Start an App Business in 2020: 15 Things You Must Know

One overarching trend is the basis for the increasing number of entrepreneurs keen on how to start an app business — mobile apps are surpassing desktop usage, by far. 1.371 billion. That’s the number of smartphones shipped globally in 2019 alone. It’s a staggering statistic. Compare that to the 261 million PCs delivered the same year. Today, there are more than 3.5 billion smartphone users on the planet. Clearly, the world has decisively gone mobile. Most Internet users today access the worldwide web primarily via their phone rather than a laptop or desktop computer.

Why are all these numbers important? Opportunity.

There’s never been a better time to build your own app or start an app business. In 2019, app revenue exceeded $83 billion. This has been fast-tracked by over 204 billion app downloads in 2019, and the number is set to rise even further. Sure, there are already millions of apps available for download on Google Play and the iOS App Store, with thousands more going up each week, but the market is far from saturated.

And it’s not just the number of smartphones that’s increasing worldwide. The storage, processing, and memory capacity of the average phone is also expanding fast. That means users can accommodate more apps on their phones even after you factor the growing size of the average app. For mobile developers, this is a golden goose to tap for a couple of decades to come.

With the enormity of the business potential apparent, how do you actually go about starting a new app business?

A woman holding a phone with a blank screen

Starting an app from scratch shouldn’t have to be a hard nut to crack for beginners. With the right approach, the learning curve is as modest as it gets. You can benefit from the proper tools and recharged insights on how to start, design, and launch an app.

Still, dealing with bugs and technical issues while creating a mobile app can be quite a distressing and overwhelming experience, especially for a starter. So you always have the option to contract someone else to do the work for you.

Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, building an app is a simple way to grow your business, monetize your ideas, and fortify the customer engagement rate. In this guide, we've analyzed all the needful steps on how to start an app that has a competitive potential.

So let's get started.

Step 1: Draft a Business Blueprint For The App

If you create an app to make money, you are setting up a business. Like any other business idea, you require a well-itemized plan. There’s no guarantee that your app will be successful but doing the requisite ground work increases the odds of that happening. Think of this as a moment to brainstorm on a unique problem-solving solution for your target market.

Narrow down to the critical objectives. To give your idea more context, you need to break down these variables:

  1. The size of your target demographic
  2. The potential value proposition of the app in the market
A woman holding a poster with a lightbulb above her head

Before you explore your monetization options, evaluate the customers' pain points. This gives you an overall round-up on how to resolve any noticeable pickle in the market.

Identifying the right demographics is achieved by using suitable metrics such as age, interests, location, language, location, and so forth. Embark on market research to find out if there’s substantial opportunity to make money. Use Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends to gauge interest and sentiment. Identify potential customers, competitor apps, market gaps and even start to contemplate proposed pricing.

Whether your app appeals more to millennials or Gen X, it's relevant to validate their search intent - which helps to define your app's significance and affinity with the audience.

To bootstrap the app's designing process, you need to run a pre-assessment of all necessary features you want your mobile solution to have. Ask yourself:

  • What are my app's most selling points?
  • Can your app run while on offline mode?
  • Should I include a subscription plan?

Enumerate the features you’d want but keep the list concise. Too many features will be expensive to implement, make it difficult to focus on a compelling competitive advantage and increase the time it takes to get your product ready for the market. Instead, aim for a minimum value proposition then, if need be, build out and improve the app from there.

A notebook with a mind map of several ideas

If you'll, at some point, hire an expert, then you need to set a considerable budget depending on the scale and complexity of the task at hand. Other related costs include marketing, automation, and integrations -- which we'll discuss further later in this guide.

Step 2: Run a Competitive Analysis

To make rapid headway for your app, say, boost the number of downloads, you need to spy your competitors round the clock. You need to create leads that cut above the competition through making improvements on your app's relevance in the market.

And there's nothing too complicated about this step on how to start an app. First, you should download your competitor's app from the store to gain hands-on experience and give it an unbiased review of the overall user experience.

An edged competitor analysis should help you track these indicators:

  1. All software updates on your competitor's app.
  2. Forecast how or where their future breakthrough would be at
  3. Assess their market positioning.

Each insight gives you an underlay of strategies to help improve your app's performance as soon as you launch it on the app store. To easily track your competitor, you can use App Annie to spy on their advertising methods, revenue streams, number of downloads, and the average market share. This tool removes all the complexities you might experience while running a competitor analysis manually.

A screenshot of App Annie comparing several apps.

You're also able to find the exact keywords which your competitors are using to rank better. Other alternatives designed for competitor analysis include Apptrace, AppSamurai, and Appfigures.

We get it -- competition can be somewhat intimidating, especially for a beginner. But if you optimize your goals a little harder, you'll only be an inch closer to your target market. What's more critical is the need to max out the niche gap you preferably want to put your focus on.

Step 3: Determine How to Develop Your App

Build An App Yourself With Code

A photo of a laptop containing HTML source code

If you are building an app yourself, there are two ways to go about this step. First, you can opt to start at the grassroots and learn all the primary languages. To have a modest experience level, you'll need to have a detailed familiarity with languages such as JavaScript, HTML5, CSS, Python, PHP, Ruby, the list goes on. That, for sure, is not easy for a newbie who's aiming to get their app up-and-running quickly. Just make sure you pick the right language for what you’re trying to build.

You also want to figure out whether you wish to start an app for Android, iOS, or both platforms. If your audience has devices running on these two operating systems, it's worth the time and money to use an integrated app builder. For apps dedicated to iOS devices, you can use Xcode to complete the development process. This tool has code editing and debugging specifications, which aim at helping the developer build an interactive user interface.

Build An App Yourself Without Code

A woman working on a laptop

An alternative route to these languages is to find a no-code app building platform. As the name suggests, these platforms don’t require you to write any code to start an app; you just drag and drop the features you need. Below is a quick break down of some of the ideal app development platforms in the market:

  1. Swiftic
  2. Appery
  3. Appy Pie
  4. AppSheet
  5. AppMachine

These no-code tools are first-rate options for users with little or no programming skills. They often leverage visual programming to simplify the process of app creation. However, this might have limited scope; the platform’s elements may not have all the features you require.

Hire Someone To Build Your App

Two people shaking hands

You could also just hire someone to build your app. You’re not limited to hiring a mobile app developer from your neighborhood, city, or country. There are dozens of platforms online through which you can contract a developer sitting thousands of miles from you. Both local sourcing and offshoring have advantages. The one you opt for depends on what’s most important for you. Ultimately, you’ll have to make some compromises on the right path how to start an app.

Usually, the reason for offshoring software development is cutting your hiring expenses. The hourly cost of a developer in advanced economies can be 10 or 20 times higher than that of a programmer in a lower income country. There’s also the advantage of accessing a bigger and more diverse pool of developers.

On the other hand, local sourcing makes it easier to keep tabs on progress and to find someone who understands your target audience. You are also less likely to run into language, cultural, payment and time-zone barriers.

Note that even if you outsource building your app, you also need to think about how you will maintain it (more on this later). If you don’t plan on continuing to pay the developer(s) you’ve hired long-term, you’ll still may need to think about whether code or no-code is right for you.

Which Method is Best for You?

A man seated at a laptop, deep in though

Choosing the right app development method cuts down to factors such as:

  1. The turnaround time you want to work with
  2. Back-end requirements for the app to function without any bugs
  3. Your budget for the whole project

What matters most in this step is to polish both the front-end and the back-end of your mobile app. While the former touches on your app's graphic design, responsiveness, user interface, and overall layout, the latter carries all factors related to the database. No matter what tools you’re using, you want to make sure your app is of high quality from start to finish.

Step 4: Determine Your Level of Investment

Cost of Development

A literal pile of cash

The cost of mobile app development can be anything from a couple of hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you are a skilled mobile app developer, then your cost of development will be greatly reduced since you’ll do all the heavy lifting. It won’t be free though because you’ll devote time to coding that you would otherwise use for another money-generating activity. It's also worth noting that some of the tools you might use to complete building your app may require subscribing to a paid plan so this should be factored into the overall budget.

If you are contracting a third party for the app’s development, then your costs will be much higher. Actual cost to start an app will depend on the complexity of the app, the app’s intended purpose, the developer’s level of experience, and the timeline of development.

Engage a different contractor for the interface design and graphics if the app developer you’ve hired doesn’t possess these skills. If you are on a tight budget and/or want to do the design on your own, use a mobile app graphics template to build the interface yourself.

Time for Development

A woman seated with a calendar/agenda book, ready to write

Much like the cost, the time it takes for your mobile app to be ready depends on how complex the app is: the number of features you require and the other projects in your chosen developer’s pipeline. You should brace for months of work.

Of course, the faster you create an app and get it to market, the quicker you can start to make money from it. Nevertheless, rushing it too much could yield an inferior product that will massively damage your brand. It’s all about striking the right balance how to start an app. Work with your developer to come up with ambitious but realistic milestones. Take into account unexpected hiccups and factor these into your overall timelines.

Step 5: Monetization Strategies

It’s never too early to contemplate your app’s income strategy. Your choice of monetization will make or break your app’s financial prospects. If you make the wrong monetization decision, then you’ll find it harder to make a profit. There are a number of ways to create an app and make money from it. None is exclusive so feel free to deploy multiple strategies.

The most direct path to monetization is to get users to pay for the app before they can use it in any way. This is a rare approach for a number of reasons. First, there are probably already apps out there doing the same thing your app does but without such hurdles. Second, a potential user won’t know how good your app is if you don’t give them a chance to use it first.

A mockup of an interstitial video advertisement in a mobile app

This is why a common alternative is in-app ads. Here, you don’t ask anything of your user. Instead, you make money from ads placed by third parties within your app. Payment may be based on clicks, views, or (for a third-party app) installs. Ads may appear as banners, videos, rich media, interstitial/pop-ups and/or native ads.

Another monetization strategy is the freemium model. Users can opt for a paid version of your app if they are impressed by the free version. Often it’s the exact same app but without ads, but sometimes it includes more advanced features not present in the free version.

The last strategy we’ll cover is in-app purchases. This allows users to purchase something that enhances their experience in using the app. That would include virtual money, app points, additional functions and features, and timed subscriptions. It also encompasses the sale of physical goods for ecommerce-oriented apps.

A screenshot of EA's FIFA Mobile game, with a variety of in-app purchases

Step 6: Define Your App’s User Experience

This is where things start to get much more practical on how to start an app. Your app needs a visual design that's friendly, unique and memorable, as users generally care quite a bit about an app’s visual appeal. But it’s also important to define the workflow, from top to bottom. The workflow needs to describe the next step soon after the user clicks a specific button on the app.

The user experience has to be nothing short of flawless. Your app’s functionality is certainly important. But while your app might have sophisticated capabilities, that won’t matter if it is difficult to navigate and use. So, you must devote substantial time to designing a user interface and workflow that wins user hearts and minds.

A woman smiling at her phone while drinking a cup of coffee

You can use a platform such as Dribbble for inspiration on your app’s user interface. This marketplace has a rich catalog of options for nearly all types of apps. You can also fetch a bunch of UX (user experience) nerds to work with on your project from this platform.

Create wireframes of your app’s screens. Use a pen and paper to sketch your app's wireframe before you put it to the test. A wireframe is like the spinal column of the whole project. You need to sketch down the entire user flow and sync it with your app's mockup concept. It's preferable to have the whole creative aspect flow naturally rather than using a prototype which only gives you a static result.

A woman sketching app wireframes on paper

If you prefer to use automated software for wireframing, we recommend using Fluid UI since it generates quicker prototypes and insights on how users are likely going to interact with a particular wireframe structure.

The layout needs to capture all of the most central options such as social sharing buttons, CTA buttons, chatbox, customer rating section, or the sign-up button.

Use Adobe XD or a similar solution to pre-set screen sizes for your designs. For a better-tweaked design, we'd recommend using a tool such as Moqups. This software allows the user to choose a template design that works on both iOS and Android, and make edits without touching a line of code.

Create intuitive menus. Develop attractive graphics but be careful not to go overboard. Make fonts legible. Have all images at the right size and resolution for different phone screens. Ensure workflows are logical. Remove impediments from payment checkout. Endeavour to perfect the user experience.

A series of high-fidelity mockups of a mobile application

Preview the app’s interface. Confirm the loading speed and how responsive it is on an actual mobile device. The mobile gestures, such as swiping to the next page and images set on the wireframe, need to match the users' expectations, far and wide.

Once you're done with this step, your app should have enough flesh and potential to pull in seed money from investors, especially if the project is quite massive.

Step 7: Backend Infrastructure

Two people discussing a system architecture diagram at a whiteboard

Your app might not comprise just the front end installed on user smartphones. There’ll likely be the back end as well where much of the most crucial stuff happens such as business logic, security and data storage. If the back end isn’t streamlined, optimized and secure, it will have a negative impact on the user experience. This will make it harder for you to earn money.

The backend can be incorporated as part of app development or outsourced to a third party provider. Your options for the backend are either a cloud server, a custom onsite server, or a “serverless” architecture.

Step 8: Test Your App

Now it's time to wear the users' shoes. Your app should never go live before it is subjected to rigorous testing. The developer may have taken meticulous care in ensuring everything is done as per your requirements and specifications. Yet, bugs are inevitable.

Many mobile app owners and developers rush through the testing in their attempt to get the app to the market fast. A failure to thoroughly test the app will see you pay a heavy expensive price later on. Testing should comprise alpha testing done by the app developer or owner as well as beta testing where a preliminary version is released to a limited audience.

A developer needs to screen test the app's infrastructure and identify any issues using crash reporting tools. It's quite challenging to hack this process via manual tests. And that's why most experienced app developers use automated mobile testing tools to fix all the bugs. These platforms also weed out any possible human errors that might occur during the testing phase.

Red text that says "ERROR", overlaid upon source code

The test script should run on all mobile operating systems. Other features to look at in a mobile testing tool include:

  • An integrated testing history of all data logs
  • Advanced gesture testing and cross-platform support
  • Multiple devices testing(Samsung, iPhone)

Platforms such as Kobiton and TestingBot offer a seamless testing ground for both Android and iOS apps. The long-term benefits for app testing are app abandonment recovery, enhanced customer engagement, better speed, and quick debugging techniques. You can also perform user testing with sites like to confirm that app you built achieves the ideas you validated in step 1.

Step 9: Integrate with Analytics Tools

You need to treat your app as a business. And this entails tracking your app's performance and drawing detailed insights using analytics tools.

Google Analytics for Mobile Apps, for instance, is the perfect tool if you want to measure various KPIs (key performance indicators) in your app. It's compatible with both iOS and Android platforms.

A screenshot of a Google Analytics reporting dashboard showcasing various app metrics

As an alternative, you can install MixPanel software and use it to track users' behavior, set goals, make accurate forecasts, and spot market trends in real-time.

In the end, you're able to build high converting funnels and boost the users' retention gameplan. For revenue tracking, you can use App Annie Analytics to optimize your ROI prospects and prioritize your advertising hacks. You can also track the number of downloads from the marketplace and forecast future monetization strategies.

Integrating your app to analytics tools is the cracking way to interpret user segmentation, in-bound app marketing, and measure any upfront growth factors.

Step 10: App Name, Description and Screenshots

The Google Play Store application

Your app’s name matters. It should be smart enough to convey the app’s meaning and functionality at a glance. While not a measure of its capability, a good app name will increase the number of downloads. Think about someone searching for a certain type of app. They are likely to go for the apps whose names align with their search query.

The app description must be informative and meaningful. The first couple of sentences should provide an accurate overview. Many users won’t bother clicking on ‘Read More’ for the more exhaustive explanation.

Provide clear, catchy screenshots that show users how the app will look like on their phone when in use.

Step 11: Going Live

The word "congratulations" with glitter and sparkles

Congratulations on your hard-earned milestones! You now have known how to start an app and have a fully functional mobile app. Going live on app stores is arguably the most anticipated moment of the entire exercise. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where everything you imagined your app can do will be subjected to the unforgiving forces of the market.

The process of publishing your app will differ depending on whether you are submitting it to the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Either way, the process is stringent and you must satisfy certain rules to get your app published.

For example, if you want to launch an iOS app, here's what you need to do:

  • Sign up for the Apple Developer Program and choose a membership plan.
  • Use Xcode to upload your app to the Apple App Store.

For a wide-reaching grip on the launching process, you can check out the App Store Review Guidelines. If you want to launch an Android app, you'll need to sign up for the Play Console using your Google account.

Step 12: Market and Promote Your App

A man speaking into a megaphone

Now that your app is smoothly running, it's time to target your audience through a robust marketing campaign. Marketing and promotion must take a multifaceted approach to ensure you are speaking to as many people in your target audience as possible and as affordable. Increase visibility on relevant websites, forums and online communities. For this to work, roll out the following actions.

  • Build the app's landing page. To do that, you should identify the ultimate conversion objectives in your plan how to start app. A well laid-out landing page helps you place all necessary leads and call-to-actions. Since you're targeting mobile app users, the landing page has to be optimized for phone screen sizes. Unbounce sells some of the best landing-page, popups, and sticky bar templates for mobile apps. The platform has drag-and-drop tools to help the user design a landing page and make it live in minutes.
  • Hit up social media. You could tap into the reach of industry influencers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to help you garner a following for your new app. You need to find one who has a good understanding of your niche.
  • Leverage paid campaigns. These allow you to speak directly to your target demographics. Of online paid campaign platforms, Google Ads is by far the most influential. A PPC campaign strategy has proven to work for many app developers especially at the start when the app isn’t well known.
  • Start a blog. A blog that focuses on your app's niche might appeal to a broader audience on the Internet. With this approach, you'll need some intermediate-level knowledge on how SEO works and all associated techniques to organically rank your blog on the SERPs (search engine results pages).
  • Re-engage customers via email. If you already have an active email list of customers and subscribers, you can send out alerts to notify them on your newly released app. Spare some time to create a short Loom video showing how the app works then embed it to the newsletter or the blog's landing page.
  • Create a fully-fledged press kit. The kit should include links to the app's social media accounts, promotion videos, publishing the logo, drafting a description, and providing your contact information.
  • Optimize, optimize, optimize! App store optimization (ASO) can help your mobile application have better rankings on the app marketplace. Search engine optimization (SEO) can growing your app or landing page visibility on the web, and its potential to gain more traffic. They both require in-depth keyword research to boost your brand.

While you do all of this, it’s important to keep an eye on metrics that indicate the success of your marketing efforts. These include daily active users, monthly active users, retention rate, average revenue per user and user lifetime value. Also remember any custom key performance indicators you determined in Step 9.

Step 13: Use Feedback to Make Improvements on your App

Make the most of forums to fetch honest reviews and make productive adjustments on your app. On the app store, users have an option to leave comments and ratings on the overall experience. This information helps the developer make useful updates on the later version.

You can also offer live navigation assistance to users via a mobile chat SDK and resolve issues promptly. For iOS app developers, you can use your Apple ID to access forums and the feedback assistant to improve your app's ratings and aesthetics.

Three screenshots of the Intercom chat application

To catch any issues that pull down your app's potential, Instabug allows you to access real-time crash reports, debug, collect user feedback, and diagnose to improve on quality.

While fixing all technical issues, you should assess how your objectives are adding up to the actual results on the ground. This process gives you better clarity on how to gauge the app's reception by your target market.

A feedback loop for your app creates a spot-on communication between you and the users. Making adjustments to your app based on users' feedback and impressions is an evolving strategy to increase the prospective return on investment.

Step 14: App Maintenance and Support

Various tools of a construction worker

Your app going live doesn’t mark the end of the technical work. Rather, it’s the beginning of a new phase in how to start app. The app will require constant monitoring and improvement. Bugs, errors and new features will all be part of the app’s lifecycle. You must have a robust plan for obtaining user feedback, tracking system performance and listening to other touchpoints that highlight issues needing resolution.

Act quickly to resolve problems and confirm with users that changes are to their satisfaction. Create multiple channels for customer interaction including in-app messaging, email, social media channels and phone lines. Commit to and adhere to an aggressive yet attainable turnaround time.

Step 15: Time to Profitability

There’s no specific time within which your app should be profitable. Sometimes you can create an app and make money almost from day one. For most apps that make it though, it’s a gradual upward curve as users increase and monetization efforts draws ever more revenue.

A man holding a stopwatch

When working on starting an app from scratch, it’s important not to lose patience. Don’t desperately pack the app with ads and other mechanisms for revenue generation. Remember that your app’s profitability primarily depends on how comfortable it is for users. If the user experience isn’t up to speed, it’s self-defeating. Keep an eye on growth as that will provide a trajectory of when you are likely to break even and start making a profit.

Final Thoughts

Two people cheers in front of a sunset

Owning a mobile app is exciting and carries an immense revenue potential for the developer. On the flip side, a bunch of people often slack a little since the whole process seems tedious and technical.

From the moment your app goes live, you’ll be coming up against dozens or hundreds of established competitors. Unless you are extremely lucky, your app is unlikely to see a roaring start from the get-go. That shouldn’t faze you when contemplating how to start an app. Like any other business, it might take some time before it gains traction. If your app is on the right path, you’ll recognize that fairly early.

With the right tools, designing and launching a mobile app isn't a painful experience. The checklist above is all you need to develop and monetize your app without any hitches.

If you own a business and want to extend your services to the mobile audience, this is the ultimate guidebook on how to start an app and grow your revenue exponentially. To sum it up, you need to focus on the niche idea, user experience, and create value for your audience quite extensively.

Just in case we missed out on any essential part, please hit us up on the comment section right below. We'll be thrilled to post useful answers to all questions.

Don't miss these stories: