3 common pitfalls when building an app

We’re going to talk today about 3 constraints founders face when building an app, and 3 common pitfalls you may encounter as a result.

To understand these, let’s start with a foundational metaphor for building an app. I want you to imagine your app as a tower of blocks.

Each block is a unit of software. It might be a login with Google button, or a map that shows the user’s location, or a timer that counts down from ten minutes and rings an alarm. Really any kind of function or process that has to be built by your development team. All the blocks stacked together form the work involved in building your app.

Success is achieved when the tower of blocks reaches a target in the sky. That target is the goal of the project, it might be product market fit, a successfully raised round of investment, half a million monthly users for your app, whatever makes sense for your business.

A perfect tower looks like this:

Seems straightforward right? And sometimes projects like these exist. But more often there are constraints that get in the way. For example:

  1. You know the target is above you, but it’s hidden somewhere in the clouds. You won’t know its precise location until you’re higher up. If your target is to make a profitable app, this is product market fit, and usually at the start of a project you haven’t proven it, you just have a general hypothesis of where it is.
  2. Another common constraint is simply lack of money. All those blocks are expensive to build and you can’t afford to build every block in that perfectly stacked pyramid, so you have to find a way to architect your tower efficiently.
  3. You might have some kind of time constraints. Maybe you have competitors you want to beat to market, or some other reason why the window of opportunity will expire. So you want to get to the target as fast as you can.

Here are some of the pitfalls businesses encounter when they’re faced with those constraints:

  1. You choose a target that’s simply too far away for the resources you have. You try to reach the target by building straight up, but without serious thought and attention to your early foundation you just hit a physical limit to how high you can build. The tower becomes fragile and prone to relentless bugs, and the velocity of the project slows to a crawl. A lot of the time you just have to throw it out and start again.
  2. You aren’t sure where exactly your target is, so you hedge your bets. You spend so much time building a broad foundation that by the time you figure out where the target is, you’ve way overspent or you’ve run out of money or time. This is a lack of clarity on the goal of the work, and a lack of discipline and focus to get there.
  3. You build blindly upwards without making sure that you’re headed to the right place. When you find out the target is fifty feet to the left, you have to dismantle half of what you’ve built to pivot your tower to the correct spot. Your problem here is not validating your ideas early enough, or not sufficiently committing to your goal.

Your best strategy is one where you have a strong sense of where you want to get to, and the focus to get there as efficiently as you can.

In the future we’re going to build on these ideas to talk about how to select a team, what you should expect to spend, how to think about raising money and more.