A few years ago, Gartner predicted that in 2018, less than 0.01 percent of consumer mobile apps will be considered economically successful.
However, most companies don’t sell their products and brands on the motto of ‘we’re just another average unsuccessful app’. Most brands, products, and companies claim to be the next big thing (check any job description, SaaS homepage, or investment round). Every app is the next app to rock the food and beverage world, every newly designed advertising platform will supposedly revolutionize digital advertising and every newly coded development tool will change the development community. Whatever your persuasion, there is a company, app, brand, or product touting their imminent dominance in the market. But how do you know it is true? I’m actually (and I mean actually) going to attempt to answer this question. Wish me luck!
In this article/
- What do the experts think?
- Can you predict success by looking at somebody’s face?
- What does the evidence say about app success?
- Retrospective look at successful innovators (part II)
- Can’t we quantify success with A.I.? (part II)
- Moore’s law (part II)
What do the Experts Think?
I decided that finding out what the experts think of this matter, was probably the best way to start. Tomas Goetz is the Executive Editor of WIRED, wrote an article on CNBC titled “Seven Ways to Spot the Next Big Thing”. There he details the following common themes he has observed over watching two decades of successful businesses that have changed the world. He mentions:
1. Look for cross-pollinators
This talks about the power of cross-disciplinary ideas and theories, as well as products, theories, ideas, and brands that can affect multiple categories and sectors. It makes sense.
2. Surf the exponentials
In this tip, he describes exponentials in a very broad way, as something with almost limitless possibilities, applications, and use. He references various dropbox packages with endless data storage or Moore’s law of limitless iteration and the limitless potential of YouTube + broadband. Whatever your interpretation of ‘exponentials’, Tomas believes that numerous big movers in our industry have had an element of this, somehow.
3. Favor the liberators
“bringing liquidity to locked-up assets.” – Reid Hoffman, the philosopher-investor. Here, Tomas has quoted the philosopher as having summed up this point. Numerous successful companies have brought plenty to places where there was none. Have liberated locked-up assets and taken advantage of idle or underused resources. Here Tomas references Uber and AirBnB as taking stock of an under-used housing and transport inventory. There are other successful parallels one can draw, such as Google Display Network (taking up unused website space), Etsy (unused talent and time of freelancers) or gofundme.com (unused money). A lot of companies that follow such principles often fall under the peer-to-peer model, which has been popularized in the 21st century.
4. Give points for audacity
Here, Tomas makes an invaluable point. That if you want the next revolutionary app or business, it needs to solve a big problem. A parking meter app will remain just this – a parking meter app. Unless of course, it’s framework can be applied to solve bigger, more common problems.
5. Bank on openness
This point discusses more about working and organizational culture as well as some successful mindsets. One positive workplace characteristic mentioned is to have a workplace with people having “shared goals” that works towards a company’s objectives. Makes sense. He also discussed flexibility instead of hierarchy and short-term instead of long-term gains prioritization.
6. Demand deep design
This point is simple: good design matters. Good design is important. Good design is not easy.
7. Spend time with time wasters
I have interpreted this last point to be to follow ideas and products that are built upon passion. Ask yourself, what activities are people willingly wasting their time on? Whatever those talented people are willingly doing for hours on a Friday night with their free time – use those skills. Whatever your employees are happily using in their free breaks, consider a product around that tool or item.
Can You Predict Success by Looking at Somebody’s Face!?
There has been a lot of research into the correlation between one’s face and personality. Some of this research has supported the idea that some faces are perceived to be more ‘successful’ than others. One study in this branch of research surveyed 100 participants on 50 CEOs (taken from the top 25 and lowest 25 Fortune 1000 companies).
The participants were shown a photo of each one of these CEOs (with no further information) and asked to rate their perceived ability to run a company, along with various other traits associated with positive leadership (dominance, competence, likability, trustworthiness, etc). Results found that student’s perceptions of the CEO’s leadership abilities were positively correlated to the CEO’s company’s financial performance and success.
Thus, it begs the question – is there such a thing as a successful face?
You might retort that this is merely a coincidence. It is not, the mere existence of a correlational relationship negates this. So what does this mean? Whilst you might jump to the conclusion that somebody’s face, will forever pave their destiny for future success, this may and may not be true. On the one hand, some people have inherent traits correlated to success and those traits might affect how they look (e.g. dominance can affect one’s success, and dominance is also caused by testosterone that also affects the formation of the face when growing up).
On the other hand, this could be explained by social psychology. People are perceived as successful, therefore are treated as successful, which causes them to be successful and so on and so forth. Whilst a correlational study is not the same as a causational study, it does indicate a relationship between one’s face and success. Or at least, a perceived relationship.
Therefore, there is something to be said for the leaders of a company, having a bigger impact than just their work performance. Perhaps even societal perception, which is completely outside of their control, could impact a company’s success as well. Thus, perhaps if you want to know if the company you work for, the app you’ve just created, or the brand you are promoting will be the next big thing – perhaps take a closer look at your leaders! Crazy thought, isn’t it.
What Does the Evidence Say About App Success
Apps are, in my opinion, the great economic and societal equalizer. Their low barrier to entry, relatively low cost of development, and market accessibility makes it the perfect inclusive product for consumers and businesses. Thus, I love the app industry, as I believe it offers billions of people cost-effective tools, whilst also giving people from less developed economies the chance to pursue their dreams.
So, what happens if you want to be the next big app that will forever change the app industry? So, we’ve heard thought leaders’ qualitative opinions about the matter. However, is there any quantitative evidence on the subject? Well, I’m glad you asked! I refer to the following studies:
In the study, ‘The determinants of Mobile Apps Success: Evidence from the App Store’, the paper details the following correlations to app success, sustainability, and survival:
“We find that broadening App offerings across multiple categories is a key determinant that contributes to a higher probability of survival in the top charts. App-level attributes such as free App offers, high initial ranks, investment in less popular (less competitive) categories, continuous quality updates, and high volume and high user review scores have positive impacts on Apps’ sustainability. In general, each diversification decision across a category results in approximately a 15% increase in the presence of an App in the top charts. Survival rates for free Apps are up to two times more than that for paid Apps. Quality (feature) updates to Apps can contribute up to a three-fold improvement in survival rate as well.”
Most of what is said is common sense. However, this is the nature of peer-reviewed research papers. They seek to illuminate and falsify the facts, so people can make evidence-based decisions. However, obviously app ‘sustainability’ and being the ‘next big thing’ are certainly two very different concepts. However, it is not possible to be the next best thing, if you have not survived. So, this is again, another good starting point.
Let’s unpack the above-loaded quote. Quality updates, and reviews are correlated to app sustainability – makes sense. This could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Apps that have high-quality updates are in a position to do so because they are successful. This does not mean that if you’re a terrible app, with quality updates, you’re bound to succeed. No.
Or maybe yes? Who knows!
The diversification really interests me. It makes sense, the more markets you open your app to, the more potential users. However, I’m sure this comes with a ‘but’. Obviously, you must still deliver on your app’s promises. No use branching your ‘baby and mums’ app out into the ‘gaming’ category with one flimsy in-app game feature. But, I’m sure you didn’t need me to say that.
Moving on, what does ‘Star Apps: App originality and interdependence as predictors of app success’ say? I was actually surprised by the results. Their test of 1000 android app’s source code was measured for numerous variables (complexity, originality etc). They were tested for their ‘success’ which was measured by app reviews and downloads. These are their results:
“App originality was found to have a negative association with user reviews, and a negative association moderated by app complexity with the number of downloads. App interdependence was found to have a positive association with highly downloaded apps compared against low-downloaded apps.”
Certainly, not the kind of results I would have expected. However, the full report is here, if you’d like to unpack it.
In the study: “Customer Rating Reactions Can Be Predicted Purely Using App Features” it states that with their analysis of over 11,000 Android and Blackberry apps, that they were able to predict using a model-based purely off app features (as written in their respective app stores) the quality of future app reviews. This is interesting, as it could not only tell you what future features to release in your app but also how your app would fare upon release.
Semi-Complete Thoughts on The Next Big Thing
As this is such a broad and subjective topic, there is probably no right or wrong answer (duh). However, there are some interesting lines of inquiry. There is probably a whole surplus of tactics one could employ to be successful. However, I’m sure that all of the effort required to follow each one of these tactics would take away from the precious time required to actually produce a quality app, product, or brand.
Personally, I would recommend getting an overview of the above information (and further research), and understanding the mental, organizational and economic mechanisms that are often correlated to success. Then I would suggest implementing these ideas and frameworks into your existing frameworks. I suspect this would be a more successful strategy rather than adhering to strict ‘success’ rules and guidelines.
Stay tuned for part II – we take a retrospective look at some currently successful companies, and their earlier pitch decks, how you can possibly quantify success with artificial intelligence and Moore’s law.