Marcus Wood


The Non-Techie’s Guide To Creating A Successful App


Within the iOS app store alone, there’s over 2,100,000 apps available to download, and the Android app store has even more. The proliferation of the ‘there’s an app for that’ mentality has been contagious and introduced more people than ever into the tech community. That’s why I started learning how to code, and it took years for me to learn everything needed to build an app.

This guide gives you a rundown of each step you need to take from the technical side to give your app the best chance to succeed.

Do Your Research

I have friends that tell me all the time that they have the next big app idea. The idea is normally good, really good. However, most of the time it’s already out there or there’s a reason it’s not out there. As soon as you have an app idea, Google it. If you see no competitors, stop and ask why.

A lot of times the regulatory landscape of a new app idea makes the barrier of entry too high to enter the market. When Lyft and Uber first started there was a lot of risk involved in starting such a service since regulations were not established. One wrong court judgement could of wrecked your business and likely dissuaded a lot of people from hopping in.

Lastly, do a quick numbers check on the estimated size of the market to make sure the app is viable. How large is your target market? How many users will you need to make the app functional? How many places can this be expanded to?

Refine the Idea

A good app idea is sticky. What I mean by sticky is that it’s simple and easily remembered by everyone you speak to.

It’s the <blank> for <blank>.

In Hollywood, this is called the “high-concept pitch.” Alien was pitched as “Jaws on a spaceship.” Doesn’t that evoke a vivid image in your head? Without knowing anything else about the movie you already have an idea of the premise and can fill in a lot of the blanks without asking another question. For more information on creating sticky ideas check out Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. This is crucial for two reasons. The first is that it forces you to refine your idea to the core value proposition. It’s the single user need that your app intends on solving. The second is that it gives the power to explain your idea to anyone in a couple of words. That’s powerful. People that you want working on your app is busy, and this helps orient them immediately so you all can start discussing the details.

Exit Strategy

If the app takes off, what next? Will it be the primary income resource for you? Do you intend on getting acquired by another company? Answering these questions first help set the expectation for yourself and everyone around you on what to work towards. This can and likely will change over time, but thinking about it early can help guide business decisions you have to make before development.


Never start paying coders to develop an app before creating an interactive prototype. This is the mistake I see made the most. People are so blinded by their excitement they try to push something into the market immediately.

Design is where ideas and execution meet.

So far, you’ve validated that the core of idea you have is solid. Now you have to execute. How will the user interact with an app to solve their need? It’s a harder question to answer than you think. Try sitting down with a blank piece of paper and drawing out screens of a user’s prospective journey through the app. You’ll find pieces you haven’t thought about yet and before starting development all ambiguity needs to be solved for. For this part, I recommend working with a user experience/visual designer expert to help you with these parts. When you’re speaking with them say you want an interactive prototype to be the final product. Popular options for creating one of these is Invision or Adobe XD. An interactive prototype is a collection of images that have certain hotspots of interactivity to imitate how the actual app will work.

Creating a prototype is crucial because:

  • It gives you something to show users on a phone for them to interact with. This gives you a chance to validate your assumptions and get feedback on your design before development starts.
  • It pushes off development. As an engineer it feels weird to say, but as an entrepreneur it makes sense in that you’re mitigating the largest financial expenditure until you’ve maximized your probability for success.
  • It gets you introduced to application development. If you’re new to this industry, getting involved in the design process helps orient you to the process and familiarizes you with industry jargon.
  • It forces you to map out a user’s journey through the app before development.

More Research

Show prospective app users the prototype and watch how they interact with the app. See if they can go through the app without asking you how to do something. Ask them how they like the design and what they would like to see changed. Most importantly, ask them if this is an application they would use. Google everything again to make sure the industry landscape you’re targeting hasn’t changed. Are there new competitors? Are there new studies out there to learn from? Check the numbers one more time on market size, the critical mass of users needed for a functional app, and potential areas of expansion.

Gut Check Time

This is the last stop before moving into development. You’ve researched, created a prototype, and tested it with prospective users. How are you feeling? There’s nothing wrong with throwing away an app now if you don’t feel good about it. That’s why it’s so important to prototype before development. If you feel good about it, press on!


MVP. Minimum Viable Product. That should be the sole focus of development. If it’s not core to solving the user’s need then don’t develop it. This will keep your cost down, and prevent scope creep on the development team. Make sure that the development team demos to you on a regular basis. It’s important to make sure the app is being created to your specifications, and it keeps them on track during development. Once the app is ready, deploy!


Measure everything. Throughout the design and development of the app, you’ve likely amassed a large backlog of features to be implemented. Begin to knock them out based on data-driven insights gathered from users in the app. The important thing here is that you shouldn’t be guessing on what to do next, data should drive your decisions. The technical side is one dimension of creating an app. There’s still the business, legal, and operational challenges involved that have to come together to form a successful business. Please clap if you thought this article was helpful and let me know in the comments below if you would like to see a post on each dimension of creating an app.

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Marcus Wood is a JavaScript software engineer that focuses on building products using Typescript, React, and GraphQL. He has built and delivered solutions for some of the largest companies in the world.