Should you build your app idea?

This post is part of our series about building my startup Sound Off. You can see all our posts, including from co-founders Rory & Elly, over on Medium.

I haven’t posted here since August, when I wrote about leaving my job to start a startup. The last few weeks have been incredibly busy — but now everything’s under way and in motion, we’re settling into more of a routine, and working hard to get our app ready for launch.

Our app? It’s called Sound Off. In short, it’s a mindfulness voice notes app. You hit record and talk about what’s on your mind, what’s going on in your life, what happened to you that day, and so on.

It’s awesome. It looks amazing, and it works so well, and it’s something I genuinely think will help make the world a better place. I’ve written a bit about meditation and mindfulness on this blog before, but when you Sound Off, you’re able to reflect in a totally different way.

Rory, Elly and I are writing about the process of building Sound Off over on Medium. Below is my first post from that series, titled Should You Build Your App Idea?

I hear about lots of ideas for apps and app-based startups. I’ve been to lots of startup conferences and demo days. I’ve watched every single episode of Dragon’s Den. And about once a year, an old acquaintance finds out I studied computer science at uni, and gets back in touch to tell me about their revolutionary app idea that’s going to change the world — and would I mind helping them build it?

I’m sure you have an app idea too. There are hundreds of ideas for apps out there.

But the sad truth is that most of these app ideas aren’t worth building.

It takes a huge investment of time and money to create something — and then, a load more effort to fix bugs, market and grow a user base, and turn it into a sustainable business.

So is your app idea worth building? Is it worth taking the plunge, taking a leap of faith?

It’s simple: it’s worth it if you’re solving a real problem.

So long as you’re answering a need that real people have, your app will be worthwhile. That can be by inventing something brand new, or by making something difficult slightly easier.

And remember — your idea doesn’t need to be unique! Google wasn’t the first search engine. You could book a private cab before Uber. ‘Couchsurfing’ was a thing before Airbnb monetised it and created a community around it.

How do you know if you’re solving a problem?

A good way to think about this is like so: instead of thinking about the specifics of your app or product, think about the change it will bring about in the world. That is to say, don’t solutionise. Don’t worry too much about what the solution is. Instead, focus on the problem. Focus on how the world is now, and how the world will be after you’ve built what you’re building. This is where your drive will come from.

Simon Sinek calls this “starting with why.” As he says:

And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean what is your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

A few months ago, Rory asked me to start a startup with him. The lockdown in the UK led him to start a voice journal; we want to bring the benefits of voice journaling to everyone.

Lots of friends have asked me why I’ve chosen to start a company now. I previously had a stable job at a great company — and to some, giving that up in the middle of a global pandemic seems crazy.

But the answer is simple.

I think Sound Off solves a real problem.

And I think it’s worthwhile investing time in that.

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