Starting an App Business? Here Are a Few Things I Would Have Done Differently in My First Year
Are you thinking about starting a subscription app business? If you’re humming and hawing over a big app idea, it just might be worth building — global consumer spending for just the top 100 subscription apps jumped by 41% last year. According to Techcrunch with data from Sensortower, app consumers in the US alone spent $8.5 billion in the top 100 non-game subscription apps in 2021, and $40.7 billion on in-app purchases overall.
While the pandemic played a significant role in this boost in consumer spending on apps, there’s an even greater market shift at play here: consumers are becoming increasingly more comfortable with making mobile payments, giving subscription apps a major advantage. Additionally, categories like streaming services, dating apps, and health and fitness apps have helped pave the way for the subscription app market, making these feel like more of an everyday necessity, rather than a luxury service.
As an app founder and marketer in the industry for several years, there’s a lot I would do differently now knowing the state of the subscription app market compared to when my small team launched our app ,Flipd, on the App Store six years ago. Since we launched, Flipd has gone on to acquire over 2.5 million users and has been featured on the App Store hundreds of times including App of the Day in 2021, but these successes meant overcoming big challenges along the way. In this blog post, I’d like to share some of my experiences and what I’d prioritize if I were starting a subscription app business today, with the hopes it might help you avoid similar challenges altogether.
Work with a product designer
What might have once passed as a minimum viable product (MVP) for an app may no longer be the case — with so many alternative apps and mobile experiences that exist, consumers are now accustomed to a certain level of UX and UI that your app should meet. Not only does this mean meeting the development guidelines set out on the App Store and Google Play at a bare minimum, but your app should also have a design aesthetic and user experience that suits your audience and their expectations.
That doesn’t mean you need to create a perfect app experience or have a beautiful brand in order to launch; your MVP just needs to appeal to users enough so that they understand how the app works, can easily use it, and can walk away with a sense of the story your brand is trying to tell. Thankfully, mobile UX/UI design has come a very long way in a short amount of time and, as a result, there are many talented designers and design resources that now exist to help you execute on your vision. If you’re not sure where to start, Dribbble is my go-to resource for design inspiration and is also an excellent platform for hiring talented freelance designers that are experienced in mobile projects.
Implement app analytics as early as possible
If you succeed on your app design and start getting some initial users through the door, you’ll also need to have analytics implemented to help you understand what your users are doing and, importantly, what they’re not doing. Data analytics from your first few hundred users should be enough to get a pulse on how your app is performing from the user’s perspective — for example, are they churning at sign-up? And if they do sign in, what’s the first action they take? What actions were you expecting more of? Are users doing something else entirely? And, importantly, which of these actions align with your business goals?
Answering these questions are just some of the responsibilities of a product manager, which may be the role you end up taking on as an app founder early on. Having analytics in place will give you a clearer picture of your user journey and allow you to plan your product roadmap accordingly. Without analytics in place, you may get stuck going with your gut and end up making product or business decisions that don’t align with the user. Although gut decisions are an essential part of being a founder, data-driven gut decisions are a much safer bet.
There are lots of app analytics platforms to choose from, so you should do your research to find the one that works best for the business you want to build and your budget. Ideally, your analytics platform grows with your business, meaning your initial implementation is done once and you can continue using that same platform as your business grows. Amplitude is one of the leading analytics platforms that’s startup friendly and built to scale.
Conduct user research early and often
With analytics in place, you should feel confident in putting together a user research plan. Without analytics, you may be left tackling your research blind (or afraid to do research at all) — whereas having data to support what users are doing in your app will help guide the research you need to do. For example, you may need to find out why users are performing certain actions in your app over others. Conducting virtual user interviews is one method to understand this problem, where participants are asked to complete a series of tasks on a prototype or beta version of your app, and you observe the steps they take to determine where they’re getting stuck. Research like this could help inform the product roadmap by identifying what needs to be improved and, once implemented, your analytics platform will help you understand whether or not the problem has been solved.
If you have the resources to do it, user research should be an ongoing process that helps to continuously identify areas for improvement and inform the product roadmap. As your user base grows, your user research could expand to help you understand what’s needed to get your app closer to product-market-fit (PMF). Getting to PMF should be a continuous research exercise that’s integrated right into your business model through the use of feedback forms, email surveys, and even community discussion boards like a Discord server or subreddit.
Prioritize your resources
With all the above said, if you’re a small team with limited resources, maybe product design, analytics implementation, and user research just aren’t the type of tasks or priorities you’re capable of taking on right away. While that’s totally okay, it’s important that you make sure to prioritize the tasks that will move the needle for you in your first year. If you only have an iOS developer, don’t get stuck by feeling like you have to launch with an Android version of your app (or vice versa); similarly, if you don’t have a designer, don’t feel like your app isn’t “pretty enough” for the world to see and start using. Consider the learnings outlined here as guideposts, where you should be aiming to have these boxes checked (design, analytics, and research) in order to innovate and grow, even though they may not be your priorities early on.
As I mentioned at the beginning, these are just some takeaways from my own experiences — yours may look very different. However, knowing what I now know about the subscription app market, applying these learnings proactively could save you time and resources in the long run, and even start you off miles ahead of competitors.
Alanna Harvey is the co-founder and CMO at Flipd, a social productivity app built for GenZ. In a strategic marketing role, Alanna has been responsible for managing Flipd’s brand and how it’s communicated across the user journey to drive user acquisition, conversions, and retention. Under Alanna’s marketing leadership, Flipd has reached an audience of over 2.5 million users, has been featured on the App Store over 100 times, and was App of the Day in 30 countries in 2021. Over the years, Alanna has led PR campaigns that resulted in coverage from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, TechCrunch, and hundreds of top tier publications internationally. She also built and executed a successful ambassador program and scalable influencer marketing campaigns with over 150 influencers from around the world. Outside of her work at Flipd, Alanna mentors startups on their marketing operations and is also a part-time yoga instructor.