How to Make an App if You 'Have a Good Idea for an App'


After the second or third happy hour beer, it'll dawn on you that nobody's thought to rent kites to dogs yet, or launched a waffles-only delivery service, and isn't that just so unbelievable? Yeah, at some point everybody comes up with their own "brilliant" idea for a mobile app. But do you have any idea what it takes to actually get one off the ground? If you think you've just stumbled upon the next big thing, here's a crash course in everything you should know.


Sober up and think it through 

Sure, your idea for delivering kale smoothies in rickshaws sounded groundbreaking at 9pm last night, but does it still make sense this morning? If you’re not sure, do an informal poll. If people stare blankly, you may want to consider abandoning the plan before embarrassing yourself.

Research your competition

Scope things out to ensure you aren’t going to be entering a space with a lot of other players. And if you realize there are, find out what, if anything, sets yours apart from the others. Does the world really need a 500th weather app? No, no we do not.

Warner Bros. Entertainment

Be really rich, or rope in someone who is

Since you’ll have to hire designers and developers just to see the earliest version of your mobile baby, you'll need some seed money. Some experts advise starting out with at least $10,000. But odds are you'll need a whole lot more, thanks to a fairly lopsided supply/demand scenario that allows developers to essentially name their own price these days. If you want a more precise number, this site will give you a rough estimate of what you'll need to pony up.

Sketch it out, literally

No matter how clueless you are when it comes to design, you should patch together a rough idea of how you want the user interface to look. Seriously, just take some pen to paper and storyboard out how you see it functioning -- a designer can hammer out the details to make sure things flow in a logical and sophisticated way, but you should be able to bring a cohesive vision to the table. 


Figure out how it will make money

It’s one thing to have a killer idea for something that doesn’t exist yet. It’s something else altogether to have an idea about how such an enterprise might, you know, be profitable. Will it be supported by taking a cut of in-app purchases? Advertising? And don’t think you’ll be able to sustain yourself on income made exclusively from people having to purchase it -- that’s a terrible plan considering Apple takes a whopping 30% cut of your app store sales. It's going to take more than your minor in business to figure this one out, so find someone who knows what they're talking about.


Find seriously skilled people to build your app

To create something that looks as slick and functions as smoothly as the other big hitters in the app store, you’ll need to hire top design and developer talent, and convince them to stick around after launch to help work out any kinks or glitches -- which will most definitely crop up. Often times that means ponying up a fat check up front, offering equity, or both.

Beta test the crap out of it

Once you have an operational version, you’re going to want to run it through every potential user scenario. Push it to the limit trying the things you expect people doing with it, and things you'd never imagine they would. Get as many friends and acquaintances as possible to download and test it out, too. There’s nothing more embarrassing than pushing some half-baked version of an app that crashes every five seconds.

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Get approved by the app store

The Apple App Store and Google Play each have their own developer guidelines you must follow in order to be listed in their app stores. There are literally hundreds of reasons they might reject yours, so pay attention. And while Google's review process is famously lax and fast, Apple plays a little harder to get and takes about a week.

Budget for marketing, and cross your fingers

Once you’re live in the app store, you can’t rely on word of mouth or front-page placement to bring in more downloads. That’s why you should have a robust marketing budget (re: more cash money!) to get the right people’s attention. Better yet, you'll want to get a celebrity or two on board to shill your stuff (pro tip: try Ashton Kutcher). Did we mention you're going to need a lot of money?

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist, and has forgotten way more "genius" app ideas than he's remembered.