Stop playing to win. Instead, do the opposite

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Playing to win is a great mentality if you're the quarterback of The New England Patriots, but not so much for us developers. In fact, one of the biggest pitfalls as an app developer is diving into the nuts and bolts of implementation before attempting to validate your idea. As a software developer, I'm guilty of this too. There's a problem to solve, I come up with what I believe is the perfect solution and then dive straight into the code, making my idea a reality. As an added bonus, I used a cool new piece of technology. How could this not be the next No. 1 app?

The problem, of course, is that not everyone sees things the way I do, especially people willing to pay for an app. Heck, even if the app is free, it doesn't mean that everyone will be excited to use up precious space on their devices for it. With this in mind, why put so much time and effort into something if it isn't going to work?

For starters, there's always the experience of doing it. This rings especially true for those who are new to app development; some things are best learned through experience. This includes setting up your dev environment, learning the best tools and resources for efficiency, lining up help for things you're not good at (more on that later), making sure both user and payment accounts are all connected and working, and that your deployment process is working and repeatable.

These are all good things. However, you won't stay in business long if you never turn a profit with your apps. So what do you do before jumping into the code?

One easy test is to write up the “story” of what your app will do. Paint the picture of the problem it's going to solve and how it will bring value to the user. Answer questions like:

  • Why would I download this?
  • How does it help?
  • It is for people like me?

This can be accomplished in many ways, but a simple static page is, perhaps, the easiest. You don't have to have a single line of code written or even know how you're going to do it. You just have to know WHAT you want to do and why you're doing it.

At this point, your investment is small; you have your idea, you've identified your audience, and you've put together a simple web page. Now here's the test: Do people like your idea enough to give you their email? This is a simple filter to see how well you've enrolled your potential customers with your idea. If they want updates, they're likely to download the app.

Sometimes, people may contact you to see if they can help build the app (there's your “how”). Oh, and if you're trying to get funding, wouldn't your meeting go over better if you have 1000 or even 10,000 interested users on your email list? This is a good example of what I'm talking about.

With the explosion of APIs and cloud services there's no shortage of potential app ideas. In fact, there's a lot more to work with now than when mobile devices were first released. Today's devices are more capable in terms of processing power, memory, data connectivity speed, and on-board devices like motion sensors, gps, and accelerometers are more common and powerful. You also have API access to other pieces of data that are important to the user, whether it deals with their account balances, music preferences, or data being collected by a wearable device (which, by the way, is on its way to having the fastest adoption of any technology in modern history).

Finally, I said I would talk more about what you're not good at. Look, I don't like being reminded of what others do better than me, either. But let's face it, each of us has a certain area where we really excel and deliver the most value. And that should be your focus.

If it's writing the application code, then get someone else to do the art, marketing, and accounting. Too often, app developers try to be a one-man show and pay a huge opportunity cost by doing everything themselves. How much more code could you have written in the time it took you to make the app icons? Or to do the bookkeeping? Chances are there is someone out there that can do it better and faster than you, and for a reasonable exchange.

Leverage your strengths and delegate the rest. Sure, you'll have to pay someone else, but that can be a strong motivator to get your part done faster and better. Plus, you feel better when you're working on things you love instead of things you dread. As you focus in on the pieces you're most passionate about, you just may find yourself feeling better, being more productive and winning before you play.

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Craig Golightly

Craig Golightly is passionate about solving problems with the right tools. As a Software Consultant he loves challenging technical problems including text analytics, speech to text, and operational improvement. He also enjoys presenting, training and mentoring on both technical topics and soft skills. Craig is a contributing author in the book “Achieve – Conversations with Top Achievers” and has a Master’s degree in computer science. Contact him at