Are You Building an App or a Business?

Running any kind of business is hard, and making a living from apps is no different. A commonly touted statistic is that 1 in 3 businesses will fail in the first three years. Very few businesses make it to 5 years, if you get that far you’re obviously doing something right.

It’s okay to build an app for fun, but don’t plan to start a business by building a single iOS app.

Unfortunately, it’s a hit-driven market and unless you can build a hit you’re not going to make a return on your investment. Building a sustainable app business is hard, the days of making easy money on iOS (or any other mobile platform) are well and truly over.

Bootstrapped VS Venture-Backed Startup

To build a profitable business takes time, focus, determination and a little bit of luck. I have respect for those people around me that have started a business with zero investment. The same people that have put in the hours, the blood sweat and tears to get it off the ground. These are the people that deserve to thrive, not those that take on venture capital because it seems like the low-risk, easy option.

If I’m going to use a new app or service for work-related tasks, I look into the company and find out if it’s venture-backed or privately owned. If they have raised funding or are part of a startup incubator, I instantly put my guard up as this often means they are not in it for the long haul. They are doing it to build a “minimal viable product”, get as many users on board as quickly as possible, while all the time not even considering how they’ll earn any real revenue. It’s all about the user acquisition. Once they have enough users, they’ll be looking to flip it for a quick exit. They then rinse and repeat this process.

It’s sad, but I know I won’t be able to rely on a lot of the software being created today.
It’s sad, but I know I won’t be able to rely on a lot of the software being created today. Next week I’ll read an announcement that the founders of company A couldn’t be more thrilled to be joining company B, and unfortunately, the product you loved so much is no longer being developed. This seriously sucks, but yet it happens time and time again, and the user always loses out.

If you’re passionate you’ll find a way to build your product without taking on investment. If you really believe in your idea, remortgage your house, use your savings, put it on Kickstarter, do whatever it takes to make it, but don’t sell your soul along the way.

Build a Real Business

I’ve always built software with a long-term view. If you want to build a sustainable business that will give you the freedom and the power to be in control of your own destiny, here’s my advice:
Be patient. Build long term product concepts, build things that are going to last.
Be patient. Build long term product concepts, build things that are going to last. Keep your day job, work on it in your spare time. Don’t build another social network, don’t build Uber for dogs or whatever other stupid ideas you came up with when you were high. Build something useful, a tool that empowers people to be creative. This is the most rewarding path. Think about what apps and tools you’ve used for years. Wouldn’t it be great to build something like that for people just like you?

I believe the following companies have had these principles and ideas in place since they started: Barebones, Omni, Panic and Realmac (yes, I’m biased, but it’s true). There are plenty more great companies out there, but these are the ones that instantly come to mind as I write this. These are the companies that have been around for 10+ years. These are companies that haven’t sold out and support their users and products. Wouldn’t it be great if there were more companies like this?

There’s something incredibly satisfying about knowing you control your own destiny and that the decisions you make directly impact your financial wellbeing and those around you. Make a choice to build something great, something you can look back on in 10 years from now and be truly proud of.

Dan Counsell @dancounsell