Your Reading List & recommendations

How to build an app from scratch

We’ve all heard about the 11-year-olds who are taught to build an app in school and there are countless app-related success stories but how on earth do you go about building an app? Here’s the good news: you don’t need to know. There are people and programmes to do all the techy stuff for you. What you will need is a problem to solve and a great idea. Read below for a step-by-step guide on how to make it happen.

Step 1: Do you need an app?

“We’re at a stage where it’s seen as sexy to have an app,” reflects Suzanne Nobel, founder of the event curation app Frugl. “Businesses see it as a ‘nice to have’ for customers”. However, once you add up the cost and time involved in getting an app off the ground – not to mention long-term development – it’s worth re-considering if your business really needs an app. Think about whether an app is the best platform for your idea or whether it might work better as a responsive online platform instead. Suzanne admits that although having an app got her business off the ground, in hindsight, she questions whether she would have started Frugl as an app at all. Along the way she has discovered more effective and efficient means of achieving her business goals.

All of our contributors stressed the long-term time commitment involved in creating and maintaining an app. Although they can do wonders, it’s worth remembering the advice from Chris Williams, co-founder of B60: “Don’t forget the basics of business! Ask yourself is this going to generate profit? How will this support the long term goals of your business?”

Top tip: Think about whether your idea really needs an app.

 Step 2: Market research and MVPs

Most products and businesses start with a problem to solve and a great idea. When it comes to apps, the first step is to get that great idea down on paper. This involves thinking about what the app will be used for and more importantly, what the experience of the app will be for the end user.

An MVP is a Minimal Viable Product. This is the simplest version of your product you can put on the market. In the case of apps this means putting out a basic version and using the opportunity to learn more about what your customers want, then implementing their feedback in future versions.

To help you get started there are lots of free webtools to bring your idea to life in its early stages. AppsMe, Mobile Roadie, Bizness Apps, App Makr and Taplytics are brilliant tools you can use for different kinds of apps.

Once you have a product, it’s time to do some market research. Use this time to refine your ideas about the problem you’re trying to solve and how to give users the best experience possible.

“When businesses are considering building an app it’s important for them to establish who that app is going to be for,” says Chris. “A lot of businesses build an app from a great idea but it flops because it’s not been built with the user in mind. Get the idea down on paper and talk to your customer base, then find an app developer who is willing to work with you consultatively.”

Top tip: Build the app yourself with a free tool and use this stage of development to learn as much as you can. Join Facebook forums and Meetup groups with other developers and entrepreneurs who can share their experience.

Step 3: Development

Whether your idea is a series of drawings, a mock-up of the different features of your app, or an MVP, it’s worth consulting with an app or mobile developer. They help you focus on the customer journey of your target users and map out where mobile fits into the user experience.

The developer will also help you think about time and budgets. A single feature on an app can take up to a year to develop, so it’s important to be sure you can allocate time and budget (including one for marketing) to see the project though. Treat the time with developers as an incubation period to focus your idea. Dan Bruce from HQ the App explained that if he were starting out today he would focus on solving one problem at a time. It can be tempting when you have a new idea to want to “take over the world”, but keeping your focus on one idea means you can create a product that’s far more effective and efficient.

Both our businesses pointed to some of the difficulties that can come when working with developers. Suzanne worked with lots of different agencies and teams, until she found the right choice. It was simply a case of finding a team that really understood what she was trying to achieve. When you’re consulting with developers, it’s important to make sure you’ve done your own research so you’re clear on the recommendations they’ll make for you. If you’re clear on what your business needs are, and what the options are, you can save a great deal of time and money in the development of your product.

Top tip:

Chris advised: “If you have the next big idea, make sure you have an NDA in place to protect it!”

Step 4: Marketing and Retention

Once you’ve built the app “that’s when the work begins,” chuckled Suzanne. Chris agreed: “It’s all well and good building something, but you have to make sure that people can see it.”

Suzanne put things into perspective. The average mobile phone has around 50 apps, and only 6 – including Facebook, Twitter, Gmail – are used regularly.  Furthermore, the kind of app and app store you use can have a huge impact on reach. For example, if you have an iOS application, and don’t make it onto the featured app page, “it’s like screaming in the desert”, as she put it, to get people to find your app.

In this case, Suzanne and Dan’s business partner spent time meticulously networking and securing press coverage in business, technology and relevant lifestyle press to raise awareness. Still, even that is only half the work – you have to keep people coming back to your app. “There are no half measures with apps. You have to create a best in class product to keep people coming back.” Cue development, market research and data analysis – continually updating your product based on insight and feedback will keep your product fresh and give you something new to share with your customers at regular intervals.

So, if you have identified that building an app would be a great opportunity for furthering your business, that’s a brilliant first step. Use these steps as a guide, listen to the advice and good luck!

For free, impartial business tech help and advice, why not book a session with an O2 Guru? They’re available online, in store and over the phone.


All articles


Public sector

Safe & secure


Tech advice

Work smarter