Once upon a time, everybody thought they were sitting on a great concept for a novel. But not anymore.
Nowadays, widespread convictions of untapped literary brilliance have been replaced with the secret belief that we’re all got the best app idea ever. A quick poll of the Shortlist Media office reveals that several people are absolutely positive their imaginary app could be the next Uber/Snapchat/Tinder.
Researcher and copywriter Emma, 24, says that she regularly imagines herself pitching on Dragons' Den, while Stylist.co.uk features editor Harriet, 27, once actually signed away the rights to one of her app ideas – and now deeply regrets it.
“I’m not telling anyone my idea, of course,” says Matt, 38, our head of video. “But I reserve the right to be really grumpy when I see some big-bearded upstart from Dalston pocket my millions in his short trousers before I’ve got off my arse to do anything about it.”
But just like some people eventually get around to writing that novel, others put their money where their mouth is and actually create the app of their dreams. Jenny Griffiths is one of those people.
The computer science graduate, tech entrepreneur and MBE (above) is the brains behind Snap Fashion, an app which allows you to search for clothes using photos rather than words. Found a dress in a particularly flattering cut in a vintage shop, and want to find more frocks in the same shape? Just take a picture and upload it to Snap Fashion, and you’ll instantly be presented with similar dresses from the high street to high end designers. Or spotted a pair of shoes in a magazine that you love, but would never be able to afford? Ditto.
We caught up with Griffiths, 29, from London, to get her five big tips on how to turn the seed of an app idea into a fully-fledged tech business. Will yours be the next big thing? Only time will tell...
1) No computer science degree? No problem
“There are loads of courses out there if you want to learn how to code. I’m not talking four-year masters in computer science, but if you’ve got that hunger to develop an app they’re really worth investing time in. They’ll give you enough knowledge to get your ideas up and running very quickly and knock up a website using different platforms.”
2) Design something you’d use yourself
“In 2009 I was in my final year of university, and it was around the time that you began to see mobile devices integrate with cameras. I had a bit of an epiphany: why were we still typing on these tiny keyboards, when we could be searching for things visually using this really powerful camera?
“For me, fashion was an obvious choice for a visual search app, because it can be really hard to put into words what you love about an item of clothing. Is it the colour? Is it the shape? Why did I cross the street to look in that shop window? I knew I’d use a fashion search app myself, so I began to develop the algorithm behind Snap Fashion.”
3) Develop an MVP (Minimal Viable Product, not Most Valuable Player)
“An MVP effectively means doing the minimum amount of work you can that will allow someone to get a sense of the app. Essentially, you just want to be able to get a rough version of the product into someone’s hands and say, ‘Tell me honestly – would you use this?’
“Sometimes you can do that on paper, or you might have to make a prototype. I've found that Android have less of a barrier and time delay with submitting things to the App Store than Apple, so you can try more things and play around a bit more with Android as opposed to iOS.”
4) Find someone whose skills complement yours
“Know your strengths. There are two sides of the coin in app development – the technical side and the business side – and you don’t always find those different skillsets in the same person. If you’re not interested in the tech but you can get your idea out there, find a technical person who doesn’t like business.
“It pains me as a massive introvert to say it, but networking is essential. The tech industry is relatively small, but it’s really friendly. Go along to places where you know developers will be, like tech hangouts, meetups and hubs of entrepreneurship like Google Campus, to get chatting to interesting people and see if they’ve got an appetite for your idea. There are also some fantastic initiatives out there for bringing different kinds of founders together, like Entrepreneur First.”
5) Be brave
“Before I gave up my job to focus on Snap Fashion, I was a project manager in an engineering company. I’m quite a safe person generally, but there are things in life where you’ve just got that nagging ‘what if’ feeling. I just reached a point where I threw caution to the wind.
“For anyone starting a business, it’s massively scary and you’ve got to analyse whether it’s the right thing to do. But even if you fail, it’s always going to look great on your CV, because it shows you’re a tenacious person and you’ve got the guts to go out there and try something new. Employers now are looking for something different, so starting a business can’t ever look bad – even if it does go wrong.”