Why Apps Fail

Typically, app developers (or their clients) have a great idea – something no one else done that will solve a problem or make life better. Armed with a clear picture of what the app is supposed to do, they then get down to the business creating an app along these lines:

  1. Sketch the features and interface
  2. Find out if another app does something similar
  3. Figure out how to monetize the app
  4. Create a wireframe and storyboard
  5. Define the back end (databases and APIs)
  6. Test wireframe prototype
  7. Build the back end
  8. Design the app skins (individual screens) in hi-res
  9. Test again with clickable prototype in Android/iOs environment
  10. Release on Apple and Google Play and invite friends for beer


Whoa, Nellie! You’re headed for failure.

The number one reason startups fail is not technology or lack of funding. It is market fail – not really understanding the market and consumers. Too often, entrepreneurs make big assumptions about what people want or what the market will respond to. No wonder between 80 and 90 percent of startups fail within 18 months.

Successful apps solve real problems.

So, what is a problem? A problem is defined by a pain touchpoint. It is painful to spend money on taxis; Uber solves that problem. It is painful to spend money on international calls: WhatsApp solves that problem. It is painful (irritating) not to know you are listening to; Shazam solves that problem. It is boring to sit around in a meeting/class/waiting room with nothing to do; Candy Crush solves that problem. It’s difficult to connect with friends in today’s fast-moving world; Facebook solves that problem.

Case in point:

I recently worked on an app that was attempting to solve the wrong pain altogether. It made assumptions that pain was felt by people who in fact felt very little motivation to solve the problem. So, I provided research on why similar apps in the industry – heavily funded ones like Foodzie – went belly up. Those food apps failed to recognize the dynamics of the food industry and how connections are made. Ultimately, the artisanal food industry is more of a demand push business – meaning consumers are not likely invest much time or effort in buying artisanal cakes and so on. The food producers are more motivated (feel more pain) to sell their products. Once this bit of information is known, you can map out the features that will make an app of value firstly to food producers, and then in tun to consumers.

The solution needs to actually work.

I am not talking about bugs. Buggy software will not kill you as long as your app really solves the problem at hand. But, even though you (the non-developer) and your investors understand the need, you still have to build an application with features that do the job you need done. This is not easy because a lot of fuzzy thinking creeps in. Referring to the food app, one feature was “beautiful pictures.” Yes, the prototype had beautiful pictures… but where did these photos come from? Were they taken on an iPhone by an amateur on her kitchen table? Try it and see. Food is really, really hard to photograph well. This is just a teeny tiny example of the vast chasm between understand the problem you need to solve and actually solving it.

The last reason apps fail: money.

Infinite Monkeys provides a low-end price list for app development, which is handy if you have a very clear idea of how your app functions and can communicate it to a development team. And, if you are thinking big, Savvy Apps wrote a great post on the real cost of app development. Neither includes the cost of marketing, which will be necessary because there are more than one million apps for iOS. You can estimate your marketing budget at roughly 10 percent of your development budget. Oh yes, somewhere in there, factor in living expenses.

Most people bank on being funded at some point by angel investors. Very few people have $750,000 in loose cash to fund a big idea startup. But then again, very few people really have a breakthrough idea. Here’s a list of venture capital firms to drool over: Top US Venture Capital Firms.