How I come up with ideas for web apps

I want to give you two methods I use for generating web app ideas.  These are by no means the only two ways – the topic of creativity is very broad – but these are two ways that I know work and have been the cornerstone of my successes.

Method One – Simplify a complex application

Look around at the tools you use.  How many of them are feature rich.  How many of these features do you actually use?  These big, heavy complex apps are ripe for disruption.  Simplicity sells and there is a demand for applications that do just one thing really well.

These big apps will always struggle to keep users who are looking to switch to something simpler and easier to use.  It’s not like they can simply get rid of a bunch of features without upsetting their user base.  This is where you can jump in and find a small niche to exploit.

I’ve used this method to build countless apps.  It works over and over again.  I simply take a complex application, figure out the one thing that it should be doing well, and strip back everything else.

Method Two – Trend Jumping

This method generates ideas that can create a lot of buzz and attention but possibly not the best apps/businesses.

Trend jumping involves filling gaps in an industry that everyone is currently talking about.

For example when Twitter was first coming onto  the scene and every journalist was talking about it, I created an app that let Twitter users share files to their timeline.  There was nothing particularly novel about the idea – it was just a file sharing service.  But the fact that it integrated with Twitter meant that it received a lot of press attention.

I’ve seen the same thing happen more recently with Bots.  Messaging bots had a resurgence in 2016.  And I saw countless apps get way more attention than they usually would, simply because everyone is buzzing about them.

How I keep track of ideas

As soon as I come up with an idea I put it straight into a trello board.

At the end of each month, or whenever I’m looking to work on something new, I go into my trello board and play with the cards.  The ideas that I’m excited about get moved to the top of the list.

I keep what I call a “playbook” of ideas as well.  I write down my top ideas here and flesh out in details how I would build it.  This is a great way to think things through and put your thoughts in order.

The Three Day Rule

Here’s a little tip I’ve picked up over the years that has stopped me making lots of bad decisions.  Whenever I come up with a new idea, I sit on it for 3 days.  It’s so easy to get carried away in the moment and not really think through the concept.  Often by day three I’ve discovered lots of silly flaws in the idea.  But if by day 3 i’m still pumped and excited, I know this is a good sign to keep working on the idea.

 

My journey building web apps, and why you should build them too

First of all let’s get something out of the way.  When the iphone launched, developers weren’t able to build apps for the device.  So Apple came up with a solution – let people install bookmarks to websites on the homescreen.  They called them web apps.  In my opinion, these aren’t web apps, they are simply bookmarks.  Apple propositioned an existing term and tried to redefine it.

Web apps are so much more.  I consider a web app to be a website that offers dynamic functionality.   In other words, functions that can be controlled by the user and not just a static page. A web app can be anything from a social site like Twitter, to a document editing app like Google docs.

I’ve built dozens of apps over the past 10 years.  And millions of people have used something I’ve built.  My apps have been featured on Techcrunch, The BBC, CNN, Mashable, The Today Show and many other outlets.

These days, I run a small number of apps and sit on the board of advisors for a number of young startups.

I’m a self taught coder – proving that you don’t need to have gone to university to do what I do.  And I taught myself by building web apps.  This guide isn’t going to offer any technical lessons.  There are plenty of other great resources that cover that and I am no expert.  Instead I want to cover the logistics and process of building and running an app.