Eating your own Dogfood


Image Credit.

Want to build a really great app? One that people love using and will tell their friends about? One that people will leave great reviews for? One that will leave users clamoring for more?

Here are the steps you can follow, to accomplish this.

1. Create an app that you yourself want to use.

Solve a problem that you have, that you haven’t found a solution for.

Being a target user yourself will help you a lot in the research phase of figuring out what problems there are that require a solution, and what people would be willing to pay for that solution. Would you be willing to pay for it yourself? Would you use this product regularly?

Be honest with your evaluation, since if this isn’t something you wouldn’t pay for or use, then it may be difficult to find others who would.

Eating your own dog food or just dogfooding is a common term used in the software industry, where software companies encourage (or require) employees to use their own products in order to find bugs, improve usability etc.

2. Use the app regularly and see if you’re happy with it.

If you’re not happy with it, refine it further until you’re happy with it as an end user (not just because it’s your app!). Decide early on if the reason you’re not using the product is something that an update would fix. You may decide in the end that your problem isn’t something that an app could solve, in which case it’s better to terminate the project early on (preferably even in the mockup stage). Or there may be technical challenges involved that cannot be overcome.

3. Attract other like-minded users to give you feedback.

Being a target user yourself, you are hopefully already engaged in communities with like minded individuals through forums, Facebook or Reddit groups. If so, see if you can sign on others to help you beta test or give feedback on whether they would use your product. Many people are genuinely happy to provide such feedback if the product will help them out in the future.

4. Continue improving and developing the app.

You’ll want to launch with the simplest version of your product (without any additional bells and whistles), so you can start receiving feedback right away. Since bells and whistles can eat up a budget pretty quickly, make sure that each feature you add really makes the product better and is closer to a must-have, rather than a would-be-nice-to-have.

5. Develop additional products and enhancements that you can sell to this same audience.


By following this process, and engaging in constant communication with your users, you should be able to develop a following that should make it easier to launch future products in a similar manner. Ideally, if later products you create also target the same audience, you can save yourself a lot in marketing costs, as you’ll already have an audience ready to sell your future product to.

I followed this exact process with my first product – Chinese Learn Online. I wasn’t satisfied with the other resources out there so I created my own, with myself being a target user. I created what I’d want to see in the perfect learning system out there.

Later, I became active in forums for learning Chinese, where I was able to promote and get feedback on my product. I developed a loyal following of users who suggested new features and gave me feedback on my implementation of them.

What started off as a small site for a few hundred users later blossomed into something much bigger, with thousands of paying users and millions of content downloads. But it all started with me creating something for myself.

A similar approach was later used with my STL Contact Manager app – I created a simple app to manage my contacts. After receiving additional feedback from users, more features were added, along with in-app purchases to further grow the product.

So what app have you always looked for but haven’t seen out there? Can you create a solution to your own problem?

iPhone App Reviews and Feedback

iPhone App Review

So now that you have an app ready and published, what comes next? Sit back and watch the money roll in?

Not quite.

Ideally, to save time and money, you’ll want to first publish the simplest version of your app idea. Get it out there quickly so you can get feedback from your users. Do they like the product? Are there additional features they would like, that they would be willing to pay more for?

So how do you get this feedback? There are multiple ways.

  1. User Ratings and Reviews. Take a look at the app store to see what kinds of ratings and reviews your app is getting. 3rd party products are available to make this process easier. If your app is getting consistent 5 star ratings and wonderful reviews, then maybe you’re done, and can look at marketing your app further, or other platforms to expand onto. If your app is getting lower ratings, then you still have work to do. Analyze what kinds of problems and suggestions your users are giving, and decide whether it’s worth releasing an update to solve them.
  2. Run Promotions. If you’re not getting enough ratings or reviews to determine if you’re on the right track, you can try lowering the price or even make it free, to increase the number of downloads you get. More downloads should lead to more ratings and reviews.
  3. Bug Reports. If you use a 3rd party service to report bugs, then take a look and see if your app is crashing on user devices. Try and fix these bugs and issue a new update as soon as you can, to avoid low ratings.
  4. User Emails. Add a contact us button to your app, to make it easy for users to send feedback to you. If a user takes the time to send you an email (even if it’s a negative one), that means they care enough about your app to take the time to provide you with this feedback. Not getting any feedback from your users may be a sign that your app isn’t good enough to warrant such effort.

Turn Problems into Solutions

If you do have issues with your app that users are emailing you about, make sure you follow up with them to get the problems fixed. Once an update has been released to address the issue, email them to let them know. Find out if the new update indeed solves the issue or not. Also use this opportunity to ask about any other suggestions they may have to improve your app. Some of the biggest fans of my products have come from users who initially emailed me with problems.

Generating Positive Reviews

Leave a Review App Popup

One problem with feedback is that most of it tends to be negative. Users are more likely to leave a negative comment or review for features that don’t work as advertised, than to leave a positive comment or review for your app doing what it promised to do. So how do you overcome this?

One solution that many apps do, is to generate an automatic popup after a user has used the app a minimum number of times (eg. on their 10th time). The popup asks the user what they think of the app, and encourages them to leave a review.

Why does this popup show on the 10th time, and not on the 1st time?

The idea here is that if a user is using your app for the 10th time, that suggests that they like and enjoy using your app. So the review or rating they give at that point is more likely to be favorable. If they didn’t like your app, then they would have quit using it a long time ago.