|Subscribe in iTunes|
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that building an app for an iPhone could be an excellent marketing opportunity. On this podcast episode I interview Simon Williams, author of a book called Rich App Poor App on how to create an iPhone app.
Simon’s also given all listeners an outstanding offer – if you get a copy of his Rich App Poor App bookin the next 48 hours, and email a copy of your receipt to his assistant Suzy (firstname.lastname@example.org), telling her where you found this offer, then you’ll also receive a free DVD about how to make an iPhone app!
Here’s the full interview transcript:
00:00 David Bain: I am pleased to be joined by Simon Williams, the App man today. Simon’s consulted to many organizations thinking of building an app and he’s also author of the Rich App Poor App book. Simon many thanks for joining in today.
00:14 Simon Williams: Hello there. Yeah, pleasure.
00:16 DB: Good stuff. I’ll be great if you perhaps begin by telling a little bit about your background and how you came to be known as the App-man.
00:24 SW: Sure, okay. Do you want the long version or the short version?
00:28 DB: How long does the long version take?
00:29 SW: Well, okay we’ll do the medium version, how about that?
00:32 DB: That seems good.
00:33 SW: Okay, great. So my background is really in design and so I’ve been working for many, many years, about 18 years in design and this is in graphic design and product and service design. So I basically moved from making things look pretty and for making products get sold. It’s quite a big transition and I’ve been doing that for many, many companies. The companies includes companies like Virgin, Shell, even the Labor Party, EasyJet, Sony, many, many other companies. And then more recently, I think this is quite the short version really, much more recently a few years ago now you see the iPhone came out and this thing called the App Store got invented. I’ve actually written a book a couple years before that talking about how consumer behavior had changed or was changing and was moving much more towards very super niche item and highly emotive experiences.
01:36 SW: And really to provide those kinds of highly niche products you really need to have a completely digital kind of distribution service so as to really make it viable. And then lo and behold this thing called an App Store came out. So I recognized pretty quickly that this was actually the thing that I’ve been talking about and basically I’ve decided that well I best put my money where my mouth is and go and do this thing. So I launched my first application. I was still working full time at that time as a designer and doing a 40, 50, 60-hour a week, I’m sure many of us can relate to. And from there fortunately due a great application, a few months later as I was able to quit that job and that led to me having friends and people asking about how to create mobile apps. And I kind of built and built and then I’ve launched into a more serious business and now that’s what I do 100% of the time, just to help other people produce their first mobile application.
02:35 DB: And I’m sure a lot of the listeners would be thinking, well an app may be nice, but is right for them. So can that be useful for all types of businesses or are there some businesses that shouldn’t consider having an app?
02:48 SW: Good question. How to get… Not keen to give blanket answers, however really an app is a form of distribution, it’s a medium, if you like. And like any medium, I think that it’s fair to say that it can be beneficial to anybody. I mean, I think every form of medium can be beneficial to any kind of company organization. Now I would also say it will fit some businesses better than others in certain situations. So one area I think apps are particularly strongest in is reaching consumers. So perhaps more powerful business to consumer than it is to say B2B or business to business. And that’s because you got this kind of fertile area, lots of potential prospects and potential customers that maybe don’t know you yet, that are kind of sitting around basically waiting to receive your message to some degree. So it can be very, very powerful there. Sure, it can also work business to business as well, but there are also other mechanisms which can be arguably equally rewarding there. So in short, business to consumer is incredibly a powerful device certainly in my humble opinion.
04:12 DB: Okay. And when you talk about apps, do you mean just for the Apple Store or do you mean the android as well or perhaps other sources of applications?
04:21 SW: Yeah, I’m really referring to any mobile application. So just to be clear ourselves we don’t get involved in things like Facebook applications. We leave that to other people who would do a better job than us in the area, but we really know that stuff when it comes to mobile applications and that’s really cross platform. Saying that, still today most of the applications we have produced have been for the IOS or the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch platform and that’s simply because at the moment, in terms of commercial revenue, that’s really where the commercial income is coming from.
04:58 DB: Why is it some apps are a lot more success more than others? What would you say are the biggest mistakes that you find people make when having the first app developed?
05:08 SW: Oh, I’ve got so many mistakes for you. [chuckle] I don’t know where to start. Okay, so maybe I’d just start with the biggest one and I’ll work my way down. So the number one biggest app rookie mistake, which is what I like to call it, is that, without a shadow of doubt my opinion, assuming that the developer will be able to turn the idea into a commercial product. But I just want to explain that a little bit. So look, I’m a lousy cook, okay? So if you ever come to my house for cooking then we’ll get a take away, alright. I’m a lousy cook, but even I could cook burgers and chips, but that doesn’t mean that I can launch a company that can rival McDonald’s. So even though I can make the product it doesn’t mean I know anything about the business. So by and large, pretty much most app developers know how to write codes, they can make things look pretty and they can produce an application. To be honest, that’s the easy bit, that’s really not the hard bit.
06:08 SW: The goal is not just to make, in almost every situation, the goal is not just to make an application, the goal is to actually make a commercially sound vehicle, to have commercial product. Now even if you’re looking to distribute that application for a very low price or even to distribute it for free, with the view to attracting new customers, new prospects to existing products and services or to educate them of things that you still wanted to do that in a way that’s going to get the most amount eyeballs, the most attraction, and that’s really an area of expertise that falls out of sight, the developer’s error. They just don’t know how to do that stuff and in fairness to them they don’t ever pretend they can. So my number one mistake is that people assume a developer will be able to take their idea and turn it into a commercial product, they don’t, they just know how to produce an application. So we’re very, very lucky and it’s a real shame that other people aren’t in that sort of position and not able to pass off without guidance, we can but because my background is not in coding, in fact I can’t write a line of code if my life depended on it. My knowledge and experience is about launching new products and I just happen to do that now inside the mobile app space.
07:22 DB: Right, okay. And so would you advice a business considering an app for the first time to consider launching their own app and doing everything themselves and managing the process themselves and sourcing their own developer, or is that a little bit too much for a new start as it were to actually consider doing themselves?
07:41 SW: Yeah, my advice there would be that they need to concentrate on their own business and what their primary goals are and then find someone that can help them to deliver that. So, not for a second would I recommend that they actually start to figure out how to write the codes themselves, I also wouldn’t recommend they go and hire some in-house app developer to go and do that. I would advice they go and speak to someone who’s basically an expert in that field and get some advice and I know that might sound like I’m just trying to get them to talk to me, but really it makes sense. For almost everybody as the case of their coming to a new territory, something they have never done before in the large part, there are some tips and tricks along the way, we’ve done hundreds of applications and I assure you we’ve learned a few things along that way. So it’s very easy for us to explain some of what we’ve learned to people, but you’re never going to learn all that stuff without either making a lot of mistakes or having a lot of experience and it’s just very wise thinking, I believe, in any situation to go and get some advice that’s been there before.
08:47 DB: So without knowing what the app is going to do, is it possible for small business to have reasonable budget to develop that app to begin with?
08:56 SW: Yeah, I mean I always like to work on what the goal is first because I think if you start with your budget, that can guide you in a strange direction actually. So I think the goal is to find out what the primary objective is, find out what the best way to achieve that objective is, and then basically see how much it’s going to cost to produce. So if for example we found, also don’t know who this fictitious customer might be, but they might be looking to increase their sales of their existing product for example and we’re working with closely with them, might come up with an app solution that we’re thinking and do that and maybe we can actually even do some testing in advance or producing it to evaluate that. Now if we worked out that actually this is going to bring in ten new customers to them each month but that’s because they are Ford or that’s a big company that’s worth tens of thousands of pounds to them, that could be a pretty easy no-brainer kind of decision, that is the case of how much is it going to cost to produce and how they’re going to fund it. But I do think it needs to be done in that order because things are really only expensive if they don’t work. We have a philosophy of test it before you build it which is about looking very… It’s been quite a bit of time really at that initial concept and defining the weight in it and doing some testing on that before ever going ahead and actually developing it.
10:28 DB: Of course, if you’re having an app to build for an iPhone, your iPhone knows a lot of information about you, what kind of data can an app take from your iPhone to personalize your experience?
10:40 SW: Sure answer is it’s going to take pretty much everything. So, to a degree, if we wanted to it can know who you are, know where you are, it can know what temperature is where you are, it can know which way you’re facing, it can tell what you are looking at, it can tell you how much public transport you take, tell you how much music you buy and how many films you download from Apple et cetera. So, it knows a huge amount of information about you but only if you allow it to. So in terms of Apple, specifically, you basically have to make a request for the information and the user has to allow that device to gather information from them. So it can’t be done kind of secretly and that’s the right way to do it actually.
11:28 DB: And should you have a paid app, a free app or both of paid app and a free app?
11:33 SW: No, blanket answer here, it really depends on the goal. I mean what we find… I mean really the first question I ask people and if anyone does decide to explore it further with us, don’t be surprised if we hit you with this question. Our first question is, “What’s the primary objective of the application?” And I usually get one of three typical answers, actually there are some answers outside this but usually it’s one of these three. It’s either to produce a product that’s going to bring in commercial revenue and in which case they’re usually very interested in it as passive income of course. And the second one is to attract new prospects and customers to existing products or services, or it’s three, they are looking to going to launch a new product or to going to a new market and they want to increase the awareness there, so it’s really sort of a marketing exercise. And we do get it a lot. People come to us say “Yeah, I want all those three things.” That can be harder to achieve. What we want to redo is focus on one and then we can make sure we achieve it. We know ideally everything does all things, but if we can actually tune in to one of those, then it makes us very… Well, relatively easy for us to achieve that.
12:49 SW: So, if for example they are looking to attract new customers to the existing products or services, then there’s a really big argument for actually making that even a very low cost price or to even make it free because you’re going to also have a wider audience, you increase the likelihood of increased downloads and you can actually start to build a rapport and a relationship with them quicker and easier and then you can lead them to other products and services. So, in that situation, there’s a good argument for making this app free. If you’re looking to provide a specific solution and you’re looking for direct income, then there’s probably a very good argument for actually for also having a price for the application in its own right, and there may be a pro level version of the app which is perhaps a higher price for it as well which can lead people to if they wish. So there’s different answers for different situations.
13:45 DB: And how do you decide upon your niche or target market for your app?
13:50 SW: Well, if of course it’s supported some of the existing company products, a business, then that’s usually chosen for them effectively. If they’re looking to do an app, perhaps the first time, not necessarily related to anything they’ve done before, maybe they just thought an idea of having an application and that idea of passive income and who doesn’t, then we have a very simple rule there. The way to have a really great app idea which is the same way to have a really great new product idea, it’s got lots of ideas to test them and pick the best one.
14:23 DB: Okay, excellent stuff. Is it better to pick a niche that doesn’t have much competition or a niche that already has a proven market but more competition?
14:29 SW: I think that’s more a character trait also. So, some people like to be first to market and it has perhaps some inherent risks there because it potentially could be an unproven market. Other people like to see that someone’s actually been there before and they’ve already got proven solution and they like to sort of go in second and attempt to make it better. I say if we were to assume McDonald’s was the first big burger brand then Burger King came along and kind of to a degree copied them and did okay, thank you very much. So, both fruits are valid and I really think, I really try not to push out an answer in there, but it’s really a character trait that decides that.
15:16 DB: And is it easy to get app listed in the app store, and if so, how long does it take to get listed?
15:22 SW: Yeah, this is… I feel there is a huge myth about poor Apple. You really get a poor deal here. A lot of people that come to us believe or been told or read that Apple takes ages to approve apps and people are generally surprised when I tell them it takes between four or five business days for Apple to approve the application. Now what I do think here has caught, that I know, has caught people out is that they wait til the app is produced before they actually go and request an account with Apple. That is the wrong way to do it. So you asked me earlier about the rookie app mistakes, there’s another classic one for you. So, as soon as you decide that you’re going to go ahead with an application, assuming it’s — we’re talking about Apple now for a moment — assuming that it’s going to be distributed out for Apple, go into the App store and become a registered developer.
16:15 SW: Now I know that people probably won’t consider themselves as developer in the true sense of the word, but not suggest that they write the code or anything, but if they do that then that means they have control of their own application. They can change the price and if they want, they can change the information about the app, they can change all the details. And that costs them a whole $99US a year so really, there’s very little barrier there and my strong recommendation would be to go in, get that set up, that will take a little bit of time to do because of course you’re fit to be signing paper works for 97 countries around the world. They don’t have to sign 97 forms, it’s not as scary as that, Apple do make it as easy as possible, but of course there are some documents to complete there, so that can take a little bit of time, that can take a couple of weeks even to do.
17:04 DB: Right, okay. So even if you’re developing your first app to give away free of charge, you still recommend paying that yearly fee with them?
17:11 SW: I would, yeah. I mean for the sake of $99US with the amount of income you like to get, yes. I don’t see any argument at all for not doing it. I would even go as far to say as soon as you believe you’re serious about doing one, just go and get it done there and then. I must tell you a little bit of a horror story, I won’t give any names, but well, one of our very early clients, we worked over completing the application, we explained that they needed to set this account up. For our part we did actually ask that question, I think it was exactly four times, and we’re told, “Yes, it’s been set up correctly,” but only when we actually attempted to upload the app on their behalf that we realized actually they hadn’t completed the paperwork correctly, and therefore Apple weren’t able to release it. So they had marked in budgets for in place, they had, I believe, some point of sale and some fairly good locations all to analysis application, all that of course didn’t happen because Apple weren’t able to release the app at the planned time because they haven’t done that form. So I guess as a provider we’ve learned from that and we really, in a nicest possible way, we’re very keen to ensure that our customers have got that stage done at an early stage to avoid any potential worries later.
18:40 DB: Okay, that’s certainly a big mistake there.
18:42 SW: Yeah.
18:43 DB: Going back to the actual design of the app itself, obviously Apple iPhone users will be comfortable with the way they use their phone, they would like certain aspects of it. So what biggest, perhaps design mistakes do you see people making in apps?
19:00 SW: I’m not sure how do I think specific there in terms of design. I think one thing people need to be perhaps more aware of is that there’s a kind of interface Apple’s built. So if you’re familiar with Apple’s products and if anyone owns an iPhone or iPad, you’ll see inherently will do, there are certain ways, techniques that Apple use to sort of navigate around their application now. Any users are aware of those, they know how to swipe the screen and double tap and zoom in, et cetera. Now if you wish to create a kind of bespoke new navigational system that can be very exciting and that can be quite entertaining and evolving for the user but also it can also cause some quite a lot of irritation because we do like things to work sort of out of the box so to speak. So it does take a lot of extra time, a lot of extra testing to provide a really bespoke, unique kind of navigational system and that’s not testing to make sure it works because if we put buttons somewhere it’s going to work, but to make sure that that’s intuitive to people and until you actually put that app in front of new prospects, it’s very easy to assume they will know that this big orange button on top of the screen which you can see and you think it will be absolutely obvious to everybody they need to tap that, how some people just don’t see it because they’re reading down the page and they’re not looking at the top of the page for example or that they’ve put the buttons at the top of the page and actually because the thumb will actually cover the screen when it’s tapping the buttons, that might not be the best way to do it. So there are quite a lot… It does take quite longer to produce a unique system. So I’m not sure that’s a mistake because sometimes it could be worth it, but it’s something that people are perhaps a little bit unaware of.
20:59 DB: And is it possible to get a few people to test your app before submitting it to the store?
21:04 SW: Yeah, absolutely. I mean we have a very sort of step by step process, I mean we have a two-phase approach producing any of our applications. The first stage is what we called the graphical phase. We start with a very simple pen and ink drawing of this basic app structure. Then we start to do a couple of screen shots and just get it approved just to make sure we’re delivering the right sort of style of graphics. And we have to say touching wood, we don’t really get that wrong because we really work harder with them right at the start to make sure we know who these apps belong to and who the other prospects are et cetera, but we check that. And then the last step of the graphical phase is what we call our graphical blueprint which is a full specification of every single page of the application, exactly a description of every button, what it does when you rotate it, what happens when you shake it, a complete blueprint. That’s the first phase.
22:03 SW: And the second phase is we then take that blueprint and then we physically build the application and it really is like building a house. First of all we need to work out who this house is for, what they need and we’d work on what it’s going to look like and we’ve got the blueprint and then only when the blueprint’s approved do we actually start laying the bricks and actually start building the application. And then we actually deliver that application to test in-house first of course, then we actually deliver that to our client and they actually get to test it out on their own device. Of course they can show that to friends, family, colleagues. If wished, we could even build that in a way that actually gets put into several different devices so they can test all those devices out. So you can have five different people testing out the application every weekend if they so wished to see how they got on with it. Of course, only when they actually approved that do we actually distribute it and upload it to Apple for distribution.
22:57 DB: Yeah, what if a business isn’t sure about what functionality to include on their app, frankly, how should they go about deciding?
23:04 SW: We go through a series exercises. The exercise that really elicit that is understanding who the ideal prospect is and when we ask that question, “Who’s your ideal prospect?” The answer we usually get, “Oh, a man aged between 30 and 55.” Well that’s not an ideal prospect, that’s a whole range of prospects. So we’d like to get into a very emotional understanding of who this prospect is. So we like actually… Perhaps useful to get the exercise right now but we actually have to put a name on them. So if we know that this app is to appeal to Sally who’s a mother of two children, she’s aged 42 and she’s about to go back to work and we have a real understanding of who Sally is and what her needs are and why she’s interested in this application, it makes it very easy for us to deliver the right features but also in the right way. So, depending on what the application might do. It might be providing a solution in which case they might want to get that sort of answer very, very quickly, in which case we need to make the app very kind of authoritative and very simple and easy to use or it might be more of an entertainment application, which maybe is more image-based and maybe there’s a little bit more intricacies there. So, understanding who that primary prospect is tells us really all the information we need to know.
24:28 DB: Okay, excellent. Okay, you’ve got everything up and running. You’ve got your application up there on the store. Now, what about marketing strategy? Can you offer a few tips and perhaps how to market that?
24:39 SW: Oh, yes. So, look of course it’s important of any new product in any area, in any industry, any platform. So we have a three-step formula for creating an application. So I probably should have mentioned this earlier. So step one is the conception. Come out with a really great idea as I think I said we have a philosophy of test it before you build it. Then we have the creation step, which is actually physically producing the item and getting distributed around the world. And the third step is adoption. And we say it’s a little bit… Producing an application is a little bit like giving birth, instead of nine months, it takes like nine weeks. But the bit that’s really different is after producing the baby or the application, you now need to sell that baby as many times and for as much money as you possibly can. And we do that through basically some PR, some marketing and some price optimization.
25:35 SW: So in terms of marketing, we have a database, a company of 83 app review websites and all those websites are very keen to review applications. And with about two or three exceptions, all those will do that for free. If you know who to contact and how to deliver the application to them and they won’t pay for the application. So, there is a technique to actually delivering that application to them in a way it doesn’t cost them anything so that they can actually test it out. Now, if one of those websites gives a review in their experience, that can lead to an extra $10,000 a day, so that can be a very valuable time well spent. And we give that database to our customers so they can leverage that. We also look at things like PR and the device to a successful PR is just a very short list of the right distribution channels. So if it’s a business reg application, there probably are a couple of trade magazines or newspapers related to that industry. Now, chances are, coming from our experience, they’re really interested in a new application in that space as you write 250 words, maybe 250 to 500 words on that with just one paragraph at the end, talking about the application, then chances are, you’re actually going to get that covered. And we have, just to give you some examples, we have some of our clients who have had their apps in a full page articles in leading music magazines in the UK which has lead to huge quantity of traffic and got them a bit famous. So, just by following the steps, it’s relatively easy.
27:14 DB: And so potentially, more valuable than other forms of online marketing.
27:19 SW: Well, that’s a part of it as well. So, we’ve actually found the number one reason people purchase things like smart phones and iPhones, et cetera is to be connected. So, it’s probably no surprise that people who own those devices are particularly heavy browsers. They use their email a lot clearly. And they use things like Twitter or Facebook even more than the average person would. So that’s incredibly viable platform to announce your application and to help market it as well. So, we think all those things are worth spending a little bit of time on. Then there’s only one technique we recommend that actually cost anything. Everything else is completely free to market, it just cost a bit in terms of time. And in our experience, it shows that then that time is well spent.
28:08 DB: Excellent things, well, I’m sure that’s persuaded quite a few people who are perhaps on the cusp of considering in getting their own app to actually think about it a bit more seriously. And have you any perhaps, last tips that you’d like to leave us with?
28:21 SW: Well, I just want people to be aware of this market. So, before we had to know these headlines et cetera, but this market is just accelerating at such a fast rate. And I truly feel that we’re actually just at a start of this phenomenon. And a lot of people come to me and say, there’s just as many in our applications as there are websites. That’s just not the case. We’re around 450,000 to 500,000 applications mark, which sounds like a big number. But it’s approximately seven million times less than the amount of websites out there. And that’s not seven million less, that’s seven million in times less. So, the opportunity to make an impact through an application is so much bigger than some website has a potential to do. So it’s very, very powerful so if people are looking at that or looking for wider distribution, want to communicate to people, particularly if it’s a global audience particularly if their language is English for example, they’re not… No, it doesn’t have to be English. Then it’s really exciting environment and I would recommend people at least to explore a little bit further to find out what’s right for them.
29:37 DB: Now, obviously as I mentioned before, you’re an author of the Rich App Poor App. What I’ll do is I’ll leave a link underneath this interview so people can go directly and then get your… The book if they’re interested in doing so. I also understand that you’d like to make a real special offer to people who’d like to do that?
29:57 SW: That’s right. Just to say thank you if people decide to go to Amazon and buy the Rich App Poor App book, they can just easily go to Amazon and just do the normal search in the normal way; they don’t need an affiliate link or anything like that, just go to Amazon. If they do decide to purchase the book, they send us a copy of that receipt, then what we’ll do is we’ll actually post out a DVD to them, which our Rookie App Mistakes DVD so they can straight away see all the mistakes to avoid and so they will avoid any sort of potential pitfalls. And we hope that will serve them well. We’ll do that for them completely free of charge. Now, if we say that, if people are going to purchase the book in the next 48 hours, as long as they send us the receipt… It doesn’t really matter when they get receipts to us but as long as they’ve purchased that book within that timeframe, we’ll honor that agreement and we’ll get that DVD out to the post. It’s going to take about 5-7 working days to get that DVD out to you once we receive that receipt, and if I can just pass on the email address to send…
30:58 DB: Yes, please. Go ahead.
31:00 SW: Just send that in to email@example.com. That’s kind of my parent company and Suzy will make sure that that DVD goes straight out to you guys.
31:16 DB: Suzy@thinkemotion.co.uk and getting a free DVD in addition to the book, that’s really kind of you. Thank you very much indeed, Simon.
31:25 SW: Pleasure, pleasure.
31:26 DB: And thanks a lot for joining me today. It’s been a lot of great information that you shared, and I’m sure our listeners will think so as well.
31:34 SW: Great. Thank you. Thanks a lot today. It’s been great.Why not discuss your thoughts on our Facebook page or leave your comments below?