Last February we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about an app idea that would push us into local fame: a Husker football iPhone application. At the time, there were only a few competitors and we were sure that our app could be the best. In the first few weeks, our app enjoyed a few hundred downloads and we marveled at its success. We thought, “If we replicate this for every team, we’ll be bootstrapped by next May.” So we did, and sales were good, at first… Along the way, hurdle after hurdle stifled our growth. One of them was meeting deadlines. Time after time, we released sports apps after that sport had already started. Here’s the shakedown of why we missed the mark and what we’re doing to hit it now.
1) Scope: Our most inhibiting trait has always been scope. We planned for simple projects, but kept adding new bells and whistles. We’ve completely redesigned our fan apps to have an iphone-esque interface. Then we added more modules like videos, chat, and a live scoring ticker. Each of these additions always created several new opportunities for error, and with each you must apply Murphy’s law: what can go wrong, usually does.
Lesson learned: dial back scope. Half the project because you’ll always underestimate the time that a seemingly simple update will take.
2) Lack of Focus: Not only are we three part-time employees trying to bootstrap from our regular jobs, but we also pile on extra projects for no apparently good reason. This is what happened with our Kloudspeak debacle. After starting out with a Husker app focus, we decided to create a Twitter client for conferences. This was a major sidetrack when we should have been focusing on getting out our money-making sports apps before their seasons began.
Lesson learned: if your goal is to bootstrap, then concentrate on what’s making you money. Perfect that as much as possible and then allow extra time for new projects.
3) Apples iPhone Wait Queue: Time and time again, Apple’s two week queue has cost us deadlines. Whether it was a tiny bug or a miscommunication with the rating system, both will send you to the back of the queue.
Lesson learned: Test your apps thoroughly and plan to release a month ahead of your designated deadline. This allots enough time for one/two errors to be caught by Apple during the approval process. And once again, Murphy’s law applies.
4) No room for error: With just three guys working part time, we don’t have enough resources to make extravagant apps or lose focus. The good part about this, is that we don’t need to do either of those things to put out a good product. The bad part is that we don’t have any wiggle room for error when planning and executing.
Lesson learned: Simple, simple, simple. Keep things simple and release often. There are countless apps that do much less than ours that rank higher because they focus on just delivering sports news or scores and that’s it. They focus on simplicity. We came out of the gates trying to kill ESPN with just three part-time employees. That’s a tough goal to achieve and that’s why, from now on, we’ll specialize on something simple, and do it better than all of the major players.
So how have we adjusted? With our newest March Madness release, Final Madness, we limited scope. The app only does one major thing: displays and updates scores for all of the March Madness teams in an easy to navigate bracket interface. At times there was talk of adding a make-your-own bracket module to the app. It was argued that we just wouldn’t have enough time to incorporate such a system without adding a slew of possible new bugs, back end services, and cluttering the simple design. Corey (our mobile developer) fought to keep our app simple and it ended up being a great decision. Even though we’ve released the app, we’re still working out some of the kinks to deliver the best experience possible. Corey was right, we didn’t have time to mess with extra bells and whistles, especially when March Madness is quickly approaching.
So learn from our mistakes and meet back next week when I discuss competitors and the new iPhone scene.
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