You Won’t Get Rich Making Apps

You make profit by building a business. There exists a common problem engineers have when playing entrepreneur, and it’s a fatal flaw that venture capitalists look for. When all you want to do is build products, you’re setting products up to fail.

I see plenty of engineers do this. They have an idea and even go through hell building a minimum viable product, then they cast their shiny prize into purgatory. Would-be founders handing their product over to the world as if this imaginary product manager will go to bat for them. With no go-to-market strategy, no marketing, no sales, no customer support, your business is nothing but a couple lines of code and a dozen tweets. The most upsetting part of all is that plenty of these products are great! In the right hands, these apps could become profit machines.

When you see TechCrunch cover another app buyout and wonder, “Why are they worth so many millions? I could do that.” What you don’t see is they’re valuing so much more than tech. Unique software is very cool, but what makes it valuable is attention – millions of users corralled by a marketing mind, supported by an infrastructure for outreach, managed by a whole team already in place with procedures and schedules and a plan for what to do with it over the next 2 years. Do you still think you could do that? Do you still think you want to go it alone or team up with your buddy from college?

This isn’t meant to deter you. It’s meant to make you think. Think for a very long time. Think about how to make that brilliant idea work. Think about how to virtually guarantee, in your mind, you will captivate audiences with this thing you made. Think about how they will go from never hearing of you, to downloading your app, to needing to check back everyday. Think about how you’re going to make money from users who don’t want to give it to you, and from businesses with employees solely responsible to give you less or none. Think about how long this product can last and how you’ll make a lifetime of value from it or create a specific exit plan.

There is no get rich quick scheme, even in mobile apps. If you know the guy who found one, well, odds are he tripped over it by accident. That doesn’t gain much respect because he didn’t grind for it. Your plan cannot be quick. It has to endure through the entire gauntlet of obstacles and opportunities ahead of you. You have to build a business plan as if you’ll be undervalued for years. Your plan has to involve posting, and tweeting, and networking while no one listens. Your plan has to assume you’ll get so close to closing a deal and see it dissolve at least once or twice. You’ll be flying high one day and at an all-time low literally the very next. You’ll be drained of all ammunition besides this one last scrap of truth when you say “Stick to the plan.”

Only last, think about how much fun it’s going to be to execute this plan, create your business (not just a product!!!), and live your dream.

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