August 22, 2023

What to Research Before You Start Building Your App


So, you have an idea for an app. There are literally millions of them out there these days, how hard could it be?

App Stores, Optimisation, MVP, Discovery, Android, iOS, Swift, Kotlin, React, Agile, ASO, Design System, UX, UI.

It all sounds like a lot of jargon really, doesn’t it? To some people it is, to others it’s what we know, love and do every day. As it happens, if you are confused (or just interested) about any of the terms above, you can find a full glossary on our website

You don’t need to know about all of the above, and in most cases, it’s better to get some input from an expert. There are absolutely tonnes of information out there about all the different ways in which you can build an app. But the first (and often most overlooked) thing you need to think about isn’t how do I build it, but should I build it?

Should I build it?

Did you know that the Apple App Store is 15 years old this year? There are a number of figures out there, but they all put the number of apps currently live at around 1.8 million, of course, many more have come and gone in that time. Has it been done before, and who’s going to use it?

You probably want to look at the market you are targeting, but to do that, we find it’s easier first to understand who these users are, we call these ‘personas’. Think of a persona, as one of the target user groups of your app;

  • What are their goals?
  • What is their purpose?
  • What does their lifestyle look like?
  • How do they currently get there?
  • What problems do they face? (Relevant to your idea)

Once you have worked out a few personas for your app, you can start to research those audiences, do they already use competing apps? How big is that market? Is there a gap? What market share do the competitors have? Does your audience lean towards specific devices (Android v iOS)? Does the audience spend most of their time on Desktop machines, tablets, or phones?

Right now, you should have an idea of whether there is a market that exists for your app, and if you could fit into it. The next question then, is it a good idea?

Is it a good idea?

Ask yourself, will it improve users' lives?

Typically, the ‘good ideas’ fall into one of a few categories;

  • I’ve got a brand new, unique idea
  • I want to build an app for a company, or a specific purpose (a tool, if you will)
  • I’m just going to take an existing concept, and put a unique spin on it (this is most of the apps on the stores)

And whatever the case may be, you’d better have a great marketing plan, because building a great app alone is not enough to get people on board. But we’ll save that conversation for another day.

Next, look at the market, look at your audience, look at your potential competitors, who is going to use your app, and most importantly, why are they going to want to use it? What’s the ‘secret sauce’ if you will.

What is the app?

Now you have an idea, and you understood (from the previous personas exercise) what users' goals are, and how they currently achieve them, you might want to look at how your app can solve those problems instead.

Knowing what we know now, from the personas exercise, and the problems your users face, let's just think for a moment about what problems your product will solve? What are its objectives?

It’s really important to start small and define your product well. Remember Google didn’t start with all of the tools and services it has now, it was just a search engine.

Try to think of 2-3 key features that will make up your MVP, or your Version 1.0 of the product, and once you’ve got them, make a few notes about what they will do, and how they will work.

Should it be an app?

Should it be a mobile app, or a web app, first of all, what’s the difference?

A mobile app is software developed exclusively for use on mobile devices* typically for Android and iOS.

A web app is software built to work in a web browser, but built in such a way that I’m when viewed on smaller screen devices (Mobiles / Tablets) the website ‘behaves’ like an app, and sometimes can even be installed or saved locally on your computer.

*Some desktops/laptops can now run mobile apps

Back to which one it should be, there are two key parts to answering this. Firstly we want to refer back to the personas exercise we did earlier, looking at the personas you identified you will want to do some research into if those people spend most of their time on Desktop / Laptop devices or Mobile / Tablet devices, and when you want them to be engaging with your product.

Is it the sort of idea that would be useful on a small screen? This works well for some games and utilities, but if you want to display a lot of information, filtering, and content, then perhaps an app isn’t the solution, maybe a website, or a hybrid approach, a web-app. The more you want on a screen the more cluttered and difficult to use it can be on a small screen device (Have you ever tried to use Excel on your mobile?)

How will the app make money?

Unless you are going to build the app yourself, you are probably going to be investing a good chunk of money to get someone to build and maintain it for you. So the question now, is how do you make money? There are loads of different options for this, from Adverts to Subscriptions, in-app purchases, to the sale of data. You can read more about that in an article we have specifically about monetising your app here.

What would success look like?

We want to know what success looks like, it’s really helpful to plan backwards from there about how we can achieve it. It’s great to have the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), what will the business look like in 12 months, 3 years, 10 years, but more importantly for our app development purposes, what does success look like in terms of app metrics?

What analytics platforms will you be using, and what metrics do we want to track? Daily/Monthly active users? Number of app downloads? Time users spend on the app? Are there any screens or features not used? Demographics of your users (maybe it doesn’t match your original personas?)

All of these and more are the sort of questions you can answer with really strong analytics data, and it helps you make great decisions about future updates and improvements to your app. It’s really important to understand and include analytics from day one.

Final Thoughts

In the end, it’s your time and money that will be invested in the project, so it’s really important to decide on your approach. We would always recommend following the research and understanding the audience to make the most informed decisions. We know it’s not the most glamorous part of the process, and certainly not as fun as seeing app designs and prototypes come to life, but it is what will give you the best outcome. How do we know? Because we’ve done it hundreds of times before. If you’re looking to have a conversation about how this might work for you, or a nudge in the right direction, get in touch and let's chat.


  • Do your research
  • Who’s going to use it, and is there a market?
  • Will it improve users' lives, and how?
  • Does it already exist, and if it does, can you do it better?
  • Should it be a mobile app, or a web-app?
  • How do you monetise the app?
  • What does success look like?
  • Reach out to Fortnight Studio

What to Research Before You Start Building Your App