Mobile apps may be simple to use, but as founders and developers are well aware, the best ones are far from simple to make.
As part of its nascent FbStart mentorship program for developers, Facebook invited early-stage ventures to an event Thursday at a reclaimed warehouse in New York City's Dumbo neighborhood. The program aims to empower those startups to create apps that "help people have experiences," explained Facebook's platform product manager Eddie O'Neil. O'Neil, for the record, knows a thing or two about the topic: His team created Facebook's log in and sharing features, among others.
FbStart offers many potential benefits to the members it accepts, including up to $80,000 in resources as well as mentorship and support from staffers at Facebook. To date, it has nurtured 3,800 businesses worldwide, with plans to ramp up its international presence next year. It's also worth noting that 90 percent of the top 100 grossing iOS and Android apps in the U.S. are integrated with Facebook.
Thursday's event drew an eclectic crowd, from up-and-comers such as Jumpstart Games to the social video network Keek to the dating app Hinge. Hinge stood out from some of the scrappier attendees: To date, the company has raised over $20 million in funding for a roughly $70 million valuation. As Hinge's head of engineering AJ Bonhomme explained, FbStart is a good way for him to see what's "coming down the pipeline" from Facebook. (The Hinge app, which connects users to potential dates by way of mutual connections, accesses those connections through Facebook.)
In-between speeches, Inc. caught up with O'Neil and Michael Huang, who works on strategic partner development at Facebook, to learn the distinguishing characteristics of successful apps. Here's what they say all developers should keep in mind:
Make your customers feel something.
First and foremost, you want to be creating something that can "touch people in their lives," says O'Neil. "What I like is sitting inside of an app and feeling inspired by something." One example he cites is the running and cycling app Strava, which not only tracks how far you're traveling, but also lets you share photos and videos with your friends. "Whether it's running, music, photos... we're looking for things that make us feel them," he adds. Another big winner: The game Monument Valley, which O'Neil describes as "almost like playing a piece of art... it was an experience that I had never had before."
While not every app has to be beautiful, it does need to engage users in a unique and meaningful way.
Question what you think you know.
It's also important that you "question your assumptions [about] how people perceive [your] apps," says O'Neil. What works for you--or what you assume works for a niche client base--may not necessarily be effective. Rather than guessing, go out and meet potential customers to learn what they like.
Focus on your mission.
The most common mistake that developers make is not focusing on a single goal, says Huang. They're often "trying to be too many things to too many people," he adds.
Ultimately, your mission is simple: "Solve the problem, solve it really well, and see where that takes you," O'Neil concludes.