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How to create an app with no programming experience or coding skills

Want to create an app but don’t have any programming experience or coding skills? Here’s 10 steps you can take without the help of an app developer.

Written by Jonathan Richter

10 Steps for first-time app developers with no experience:

1. Come up with your app idea
2. Do competitive app market research
3. Outline your intended app feature set
4. Craft your Hypothesis
5. Conduct Interviews
6. Create a Wireflow
7. Develop your app MVP
8. Beta test your app or MVP
9. Optimize your app store listing (product page)
10. Submit your app for approval

If you’re a first time app entrepreneur, startup, or business with no prior experience, app development can seem overwhelming. You might be asking yourself: “how can I create an app with no programming experience?”.

Well the truth is, developing an app does require expert coding skills. That being said, one of the biggest underlying challenges is creating an app people actually want to use.

On the surface this is an obvious concept. So why do so many ‘appreneurs’ fall short? In reality, very few people do thorough enough research to launch an app that addresses the needs and wants of their customers.

In this article, we’ll cover 10 steps you can take to create an app if you have no coding skills or programming experience. You can also check out our Essential Guide to Developing Mobile Apps for more details.

1. Come up with your app idea

Before you try to write a single line of code or hire developers, you need to identify a specific problem or need. Then, think about how and why an app is the best way to solve that problem or satisfy that need.

Some people are able to plan for a brainstorming session to come up with an idea. For most of us though, ideas can seem to come from nowhere.

You might be sitting around having a conversation and suddenly think, “hey what if there was an app that could (insert app idea here)?”. Admittedly, my co-founders and I were brainstorming app ideas in a bar when we decided start Winnona Partners!

Having trouble coming up with an idea? Check out the book “A technique for producing ideas” by James Webb Young.

A technique for producing ideas book by James Webb Young

Young’s 5 step formula can help you think and plan methodically to guide your creative process. The book is short and sweet, so you can get some valuable insight quickly and get right back to being creative!

However, following the formula in the book won’t guarantee you have an idea that will be “successful”. Plenty of apps exist that are cool, but are they really all that useful? You want to create an app that’s essential by bringing people joy or satisfying a need.

2. Do competitive app market research

do competitive app market research to validate your app idea

Once you’ve come up with your app idea, it’s time for a reality check. You need to see if your idea already exists in the app store or online.

Chances are, someone else has thought of an app idea that’s similar to yours already. But don’t be discouraged! Just because someone’s built something similar, that doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily “captured the market”.

In fact, discovering an idea somewhat similar to yours can be extremely advantageous. Someone who’s already released an app similar to your idea has probably already spent a lot of time and money on development. What features does their app include? How are they talking to their audience in their App Store description?

You can learn a lot about what app users like and don’t like about the app by looking at their reviews on the App Store. This is free customer research!

Furthermore, looking up existing apps and their descriptions is also an excellent way to come up with an app idea in the first place! Some of our clients have successfully used this approach to create their app feature set. Not only does this research save you time, it better ensures your app will address the immediate needs of your users.

3. Outline your intended app feature set

Once you’ve conducted market research to determine if you’re on track to creating something unique that users will want, it’s time to outline your app feature set.

The app feature set is basically your development plan. We recommend you create categories in your outline to separate “must have” and a “nice to have” columns. But how do you know if a feature is “must have” vs “nice to have”?

Is this a “must have” or “nice to have” app feature?

With each app feature you come up with, you should ask: is this feature absolutely necessary to help users solve their problem or fulfill their need?

If the answer is “no, but other apps have it and I think it’s cool,” then put that in the “nice to have” category. In your interview process, you may discover that people really do consider this feature a necessity. If that’s the case you can always put it back as a “must have” feature.

Eventually the goal will be to shave down your feature set to only the most essential features. Creating and launching a simplified version of your app is also known as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) development process.

We’ll cover MVPs in more detail below. But for now, just list all the features you think your app should include, and try to categorize them as “must have” and “nice to have” to the best of your ability.

4. Craft Your Hypothesis

It’s time to go back to your sixth grade science class and remember how to craft a hypothesis. After all, your app idea is an experiment!

Crafting a hypothesis helps you answer the most important question at hand: “Do I have an idea for something people will want and be willing to pay for?”.

Write Your Hypothesis Statement

To craft your hypothesis for your app idea, write out the following sentence: “I believe [customer segment] will [use my mobile app] because [value proposition].”

Hypothesis statement example by Winnona Partners

Who: Customer/channel
What: Mobile app
Why: Value proposition
• Solving a problem
• Providing a benefit

Structure your hypothesis with the single, straightforward sentence above. This hypothesis sentence structure works for any business idea you may have, we’ve just filled in the “What” section with “use my mobile app” so there’s one less thing for you to think about.

An app like Tinder might have a hypothesis sentence that states: “I believe [single people in their 20s] will [use Tinder] because [it will make it easier for them to date other singles nearby].”

As you can see, this sentence structure defines the customer segment immediately (single people in their 20s), and the value proposition (finding other single people near them who want to date). It’s a single sentence statement that can be proven true or false.

Notice how the sentence isn’t overloaded with too many customer segments and features. For example: “I believe [anyone under the age of 60] will [use Tinder] because [they can meet new people, find fun people to party with, build a profile, feel sexy, date, get married, or have an affair].” Sure, all these things could happen as a result of using the app. But the core audience and purpose of the app is much more explicit in the first example.

Come up with supporting evidence

Just like any good research project, you need supporting evidence to back up your claims. Here’s an example of supporting evidence from the Tinder example above:

Supporting Evidence

  • 20 year olds are constantly on their mobile devices.
  • This customer segment is familiar with and willing to set up a social media profile.
  • People are lazy and would rather have potential matches come to them rather than attend singles events or ask someone out in person.
  • Creating a system that displays singles based on location will keep people engaged with the platform for long periods of time–regardless of where they are.
  • Match.com follows a similar model and is massively popular and profitable.

Your hypothesis is like the thesis statement of your app idea. So make sure to refine it during your customer discovery process if necessary.

5. Conduct Interviews

The next step is probably the most important in the app and business development process: conducting interviews. You think you have a great idea for an app, so now it’s time to test your assumptions!

Conduct interviews to test your assumptions about your idea

The concept of conducting interviews sounds easy. You’re just telling people your idea and listening to their responses, right? Not exactly.

In order to test your hypothesis in a meaningful way, you need to collect authentic feedback from your potential customers. If you just ask family and close friends whether or not they’d use the app you’ve come up, they will most likely say enthusiastically “yes!”.

While this type of encouragement is nice to hear, how will could it possible help you validate your concept? If you list a bunch of features your app can do and then ask your friends what they think about it, then they’re no longer thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve.

When it comes to answering your questions, don’t expect people to think critically about your concept! They’ll simply agree with whatever you’re saying rather than come up with ideas of their own. So how can we ask the right questions and get authentic feedback? Check out our interview tips below.

Interview Dos and Don’ts

Interview DOs

  • Conduct face to face interviews with people you don’t already know.
    • You can find people on LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social media platforms who could be willing to hop on a Facetime or Zoom meeting if that’s easier.
  • Video interviews are best so you can gauge a person’s reaction and body language.
  • Pose questions in an open, non-anxious way.
  • If you want to make an app for the wedding industry, ask a question like “what do you think is the most frustrating part of planning a wedding?”, not “Wouldn’t you agree that finding a wedding venue is a challenge?”.
    • The latter leads the interviewee to follow your own train of thought, 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 unexpected responses may reveal truths about your customer needs and could indicate that you need to pivot.

Interview DON’Ts

  • Don’t just interviews friends, family, or people who would never be your customers.
    • You to identify what your exact customer segment needs and wants.
  • Avoid “selling”–try to listen more.
    • Ask open-ended questions and avoid getting pain ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. The more qualitative responses you can get from people, the better.
  • Make sure the value proposition of your app isn’t just a list of features.
    • You’re conducting interviews so you can craft an appropriate feature set based on authentic feedback, not so you can validate your assumptions of what the customer needs.

6. Create an app Wireflow

Once you’ve identified the key features of your app, it’s time to think about a user’s journey through the application. From a developer’s standpoint, one of the best ways to accomplish this is with a wireflow.

What is a Wireflow?

A wireflow is a visual representation of the app screen flow, organized in the order they appear. This can be as simple as boxes that are connected by lines to show how a user navigates the app.

Mobile app wireflow example by Winnona Partners. A Simple user story wireflow to show how users navigate through an app.

The wireflow example above is overly simplistic, but demonstrates what a typical wireflow looks like. A wireflow can sometimes also be called a “user story”, or “storyboard”. Creating a wireflow is an exercise we recommend all clients go through, as it helps with the UX and overall app architecture design process.

Furthermore, it helps you think critically about your app flow, and how your app satisfies a user’s need by taking them from point A to point B.

7. Develop your app MVP

The next step of the app development process is developing an Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Developing an MVP is a cost-effective way to test your hypothesis and get more detailed user feedback. Developing an MVP is the best way to streamline your app development and saves you money along the way.

What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

Eric Ries, author of the hit book The Lean Startup, defines an MVP as the following:

An MVP is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.”

As Ries describes, the main purpose is to get something simple out quickly to start collecting valuable feedback. This is also known as a Feedback or “Build, Measure, Learn” loop:

Build measure learn feedback loop for Minimum Viable Products (MVP) development

Developing an MVP is as simple (and vague) as that! But how minimum is too minimum? You’ll need to assess what is absolutely essential for people to experience the core functionality of your app.

For more detailed information on the types of MVPs and exmaples, check out our Ultimate Guide to Building Minimum Viable Products (MVPs).

Remember, you can always consult with us if you need help simplifying your idea or creating MVP.

8. Beta test your app or MVP

Once you have an MVP or testable version of your mobile app, it’s time for beta testing. Beta testing usually occurs after several round of internal testing with you and the development team (also known as alpha testing).

For beta testing, it’s okay to find family and friends and get them to try the app out to make sure there’s no major issues like bugs or crashes. However, the best way to beta test your app is to get it in the hands of people who really want to use it.

You need genuine feedback from potential customers who will hopefully be using your app on a daily basis. This is the final, but also best chance for you to test your assumptions and see if you’ve come up with a viable solution to someone’s problem or need.

Furthermore, Any kinks in your system or user flow should be identified during multiple rounds of beta testing. Don’t be surprised if your beta app users look like this during the onboarding process:

Confused beta app user

How do I make my app available for beta testing?

For iOS, you’ll need to submit your app build through App Store Connect and distribute your beta app via Apple’s TestFlight program. The beta app will go through a review process that may take up to several days or a week at most. For Android, you need to upload your APK on the Google Play Store Console by going to Release management>App releases>Open track (Beta)>Manage. In 2020, Android also began reviewing beta apps prior to making them available to download.

Truth be told, people will need to jump through some hoops to beta test your app. On iOS, users will need to install the TestFlight app. Then, they can follow an email link and your beta app will show up in their TestFlight app (as long as the email address they provide is associated with their Apple ID).

That’s right you read that correctly–iOS users will need to download an app (TestFlight) in order to download your beta app. For some people, this will feel like too many steps and they’ll be unwilling to put that much effort in. But don’t get discouraged! How likely is it that these people will actually convert into loyal users of your platform anyway?

Who should beta test my app?

early adopters - couple using phones

Most people won’t download an app until long after it’s been released in the App Store, or until they hear about it through word of mouth or advertisements.

You need to find early adopters who are not only willing to be a part of your beta app testing process, but also excited about it! People who you consider to fit your target audience and who have a high likelihood of becoming a loyal user are the best beta test candidates.

Moreover, friends and family are good for helping you test things like a login flow or basic features, but they probably won’t be able to help you gain a better sense of whether or not your features are useful for your target audience. Find people you know who fit your customer profile, or advertise on social media platforms to attract people to download your beta app from a public link (if applicable).

How do I get feedback from beta testers?

What’s the point of beta testing if you don’t learn anything in the process? You want to follow up with the users you invite to test your beta app, or at the very least receive crash reports.

Fortunately, TestFlight rolled out a “Provide Feedback” feature with the iOS 13 update allowing testers to take screenshots and share crash reports with the developers. The Google Play Console generates similar reports, including some automatic pre-launch crash reports that warn you of any major issues they identify.

Another effective strategy for collecting feedback is to use Google Forms to create and distribute surveys or questionnaires. Google Forms is user friendly, offers a variety of ways for people to answer questions, and it’s completely free! We highly recommend Google Forms as an easy and creative way to get qualitative feedback about your beta app.

Note: Winnona Partners generally handles uploading the app code and submitting the beta app for review on a client’s behalf.

Got questions about the beta process? Contact our team today and we’ll help you!

9. Optimize your app store listing (product page)

Once you’ve finalized your app design, functionality, and feature set, you can finalize your store listing page, also known as the product page on the iOS App Store. Your app listing page/product page is what people see when they search for your app in the App Store or Google Play Store. They look like this:

iOS App Store Product Page

App store product page example
Image source: Apple

Google Play Store Page Listing

Google Play store listing Bodied App

You want your app page to look appealing to visitors, while also conveying a sense of creativity and brand expression. Here’s what’s needed for both the iOS product page and Google Play Store listing pages:

App Store Product Page Requirements 2020

  • App Name (up to 30 characters long)
  • Icon: something easy to find on a busy home screen, recognizable, and representative of your brand
  • Subtitle (up to 30 characters long): best for a tagline, slogan, or concise description
  • Previews (up to 30 seconds): up to 3 videos to demonstrate your app
  • Screenshots: Up to 10 screenshots to show off different views of your app pages and features
  • App Description (up to 4,000 characters): describe the benefits of your app and feature details
  • Keywords (up to 100 characters total): terms you think people will search for to find your app
  • App Categories (choose 2): check here for a full list of app categories
  • Check here for more app product page details

Google Play Store Listing Page 2020

  • App Title (up to 50 characters)
  • Short Description (up to 80 characters)
  • Full Description (up to 4,000 characters)
  • Graphic Assets (app icon, feature graphic, and at least two screenshots)
  • Category: check here for a full list of Google Play Store app categories
  • Tags (up to 5): Tags are like subcategories that help your app show up in more places on Google Play

10. Submit your app for approval

The big moment is here! You’ve thought through your idea, developed the MVP, beta tested your app, prepared your app store listing, and now you’re ready to launch. The last step in the pre-launch process is to submit your app for approval. For both iOS and Android, your app will need to go through a review process.

Note: Prior to submitting for approval, you’re required to answer several questions in order to apply a content (age) rating. You will also be asked if the app allows unrestricted web access, or if the app uses the advertising identifier (IDFA).

Fortunately, Apple and Google will warn you if you’re missing any required information. However, there’s a few differences worth pointing out between Apple and Google’s review process:

Apple’s App Review Process

Once you submit your app for review, most of your product page fields will no longer be editable. Which fields that are or aren’t editable changes periodically, so the best thing you can do is make sure to carefully optimize your product page before submitting your app for approval. As a result, you won’t need to worry about cancelling your release and resubmitting if you discover a typo during the review process.

With Apple, your app will go through the following statuses: Waiting for Review>In Review>Pending Developer Release (optional)>Ready for Sale. If you’re listed as a User on App Store Connect, you’ll receive emails each time your app status changes.

Waiting for Review

As long as you’ve completed all the required fields, your app status will immediately change to “Waiting for Review” once you confirm your app submission.

How long will your app be in the “Waiting for Review” stage? The queue time can vary widely, but is typically longer if it’s the first time your app is being reviewed for release. Factors such as holidays and the amount of current app review requests can affect the time your app will remain in the “Waiting for Review” stage.

In our experience, we strongly recommend you don’t submit an app in December or close to the winter holiday period. Apple normally goes on break for 1-2 weeks during this time, and also likes to push substantial changes to App Store Connect which can cause further delays.

That being said, as of 2020 Apple reports that 50% of apps are reviewed within 24 hours and 90% of apps are reviewed within 48 hours. This is a significant improvement from just a couple years ago when app reviews could take up to a week or longer!

In Review

This is the most nail-biting stage of the review process. When your app is “In Review”, a member of the App Review team is investigating your app and your product page to ensure it follows Apple’s guidelines and doesn’t contain any major bugs or crashes.

If you’ve chosen to work with Winnona Partners, you can rest assured that we’re familiar with Apple’s guidelines and our apps have an average 99% crash-free rating. We take quality control seriously, and this attention to detail really pays off when it comes to speedy approval times!

Pending Developer Release

Your app will only enter this status if you’ve set your Version Release to “Manually release this version”. Once your app is approved, you can then go to your app listing on App Store Connect and click the “Release this version” button to make your app release or update live in the App Store.

Ready for Sale

Once you release your app for the first time, your listing may briefly display the status “Processing for the App Store” prior to being searchable. Shortly thereafter, the status will read “Ready for Sale”. When the status reads “Ready for Sale”, your app should appear in the App Store within a few hours.

You can also visit the URL of your product page in the App Store to check for it’s availability. Your app URL will look something like this:
https://apps.apple.com/us/app/keynote/id######

Google Play Store App Release Process

Although slightly more difficult to navigate in my opinion, once you submit an app for “full rollout” release on Google Play there are fewer status changes to go through. Your app status will simply go from “Pending” to “Published” once it has been reviewed and approved.

How can you tell when your app is published? You can click the notification bell icon or click your app name next to it to see the current status.

As of 2020, the Google Play review process is still relatively new and review times vary. We’ve never experienced review times longer than 2-3 days, but that is of course subject to change.

Your URL to the app listing on Google Play will look something like this:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.”appnamehere”.

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve created an app! If you’ve worked with a team like Winnona Partners, you probably won’t need to be responsible for step 9 of this list. However, all the steps in this article can be done by someone with no app programming experience or coding skills.

Even if you’re a non-developer, you have all the tools necessary to get through at least the first 5 steps in this article. In technology, the question often isn’t “can my idea be built”, but rather the question is “should my idea be built”.

Many entrepreneurs rush into MVP or even full app development without spending enough time in the customer discovery stage of the business development process. A sense of urgency is necessary to get your idea off the ground, but in our experience diligence and effective market research is far more important.

Don’t be afraid to stay in the conceptual or MVP stages of your app for lengthy periods of time–as long as you’re actively collecting feedback and making adjustments to your hypothesis or MVP along the way.

Lastly, take your time finding the right developer to help you create an app. If you have any questions about the app development process or would like to talk through your app idea, our team is here to help with a free consultation. Contact us today to help make your app idea become a reality.

By Jonathan Richter

Jonathan is CEO of Winnona Partners, a custom software development company based in Atlanta, GA that specializes in helping startups and small businesses thrive. He's also a classical guitarist, and has studied Chinese language, music and culture extensively.

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