App Ideation 101: How to Refine Your App Idea

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August 30, 2018

How to Refine Your App Idea When You’ve Never Built an App Before and Aren’t Sure How That Process Even Works Anyway You have an idea for an app.


Before you move forward with an RFP or hire an agency to build your app, here are eight things you should do first.

Identify how your app will be a solution to a problem.

It’s easy to say to ourselves, “I have this idea, everyone will love it, and it will make me so much money.”

However, when your end goal is to immediately make money, you’re putting the cart before the horse. Your end goal is you-centric. You need to change your end goal to be user-centric instead, ensuring that your app will create compelling value for users. Only then do you stand any chance of making money yourself.

Try to finish this statement: “I have an idea for an app that will make it easier/more fun/etc for people to…”
Here are some examples.

  • I want to make it easier for people to get takeout from local restaurants. (Doordash, Uber Eats, etc.)
  • I want to make it more fun to motivate people to check items off their to-do lists. (See the vast majority of to-do apps already in existence on the app store).
  • I want to make video chatting with friends really delightful and enjoyable. (Snapchat)

Do your research.

Now that you have a better idea of what it is your app will provide to users, it’s time to see whether someone else has already done that with their own app.

First, consider the category your app would be in once it’s in the app store. Are you building a social app, an e-commerce app, or a productivity app?

Next, search the web using some of the keywords people might use to find your app. What apps pop up? How closely do these apps meet the needs your app is designed to meet? As soon as you identify potential competitors, you can start taking stock of the features their apps have in common with yours and whether you’d be building something unique or just adding to an already saturated market.

You might then build a matrix of what features are common across your top performing competitors to see how much overlap there is with your app and identify the areas in which you can differentiate your idea enough to provide compelling value to prospective users.

Challenge your assumptions.

If you’ve already done step two and have come away confident that what you’ve got is worth exploring, you now need to find a way to verify your assumptions.

Resist the urge to rely solely on feedback from your friends and family. Instead, set up a survey that you can send out to as many people from your target audience to see what they think about it. This is called market research. Keep in mind, you don’t have to describe your idea in excruciating detail in order to get useful feedback.

Narrow your audience.

Trying to make someone for anybody and everybody? Hard.

Defining a more specific segment of users your app will be best for? Not so hard.

This is where user personas and the data you collected in step 4 come in. Did a certain demographic confirm that they need something your app will provide? That may be the target audience you build the app for. Here’s an introductory course on how to develop a user persona.

Identify your minimum viable product (MVP).

What features does your app absolutely need in order to better meet that need you identified in step 2?

If your answer is EVERYTHING, be prepared to discover that a) your app is going to be expensive to make, b) some of the features you include may never be used, and c) having all those features may make users overwhelmed or even grumpy that they’re there in the first place. (Author’s note: Hello, Facebook. Nobody needs that marketplace you built. Since you launched it, it’s the least used feature in the app and on the web. The fact that I end up on that tab more than I want because you replaced another tab with that tab is NOT okay.)

Instead, narrow your features down to create a minimum viable product (MVP) that will meet the need of your users by including only the most essential features at launch. In successive versions of the app you can add more features that will make the app more robust. You’ve saved money and time by not trying to do all the things at once.

Understand that your app may not gain traction right away.

A successful launch depends on a lot of factors, and one of the biggest is visibility. Always include short- and long-term marketing expenses when you consider how much money you’ll need for your go-to-market plan.

Be realistic about funding.

Be realistic about funding.A notion that has pervaded the build-an-app space is that third party funding is really easy to come by. Unless you have relationships with angel investors who already trust you, expecting third party funding might not be realistic. This is not to say that you shouldn’t feel confident in your ideas and/or your ability to attract investors. It’s just something you’ll need to work hard at. Having the right data and documentation in hand is the first step to getting investors to commit.

Find the right mobile app agency to entrust with bringing your mobile app idea to life.

In selecting a design and/or development partner, there are many factors to consider. Even the best-laid plans will quickly unravel in the wrong hands. If you are currently shopping for a mobile design and/or development company, I encourage you to contact CitrusBits for a free consultation. We’re consistently one of the highest-rated mobile app development companies in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and all of California.

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