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?

How to Make an iPhone App

Rich App Developer

So, you want to be an app developer?

People approach me all the time with ideas for the next great iPhone app. Everyone knows how popular mobile app development is these days, so it’s natural to want to get a little piece of the action for yourself. We keep hearing stories of indie developers making big money with apps. If he can do it, why can’t you?

My recommendation is to get your feet wet first, before you try to swim in the deep end.

  1. Start with a simple app, that won’t cost an arm and a leg to develop. See what you think of the process.
  2. Did you enjoy it? Made any money from it? If so, then reinvest into a more complicated app that could potentially make you even more.
  3. Learn from your mistakes.
  4. Rinse and repeat this cycle.
  5. Profit!!

So how do you get started?

Well first, you’ll need an idea for that first app. One that can make you a few bucks that can be reinvested into future projects.

I’ve created a 13 page PDF guide that details the steps involved to come up with that first idea. Here are the topics covered:

  • The Mobile App Economy
  • Choose a platform
  • Coming up with an idea.
  • Researching App Stores for Competing Apps.
  • Pricing Models.
  • Finalizing Your Mobile App Idea.
  • Choosing your Final App Idea

Sign up on the right sidebar to receive a FREE copy of this eBook, along with other tips, tricks and resources to help you make your iPhone apps.

Good luck in your journey!

Generate Ideas by Solving Real Problems

Now that I’ve had the experience of attending two startup weekends – one as a participant and one as a speaker, I’ve been exposed to pitches from several other startups. Add to that, all the news on startups coming in from sites likeTechCrunch and AngelList and I’m starting to notice a disturbing trend.

People are focusing on ideas, rather than solving problems.

The focus should not be on “What startup should we create?“, it should be on “What problem should we solve?”

The good news is that we are not asking you to solve world hunger or broker peace in the middle east (although that would be nice). All you need to do is solve problems that real users have.

How do you find these problems?


Take a look at your Facebook and Twitter streams and see what people are complaining about. Join forums and discussion groups to see what kinds of problems people are having.

See if you can do any of the following:

  1. Take something that is complicated and make it simpler. Perhaps by reducing the number of steps involved.
  2. Take something inconvenient and make it more convenient.
  3. Take something that is currently expensive and find a way to do it for cheaper, or even for free!
  4. Take something that is of low quality, and create a higher quality version that you can charge more for.
  5. Take something that is currently boring, and make it more exciting.

When I listen to a startup pitch, it should be clear to me what the problem is that they are solving. Let’s take a look at some famous examples.

It’s clear what problem Evernote is trying to solve. People tend to forget a lot of things. Evernote helps them remember by making it easy to take notes.

Facebook solves the problem of us losing connection with our family and friends, as we live our busy lives.

Both these products are quite clear, and require little convincing. As a result, both companies are huge with millions of users around the world.

If you have to explain to me what my problem is, or try to convince me that I have a problem that I previously didn’t know exist, then it may be hard to get traction.

Better yet would be to find users with the problems you are solving and introduce your product to them directly. If they continue using your product, you know you’re onto something. If they don’t come back, then follow up with them and find out why.

How to Turn Ideas into Action

science lab – BRU © by RMTip21

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s coming up with ideas.  Some ideas come from real sources, like reading a great blog article with great tips on how to improve my business.  Or reading a new book on marketing.

Other ideas come from more unexpected sources.  I might be at a park, watching kids play, and get an idea for a new website or iPhone app.  Or I might hear a song, or wake up from a dream and have new found inspiration.  Perhaps it was the solution to a design problem that I had been mulling over recently.  Or maybe it was a new way of tackling an existing problem, that I hadn’t thought of before.  Either way, our mind works in mysterious ways and sometimes requires rest to come up with a solution.

In the past though, these ideas escaped me soon after they arrived.  The excitement and details that seemed so vivid when they were first realized, just didn’t seem so exciting when I tried to later recall them.

I realized that I was missing out on a lot of wasted opportunity here, and needed to come up with a better system.  In recent while, I’ve developed a three step system for myself, based around tools that are absolutely free!

Step 1: Brainstorm

I’ve been using the evernote app quite regularly recently.  The beauty of evernote is that it can be used as a web app or mobile app.  I regularly use it through my browser. on my iPhone and on my iPad, depending on where I am and what I’m doing at the time.

I keep several notes running, based around different themes.  Each project I’m working on (that deserves inspiration) has its own note.  So if I have an idea to improve one of my apps then I’ll click on the note for that app, and add to any existing notes that might be there already.  If I just thought of a way to improve the usability of one of my websites, then I’ll click on the note for that site, and add to it there.  If I’m reading an article online that inspires me somehow, then I’ll open up my evernote tab and add to the relevant note there.

One of Evernote’s key features is that the notes you create are always synced, no matter what device you entered it from.  It even handles pictures and recordings, if you think that conveys your idea more effectively.

The key at this stage is to get the idea down as quickly as you can, without worrying about the details too much.  Don’t even judge if the idea is that great or not at this stage.

Step 2: Maintenance

Over time, the notes I maintain on Evernote start to build up with several ideas in each of them.  This is where some maintenance is required.  Once a week, I open up my Evernote app at work and start to go through each note.  This is when I reorder the ideas I have collected into a more logical form, and maybe change the order around a bit so that they make more sense.

I may find that some ideas aren’t practical or as relevant now as when I first noted them down.  That’s ok though, as it’s part of the process.  Along the way I will find some really good ones that need to be acted upon.

Step 3: Action

At this stage, I take all the ideas that can be implemented right away and put them in my daily task manager.  I use Google Tasks in Gmail myself, but any task manager application should work.  For each day of the week, I list out the tasks that I plan to accomplish that day, some of which may have come from my earlier idea list.

I’ve found this new system to work well for me, as I’m now able to record and act on new ideas that come to me from any source, at any time of the day.

Do you have a system in place to capture ideas and thoughts that come to you?  Are you able to act on them efficiently?

The Value of an Idea

Idea - Foster

Every business out there started with an idea.  Initially it was just a thought in someone’s mind.  Somewhere along the line, someone (might not be the same person) decided to take that thought and turn it into a business idea.  That idea was then launched as an actual business.  After that, it would have to be priced, marketed, maintained and tweaked before it ever became a success.

Each of these steps required key people to execute them properly.  If any of the steps or people were missing along the way, then the idea would never have succeeded.

We have seen this play out several times with ideas that sound great on paper, but don’t work out so well in the real world.  Then there have been others that may not have sounded so good on paper but ended up doing really well.

Many people focus the majority of their time on finding the next big idea, and then work hard to protect it from being stolen by others.  Ideas are plentiful.  Here are 999 great ideas to get you started.  Take that energy and instead divert it towards developing the idea and finding great people to help you launch it.

“I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.”  (Ray Krok, McDonald’s Corporation)

Launch It

Launch © by jurvetson

Ok, you have a great idea for a new website or product that you think will revolutionize the world.  You have all kinds of ideas for new custom features that you think will set it apart from the competition.  Perhaps you’ve already been working on this product for a while, but it doesn’t seem ready for release yet, or the costs to get it up to par seem daunting.

My advice to you – unless you’re already an established company with brand identity behind you, get the product out there as soon as you can, in its simplest, usable form.  Don’t get me wrong – take the time first to make sure everything it promises it can do now works, but don’t worry about the custom redesign or advanced features yet.  Get users out there using it now, and use their feedback to improve the product further.

I launched the first version of Chinese Learn Online like this.  I used a default wordpress theme and recorded the first podcast in my basement and got it out there.  A few weeks later, I got my first paid subscriber, who sent me a cheque in the mail.  That slowly led to another subscriber, and another, until I had enough money to hire a graphic designer to redesign the site for $275.  And that’s how it began.

Since then, I’ve used a lot of customer feedback and sales from the early subscribers to reinvest in the site and improve upon it substantially.  As more services were offered, I raised the cost of subscriptions, but let early subscribers hang on to their original plans to reward them for their early support.  There have been two advantages to this approach:

  1. I was able to get started much quicker than if I had tried to raise the funds to build the site with all its features to begin with.
  2. Much of the changes that were made to the site later on came from customer feedback from early users.  This was feedback that I wouldn’t have been able to generate on my own.  These early users were happy to see the changes they suggested being incorporated which made them evangelists and help promote the site further.

I later used this same approach to launch my STL Contacts Manager app on the app store.  That app has gone through several updates and releases, mainly from customer feedback.  The funds from early sales helped pay for future updates, and the app today is much more feature packed than anything I could ever have come up with (or afforded) had I tried to do so in the beginning.

Do you have any projects that you have been working on, that have taken forever to launch?  Is there anything you can do to simplify it, in order to get a functional, early release out there?