The Bing Bang Theory vs. app development practice

Editor's Corner
Shane Schick

You don't need to be a theoretical physicist to develop a great mobile app, but some basic understanding of how business and entrepreneurship really works would probably help. I was reminded of this recently when I caught a rerun of The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom from CBS that features the exploits of a group of scientists at a university in Pasadena, Calif.

In a scene that feels like it could be replicated with almost any four friends, one of the scientists suggests they begin moonlighting on a project to capitalize on the craze for unusual mobile apps.

I won't spoil the episode for anyone who hasn't seen the full thing, but suffice it to say the scientists, as smart as they are, learn that creating an app is one thing, but creating a business is another. They don't bother with a real business plan--that lunchtime conversation is about the closest they ever get. Even though they study facts for a living, they never get around to analyzing the potential size of their target market. They also don't really consider marketing, discovery, monetization or any of the other standard things that have emerged as challenges for real-life developers. Instead, they begin with the fun stuff, like designing the user interface and toying around with a prototype.

There is, however, one thing they do right, which is to identify a common problem that their app can help solve. As it begins to dawn on the group that what they are creating may not make any of them rich, there's still a strong motivation to develop something that will be useful to a core set of users. The app would save time. It would reduce needless manual work. It would contribute to higher-level work that scientists need to perform. If you're not focused on creating mobile games that simply engage and entertain, this is the key to standing out amid the thousands of other apps on the market.

A niche app can be highly successful if its value is clear, and it is articulated to the right audience. You can even charge a premium for such apps, particularly in the absence of major competition. Like the characters in this show, however, marketing such an app requires careful planning and most likely a phased approach that takes time. Too many developers hope they'll be successful just by submitting something to an app store--this might be considered a different sort of "big bang" theory.

It's easy to laugh at the foibles of characters in a show like this, but the clichés it ridicules can be transcended with just a little more attention to the more onerous tasks of creating a company and an app. The hopes and excitement of a good idea can be a great setup for starting to work on an app, but without some management principles as a foundation, too many of them will probably wind up as punchlines.--Shane

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