Remember the days when the app world was small? When anyone with a cool app idea could find an audience? Successfully bootstrapping a mobile app is not what it used to be.

Now there are over 2 million apps in the iOS store, and more than 3 million available for Android. The app world has become like any other marketplace: fast moving and competitive.

As a bootstrapper without the benefit of corporate backing or venture capital, you might think the odds are against you. But the best and most successful apps aren't necessarily the ones with major funding. Many success stories attest to the fact that there's still room for the underdog in the app development marketplace. So how do you make a name for your app in this brave new world? Let's take a look at some bootstrapping success stories and follow their lead.

Start small.

Joel Runyon, creator of paleo food referencing app Paleo (io), has one important message for aspiring app developers: make your app do one thing. And only one thing. Starting small means keeping out the clutter. "No one who has ever said, 'My app is the next billion dollar idea,' has ever made an app that is the next billion dollar idea," he says, pointing to the simplicity and humble beginnings of early Twitter, Facebook and Uber interfaces.

Paleo (io) users wanted paleo recipes as an additional feature. But instead of adding it to his existing app, Runyon created a second app, expanding into an 'app ecosystem.' Smaller, simpler apps can be better, so focus on one feature per app.

Fail fast.

TIZE, a mobile app that makes it easy to create professional music on your phone, added more than 250,000 users without an ad budget, but the app didn't start itself. According to co-founder and CTO Toufik Zitouni, "the main struggle was having a full-time job and also working on the side."

Bootstrapping may sound noble and pure, but it's also a lot of solid hard work. "I literally spent seven months in a garage so I could save money to buy the tools that we needed to get started on the right path," says Zitouni.

Early on, the bootstrapping company thought they'd save money by hiring a designer for sweat equity rather than cash.

"The designer was slow and lacked confidence to move forward," says Zitouni. "We ultimately let go of that relationship. I pitched our app to a more seasoned designer friend, and she brought the app to life. So even though that first interaction with the product was a waste of time, we were able to learn what we needed to bring our concept to fruition."

There is real value in not waiting, not having the paralysis of analysis, making mistakes, correcting mistakes early, and using them to your advantage.

Burn the ships.

Appster founders Josiah Humphrey and Mark McDonald started making six figures in digital marketing before they were old enough to buy a pint of Victoria Bitter. The teenage capitalists teamed up with one express purpose: to succeed in business. With no plan or idea, they rented an expensive office in a Melbourne skyscraper and let the pressure of impending rent payments force them to sink or swim.

They swam. The started Appster not as an app, but as a service to help others develop their apps. What did Humphrey and McDonald know about app development when they started? Nothing.

But they saw a market, hired some developers, and learned as they went. Now they're helping others with great app ideas bootstrap their way to success.

You don't have to go on Shark Tank or catch the attention of Ashton Kutcher in order to make your app a success. What you do need is a simple, uncluttered idea, a commitment to hunkering down for the long haul, and the willingness at some point to burn your ships and never look back. Put these principles into practice, and you have a pretty good start in the competitive world of app marketing.

Published on: Dec 29, 2017
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