Entrepreneurship 101

How to Look for Gaps in the Mobile App Design Marketplace

March 15, 2018

Imagine you spent twelve years as a construction worker, then one night, a random conversation with a physics grad student inspired you to to create an app for construction workers. If that app became successful, what part of the story would you tell first? You’d probably start with the conversation, right?

We tend to overemphasize the role of inspiration in entrepreneurship, because inspiration makes a great story. TED Talks and developer conferences are filled with tales of brilliant innovators who came from the outside to reshape an industry. Successful business ideas are some intangible combination of brilliance and fate — or so we’re led to believe.

But in reality, it’s the preliminary work that gets you there. Before that one spark of inspiration leads you to find a gap in the market, there could be years of effort that gets left out of the storytelling.

A photo of an entrepreneur working on his laptop at his apartment.
This is oftentimes how businesses start — with just one person and a laptop.

Finding Gaps in the Mobile App Design Market

Start with What You Know

As a mobile app entrepreneur, your knowledge and experience are your biggest strengths. You may not yet have the perfect app planned in your head, but there’s a good chance that you at least have the seed of an idea that you can build on. Ask yourself a few questions:

1. What apps appeal to me? The mobile app market is vast. You need to pick a segment. List some of the apps you use, and what you like about them. While you’re at it, list any apps you don’t like, and the reasons why.

Get as detailed as you can. Think about the functionality, interface, design, and features. Don’t worry if it seems trivial. App users have so many choices that small differences can mean everything.

2. What are my apps missing? Start by thinking small. Are there any features you wish your apps had? Maybe you have a favorite note taking app that you wish would let you tag notes to locations, or a calendar app that would be perfect if it just had a few tweaks to the interface. If you could change them, how would you?

3. What are the things I really love? Google your favorite bike riding app, and there’s a good chance it was created by a cycling fanatic. That synthesizer you fiddle with on your tablet? It was probably written by someone who really loves music. In mobile app development, passion drives innovation. Choosing something you’re passionate about will make it easier to spot the gaps in the market, and help you stay committed through the project.

4. What are the things that really frustrate me? Apps can introduce fantastic new possibilities to our lives, but they don’t have to. In fact, the apps that change the world usually are just making a common task simpler, more convenient or less frustrating. You could catch a cab before Uber, lease or rent a vacation home before Airbnb, and order products before Amazon, and yet those apps have transformed our society. If your app solves a problem that frustrates you, it could solve the same problem for your users.

A photo of four young professionals meeting in a modern lobby.
Make sure you build a solid team that can get your mobile app off the ground.

Now, take a second look at your answers and look for connections and areas to explore. Are there places where your app preferences meet your interests? Is there an area of mobile app design where the tools you’ve seen always seemed to fall short? And most importantly, do any of your ideas seem like areas that might fill an important niche for users?

You don’t need to have a fully fleshed out idea at this point. If all you’ve accomplished is picking a particular market or niche and starting to think about what makes a good mobile app, you’re already on your way.

Research, Research, Research

You’re going to need to do a lot of research, from broad industry trends all the way down to analyzing individual apps. App Annie can help you with both types of research, providing overall market analytics, and information on individual apps.

You’ll also want to get hands on. Download some of the most popular apps in your niche, and some less popular alternatives. What makes people choose the popular apps? Do they have a more appealing design? More features? Get granular — if there are two very similar apps, compare user flow. Users are demanding, and a slightly easier interface or more attractive design can make all the difference in user adoption.

A photo of a glass building with colored lights reflecting off of it.
Work hard enough and you might be able to secure that office space you’re dreaming of.

Finally, dive into industry news. TechCrunch and VentureBeat are a good place to start for tech industry news. When you’re ready to do deeper research on potential competitors and opportunities, check out CrunchBase. This TechCrunch service has a wealth of information about tech startups, key investors and inventors, funding, and more.

Identify Your Product and Audience

To exploit a market niche, your app needs to provide a seamless experience. It needs to be conventional enough for users to understand it intuitively, yet innovative enough to fill a niche that your competitors can’t. It can’t have any rough edges or design quirks. Even extraneous features can ruin the experience by cluttering the app. To build just the right product, here’s what you need to decide:

  • What is the core of my app? Start by defining your minimum viable product. What features does your app absolutely need to provide customers value?
  • What is your value proposition? What problem is your app solving, and what benefits does it provide to users?
  • What are its key differentiators? How is your app different and better than what your competitors offer? What does your app provide that no other app does?
  • Who will use this app? Construct your target audience. Think about the use case, demographics, personality, and any other relevant details.
  • What does my audience like? Think about your competitors, and the mobile app design conventions they use. What is the user flow like? What color schemes do they use? How are the buttons laid out? How do all those features work together to appeal to an audience?

Build Some Mobile App Prototypes

Successful business ideas have a limited shelf life. Once you find a hole in the mobile app development marketplace, the clock is ticking and it’s only a matter of time until another entrepreneur spots it too. The quicker you can get a working app into the marketplace, the better.

A photo showing a top-down view of a Hong Kong street at night.
There’s no way to know how successful you’ll be until you get your mobile app into the marketplace.

For entrepreneurs, mobile app prototyping is a huge advantage. Not only does it speed up development and control costs, it also makes it easier to secure funding by letting you demonstrate value for investors. But even if you’re planning on self-funding, prototyping will help ensure mobile app development goes smoothly. You’ll be able to work out the kinks before you start coding your app, eliminating potentially costly delays down the road.

Modern prototyping tools like Proto.io also support entrepreneurship by letting you get hands on early in the process. You can design and build a working model of your app without having to learn to code, allowing you to hone your vision to perfection. If you plan to build your own prototype, check out our guide for entrepreneurs.

Test Your Mobile App Design

As an entrepreneur, your reputation rests on the quality of your products. Quality assurance and usability testing can help you build an audience and develop credibility with investors.

Testing is also a great way to see into your blind spots. Your mobile app development team already knows what your app does, and can make assumptions that users don’t. But ultimately, you’re building the app for users. If a feature isn’t intuitive to them, they won’t adopt your app. Testing can get their perspective, ensuring your app can connect with your market.

Finally, testing can help you try out your core branding and user targeting assumptions. If your app appeals to a different segment than you thought, or your “killer feature” isn’t the thing users value most, testing will let you tweak your app and adjust your marketing efforts to better fill your niche. By taking the time to talk to users, tweak your app, and retest as necessary, you can greatly increase your odds of a successful launch.

A photo of a design team standing around a large table, looking at drawings.
Remember that entrepreneurs rarely work completely alone — ask for help when you need it.

Get Your Mobile Apps Out There

The app industry is crowded and competitive, and it’s not always an easy place for a new entrepreneur to make their mark. Statistically, most companies don’t make it on their first try. One Gartner study estimated that just 0.01% of commercial apps are considered successful. It may take you some time to join that elite rank.

To have a successful app, you need just the right combination of idea, execution, and timing, and that can take a few tries. But as with anything in business, you just need to keep trying until you get there. Listen to your users and try to release new versions that address their concerns. Pitch to investors, talk to industry experts and pay attention to what tech is getting attention and funding. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way.

Proto.io lets anyone build mobile app prototypes that feel real. No coding or design skills required. Bring your ideas to life quickly! Sign up for a free 15-day trial of Proto.io today and get started on your next mobile app design.

Do you have any tips for mobile app entrepreneurs? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio!