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If you build it, they will not come

A few times a week, somebody comes along and asks me about developing a successful web app. Given that my biggest success so far is an app earning $500/month, I’m as surprised as you are. That said, I’m learning, and I want to spread the word about the number one tip for success: your need to find a market first, and develop your app second.

If you build an application first, chances are you’ll get pretty disappointed when the initial burst of announcement traffic dies down… and you’re left with close to zero sales. Sure, there are success stories out there, where an app brought in megabucks from it’s very first mention, but – and I’m Sorry to say it – unless your lottery numbers come up on a regular basis, this is not going to happen to you.

I’m going to devote a full blog post later on to CampaignBar, but in short:  I developed it first (and it was fun!), but spent zero time on researching the market. Well, or doing any marketing for that matter. I’m pretty sure there’s still a market out there waiting for something like this, but now the extension’s out of date, I’d like to rewrite it for Chrome and a million and one small other things. And first and most importantly – I need to find those users!

So what can you do? As an example, I’m currently trying to test out my idea for GMail account protection. So far, it’s only received traffic from techy sites, where the typical mindset is “I could build that myself. In mere seconds! No sale for you!” and right now, my mailing list is tiny; 20 users or so. Until I’ve expanded my marketing efforts and I start getting a good number of users interested, I’m going to shelve this project. Otherwise, I risk wasting my time that could be better invested elsewhere.

In the meantime, and with that in the background, I’m working on my existing projects. I’ve noticed a marked decline in new users on TweetingMachine, so it’s time to find out where I’m going wrong there. I need to spend a lot of time writing some articles for the site and generally improving the sales page. I also need to make my mind up on InboxCleaner, and whether to use that solely as a promotional tool for TweetingMachine.

Your time is an investment. I’m hoping that by treating it as such myself, I’ll have a few more success stories to tell you in the upcoming months :-)

Written by Tom

Are you looking for web development or just someone who will work with your business needs and not against them? Get in touch with me here, or take a look at my business website. I’m confident I can help you.

Published inOpinion

17 Comments

  1. rinnku rinnku

    “find a market first, and develop your app second” – amen brother! I couldnt agree more. Unfortunately I have made this mistake and paid the price.

  2. Agree. Building a great product just isn’t enough. Finding a market isn’t enough, either. I built a solid product for a huge market (auto buyers) and am having an incredibly difficult time gaining traction.

    (http://autoswatch.com)

    Still trying to figure out what I need to gain traction.

    Btw – a tip for you – change your tab order for this comment form. I did and everything was reset, had to retype my message :(

    • Marcelo Marcelo

      Nick, I the reason why your webpage doesn’t get traction is brcause theere is no value added to the visitor. See price and color? Big deal! The visit will come qnd go and that’s it. Try to find out what else can be made available to make your site rock.

      Maybe a discussion session to enable users comments about each car, photo posting, etc. Give them what they realy want and/or need.

      Right now I’d say that your site is nice but and that’s it.

  3. tmg tmg

    Story of my life, but no regrets whatsoever. Cranked out mobwa.com because it was (to me) such a cool idea, and I relished the drawn-out act of invention. The mistake was assuming that, because I was so smitten by the idea and its manifestation, more than a handful of others would be similarly wowed once they discovered it.

    I was even suspicious of claims that ideas for this-or-that successful startup came from ascertaining needs, often via direct observation of human behavior. What I took for contrived stories, I now pursue…

  4. Shawn Shawn

    How did you go about finding the initial users for gmail protection app?
    What are the things you tried and what worked or is working for you?
    How do you go about evaluating a market for your product?

  5. Yes, I have experienced the same failure multiple times in different forms. Personally I think engineers and programmers (like me) go through a pre-madonna phase when they think they can change the world. After a few failures they realize they need a business mindset (which is why im doing an MBA) — but yes, I see blogs like this all the time. So unfortunate.

  6. I agree with this. I follow a model now of build/market/iterate/repeat. I know the market is out there – lots of folks are into the whole “buy American” thing, but reaching them without resorting to massive ad buys takes time and effort.

    (http://americanproductsearch.com)

    What’s interesting is that the best buyers haven’t turned out to be who I thought they would be. I figured the “buy america” crowd would pretty much be “tea party” types, but it turns out that east coast liberals and union members are more into the idea.

  7. It’s not so surprising people are asking you to develop an app – $500/mo is still more success than 90% of people that go out there to make an app ever see. Besides, they often just want an implementer and think that they have the marketing side of things in-hand.

    Thank you so much for blogging your entire journey, failures and all – it’s interesting to see the real metrics and process behind launching a working web app. Subscribing so I can watch your journey proceed and when you have that hit product I’ll be able to say “I read that guy before he was famous” :)

  8. Hi Tom
    Has been blast reading your site.

    I came from an Internet Marketing point of view and it seems strange to me that you launch product after product with no verification evidence of any demand.

    People like us build sites that can draw targeted traffic looking for things that fulfill their demands. Problem is we can’t code to save our lifes so our means of monetisation is always advertising or affiliate programme, which doesn’t yield the best margins.

    Even with those low margins, clearing 1k per month based on e.g. adsense alone is entirely doable if you know how to draw traffic. I am sure if you do your marketing right (Including knowing whether there is demand), your product can clear many times that amount.

    Have you try using any keyword tool to at least know is there any searches for your idea or even do a small ppc campaign to test out your market hypothesis?

  9. Zach Zach

    So basically, spend your time on what’s working. Don’t spend time on a lost cause.

  10. Read “If you build it, will they come?”. Good book on a very simple process of market validation. Not rocket science, just good due diligence.

  11. Makes total sense. My question is how are you testing your idea? Are you actively promoting it or have you just put up a placeholder website?

  12. Great post!
    You mean the order of things is not …(1) raise a ton of cash (2)spend it on a full product build (3)ask questions later and maybe find customers? I know a few people who could benefit from this advice :)

    It is a tricky balancing the build & deploy of a product as you also build your traffic. All of this is easier if you ask the questions up front for sure – you will build the ‘right’ product and getting customers will be much easier!

    Cheers!

  13. Great post applicable to an existing market where one is a new player.

    There are three different markets namely a)existing market b) re-segmented market and c) new market. Different rules apply to each market type (refer to the book Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank).

  14. Guys, the same way you need a good idea and find your customers, you also need what something that holds your user in your website. I see many ideas and good ideas, but just e few real website experience implemented. Think about it. Want to chat more? Contact me at http://www.startupmover.com.

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