How to create a billion-dollar app

By Steve Garnett
08 May 2014 View Comments

The European Commission announced this year that the European app industry will be worth almost £53bn by 2018. Valuations running into the billions of pounds have been touted for apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram and Tinder in recent months, showing the vast potential this thriving economy offers to anyone who understands what makes an app successful.

While social apps are dominating the upper echelons of the market, there is significant opportunity for apps of all shapes and sizes to capitalise on it due to what they enable – improving people's day-to-day lives. And this is as evident in the business world as anywhere else, where small and mighty apps are playing central roles in driving enterprise strategies across every sector and industry. But what is the secret to a successful app, and how can individuals and businesses alike benefit from this massive opportunity?

Further reading

Make social part of your business model

To succeed, apps have to be shareable. YouTube videos often become an overnight sensation because of the sharing mechanisms already in place. It's not just YouTube, though; every single person who uses an app is connected to a network of potential new users so apps need to also incorporate easy-to-use sharing methods. Take WhatsApp: the more the user shares the app, the more people they have on their contact list and the more rewarding the experience is for all. This mechanism was a key part of the organisation's success, and ultimately, its valuation, as it was acquired by Facebook for £11bn.

In today's always-on, hyper-connected, socially led world, consumers are known for having the power to make or break a business and its reputation online. But this can also be a great opportunity for the rollout of a successful app. Consumers (and businesses) are willing to test apps, try them out and feed into their success. So instead of spending long periods perfecting them, app developers can take the opportunity to test them in real life. Once released, they can then ask for feedback and continually iterate the app to improve the service being delivered.

Don't deliver apps – deliver an experience

It may sound simple, but great apps deliver an experience. Facebook lets you share experiences with your family and friends no matter where you are. Salesforce1 offers a mobile experience to employees, and Flipboard re-invents the experience of your morning news. Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, once said "we often think the internet enables you to do new things. But people want to do the same thing they've always done."

To succeed, an app must make the end user's life better or easier in some fashion. To do that, each app needs to meet at least one of these core objectives:

- Reinvent an existing experience and make it better and simpler An app often replaces and simplifies a pre-existing process, whether that is shopping, reading the news, or sending emails

- Provide information Apps that deliver instant access to important information, from local weather and train times to push notifications when the user's favourite team is about to play or a customer has come online, are perceived as particularly valuable, especially if they can be tailored to the user's specific wants and needs

- Engage Games have proven to be incredibly fashionable – Candy Crush was the most popular game last year with 93 million players on average per day

- There's no reason why we can't have fun at work too, so engaging work applications and gamification apps that make work more productive have huge potential

Optimise for user productivity
The worldwide web celebrated its 25th birthday earlier this year, and the impact has been vast: our world moves at such a breakneck pace that many successful apps focus on making our lives more productive. Some of the most popular apps in 2013 focused on productivity, such as Evernote and Dropbox. Even traditional industries such as banking are disrupted by apps.

It wasn't long ago that you couldn't check your bank balance from your mobile device, let alone make a transaction. Yet a very real "app gap" still exists. While individuals use apps every day in their personal lives, there is a lack of mobile apps designed to increase productivity in the workplace and drive better customer service. For businesses looking to design and build mobile apps, it's not about making every app mobile, it's about making the right apps the mobile way. Businesses can learn a lot from consumer apps in making employee productivity apps more engaging, because the days of green-screen apps are over.

In the new app economy, a good idea that provides a mobile experience, is built upon a social model, and makes users more productive is a recipe for success. Whatever the sector and the audience they address, successful apps can significantly improve our lives, drive new revenue streams, create new opportunities for shareholder value and even provide basic services for the community. There are massive – £53bn-worth – stakes at play for apps in both the consumer and business worlds, and anyone able to harness that opportunity might just end up worth billions too.

Dr Steve Garnett is EMEA chairman at


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