Many young, passionate, and hot-blooded entrepreneurs are very quick to jump on the latest trends, be it posting the very first 360-degree picture on their social media pages or building their startup’s shiny new app just because everyone has one.
I, for one, have been guilty of that. A few years back, when my team and I were spending tons of time at McDonald’s actualizing our dream startup, Serenity Services Asia, we were so convinced that we needed that app. Fast forward a few months later, we were so happy with the MVP that the moment it was up on Google Play, we started sharing it with our friends!
Alas, the game of chasing downloads and seeing the numbers increase day-on-day was limited, and ultimately, it plateaued. The team then took a step back and analyzed the situation we were in. On hindsight, it turned out that we didn’t really need that shiny new app after all, especially when we were a social enterprise at heart, but more so because we were bootstrapping.
As they say, “One man’s mistake is another man’s learning”, so we have come up with some questions you should go through before googling for that app development firm:
1. Does the volume of your business warrant an app or can your team handle it?
If the transaction volume is going to be very high, developing an app will save your team a lot of precious time, which can then be invested in growing the business or expanding to other markets.
In my case, we overestimated the number of bookings we would be receiving at the launch of our on-demand massage service; our team could have handled the bookings back-end efficiently without the use of an app. Even now, when the volume of our massage bookings have increased considerably, we are still doing fine without the app.
2. Is there something that cannot be replicated on a mobile responsive website?
Let’s face it. We may have wild ideas about how our startup website should ideally look, but each and every browser has their specific set of technical specifications and limitations that we have to adhere to. An app could solve most of such problems.
But in my case, the answer was a resounding no. The simplicity of my business, which matches customers with aching muscles to my pool of curated massage therapists, means a mobile responsive website is more than adequate to solve that problem.
3. Does your startup have the resources to build, maintain and update the app?
Building a well-designed, customer-centric app is not simple. You have to invest time in thinking through the entire user journey and ways to keep your customers engaged enough and, more importantly, continue using your app.
Not to mention the monetary costs involved. There are the usual hosting and maintenance fees you have to pay the developers to constantly fix bugs, and again, the time needed for approval from the authorities to get the updated versions up and running. And also, to effectively reach as many people as possible, you will need two apps: an iOS app and another for Android devices.
I think you get the picture here.
4. Does your startup need specific smartphone functionalities?
What I mean by functionalities is, for example, the camera function to take that perfect selfie or maybe the GPS to determine the user’s location when using the app. For my startup, it helps with user experience when customers don’t need to manually enter their address, but this is more of a good-to-have rather than a must-have.
5. Does the nature of your startup require you to interact with your customers on a frequent basis?
Examples of startups that require heavy interactions are games or a ride-hailing business that requires you to send a notification to your customer when the ride arrives. In such cases, a mobile web solution and email notifications may not be so appropriate due to the time sensitivity and urgency of the business.
Again in my case, we left the preferred choice of notification to our customers (because they are always right!). They have the freedom to choose between emails, SMS, or the old school telephone call whenever their massage bookings have been confirmed or when our Serenity Massage Therapists have arrived.
So in conclusion, there is really no right or wrong answer as to whether your startup requires an app. But if you had more “No” than “Yes” answers to the questions I have above, you should probably be spending your time and effort in growth hacking your startup instead!