Let’s face it, there are some great app developers out there with the brightest of ideas. But these are people who aren’t really sure if they should take their app to the market alone or go ahead and take help from publisher. With pros and cons of each, there are still a lot of developers who choose to go solo. But that comes with some of its own growth challenges!
Especially when games like PokemonGo come in and take the market by storm or apps like Runtastic get people hooked to them.
The common challenges faced by an indie developer
1. Validating your ideas
As an indie developer, you always want to be sure you’re building something that the market is looking forward to. But this often takes you away from the core idea of your app and you end up trying to fit in way too many features into one title.
A lot of indie apps actually end up being packed by some of the greatest features. But they are way too many in number and overwhelm a typical user, making them lose their market.
In many cases, the ideas of an indie developer get overshadowed by what is working in the market already. In their zeal to use a framework that has proven to work, their app loses its uniqueness and tends to become just another copy of a popular app.
For instance, there are literally 17 more puzzles like Candy Crush on the app market today. Some of them have a loyal set of players, while the others are struggling to capture the player’s attention. Who else is playing HexBee or Two Dots and Candy Crush at the same time, for instance?
While you’re working on your idea, work on the validation of it side by side by:
Finding complementary profitable niches
Leveraging your strengths and outsourcing your weaknesses
Creating an early feedback group (beta users)
Having a conversation with users/ target market (surveys, polls, social media interaction)
Grow your email list
Continue building your app, keeping the feedback in mind
2. Understanding your target market
The number of mobile phones users is expected to cross the 5 billion mark by 2019, across the world. That’s a whole lot of users in the app market, but not all of them are your ideal users – those who see value in your app and are more likely to remain loyal to it. Whilst building the app for a better interface and trying to get as many downloads as possible, indie developers lose sight of what their actual target market is.
A good place to get started while defining your ideal user is to follow this checklist:
Spy on your competitors to see who they are targeting
Take a look at their reviews to understand what their users are saying and who they are
Streamline what is unique to your app and will add value to these users
Evaluate if the target market is easily approachable
Shortlist the message you want to reach out to them with
Analyse which segment can be turned into active users quickly
Choose the winner and make them your focus!
3. Acquiring users
With thousands of apps entering the market every day, under different categories – on both iOS and Android, another challenge the indie developers face is acquiring their first set of users. These are the people who will make or break their app’s success and define their growth journey. A lot of indie developers struggle with marketing efforts and advertising, as they are on shoestring budgets and have publisher apps to compete with.
A few good practices to give your app a springboard to launch on, are:
Research and shortlist journalists you’d like to reach out to
Share your app story and progress with the developer community (you never know how many users you might just acquire and what other improvements may get suggested to you)
Build a viral loop of referrals within your app design
Use cross promotion communities
Network with people as much as possible!
Talking about user acquisition, indie developers also have a tough time getting their app reviewed on popular sites. Creating an awareness around the title is as important as acquiring your initial set of users, as it then lowers the cost of user acquisition eventually. There are of course Facebook groups, channels like Indie Games Uprising and others, where you can promote your app and get people to vote for it.
But after a point, it is the publisher apps that take away the limelight. To avoid losing all the attention, move onto using the millennial marketing strategy:
Ask micro influencers to review your app/ create unique content
Feature complementary brands
Give shoutouts to your active users
Join the user conversations on communities and groups like Quora, and Reddit
5. Ensuring an omni-channel experience
With so many smartphone users accessing your app from different models, it is a challenge to create an omni-channel experience for them. Take for instance, how your app is ready for the existing iPhones and then comes in iPhone X. Most developers didn’t just have to take a look into the user experience for these users, but also revisit the core design of their apps to make them more suited for the bigger screen.
The same holds true when addressing users on different OS – iOS and Android.
A good practice here is to launch one by one across different OS. Analyse how your users are interacting on one OS, before launching on the next one. This will also help you optimize the experience across all devices.
6. In-app monetization
Even though indie developers are able to get initial sign ups on their apps by promoting it in their circles and referrals, monetization is always a challenge. With so many apps out there who may be offering similar features for free, it becomes difficult to convince users that they ‘need to purchase’ something in your app.
A lot of developers end up losing their users when trying to sell features in-app or run advertisements. Both being blamed for compromising the user experience.
Most apps lose upto 80% of their users by the third month, from the point of acquisition. For an indie developer, that’s like losing their investment into the app’s growth, with no guarantee of similar results again.
Since a lot of users don’t convert on in-app purchases or share their information, it becomes difficult for indie developers to re-engage these users on other channels like social media.
How do you boost your app’s retention rates?
Focus on user onboarding to explain all the key features
Use in-app messages to encourage an action
Leverage push notifications to re-engage users
Incentivise app activity to keep users motivated
Create data driven campaigns to personalize experience
8. Growing sustainably
Since user retention is already a challenge for most indie developers, sustainable growth doesn’t come easy. Indie developers struggle with trying tight user acquisition budgets, while there are other apps in their category being added every day. Even the best of app concepts tend to get overshadowed or lost in the volume of apps on the stores these days.
Some of the proven tactics for apps to grow sustainably include:
Leveraging social media for regular interaction with users
Creating an in-app community of users with activity feeds and chats
Social media retargeting
9. Safeguarding your idea
It’s a competitive market out there. Just as you did your research on what features will make your app stand out, there are others who are out there eyeing every little detail of your app. They could be doing this to further better their existing app or simply create one that eventually competes with yours. Safeguarding your idea is an ongoing challenge.
That’s exactly what happened with the developer of Desktop Dungeons, Rodain Joubert. Even though he discovered a game that cloned his idea, he could never get rid of the competition entirely. The simple reason being that the typical game mechanics cannot be protected.
A few ways to ensure that your acquired users don’t feel that there are too many alternatives to your app, include:
Working on new features
Consistent communication with users
Taking feedback from users and getting them involved in your product plan
10. Raising funding
Indie developers usually want to look at funding as the last resort for growth. They want to first validate their ideas, get insights into who their ideal users are and first grow the app on their own, before going in for an investment to expand their market. Often, the benchmarks set by investors are way too high.
For example, there are developers who have mentioned how they have been asked to acquire at least 10,000 users in 2 months and ‘prove’ their monetization model.
Now before you head over to an investor to ask for funds, here are a few things that you need to keep handy all the time:
Nail your app’s elevator pitch
Identify the uncontested market for your app
Focus on the branding of your app
Understand how investments work
Target seed investors with an inclination to mobile
Keep your pitch deck ready
Create an interactive app demo
No, it doesn’t get easy for most
The unparalleled growth of mobile apps, only makes the going tougher. Not all indie apps hit success like the World of Goo or Bag It! There are so many of them that lose market in the initial months of app launch and get lost in the market forever.
But there’s a way to make your app stick and that’s strategizing way ahead in time. Right from defining what features you want to launch your app with, to working on how you will acquire and engage your first set of players, get them to promote your app in their circles to how you would convert them in-app.
Working towards creating a loyal community of users for your app is the real hack for growth, for indie developers.
Which of these challenges do you relate with the most?