11.03.16

So, you have an idea for an app..

By Tara van Zyl

I created my first app in 2013. iCostume was developed to save me the agony of handwriting costume continuity notes at work and I made it for my own personal use.  Everyone said, ‘You have an app! You’re going to be a millionaire!’ At this time, I am not a millionaire. If I’d done a few things differently starting out, I might be a few steps closer by now.Hindsight is 20/20, to anyone who has come as far as I have in the start-up game, my early mistakes will seem ‘obvious’.


If you have an idea, though, and are just starting out maybe you can learn from my mistakes.I have no regrets about how my adventure into tech began. I dove in head first developing my app, as naive as could be. I knew nothing about tech or start-ups. “Just do it!” is my approach to most things in life; if I over-analyse or take too much time to learn everything, I’d never get anything done. Soon, I had a really great app. If I’d done a few things differently, I’d also have a great business today. I made mistakes, and I have learned from them. iCostume did one very specific thing for one very specific type of customer: costume departments on film sets use my app to make sure the cast are in the right costume for the right scene.I built the app for my own use, funding it with money earned working as a costume designer. I found a freelance developer online, and he was brilliant. He did more than just code, he was also a great advisor and took a keen interest in making iCostume outstanding. 


When it came to launching in the App Store, we decided that as iCostume was niche, it could command a premium rate of $80 per purchase.My app was good – very good. I underestimated what people would pay for something that saved so much pain. When we launched, I thought $80 was astronomical! I had never bought an app for more than 99 cents; who would pay 80 bucks? If I was given a time machine to go back and do it over again, there are some things I would do differently. Be more considerate! I saw a need for a tool to digitise the most time consuming part of my job. I had a solution for my pain point. I didn’t consider that others out there with the exact same problem would also be interested in this time saving tool. If I had taken a deep breath, stood back and assessed the market, I would have thought more about my customers in the long run.


The demise of iCostume finally came when I pulled it from the App Store; letting down my customers is still my biggest regret.Know Your CustomersDo this. Include a sign-up registration for all first time users. Build a customer data base. I didn’t do this. I never knew who bought my app. I did have a way for customers to get in touch with me directly from the app, but I had no way to get in touch with them. Knowing who my customers are would have let me learn more about my users, and it would have given me a way to reach out to my early adopters to offer incentives to share the word with their colleagues.


Get your facts straight. Back in 2013 I didn’t have a clue about analytics. Never heard of them! If I had started out with some basic analytics, I would have known much more about how customers were using the app.It was only by walking onto a film set and seeing the crew using my app to track extras fittings that I saw how customers were ‘hacking’ my app to ease their own pain points. I discovered that there was a whole world beyond what I initially built the app for that I could have expanded on. Consider your Business Model carefully, I didn’t anticipate that I would have customers, and I certainly I didn’t think anyone would buy my app for $80. They did. I got over thinking the cost of my app was too expensive however as I saw that even with sales taking off, I was not making enough money to keep up with the never ending iOS upgrades!


A once-off purchase price meant iCostume could be used endlessly, show after show. A monthly subscription model would have given me a steady stream of income to maintain, upgrade and improve the app. This was the reason iCostume was eventually pulled from the App Store: I couldn’t keep up with the cost! An app requires constant upgrades and improvements and it all costs money. The once-off price was not enough to cover my full costs. I had thought selling x copies would cover the expense of making the app, I didn’t plan for recurring revenue to finance the on-going upkeep.PatienceI tend to race ahead of myself, if there is something I want to do, I just do it. By running into this and not stopping to think, I didn’t sweat the small stuff.


I had a sense of adventure, a desire to do something I had never done before. The learning came after.I don’t regret doing it all wrong the first time. Because I did it wrong, I have spent the last 18 months learning how to do it right which has brought me to where I am today. We do learn from our mistakes.I went the distance. I had an idea for an app, I built it and I sold it. I see it time and time again: people with an idea often ask me, ‘How do you make an app’?Perhaps a better question is, ‘What mistakes did you make that I can avoid’?


My advice is that the best place to start is by looking at the lean start up process. Every journey is unique but there’s a lot of expert advice out there – take advantage of it. Feel free to get in touch; I am happy to help in any way I can.