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How to Come Up With KILLER App Ideas Series - Part 3 - "Niche Down" an Idea

How to Come Up With KILLER App Ideas Series – Part 3 – “Niche Down” an Idea

niche marketOne of the most common mistakes that people looking to make mobile apps make is that their goal is to come up with the next billion dollar app idea.  Now you’re probably wondering why having a goal of becoming a billionaire from an app is a mistake.  Shouldn’t coming up with the next billion dollar app idea be the goal of every developer?

Absolutely not!

As an app developer I would love to have an app make me a billion dollars – however it is NOT my goal.  Many new app developers getting into this industry have what I call:

Angry Birds Syndrome’

Definition: The mindset of mobile app developers in which they think that in order to have a successful app, they must come up with an app idea that has mass market appeal.

Having ‘Angry Birds Syndrome’ is one of the worst things that can happen to you as a new app developer.  Why?  Well, usually the best-selling apps with the most mass market appeal are games.  However, games are (at least in my opinion) the hardest type of app to succeed with.  In addition, they are by far the most expensive to produce.

New app developers with ‘Angry Birds Syndrome’ will usually experience 1 of the following 2 scenarios:

Scenario 1:

Because they want to have an app with mass market appeal, they decide to create a game.  They come up with a completely unique game idea that has never been done before and are ecstatic!  There is no way that people won’t want to play their game!  While they’re planning what beach houses and sports cars they’re going to buy, they pay upwards of $30,000 to hire a developer to create their game – a small investment to pay for an app that’s going to make millions!  The app gets created and their release day arrives!  The next day, they wake up, run to the computer, check their earnings, and find that they’ve made a whopping $67.30 the day before.  Although they still have high hopes that their app will catch on and become a hit, their income rapidly starts to decrease until they’re making only a few dollars per day.  They end up having to take a second job to make up for their lost $30,000 and give up on developing apps, missing all the great opportunities there are to make money from them!

Scenario 2:

Just like the first scenario, they want to have an app with mass market appeal, so they decide to create a game.  They come up with a completely unique game idea that has never been done before and are ecstatic!  There is no way that people won’t want to play their game!  They submit their app idea to a developer and are shocked when the developer’s quote is $30,000.  They end up getting multiple other quotes, and all of them are for a similar price.  DIscouraged and not wanting to waste all that money, they give up on developing apps, missing all the great opportunities there are to make money from them!

No matter which scenario happens, the outcome is always the same.  These once starry-eyed developers are crushed and give up, never realizing the true potential of the mobile apps for developers who don’t create mass market apps but instead focus on pleasing only a fraction of smartphone users and creating an app just for those people.  Please don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of potential money to be made making games, but I highly suggest at least getting a few apps under your belt before you dive head first into creating games!

The Power of Targeting a Specific Niche

I always like to relate the concepts of successful app ideas to businesses outside of the mobile app industry.  Let’s use Walmart as an example.  Walmart is obviously the 800 pound gorilla of retail sales.  It is a chain of “superstores” that have a little bit of everything – clothes, food, home items, stationary, auto equipment, electronics, sports equipment, toys, pet supplies, books, furniture, medicine, and much more!  So why is Walmart not a monopoly?  How on Earth could any other store have a chance of making lots of money when Walmart is selling everything?  Why would people shop anywhere else?  Let’s find out!

While Walmart made around $308 billion in retail sales in 2010, here are some of the total retail sales of “niched down” retail stores in 2010:

Walgreens (medicine): $61 billion

The Home Depot (home improvement/construction): $60 billion

Best Buy (electronics): $37 billion

Safeway (food): $31 billion

Kohls (clothing): $18 billion

Toys “R” Us (toys): $9 billion

Office Depot (stationary): $8 billion

GameStop (video games): $6 billion

Shall I go on?

While none of the stores mentioned above are making anything near what Walmart is making, they are still killing it and making tons of money.  And they are only targeting a small portion of the people who buy from Walmart.  Instead of offering a little bit of everything like Walmart does, these companies found a “small” niche of Walmart’s customers and made a store that sells lots of products that cater to those customers’ needs!  Where would you shop if you wanted to buy a DSLR camera?  Would you go to Walmart where they have one DSLR model on display and none of the employees know how to work it?  Or would you go to Best Buy where they live and breathe electronics and can help you find and choose the best DSLR for you?

How Does This Relate to App Ideas?

If you target a small fraction of smartphone users with your app instead of making an app with mass market appeal, you most likely won’t make anything close to what Angry Birds is making.  However, it will be a lot easier to make money, a lot less expensive, and you will have a lot better chances of success!  Even if you only made 5% or even 1% of what Angry Birds makes would you be happy?  I sure as hell would be!

Just to put this in practical terms, lets say we find a great cooking app on the app store that is selling really well and gives tons of cooking recipes to it’s users.  How would we “niche down” this idea?  How about an app that gives gluten-free recipes?  Let’s even get more obscure!  How about a bacon-lovers recipe app?  Obviously you don’t want to get too obscure though.  An app that gives users recipes for dishes with peas, bacon, eggs, and ice cream all in them is not going to sell well.  While you want to “niche down” as much as possible, make sure that there is enough of a market and demand for your apps before developing them!

Hopefully this opens your mind to a whole new world of possible app ideas!  And if you only take one thing away from this post, PLEASE avoid being another victim of ‘Angry Birds Syndrome’ at all costs!  Cater to a niche market’s needs and wants and they will in return cater to your financial needs and wants! 😉


If you missed any of the previous posts in this series, here they are:

Part 1 – Solve a Problem

Part 2 – Improve on an Existing Idea


  1. good post! Of course, there’s also the possibility of ‘niching down’ a bit too much, and ending up with
    an app that doesn’t have a big enough audience to sustain it.

    • Hey Shen – Yup, that’s the tricky part – finding the “happy medium” of small enough to target a specific niche, but large enough to have enough demand for the app.

  2. To Niche down an app idea can be good, but like you mentioned you have to make sure there is enough of a market before developing it. Not that easy!

    • Yup finding the size of your target market isn’t easy – but it’s not that hard either if you do a little research. 🙂 For example if I was going to “niche down” a recipe app into a gluten-free recipe app, and then niche it down even further into a gluten-free dessert app, would I have a large enough market? To find our market, we take the number of iPhone users (assuming we’re making an iOS app) and divide that by 133 (because 1 in 133 people have celiac disease which means they can’t eat gluten). From there we just find the estimated percentage of people who actually make the gluten free recipes themselves. 63% of Americans are adults, and we’ll figure that kids don’t want to cook. So estimated market size = 50,000,000 / 133 * 0.63 = 236,842 people. I could probably refine that number a bit more by doing some more research, but that’s not a bad estimate for only a few Google searches 🙂

      • Yeah that’s your market, but not the actual number of people that’ll buy it since there are many factors involved (pricing, the app quality, marketing skills, etc.). But you did give a good answer to my comment 😉

        • Exactly! That’s something that a lot of beginners don’t get is that not EVERYBODY (or probably even the majority) of your market will purchase your product. This applies to not only apps but to businesses in general.

  3. It’s kind of long road, but one way to test out the niche is build a small website with few pages of information. It’s a potential long road because you’ll have to rely on rankings for any decent information. In your Gluten Free recipe example, have a free eBook with 5 recipes to collect email addresses.

    If you start getting some downloads on that, build your app and do a mini pre release to the emails you’ve collected. Again, long road, but the cost of doing this is much less than building an app and then finding out there’s no market.

    • Great idea Jason! You’re right – while I’ve built lots of micro-niche websites in the past and could start to implement this within a day, this strategy would take a while and lots of learning for people new to internet marketing and website creation as well. However, I do agree with you in that it sounds like it could really be worth it in the long run even for people who would have to start at the very basics! Emails lists are REALLY valuable to matter what industry we’re talking about!

  4. Something that no one really mentions is that even with a niche type idea, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will make money – speaking from experience.
    But hey, optimism never killed anyone – keep it up!

    • You’re exactly right Michael! As an app developer, no matter what idea or what strategy you decide to go with – there is absolutely NO guarantee of success. I think I prove that with my first app making less than $30.00 it’s first month 😉 App development, in my opinion, is a numbers game to some degree. Every (quality) app that you produce increases your chances of success. That’s why it’s important to remain optimistic like you said and to not give up!

  5. This is Great.. Wonderful information.. awesome ideas.. Thanks.

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