something that very results oriented business people like to hear, but it’s a truism that needs to be paid attention to. I agree with Rob Johnson, the best strategy is to put 100% effort into making a quality product that hits the tangible/quantifiable elements of the most popular apps in the same category, release it and move onto the next project. You can analyze what worked and what didn’t work with the release and apply those lessons towards future releases and campaigns.” 

6. Small is good — Johnson gives the advice to “build [your] app in the evenings, launch it and see what happens” before hiring expensive teams, soliciting borrowed money from VCs and scaling for a big rollout. As he points out, most apps disappear without a trace, but good ideas that fulfill a need or gap in the market will eventually gain a foothold and start to experience traction/a monetary return. As Johnson has been supporting himself building mobile apps since the days of Palm Treo600 (remember those?!?), we consider this salient advice for the indie app developer. Further, if you find yourself as the creator of an app on the upswing, we here at ComboApp can help you develop a comprehensive (and cost effective) promotions program which will bump your app up to the next level.

To date, ComboApp has worked with more than 700 mobile apps across a variety of categories, our sole objective being to help developers get to the top spots in the the app store via a diverse menu of strategic programs. These programs have been developed by taking the best ideas from advertising, marketing, public relations and social media to create a 360-degree communications model which is proven to deliver results. Whether you’re looking for user acquisition, to improve your app store ranking/rating, to launch a traditional media campaign, to leverage branded advertising within your app (or others) – the combined years of experience at ComboApp will deliver a unique, out-of-the-box approach to attaining your goals.


With that in mind, we had a few additional tips for young devs to add to Rob Johnson’s already excellent list:

1. Real value takes time — So you’ve got a great app that’s experiencing some natural traction and success. That’s amazing, congratulations! Next, it would be a cost effective and a savvy strategic move to look into crafting a communications campaign to support and build on that success. (Which is where ComboApp can come in to help, natch.) It’s important to temper the excitement and enthusiasm of moving onto the next step of building your mobile empire with the new mantra “real value takes time.” Strategic communication programs such as ComboApp offers are built on relationship and reputation, two elements it takes a certain amount of time to successfully build. While there are lots of tips and tricks we employ to get immediate attention focused on your app, courting and securing the eyeballs of top-tier media outlets and A-list reputation influencers doesn’t happen overnight. It’s important to know that going into a partnership with us, so you can realistically evaluate your goals and expectations with your ComboApp team and come up with scaled and easily measured metrics to evaluate the success of your campaign with. To sort of quote Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire, “Help us, help you!” You’ll be glad you did. 

2. Think twice before developing a game — If you take a look at the App Store gaming landscape and try to define what makes a game successful, you can break down the most popular games into two categories: Big Companies taking aggressive marketing action (like Zynga) vs. Simple Addictive games (like Dots: A Game About Connecting). Both cases present a real challenge to the app developer — to compete with a Big Company game you have to have the same level of financing as they do, and be prepared to spend serious money on marketing and growing your developer team. To compete with the Simple Addictive game you require not money or a large team, but something even more intangible and hard to attain: Blind luck. Given the difficulty of succeeding in the game category, our suggestion is to explore other (underdeveloped) app categories such as utilities, travel, education and others.

3. Marketing should be your first and last thought – The very first day you begin to think about developing a new app should be the same day that you begin to think about how you plan to market that app once it rolls out into the marketplace. The App Store is not only full of great apps that people find, download and use — but, also great apps that people never see because of the ongoing app discovery problem that has been created by the marketplace being overcrowded. Marketing is the key to getting your app in front of the eyes of users and influencers who will be critical to its’ eventual success. Even something as simple as setting up a Twitter feed or Facebook fan page for your app can make a huge difference in getting your app seen by customers. (And, ComboApp would be delighted to help you with a comprehensive marketing plan.)


Check out the PreApps blog for updates on all the latest tech buzz and new apps coming soon!



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