November 23, 2020

How To Build Your Great App Idea

I have an idea for an app, what do I do? There are a few moments in life that feel like a lightbulb going off. Suddenly, you can see a cool app idea – and if you’ve recently experienced this, you’re probably excited. 

You have good reason to be excited: mobile apps bring in more than $60 billion in global revenue every year, with profit margins 3–10 times those of traditional brick-and-mortar business models. 

Factor in that by 2025 it is estimated that we will have 1.8 billion 5G connections, with nearly half of the population connected, 49% to be exact. It’s expected that by 2023 the mobile industry will contribute $4.8 Trillion to global GDP.

With a well thought out business plan and an effective methodical approach, an app idea can transform into a multimillion-dollar business in a matter of years, or if you’re lucky, months. Take TikTok for example. The social media app had its initial launch in 2016 followed by a stable release in March of 2020. Since then it has overtaken Facebook as the #1 downloaded app in the world. 

While TikTok may have benefited from the timing, the COVID-19 pandemic has further enhanced the way people use their phones, in particular mobile apps. Even more than usual, mobile apps have become necessities for day-to-day life such as work, groceries, and communication. 

This has further accelerated mobile app downloads in certain markets most notably in business, finance, and education. As hand hygiene has been top of the agenda, cashless payment applications such as Venmo and Zelle also gained considerably this year.

The following stats courtesy of App Annie show the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on mobile app usage:

COVID App statistics:

  • 1.6 trillion hours spent on mobile apps in the first half of 2020
  • 220% increase in time spent on business apps
  • 25.9 billion iOS & Google play app downloads during Jan - June
  • Over $50 billion spent on apps in the first half of 2020 (10% increase from the previous 6 months)
  • In April, the average user spent 4.3 hours per day on mobile
  • In-app advertising up 70% in the first half of 2020

Even before COVID-19, mobile apps were not only heavily impacting social and communication behavior, but they were also disrupting multiple industries and impacting the global economy. Thus, highlighting that before the pandemic, mobile apps were very much a part of our day-to-day lives.

The following stats from the App Annie 2020 State of Mobile Report are evidence of this.

2019 Mobile App Statistics:

  • Over $200 billion apps downloaded worldwide 
  • Global consumer spending topped $120 billion
  • Users spent 3.75 hours per day on their phones (up 35% from 2017) 
  • Nearly 75% of app store purchases were mobile gaming apps
  • $57 billion spent on mobile app advertising  (expected to surpass $240 billion in 2020)

After reading these stats, it’s hard to see anything but continued upward growth for app usage in 2021 and beyond. So, how do you capitalize on this data and turn one of the best app ideas never made into a profitable household name?

At Rootstrap, we specialize in answering this question and helping first-time app builders take their mobile app idea from concept to reality. In this post, we address the most common questions we hear from businesses and startups with great app ideas and a desire to bring them to life.

Can You Sell An App Idea?

Often, when first developing an app, businesses are eager with one question: can I sell an idea for an app?

Asking this makes sense. After all, if you’ve just had the lightbulb go off in your head, you could be sitting on the next Uber, Duolingo, Pinterest, etc. Who doesn’t want to get in on that? Selling your idea probably seems like an easy way to make money, fast. 

So, can you sell an app idea?

Well… sort of. This is America – you can sell just about anything someone is willing to buy. It’s certainly possible for you to sell an app idea you just had in the shower for millions of dollars. 

Probable? Not so much. 

The mobile app industry is crowded. With 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world, as well as 1.15 billion tablet users, the competition is fierce. As a result, the time spent using apps on these devices equates to  90% on smartphones and 83% on tablets. 

As well as that, there are over 1.85 million apps available on the app store, and over 2.5 million on the Google Play store. In the vast expanse of available apps, you could probably find an app for just about any idea you can think of, which means there’s hope yet for your app idea.

Do I Need An NDA for My App Idea?

If you have an idea for an app and are discussing it with a potential app developer or investor, it is a smart business move to present a non-disclosure agreement prior to meeting and discussing your app idea. 

Simply put, an NDA is a great way to keep your cool app idea to yourself and out of the reach of the public, and most importantly away from your competition. It will give you peace of mind when pitching your idea to developers allowing you to focus solely on nailing your presentation.

How Do You Turn an Idea Into an App?

If you don’t want to sell your idea for an app, we have one single piece of advice on how to turn it into a mobile app, treat it like a business. Building an app is the same thing as starting a business. All the same rules and strategies apply. 

First things first, is there value in your app idea? To ensure that your app idea is valid, you will need to answer the following:

  • What am I building and why would someone buy it?
  • What problem(s) will my app solve?
  • What emotions do I want the user to experience?
  • Is there a current niche for my app idea?
  • What will my app look like & how will the features stand out?

Your main goal here should be to know exactly what your audience needs and how your app will deliver on it. Let's take a look at how you can help achieve that.

Target Audience Opinion

The best place to start with your idea for an app is with your customers. Think hard about the concept behind your app idea, the benefit it creates for its users, and who would want to use this thing. Whom does your app serve? Try to create a caricature of this person – who they are, what they do, where they spend time in the real world and online. Bring this person into sharp focus. This is your target user. 

Draw a detailed picture of your target user and identify some places they frequent online. Are they a Redditor? Are they active members of any Facebook groups? Are they a gamer? What kinds of things do they search Google for?

Use these insights to find people in your target user demographic and ask them about your app idea. See if it’s something they want and needs. And – importantly – ask them how much they’d be willing to pay for it. Then, ask them what else they’d want from an app like yours. 

The answers to these questions will help you refine your app idea and move toward building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP): the first iteration of your app you can put in front of users to start testing and refining it. More on the importance of this shortly.

Potential Market Size 

As touched on, there is no shortage of mobile apps in the current marketplace, so you must know who your competitors are and what they’re doing. A competitive analysis of the competition will allow you to see their strengths and weaknesses. 

This information will open you up for opportunities to pounce on and also any potential threats to avoid. You don’t have to analyze all your competitors, start with the top five and go from there.

For example, if you are looking to create an innovative taxi app, then it’s best to do your research on how to build an app like Uber and its competitors.

Unique Selling Point

After analyzing your competition, you need to ask yourself the following questions: Why should someone choose your app over the competition? What is going to make your cool app idea stand out? 

A unique selling point can help your app stick out and could be the reason a user chooses it over the competition. You don’t have to come up with an unrivaled one-of-a-kind app, but having a distinctive message of your own will help your app idea stand out from the pack.

A good example of a successful unique selling point is Hinge's Designed to Be Deleted’ campaign. In comparison to the many other dating apps on the market, Hinge is the only platform that encourages users to download and use the app with the aim of eventually deleting it. 

This clever slogan is unique as unlike its competition, it gives the message to its users that they will find a relationship and won't need the app for long. It teases the satisfaction of using the app and then deleting it when you meet that special someone.

Business Plan For Your App

Now that you will be treating your app idea as a business, you will need a well-thought-out and in-depth business plan to ensure a return on your investment. 

While your app prototype may help you raise funding, it will unlikely be enough to see you through completion. This is where the importance of an effective business plan comes into play. 

Therefore, your business plan should cover the following:

  • Estimated cost and time to create a prototype of your app.
  • Estimated cost and time to create a Minimum Viable Product (a testable version of an app).
  • An in-depth marketing plan for pre and post-launch (we will discuss further).
  • Financial Plan - how you are going to make money.
  • Measuring success and improvements post-launch.

Just like your marketing plan, your financial plan also requires a more detailed analysis, it is after all how you will potentially make money. So, let’s break it down in further detail.

ROI (Return On Investment)

Unfortunately, too often businesses leave profitability to be taken care of at the end of the project. The thinking is to build the app, get a bunch of users, and figure out how to make money later. 

This has worked for some apps. It may work for you. But we have one piece of advice:

Don’t do this. 

This is a strategy that worked well in the mid to late 2000s when the mobile app world was just beginning to blossom. As highlighted, the mobile app market has since matured and is now much more populated.


Perhaps the most important step to making your mobile app profitable is to think about profitability from the very beginning. This doesn’t mean you have to charge your first users an arm and a leg but have a clear plan for monetization in mind. That plan can, will, and should change over time. But from the early stages of building your app, you need to consider how to make a return on profit.

Every app is different, but monetization has pretty much been boiled down to a science at this point. Most mobile apps will use one of a few well-established monetization models. The most common are:

  • Paid Installs: Simple. Users pay a fee to install your app.
  • Freemium: Your app has a limited version that’s free to download as well as a full version, which is paid.
  • In-App Purchases: The app is free to download and use, but there are special perks users can access by paying for them.
  • Subscription: Users pay a monthly or annual fee to use the app.
  • Ad Revenue: You don’t charge users for the app, but you show ads in the app and make revenue from the impressions.

How you monetize your app isn’t as important as the act of monetizing it. You may choose one of these well-established models, or you may opt to think of something new entirely.

That doesn’t matter, and ultimately, the method you use to monetize your app depends entirely on the nature of your app idea.

What’s important is that you make profitability a central concern and create a clear plan from the early stages of your mobile app idea.

Marketing Plan For Your App

Another important part of your business plan is marketing. What good is it having this innovative new app that no one knows about? To successfully promote your app we recommend putting 10% of your budget aside for marketing. This allocation of spending will allow you to implement the following marketing strategies while your app idea is in its development phase.


Branding is an effective way to get your app's unique message and features out to your target audience. We touched on Hinge’s effective branding campaign earlier, and it's not a bad idea to have a similarly unique mindset.

A key part of your branding will be your app icon. You should look at your app as the bait to make your users click on it. Without an attractive app icon, it will be difficult to get users to download your app, not to mind using and retaining it.

The Pinterest app icon is a brilliant example of this, especially as it also intertwines with the app’s pinning functionality. Even for those of us who don’t ‘pin’ on our online travels, the Pinterest app icon is still a familiar sight as it is constantly displayed.

Coming Soon Landing Page

A coming soon landing page will give you an online presence for your app while it’s in development. This is an important part of a marketing plan as it will allow you to promote and acquire customers before launch.

Your pre-launch landing page should have one main goal - getting customers to sign up and ready for use when your app is released. A strong landing page can help build brand momentum and get your message out there.

As your main call to action is customer sign-up, your coming soon landing page should be structured and designed just around that. It’s important to stick to that at this time and make it as straightforward as possible to do so.

Once your customers are on-board, you can start providing them with additional information such as rewards, newsletters, special offers, etc.

App Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

With so many apps installs coming from online searches, a big part of your marketing plan must include App SEO. As Google is now more 'mobile-friendly', apps with install buttons are also displayed in SERP results (search engine results). This is key to attracting customers as apps can also be installed outside of the main apps stores. 

As mobile searches are higher than desktop, and with so many different ways of searching, your app must be visible in both desktop and mobile searches. An effective App SEO strategy can go a long way in helping you target and retain your app users.

Develop a Prototype For Your App

Okay, so you know what you’re building, you’ve analyzed the competition, and you’ve developed a business plan. The next thing you will need is a model version of what your app could look like. This will help you get the most possible success out of your app idea. 

If done correctly, this can be a cost-effective phase of your app development process and also help you raise money, which we will discuss in more detail shortly.

A good way to provide an interactive user experience is by using a wireframe. A wireframe is essentially a stripped-down version of your app. You can use a wireframe to help design your app's layout, content, features, etc. 

This is an important part of the app development process as it will help you determine the concept of your app and give you a feel for the finished product. Two popular Wireframe tools you could use are Balsamiq and InVision.

Develop an MVP For Your App

Once you have an idea of what your app might look like, you can start validating your concept by speaking to your target audience. To do this, you will need to create a Minimum Viable Product. 

An MVP is the first iteration of your app that you can conduct user testing with. It's the next step from your prototype and will provide you with valuable feedback that you can then refine your app. 

An MVP is a proof of concept and will only contain the core features of the app. It's essentially the smallest platform you can build to let customers play with.

Who Should Build Your App?

Ok, so now that you have tested your app's concept and you know how it will look and work, you will now need to decide on who is going to build your app. 

Often, first-time app builders want to head straight into development after they get their app idea. We can appreciate the enthusiasm, and sometimes it makes sense to start development right away. If you do choose to do this, you have a few options – the first of which is hiring an app development company.

Hiring A Custom Software Developer

Hiring a reputable app developer is the safest, most reliable way to create a quality app. Professional app development companies will adhere to a standard of quality you can count on, as you’ll be enlisting the pros to build your app. If you work with a good app developer, you can feel safe building a business on your app. You can trust that the code is solid and the app will grow with you as your business scales. 

However, hiring an app developer comes at a price. All told, building an app with an onshore app developer can run anywhere between $80,000 and $1,000,000 or more, depending on the specifics of your app and the feature set. It’s important to do your research here to ensure a high-quality turnaround. To get you started, here are some tips and techniques to help you find an app developer. 

A more cost-effective option would be to work with a nearshore developer. There are pros and cons to this approach, however, it can be a great business solution as there are many reputable nearby developers.

South America is a prime example as it now boasts tech hubs with highly educated and talented developers. A lot of US-based startups and big tech companies are turning to cities like Uruguay’s Montevideo as their outsourcing destination.

If you are not familiar with this concept, here is some information on the benefits of working with nearshore app developers.

IT Staff Augmentation

If you have tech resources but need further assistance, a good option is to engage in IT staff augmentation. This type of service can provide your current tech team with some expert advice and direction. At Rootstrap, we have a unique approach to IT staff augmentation, in which we have our IT staff embedded teams and our clients working symbiotically with one another. 

Also, if you don’t know how to code and/or don’t have tech resources, you can hand the reins completely over to a developer with the technical and engineering chops to build the product outright while you run the company. See how companies are using IT staff augmentation to bring their app ideas to life.

App Prototype Fundraising

We’ve touched on an app prototype being an important step in your app’s development process, but it can also help you financially. If you don't have the financial resources for either of the above options, using your app prototype can be an effective way to raise capital.

You can achieve this by building a specific app prototype to aspire to raise funds for hiring a developer. By having an effective proof of concept for your app idea, an investor will feel more confident about the end product and as a result, will be more likely to invest. 

The goal here is to provide potential investors with a tangible working concept that they see potential in and are willing to get the checkbook out for. By showcasing your app prototype, you are showing investors that your app is more than just an idea, but an effective product with a solid business plan that is ready for development.

Launching Your App

It’s not uncommon for first-time app developers to think the work is over once launch time comes around. This couldn’t be further from the truth - launching your app is just the beginning. Don’t get fooled into thinking your job is done. It’s only started. 

Think back to when we spoke about treating your app as a business, you need to keep the same mentality for pre and post-launch. Once you have launched your app, it’s important to continuously use specific metrics to determine its success and performance while also making improvements and fixes. 

Once launched, you will need to use mobile app metrics to analyze the performance of your app. In a perfect world, a large number of users will download your app, use it occasionally, and in due course become regular users with a paid subscription or in-app purchases. 

To gauge how your app is doing, analyzing the following app metrics will give you an idea of how it is performing, and any improvements or fixes that need to be made.

  • User Engagement: How many users downloaded and opened the app? Where are they downloading the app from - app stores or search engines?
  • User Retention: How many users kept the app and for how long? Do they still have it?
  • User Activities: How active are your users on the app? Do they use it on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?
  • Monetization: Are your users availing of your paid subscription or are they making any in-app purchases? What percentage of users are paying and non-paying?

You’ve heard it before - it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and that mentality has served a lot of the successful apps that we see day-to-day. You will need to always be looking to improve your user experience by adding unique features and updating the user interface.

Take building a language learning app like Duolingo as an example. The Duolingo app was first launched in 2012 allowing its users to learn languages for free while also offering an ad-free paid version. Fast forward to 2020, Duolingo is now the most used language learning app in the world, with over 28 different languages and 100 courses available to its users.

Similar to Hinge, the unique DuoLingo message is that while you won’t necessarily learn a language completely, the app is an easily accessible and flexible tool that gives users the confidence of having the basics to learn a new language.

What To Take Away

Bringing your idea for an app to life is no small feat, but with the right know-how, and effective technical resources, it can be done. We’ve seen and helped make it happen time and time again.

Are you going to make a groundbreaking app that changes the world, or are you going to join a particular market and become a strong competitor? The latter might be a more realistic target. And that has been done by many. 

Entering a multi-billion dollar industry ripe with competition is never easy, but with a good development team and a solid business plan you have a fighting chance. Therefore, It’s important to have all your ducks in a row from the get-go. 

With people spending so much time on mobile apps now, coupled with the recent acceleration of app usage from COVID-19, there has never been a better time to get in on the act. But remember, having a unique message as well as innovative features, is the key to success and standing out from the rest.

Frequently Asked Questions

I have an idea for an app If you have an idea for an app your best options are to either hire an app developer or utilize IT staff augmentation to build it. An app developer is a better choice if you do not have any tech resources. IT staff augmentation is a more suitable option if you have tech resources but need some direction. The latter is the cheaper option of the two. See how companies are using IT staff augmentation to build new apps.

Do I need an NDA to share my app idea with a developer? If you are pitching an app idea to developers without a mutual understanding between both parties, an NDA can help secure your project information and objectives. Not only will this provide you with peace of mind, but it will also keep your app idea out of the public eye and away from any potential competition. See how companies are using IT staff augmentation to securely build new apps.

What are the best app ideas never made? When brainstorming app ideas for 2021, here are some of the best app ideas that have yet to be made.

● Scan and Shop: Skip the checkout at any store. 
● Shopping Assistant: Check for product availability, price, & location.
● Farmer Market Locator: Real-time farmers market listing near you. 
● Nearest Public Bathroom: Nearby and accessible public bathrooms. 
● My Personal Chef: Find local chefs to come to your home.
● Mall Map: Indoor navigation to help find stores in malls. 
● Temp Work: Daily breakdown of specific available work.

See how companies are using IT staff augmentation to bring new app ideas to life.