Whether you’re an experienced software developer, an entrepreneur or simply a creative individual, chances are you have wondered what the next big, money-making tech idea is going to be. So many of the programs and apps we use every single day started with a simple idea which blossomed into a money-making machine.
Elon Musk signed an agreement with Twitter to buy the company for $44 billion in April1 and Wordle was reportedly sold for a value in ‘the low seven figure range’ in January this year2, but how did these platforms become so successful?
Launching an app and taking it to great heights is similar to launching any other business: proper planning and execution is key, but there are some consistencies between most of the world’s most valuable programs.
Matt Rudge, Senior Product Developer at Code Institute, has explored this, listing the six simple rules which some of the world’s biggest programs have followed:
- Keep it simple and focused
Successful programs like Wordle and Flappy Bird often start out as incredibly simple ideas, which are easy to develop and fulfil a specific need or interest for their player base.
Matt says: “When you’re developing an idea, it’s important to identify your target audience and view the project from their perspective. How usable is the idea? Is it easy to grasp?
“Wordle was originally built for the developer’s partner before it became public, so the key concepts of the idea were incredibly simple, a daily word puzzle to provide a single person with a challenge. This made the idea easy to scale, and the simplicity made it widely popular.”
- Just keep shipping
It might be tempting to think you need to ‘finish’ your project before making it public, but as long as the program is usable, and has the core features in place, it doesn’t need to be the finished article.
Matt says: “You don’t need to have finalised your project before you ship it to market, and if you’ve identified a niche for the program that hasn’t yet been filled, it’s actually beneficial for you to be the first to market to help you build a loyal following.
“Additional features, polish and tweaks can all be made when the program is live, and whilst you’ll need to ensure that the core features are in place, and you don’t want to make a completely unusable program public, it doesn’t have to be the finished article to be successful.”
- Relative levels of experience
Once you have your idea, it may seem overwhelming to know how to begin developing it, but many of the most successful, simple ideas don’t require much more than fairly good coding skills.
Matt says: “Programs like Wordle and Flappy Bird have very small code bases, and could be created with less than a couple of hundred lines of code. They’re both incredibly simple ideas that don’t require years of software development experience.
“Larger ideas and social networks, like Twitter for instance, are more complicated and do require more experience, and potentially a small team. Getting a simple social network off the ground is not too difficult, and full-stack software development frameworks, such as Django, make it relatively easy to implement. However, building defences against hacking, and making the project scalable to thousands or even millions of concurrent users is where the real challenge lies.”
- Add the ‘juice’
All of the most successful ideas have a special something that keeps their audience coming back for more. This is commonly known as ‘juice’, and doesn’t need to be complicated, but something small and rewarding that users love.
Matt says: “Juice describes the payoff or reward that keeps your audience engaged. Often this is only registered subconsciously by the user, but it is incredibly important to a successful idea.
“If you look at Wordle, there are little, cheerful animations that make it satisfying to use. The way the letters reveal themselves after you make a guess, and the way they jump when you guess correctly. This ‘juice’ isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s well planned to improve the user experience, and this is fundamental to creating a successful design.”
- Involve the user
Keeping the user involved is a surefire way to keep people engaged and invested in an app, says Matt: “Users feel more engaged and supportive of a project if they feel involved from the start. Consider ways you can involve your users in ongoing development or bug fixes.
“Successful ideas pay great attention to the user experience. Far from the Hollywood image of a programmer sitting down at the computer and bashing out an entire program, successful projects are well-planned to deliver the features and experience that will keep a user coming back.”
- Upskill yourself when needed
While the premise of many successful ideas may be relatively simple, the work which goes into them is often not and founders will almost certainly continue to develop and hone their skills along the way.
“There are plenty of freelance software developers who will take on an idea and code it for you. You really can’t beat the feeling of having built something yourself, though,” says Matt. “For this, there are many software development courses that will take you from a beginner to a competent programmer. You’d then be able to produce, at least, a working model of your project. If you choose the right course, you’d be able to bring it to completion as well.”
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