Shipping Successful Apps: The Power of Product Validation

April 2, 2020

Sulabh Sharma
Managing Partner

Successful app product or a vanity service that slowly gathers dust, well executed validation makes all the difference.

Well-executed product validation can be the difference between a successful app or a vanity service that slowly gathers dust.

No matter what industry you’re in, what product or service you deliver, or whether you’re developing for mobile or web, product validation is an incredibly crucial part of your development journey.

In fact, research from Andreessen Horowitz general partner Andrew Chen, and mobile intelligence startup Quettra, shows that you have on average three days to grab the attention of users for the long term.

According to the research, the average app loses 77% of daily users after three days, 90% within 30 days and 95% within 90.

They don’t seem like great odds, but we’re here to tell you all is not lost. 

At Sush Mobile, we work with customers across the board to develop applications for iOS, Android and Web.

We’ve seen that while every process of iteration is different, there are steps you can take to significantly increase your chances of success.

Research: Understanding Your User and Market

There are many parts to user research.
There are many parts to user research.

When it comes to validating an idea or product, never underestimate the power of research and data.

Before you begin to develop the app itself we recommend that you invest in adequate research, both qualitative and quantitative.

This should be focused on three key areas: problem, customers, and competition.

A great way to clarify your initial idea is to define, in one sentence, what problem your app solves.

Apps are nothing but a tool for customers to solve a problem or pain point. If the problem is not defined or validated properly, apps tend to deviate and become a solution that nobody needs.

One suggestion put forth by Clayton Christensen, an academic and business consultant who developed the theory of disruptive innovation, is to “understand the job to be done”.

By this he means to deeply understand the job that your app does, both functionally but also emotionally and socially, and the impact it has on customer’s lives.

People hire apps or products to help them do a job, just like they hire a professional. What is that job that you can help them with?    

From here, begin to explore the core areas of your target market. Who are your core customers, where do they come from, what is their motivation and what do they have in common?

Create personas of those who will be using your product and map out their customer journey. Google Keyword Planner can reveal common searches from your target audience, giving clues on what it is that they really care about.

Depending on the scope of your project, this is also an opportunity to directly talk to potential or current customers, to develop a deeper understanding of pain points and motivations.

We’ve noticed it’s far too common to assume these details and miss key information. Open questions and referencing back to the customer journey are useful when interviewing.

Bear in mind customers don’t always know what we need or want, so your focus here isn’t to ask people if they want your service, it’s to understand how your service would aid or improve their life.

Tip: Don’t ask leading or closed questions. You are there to learn, not sell. 

The result of this approach is to look at product validation in terms of creating impactful experiences, not only thinking about function or upgrades. To tap into this realm of customer understanding is to create an app that makes it past those first three days.

Competition is another important aspect of market research. During this phase, research similar apps and products already available, and consider what ways they are similar or different to your offering.

Look at paid and unpaid apps, services that may exist with no app but have a strong following, what is available on a national and international level and how your app is differentiated.

SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis can be useful when identifying competitors.

As a final note on research, we’ve recognised that a common mistake in building and shipping an app is focusing on too many problems at once, or directly competing with an existing product.

Experience shows us the simplest products that offer a unique perspective or tangible solution to one pain point come out on top.

Tip: With research avoid the trap of analysis-paralysis. If research is tending to take more than 2-4 weeks, it’s time to revisit the problem and simplify.

Development: Creating a Minimum Viable Product

Prototyping can be done in various levels of fidelity.
Prototyping can be done in various levels of fidelity.

Following research it’s time to turn analysis into action. Prototyping is a  useful way to test out your findings and theories and help define a minimum viable product, or MVP.

When it comes to prototyping, we want customers to be reacting to a product and not suggesting the product features.

At this stage it’s important to define three areas of your app: what is crucial, what is important and what is nice to have.

By considering only the crucial elements, you can remain hyper-focused on creating a successful app and see how it fares in the wild.

Lean methodology is a set of tools and methods used to optimise resources for maximum return on investment and can be an effective approach when creating an MVP.

However, this doesn’t mean shipping a half-finished product. With competition stiff in the realm of apps and customer expectations at an all time high, it’s important to also create an interface and user experience that is both user friendly and aesthetically pleasing. It can be simple and streamlined but it must be well done.

Remember the importance of images and icons, as this is the first impression you have with your customers, as well as your flow or interaction design.

In addition to lean methodology, various concepts and templates can help you to stay on track while creating the prototype. For instance, Google’s Design Sprint is a formula that utilises design thinking and is used to ship products at speed.

In fact, this five day power-workshop has helped our clients at Sush Mobile to get from A to B in record time and make decisions that have optimised their product investments exponentially.

Once you’re ready to go public with your MVP, be bold and trust your instincts. Don’t be scared of the competition and seek feedback from users.

We recommend creating an incentive to leave a review so you can understand how people are using your app. Remember, you are creating a stronger moat by accelerating the learning about customer problems and experience.

As Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn says, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Once your idea has come to life and is now in the hands of customers, don’t underestimate the power of perseverance in iterating and tweaking, to create a product that continues to serve customers well past 90 days.

Apps that solve customer problems
Apps that solve customer problems.