How to Create an App: [Free PDF] The Essential Guide to Developing Successful Mobile Apps for iOS, Android, & Web

A Free Resource to Help Beginners Start, Scale, and Prosper

How to Make An App With No Experience: 3 Key Steps for Beginners

Jump to section:

Introduction: Is Your Business App-Ready?
1. Go through the Customer Discovery Process
2. Develop a Minimum Viable Product
3. Identify Your Monetization Strategy

Winnona Partners App development promo image in iPhone X screen

Congratulations on deciding to make an app!

You’ve taken the brave leap to pursue your mobile app idea, and Winnona Partners is here to help make it happen.

You have the vision for an awesome app, but finding quality information to help guide you through the initial steps can be challenging. If you’re in the beginning stages of refining your app idea, this guide will help walk you through the process.

Along the way, you’ll learn customer discovery tactics, the benefits of developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and monetization strategies.

Let’s get started!

Is Your Business App-Ready?

Choosing to develop an app is the same as deciding to start a business. It’s not easy, but when you execute well it can be an extremely rewarding and profitable experience.

Determine if your business is ready to develop a mobile app

There’s a common misconception that you can make a lot of money simply by creating an app. In reality, the mobile app industry is highly competitive.

While it’s true that apps can be very profitable, they must be based on a sustainable business model to achieve success. As a business owner, it’s up to you to make sure that you’re choosing the appropriate feature set and pricing structure for your users.

By reading this resource and going through the customer discovery process, you’re already on track to building a great business!

Understanding the Basics of Creating a Mobile App

There are several costs associated with app development. Understanding your upfront and/or recurring costs is essential to developing a sustainable app.

What does it cost to develop an app?

Apple and Google Developer Accounts
• Recurring Annual Apple Developer Fee: $99.00/year
• One-time Google Play Developer Fee: $25.00

App Development Cost
• Varies depending on feature set, platforms, and complexity
• Anywhere from $5K – $100K+

Recurring Payments to Winnona Partners
• Annual maintenance fee of $100 – $500 for required system updates AND/OR
• Monthly payments of $100 – $500+ for server hosting or related services

Check out our related blog post: How Your Startup Can Bootstrap Mobile App Development

We’re here to help your project succeed!

The Winnona Partners team is here to bring your idea to life. From conception to development, our team is ready to build high-end technology to fit your business needs.

As a lean development company, our reputation is determined by your success. We hope you enjoy this resource, and thrive in the customer discovery process.

How to Use This Guide

Validate your concept, product, and pricing structure

To help ensure your business is app-ready, we recommend you follow the principles in this guide and schedule consultations with Winnona Partners on a regular basis.

While you explore the three validation stages, work on the accompanying milestones to solidify your idea.

Validate your concept. Go through the customer discovery process to determine which features your core customer base really wants and is willing to pay for.

Validate your product. Put your idea into practice by developing a web app, website, or mockups.

Validate your pricing. Familiarize yourself with the popular monetization strategies to choose the pricing structure that’s best for you.

1. What is Customer Discovery?

Interview people you envision as potential customers. Find our what they think about your app idea and whether they’d be willing to pay for it.

Conduct interviews to learn more about your potential customers or app users.

• First, talk to potential customers to validate what YOU consider to be a problem or need. To what extent do they confirm your analysis? Is the problem or need big enough that people will pay to solve it?

• Second, confirm that your proposed app solution appropriately solves the problem or satisfies a need.

Yes – Your App Idea is Possible to Build

The question isn’t “can this product be built?” – it most surely can! The more important question is “should this product be built?”

Don't worry, your app idea is possible to build

If given enough time and investment, any idea can become a product.

As an aspiring app business owner, you are charged with the task of determining whether or not your feature set will provide enough value to attract and retain paying users onto your platform.

Search Vs. Execution

Most startups fail because they confuse search with execute.

Once you’ve envisioned an app idea it’s understandable that you want to dive right into development. However, trying to create a product based solely on conjecture can be costly.

You want to be confident that the features you’re including are what your intended audience really wants.

To help our clients succeed, we encourage extensive customer discovery that enables clients to establish or pivot their feature set as necessary prior to full app development.

Difference between "search" and "execute" in business and customer discovery

Crafting Your Hypothesis

“I believe [Customer Segment] will [use this app/software solution] because [Value Proposition].”

Who: Customer/Channel
What: Product
Why: Value Proposition
• Solving a problem
• Providing a benefit

Crafting a good hypothesis takes practice. Start by following the exact sentence structure above.

Your hypothesis should be a simple, one-sentence statement of fact that can be proven true or false. Avoid using jargon, commas or ‘ands’, or run-on sentences.

Your hypothesis is the crux of your whole business idea, so make sure you refine it throughout the customer discovery process.

Sample Hypothesis

“I believe creative writers will buy an artistic typewriter app because it will help them to share their compositions.”

Who: Creative Writers
What: Artistic Typewriter App
Why: It will help them to share their compositions

two people holding phones

Supporting Evidence

• Creative writers post often on social media

• #typewriter has been used over one million times on Instagram

• Other successful and profitable typewriter apps exist, but lack features that are important to creative writers

• Providing a typewriter app with a more appropriate feature set will appeal to creative writers who post on social media

• Creative writers will buy and use a typewriter app to share their work on social media

Important Preliminary Questions For You To Answer

Customer Perspective

• Who are your most important customers and what are their specific character traits

• What customer problems are you helping to solve? What needs are you satisfying?

• How will you get, grow, and keep customers?

• Which platforms should you develop for? iOS, Android, and/or Web?

Financial Perspective

• How will you make money?

• What is your revenue model?

• What is your pricing structure?

Experiment & Interview

Now that you’ve answered some basic questions about your business and formed a hypothesis, it’s time to test your assumptions!

As you interview people, pay attention to patterns in customer responses, including body language.

Face to face interviews with people you don’t already know are the most effective.

Pose questions in an open, non-anxious way, without “leading the witness”. If possible, get feedback from at least 100 people.

Check out our related blog post: 3 Tips for First-Time App Entrepreneurs with “The Next Big Idea”

Tips for an Effective Interview

Asking the right questions

• Ask open-ended questions.

If you want to make an event app, ask a question like “what do you think is the most frustrating part of planning an event?”, not “Wouldn’t you agree that setting up tickets for an event is a challenge?”. The latter leads the interviewee to follow your own thought process, and most people will just agree with you for simplicity’s sake.

• Record every response as genuine feedback, even if it contradicts your original hypothesis.

These responses may reveal unexpected truths about your customer and could indicate that you need to pivot.

Common mistakes to avoid

• Talking to the wrong people. Make sure you interview customers in your core customer segment.

• Selling vs. listening. Ask open-ended questions and avoid getting pain ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. Don’t lead the witness to your own line of thinking about the problem or solution.

• Value proposition looks like a feature list. The goal is to conduct these so you can craft an appropriate feature set, not to validate your assumptions of what the customer needs.

Taking the Next Steps

Stage 1: Concept Validation

Schedule a consultation with Winnona Partners after completing each of the following milestones:

• Craft your hypothesis. Use the exact sentence structure found in the previous section to specify your above.

• Answer the preliminary questions outlined in the previous section regarding the Customer Perspective.

• Conduct conversational interviews with your target customer segment. We recommend you contact us after speaking to 10-15 people, then again after 20-40 people, and again after 50-100 people or more.

2. What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

A popular approach for early stage startups is to build a simple MVP, like a web app or prototype, that includes the most basic and essential features to test your solution.

Example of an minimum viable product (MVP) web app on a mobile device for early stage startups.

“A minimum viable product (MVP) helps entrepreneurs start the learning process as quickly as possible. It is not necessarily the smallest product imaginable…it is simply the fastest way to start learning how to build a sustainable business with the minimum amount of effort.”
– Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

MVP Options

MVPs can come in many forms. As long as you have something that looks functional and/or is able to deliver a basic set of features, then you can collect a lot of quality feedback.

This is typically considered the “alpha” stage of development.

MVP Platform Options

React Web App – An alpha website that functions like an app, built in React. The site may include a log in flow, branding, and some basic core functionality. This option may also include some backend features. (Avg. Price Range: $3-10K)

WordPress Website – A WordPress website to serve as an informative landing page for your business. Simple features such as blogging, a Paypal payment system, and contact forms are all possible and easy to manage with WordPress templates. Design and functionality is relatively limited. (Avg. Price Range: $500.00 – 4K)

• Sample Mockups – Images that look like the app you want to create. The mockups will serve as a simple reference point for beginners who need to seek initial investments or for demonstrative purposes. (Avg. Price Range: $500.00 – 1K)

For more MVP details, check out our Ultimate Guide to Building an Effective Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Don’t Fear the Pivot

Through your research, you may find that people want something slightly different than what you originally set out to create.

Embrace the opportunity to rebrand or test new features. That’s what the MVP stage is for!

Successful Tech Pivots

• Odeo ––––––––––––– Twitter
• Tote –––––––––––––– Pintrerest
• Game Neverending – Flickr
• Burbn ––––––––––––– Instagram
• Confinity –––––––––– PayPal

For more information about tech pivot, check out our top 10 list of best tech pivots in history.

Taking the Next Steps

Stage 2: Product Validation

Schedule a consultation with Winnona Partners to help you complete the following milestones:

• Determine the goals for your MVP. What do you need it to achieve?

• Choose a platform option. Which MVP platform is best for you? To learn more about MVP options, please see our Ultimate Guide to Building an Effective MVP here.

• Commit to an MVP strategy. Once you have an MVP, how will you obtain and analyze the feedback you need to move forward or pivot?

3. Monetization Methods

Choosing the right monetization strategy is just as important as choosing the right feature set. Think carefully about your user acquisition strategy to pick the method that’s best for you.

Google Pay phone

• Premium/Pay to Download
• Freemium or Paymium/In-App Purchases
• M-Commerce
• Subscription Model
• Advertising

Premium Model

The Premium app model –also known as the “paid app” or “pay-to-download” model–is low-cost to implement and the easiest way to get an immediate return.

Premium app example. Example of a pay-to-download mobile app.


• Easy to implement
• Low-cost to develop
• Metrics are easy to track
• Easy for users to purchase


• Barrier to entry–not everyone buys apps
• No recurring revenue
• Apple/Google take 30% of all app sales (this is true for most monetization models)

Freemium Model/In-App Purchases

The Freemium model is the most popular monetization strategy for games and social apps, and the most popular app monetization overall. Offer your app for free and include buyable features called In-App-Purchases (IAP).

Freemium app example


• People more willing to download
• Relatively low-cost to develop depending on feature set
• Possible to add more IAPs over time to increase revenue


• No guarantee that a download will result in a sale
• Separate approval from Apple
• Apple/Google take 30% of all app sales

For more information on the freemium model, check out our article “Freemium Apps: What is the Freemium Model & How Does it Work?”

Paymium Model/In-App Purchases

The Paymium model is most effective if you already have a large audience willing to pay to download your app, AND you have additional features you think people will pay for.

Bodied App - paymium mobile app example on iOS App Store


• Maximize profit potential
• Guaranteed sale per download
• Possible to add more IAPs over time to increase revenue


• Barrier to entry – not everyone buys apps
• Separate approval from Apple
• Apple/Google take 30% of all app sales

Mobile Commerce Model

M-Commerce is the most effective monetization strategy for online stores or retailers who sell material goods. Amazon is the most well-known example of the M-Commerce model.

M-Commerce mobile app example Amazon app


• Apple and Google will not take 30% of sales
• Potential to increase overall sales with a mobile app
• Offer discounts or announce specials with notifications


• No guarantee that a download will result in a sale
• Not as convenient for large purchases or comparative shopping (like buying a car)

Subscription Model

Subscription services can be an attractive model, but it is the most expensive strategy to implement and retaining loyal users can be very challenging for new businesses.

Subscription mobile app example - Netflix app.


• Can generate recurring revenue
• Flexible pricing tiers
• Offer trial periods or special rates depending on customer segment


• Must code subscription separately for all platforms
• Expensive for new or emerging companies
• Apple/Google take 30% of all app sales for the first year someone is subscribed. After that, it drops to 15%.

Advertising Model

Advertising is a relatively low-cost option to implement, but generating substantial revenue can be very challenging if you don’t have ten of thousands of impressions or clicks (also known as ‘Cost per Thousand’ or CPM).

Advertising app example


• People more willing to download if free
• Low-cost to develop
• Straightforward strategy if you have a large active user base


• Requires a large user base to generate revenue
• CPM is complex and varies depending on the advertiser, platform, and ad type. We recommend you do additional research online to find the best ad type for you.

Additional Strategies


Include ways to ‘hook’ your users, thereby encouraging them to buy more features. This is done by forming user habits that can lead to an ongoing reward system.

Users are prompted to do an action, which then leads them to a reward that can be purchased. The Hook Model demonstrates this below.


Use data and algorithms to customize offerings to users’ wants and needs. A powerful example is Amazon’s “recommendation engine”, which suggests similar products to the ones you’ve already purchased.

Pricing Relativity

This is the principle that people’s perceptions of a price is influenced by the other pricing options they are offered. Try listing several tiers of service and price points for your users to consider.

The Hook Model, also known as an engagement loop, by Nir Eyal.
Hook Model by Nir Eyal

Build customer habits using the Hook Model, also known as an engagement loop.

Additional Stipulations


Apple and Google’s 30% – The only way to sell digital goods directly through an app is with In-App Purchases. There are very few ‘workarounds’ or ways to avoid this.

Apple and Google have become increasingly strict and adamant about obtaining their percentage cut of all digital transactions. Your safest bet is to accept the 30% charge and adjust your pricing accordingly.

Buying physical products, like items you purchase on Amazon, are the only type of digital transaction that are not subject to this charge. Physical items can not be listed as an IAP.

Limited Support – For iOS apps, you are unable to offer much support to people who request a refund or service cancellation.

For instance, if someone emails you because they want to cancel their subscription, all you can do is link them to Apple’s URL and guide them through the cancellation process. At least for Apple, you cannot cancel a Subscription on someone else’s behalf.

The 48-Hour Hurdle – For Premium apps, customers have a 48-hour window where they can obtain a refund from Apple or Google. A sale will be guaranteed only if a user pays to download your app and the app remains installed on their device for at least 48 hours.

Policy Changes – Apple and Google change their policies on a regular basis, sometimes with very little warning. We do our best to stay on top of any significant changes that may affect your app.

Taking the Next Steps

Stage 3: Pricing Validation

Schedule a consultation with Winnona Partners to help you assess each of the following milestones:

• Familiarize yourself with the industry standards. How do similar products make money?

• Pay attention to price points. How much do other companies charge for their services? This is one of the most challenging steps, so choose your pricing strategy based on interview feedback and market trends.

• Budgeting. Will this model generate enough revenue to not only be sustainable, but also profitable?

Next Steps

You’ve learned what it’s going to take to start making you app, now it’s time to take action!

Woman entrepreneur holding iphone and smiling

1. Check out our additional resource “How to create and app with no programming experience or coding skills” for more info
2. Go through the customer discovery process
3. Feel confident in your concept and monetization strategy
4. Create an MVP feature list
5. Commit to a budget and development timeline
6. Contact Winnona Partners to move forward!

• How to Write an Effective iOS App Store Description
• How Your Startup Can Bootstrap Mobile App Development
• 3 Tips for First-Time App Entrepreneurs with “The Next Big Idea”
• What is a pivot? Top 10 Best Tech Best Pivot Exmaples [Case Study]
• Freemium Apps: What is the Freemium Model & How Does it Work?
• How to Create an app with no programming experience or coding skills