We've all done it… stumbled across an idea for an app that we thought could be the next big thing. But once you have a great idea, what do you do with it? Before you sketch a single screen, before you write one line of code, before you spend years of your life and hundreds of thousands of your own dollars, try to find out if anyone wants your app and is willing to spend money for it! Fortunately, a plethora of fantastic and freely available third-party tools are available today to help you validate any idea. In this article I'll walk you through the process I'm using to validate an application/business idea of mine called TapPresent.
TapPresent is an idea that came out of work that I did a couple of years ago for a Fortune 500 company. I was brought on board to build a solution to a sales and marketing problem that they were having with remote sales teams. This was at the same time that Apple was launching their App Store. The iPad didn't exist at the time, but I saw the possibilities for a better solution even under the confines of the iPhone's limited screen real estate. Since then, I've continued to come across client after client (even my own company) that seemed to need this same solution. I came to the conclusion that I needed to validate the idea and see if there is actually a demand for the product.
A "teaser" Web page is central to the validation process
Don't jump the gun and think that your idea is so groundbreaking and time sensitive that you need to act immediately. Validation gets you to the starting line of the marathon that you hope to run. Based on real data, validation helps you understand where you rank in that race and if it is even worth running.
Central to the validation process is the website teaser page that will introduce TapPresent to the general public. For this I'm using LaunchRock.com, a turnkey solution for the creation of a customized "Coming Soon" page that will provide a method for users to add their name to the invite list. This list will give me an idea about how much interest there is in TapPresent. In addition, a teaser page goes a long way towards ensuring a successful launch by raising the awareness of your application long before it goes live. This makes a lot of sense since people are more likely to download your app if they are already somewhat familiar with it.
The purpose of this Web page is to tease the user with a glimpse of what's to come. Ideally, you want to create a climate of anticipation. You want people to look forward to the release of your app. You want them primed and ready to break down the doors the second you unlock them.
With LaunchRock you are offering users who sign up the opportunity to gain early access if they get friends to sign up. Every friend that joins the invite list (via a link that LaunchRock generates for them) moves that user up the invite list. With most application launches, an early limited release with those that are champions of the product will occur, and these are the coveted spots that people are after. People love to know in advance about the next big thing, and LaunchRock will show you just who those champions are, based on the number of friends that they invited to join, and then in-turn, signed up for the invite list.
With any good teaser there is a sense of memorablity. To achieve this, I suggest that you take a little time to create a strong brand image. By "brand" I mean the visual attributes that are associated with the application: logo, color scheme, style, attitude, etc. By combining an attractive logo with a strong color scheme you are establishing the brand's identity… often without even telling people what you do. This was the case with UseHipster.com, who, back in January, got 10k signups in two days without even revealing what it was that they planned to do. They created an atmosphere of mystery around the brand that convinced early adopters that they were worth taking note of, and thousands signed up for their invite list.
Even if you want to restrict how much you say about your application, you still need to make people care. One way to accomplish this is through exceptional design. People will naturally assume that if your LaunchRock teaser page is well designed, the application will be as well.
To be honest, I feel that the vast majority of teaser pages fail to convert because of bad design. They simply don't make you want to use the application enough to give up your precious e-mail address.
A little extra
LaunchRock does a great job of converting early adopters into potential champions. However, I feel that there is often an extra layer that is needed for the majority of us to become champions. That is the reason I use Posterous.com, a free blog service that can be linked to your LaunchRock page to provide that added level of communication. This is where you need to write killer copy, show screenshots, post short videos and ask for feedback. Give the application some personality… your personality.
Whether it is discounts, status or rewards, you absolutely need to cherish the champions of your application. They are your best marketers, feedback loop, quality assurance testers, and most importantly, cheerleaders. Pay them back as you would the best employee of your virtual company. Believe me, they deserve that gratitude and will provide a ten-fold return. The best part of this strategy is that it won't cost you anything until you actually launch the application, and even then, the costs are low in comparison to what you are gaining.
With TapPresent, the plan is to have a few levels to the invite list in order to reward those that are champions of the application with access to areas I will refrain from revealing here, as well as a prestigious status level. A status level will give early adopters a badge of honor that will show that they were one of the few that saw the potential behind the application.
An added bonus
In the validation phase, you are doing a couple of things that are not so apparent on the surface. First, when you're working those long hours, without any guarantee of success, doubting and losing motivation for your idea is easy. This often leads to abandonment of an otherwise promising idea. With validation, you will find the motivation to move forward with the app, knowing that once it is complete there are pre-registered users lined up ready to start using it. Secondly, we all hate to let people down so by putting your idea out there, you are making it much harder for yourself to quit with others waiting on its release.
Now that you've read about it, go check out what I've set up for validation at TapPresent.com. Give it a look, click over to the blog, add a comment, join the invite list, invite your friends, etc. If we find that there is a positive reaction in the validation phase, check back here for the next article documenting the process used to launch the application.
After doing all you can to validate your application idea and not seeing a fevered anticipation for release, you need to question the validity of the idea. You may need to re-think or abandon the idea completely. It is tough call to make, but one better made prior to spending years of your life and hundreds of thousands of your own dollars to find out that in the end, you built something that no one really wanted.