Yes, you read that headline correctly. On a blog focused on bringing you the latest tech trends and coaching you through the app development process, we’re pumping the brakes a bit and talking today about reasons why building a mobile app or web app might NOT be a good idea for your business or organization.

You Haven’t Conducted Any Market Research

If you know anything about us, you know that Oak City Labs is a huge proponent of market research. We believe it is the cornerstone of any worthwhile, successful app. If you have yet to complete any market research on your idea, you probably shouldn’t be building your app quite yet! If you don’t know where to start, download our FREE checklist detailing all of the steps.

Your Idea Isn’t Unique

Market research should help, but it’s important to answer the question, “Is this idea unique?” If the answer is yes, keep going! If the answer is no, take pause. Just because someone else has already built an app like the one you’re proposing, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It just means that you should really think hard about how you can add or change functionality to differentiate your mobile app or web app from others. What is your secret sauce or unique value proposition that will make users download your app too?

Your Idea Doesn’t Provide Value to Your Users

If your mobile app is just a replication of your website, you don’t need a mobile app. Yep, you heard me right. Your app should provide value to your users through additional functionality, interactive components, connectivity with IoT devices, notifications, geolocation features, etc. Think through what additional functionalities should be added to your app to set it apart from your website – what additional value can it bring to your users – and build that!

You Don’t See A Lot of Mobile Traffic to Your Website

This one’s tricky, but worth considering. We believe that analytics are a powerful way to make business decisions – the numbers don’t lie! If you have an existing business with a website, have you checked your analytics lately? What percentage of users visit your site with a mobile device compared to a desktop? Maybe there are a lot of tablet visitors? If you have a mobile-friendly website and still don’t see a trend in the analytics toward mobile users, think twice before creating a mobile app. If users won’t visit a mobile website, it’s hard to expect them to download an app.

You Don’t Have the Resources

Building a mobile app or web app is not for the faint of heart. And when you launch the app out into the world, the work has really only just begun. Consider the amount of time and money you have available to bring your mobile app or web app idea to life.

Let’s start with time first: is this a side project that you want to tinker with for a year or so – or are you truly diving in and devoting yourself to the project? There is so much more to building a mobile than writing code; in fact, most times that’s the easy part! To be truly successful, you’ll need to devote a considerable amount of time to the project to handle market research, strategy, marketing, public relations, operations, among other things. Can you or your team devote time for that? And then there’s the other item: money. Building a quality custom mobile app from start to finish is not cheap. Expect to spend around $50-250k+ on the process. Need ideas for funding in the life science, education or agtech space? We have one tip here.

Of course there are plenty of reasons why you SHOULD build a mobile app, and we’d love to talk with you about those too! If you have an idea, but aren’t sure where to start, let us know! We’d be happy to chat with you!

If you’ve ever found yourself seriously thinking about building a mobile app, but have no idea where to even begin, this post is for you! In a world where it seems like everyone has an app idea, the truth of the matter is that there is plenty of room for innovation and new ideas in the marketplace. But to take your idea and make it a reality, you’ll need to keep the following in mind.

First: Market Research

At Oak City Labs, we’re passionate about market research and strongly believe that it is the key to your success. Before writing the first line of code, it’s important to make sure that your idea is fully thought through. And while market research is definitely the most strategic route to take when your app is still just an idea, it’s also the route that can end up saving you money in the long run.

To take that first step in getting your app idea off the ground, begin by doing some free research. That’s right: FREE! Using everyone’s trusty friend Google, you can find information showing you what your app idea’s total addressable market (TAM) could be. Along the way, you’ll find competitors and possible features. You’ll also start to refine what your app idea is and what makes it unique. We also encourage those in this stage of the process to talk to people and conduct Voice of the Customer surveys and, ultimately, create a value proposition statement. The goal with all of these steps? To help you refine your app idea, discover what makes your idea unique and set you up for success as you begin the process of building the app.

Next: Partner

After doing your fair share of research and being confident in your decision to move forward with building your app, it’s time to find a partner that can help bring your idea to life. When looking for a development company, we encourage you to prioritize the following:

  1. Reputation: How experienced is the development team? How many apps or custom software projects have they led or developed before? What do their clients have to say about them?
  2. Relationship: How are they planning to communicate with you throughout the project? Will there be weekly check-in calls? Will they help you flesh out your idea strategically, advise of feature prioritization, consult with you on growth strategies and more?
  3. Results: Are they going to be able to solve your problem? Is this partner able to help you achieve the results you’re looking for?

We created Oak City Labs to answer a lot of these questions – to give you the missing pieces to transform your app idea into a real, quality product that makes a difference. Our team has spent decades in diverse roles across multiple leading tech companies. From this experience, we understand how to deliver on all facets of the app creation process – from the technical considerations, to project management, to product-market-fit, and all the important questions you might not think to ask. We’ve learned these lessons so you don’t have to.

We know how all of the pieces of development fit together so we bring a fully informed approach to your final product. By building strong client relationships – guiding you through every step, valuing your feedback, and collaborating on the process with you – we craft the well-designed, marketable app that you want to build.

Then: Build

Assuming you’ve properly validated your app idea and selected the best strategic partner, it’s now time to begin building your app. The process involved can include everything from wireframing and user testing, to visual and interaction design depending on your specific needs.

At Oak City Labs we make sure to have a full feature list in place before beginning development. Then we prioritize the feature list to ensure that the most important things are built first. If budget or time becomes an issue, we always want to ensure that your high priority needs were taken care of in the beginning.

As development proceeds you should expect lots of testing through frequent beta builds provisioned by the development company to your device. And you should expect lots of testing on their end too.

Don’t Forget: Marketing

It would be easy to wrap up this post with the next step and call it a day. But the truth is that successful apps won’t take off and have a hope of succeeding if there isn’t a marketing plan in place. While your app is in development (and, quite honestly, long beyond that), you should be working on and executing your marketing plan. From a website to social media, and even press kits, your marketing plan can make or break your app’s chances for success.

Finally: Launch (& Rinse and Repeat)

It’s the finish line! Well, sort of. At the completion of the build and testing phase of the project, it will be time to launch your app and we’ve created a whole checklist to make this process successful here, here and here.

Once that first release hits the store, you should celebrate! What an accomplishment! But keep in mind that it’s really just the beginning. Following the launch, your app will need to be nurtured on an ongoing basis if you hope to grow your audience (and therefore your business!). You’ll need to address bugs, add new features, adapt to new technology challenges and much more.

As with any business idea, there’s a lot that goes into going from an idea to a bona fide product. At Oak City Labs, we love helping entrepreneurs make their ideas a reality. If you have an idea and think we’d be a good partner for you, we’d love to chat!

As an app developer, we get to speak with a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs about new apps and ways of using software to solve problems. Most conversations have one thing in common: people immediately think they need custom software development to bring their concept to life. This can lead to an overwhelming experience as the person struggles to simultaneously interview multiple developers and learn about software. All the while, they are also working toward validating that the idea or app will solve a legitimate problem, that it’s a “pain killer” not a “vitamin”.

The good news? Testing your idea can be done in a number of ways that don’t involve significant amounts of coding. Previously we talked about using market research as a first tool to determining market need. Today we’re going to walk through one example of using an off the shelf products to deliver a product to customers.

It’s important to know and consider that using an off the shelf product will also depend on your business. There are some cases where it may not be possible, but I challenge you to think through it. The mental exercise will help clarify the features you need to build before you begin development.

We’ll use a recommendation or content delivery service as our example for this post. A large majority of apps are aggregating data and refining that for a particular type of customer. Menu planning services like eMeals comes to mind. It’s one of the most established meal plan services out there. There are also newer, lesser known services like PrepDish that serve a need in the Gluten Free and Paleo space. It happens to make an excellent example of using pre-built software to create a business. (I’m about to make a lot of assumptions about how these are built based on publicly available information.) But onward because this is an example.

eMeals is a PHP built site and likely has a developer or team working to build out its entire functionality. However, newer services like PrepDish utilize marketing automation software to deliver weekly meal plans. PrepDish is currently using Infusionsoft with a WordPress website. Infusionsoft is a business automation suite where you can pre-define rules or actions that should occur based on input from the user. Ontraport and Salesforce are two other examples of automation suites. Typically a user will go to the PrepDish website, which is hosted with WordPress, and sign up for emails or more information. The flow tends to look like this:

When the user signs up, Infusionsoft takes over. This allows PrepDish’s founder to focus on growing her business while the software handles the rest. The two big pieces of technology used here are WordPress, which handles the marketing site and user accounts, and Infusionsoft, which handles the email automation. Again, I’m making some big assumptions, but if I had to guess she likely hired a developer to make a custom theme for WordPress, set the website up and any necessary plug-ins. And guess what? That can also be done without a developer for those of you willing to push up your sleeves. I don’t know much about Infusionsoft, but the founder may very well have set it up on her own or she might have had someone assist. These services typically provide support (along with a hefty price) and help you get onboarded, so it’s important to use that onboarding time wisely!

There are some cons to using these tools: they don’t scale well and the more you build, the more you rely on the automation suite. As it grows you will need to hire a consultant that specializes in the suite or pay the company for additional help beyond your onboarding training. It can also be very cumbersome to migrate away from a marketing automation suite because they’re proprietary solutions. More than likely as your business grows, you’ll want to build a custom solution to offer a better experience and new features, which will allow you to retain and engage a user base, something essential for long-term growth.

As you can see, custom software development isn’t essential to bring your app idea to life in the early stages of business. With a tremendous amount of free or low cost “off the shelf” options available, there’s no reason you can’t begin and test the idea without the costly investment and complexity that comes with custom software development. And when the time comes for that, you’ll have a much better idea of what actually needs to be built. And when that time comes, we’d love to hear from you!

Shoestring Market Research

Two weeks ago we hosted a workshop discussing market research and validation. We shared several methods, tools and resources to use while researching a market opportunity. Most importantly, we covered why you should do research before building anything. Today’s post summarizes a few of those items and will give you a starting point into tackling your own market research.

Value Proposition

The hardest part of research, or anything really, is simply getting started. I like to begin with the goal of writing a value proposition. Fortunately, I spent plenty of time during the NC State TEC program working through value propositions, particularly one based on Geoff Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. I’ve since used the same value proposition with product teams, clients and our own internal projects. In order to “cross the chasm” and avoid certain death, you need a plan, a position and understanding of your market.


A well-researched value proposition will help you think purposefully about the business or product you are about to build. The structure to follow is:

For (target customer)
who (need or opportunity)
the (product/service name)
is a (product/service category)
that (statement of benefit)

Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
our product (statement of primary differentiation)
which leads to (economic impact)

If you break down each section, it walks through market size, problems and needs. It also covers competitors and your own unique differentiators. Using the value proposition as a guide, you begin with finding market opportunity or size in dollars. I primarily use Google search for finding reports or charts that show market size. As an example, we’ll research the construction software market. Here are sample search terms I might use:

construction software spend 2016
construction industry spend on software
construction software market share
construction software market size

It’s a good idea to also look at Google Images and different file types when using these terms. The data you’re after may be in an image or on a report. For file types, add “filetype:pdf” or “filetype:ppt” to the end and you might even find a report from another company that has surveyed the industry of interest.

Often times I’ll take a stab at writing the value proposition without real numbers and then fill them in later. Your value proposition will likely get re-written multiple times during the course of research and feedback.

Voice of the Customer

Outside of Google searches, the most important tool in your market research arsenal will be talking to people. The formal research method is called Voice of the Customer. It includes in-depth surveys, discussions and tracking of data from real human beings. Most small businesses might do a light version of Voice of the Customer in 4 steps.

  1. Create a contact list of people, including potential customers.
  2. Create a survey to use as a guide for interviewing people.
  3. Call and talk to people.
  4. Analyze the survey data and look for patterns.

The survey itself should have very open ended questions. You do NOT want to lead the interviewee. Here are some examples:

  1. What’s the most difficult part of your job?
  2. What are your top 3 challenges right now?
  3. If you could automate any part of your job, something that you find yourself doing over and over, what would it be?
  4. Is there anyone else that I should talk to?

Set a goal for the number of people you’ll contact. One hundred is a good start, but 200+ is even better. If you have a team and can talk to 500, you’ll have more data to support any conclusions. It’s also good to ensure the surveys are stored somewhere for review. It’s really easy to write down notes and then lose them later.

In every product or feature I’ve seen built, the most successful ones are supported by in-depth discussions had with real human beings. In-person conversations can also lead you to other resources and connections. For example, trade associations or conferences may not show up at the top of your Google searches. As an added bonus, some of the people you interview may become the first champions of your product.

Other Resources

Finally, a list of all the resources I’ve used in the past for research:

  • Google
  • Google Trends
  • Voice of the customer
  • Social media – Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora
  • Trade associations
  • Paid reports (IBIS, Gartner)
  • Networking events and conferences
  • App stores and reviews (Google Play and iTunes)
  • Digital surveys by using Typeform or SurveyMonkey
  • Annual reports, earnings calls
  • Job postings
  • University libraries and public libraries. Most public universities, like NC State, have resources available for alumni and community members.

There are so many resources available for market research on a budget. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need an actionable market research plan, shoot me a note I’d love to hear from you!