Achieving app success: Three steps to beating the app store

Adrian Hon, CEO of Six to Start, gives some essential tips for small business owners on how to make their app succeed.

Two apps can sit in the same market yet have dramatically different levels of success. While one gets a few hundred downloads, another gets a few million. The quality of the apps may not even be that different. How can you beat the app store?

Why is it that some app ideas flourish while others die? What makes one app popular while another gathers dust? And how do you spot an app idea that will really take off?

Every app developer has asked themselves these questions before. You don’t want to invest time and money in a bad idea, but you also don’t want to ditch a good idea because you had trouble making it work.

As an app developer myself, I feel your pain. And there really is no short-cut to success on the app store. However, we learnt a huge amount from launching our fitness app, Zombies, Run!, which has clocked up nearly four million downloads to date.

Here are three bits of advice I would like to pass on.

Find the Goldilocks zone

Ideally, your app idea should already have some interest in the market, but not too much. The Goldilocks zone. Launching a map app, for example, will set you competing against the likes of Google and Apple themselves – a tall order for anyone. Equally, if you create an app with the sole purpose of displaying π to 53 decimal places, you might struggle to get any downloads.

We knew that fitness apps were popular, but most of them were simple trackers or virtual trainers. There was a gap for an app that made exercise more fun, so we knew Zombies, Run! had a space in the market.

If there are other apps already doing something similar, that’s great, as long as they’re not hugely popular and exactly the same. It shows there is some interest in your idea and people are actively looking for a solution like your app.

If there are no players in your market, it is not a sign of an open goal but an empty stadium. People obviously aren’t interested…at the moment. Park the idea and check back later – the market changes rapidly and a new trend might set off your idea in the public consciousness.

Run through multiple filters

Of course, just because you’ve found a space in the market doesn’t mean your idea is guaranteed. You’ll need to test it out on a few people to get a sense of their reaction.
The first test is the easiest: Would you use the app? If you wouldn’t be your own first customer, then you can’t expect anyone else jump on board.

The next filter comes from friends, family and colleagues. Ask them what they think of the idea and encourage honest feedback. These are the people most likely to flatter you, so if they say ‘no’ then it’s time to head back to the drawing board.

Next, most developers go on to develop their idea, perhaps checking with an investor or two along the way. But these investors may not end up being paying customers.

We found the most effective final test of our app idea was crowdfunding. Not only did we raise six times the capital we had targeted, we got feedback from paying supporters and great publicity through Kickstarter. And with nearly 3,500 people willing to put their money behind our idea, we knew it must be a good one.

We’re now doing the same for our next project, this time using equity crowdfunding site, Crowdcube. This way we gain both investment for our next project and some seasoned investors to help us grow.

Crowdfunding really is the best litmus test for your idea. Before writing a single line of code you’ll have financial backing, an engaged user base, and live feedback from paying customers. What more could you ask for?

Be there for your customers

One of the biggest factors in app store success is the level of support app developers offer their customers. Having a bot respond with boilerplate text or checking reviews only once in a blue moon won’t cut it. It’ll also cost you more in the long run.

By responding to support requests and bad reviews you can catch any bugs early on. Users get a better experience and feel listened to, leading to better reviews and more downloads. And as your download numbers notch up you will have fewer support tickets to deal with.It’s a win-win-win.

As an additional bonus, your customers might come up with a great seed of an idea for your next app. One of our Zombies, Run! users pointed out that the app was similar to a virtual race he’d been on. From that seed, we developed a platform that allows charities to create themed virtual races for a fraction of the time and cost as a traditional charity run.

Listening to your customers helps them and, in the long-run, helps you. So, don’t skimp on your support. Aim to be as fast and as helpful as possible and success will follow.

Of course, these steps are what worked for us with Zombies, Run!, but finding your way to app store success is about dealing with challenges you never expected.

It’d be far too cliché for me to say expect the unexpected, but if you love what you do, you have a good team behind you, and you write solid code, then there is nothing stopping you from breaking that 1 million downloads benchmark. Just keep these three pieces of advice in the back of your mind – they could prove to be the difference between one hundred and one million downloads!

Adrian Hon is CEO of Six To Start

Further reading on app store success

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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