In 2009, CEO of Grindr Joel Simkhai founded the location-based dating app on the basis that he wanted to make it easier for gay men to meet one another.
Seven years later, Grindr boasts more than two million daily users in 196 countries and, in January, the company announced that it sold 60% of its stake to Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun for $93m.
Speaking at C2 Montreal 2016, a conference celebrating creativity and commerce, Simkhai discussed why he started the app and how he was able to launch it despite having “very little money” and “very little knowledge in terms of technology.”
Simkhai gave the following advice for people who are considering launching their own app.
Solve a problem
Simkhai told the audience that successful apps are often ones that not only solve a particular problem, but solve it for a large number of people.
“The bigger the problem, the better the business potentially will be,” he said. “Make sure you’re solving a problem that a lot of people have.”
He also said that anyone thinking about creating an app should ensure that the problem they are trying to solve is in fact an issue that people are actually griping about, or else people won’t find any value in it and ultimately it won’t get used.
“You can’t convince people that they [have a] problem,” he said. “Make sure that when you talk about the problem that you’re going to solve, people get excited.”
While it’s easy to think that big problems require a big solutions, Simkhai said keeping it simple is key.
If the concept behind an app idea is complicated or takes a long time to explain to somebody, Simkhai said that it likely won’t work.
“It should be so easy that you can explain this solution in a few seconds,” he said. “I recently had lunch with someone and they gave me their idea and it took them about five minutes to tell me what the solution was. That’s way too long.”
Go to market as soon as possible
Simkhai said that people often tell him that they thought of the idea for Grindr long before he did. What separates him from the rest of the pack is that he actually did something about it, even if it meant launching Grindr when it wasn’t perfectly polished or ready to go.
“Whatever problem that you’ve identified, I guarantee you thousands of other people have already identified that problem also. And many people have also identified the solution. The key is to get it out to market,” he said.
He said that an app is ready to go once it hits “minimum viable product” status, meaning it has the basic elements of a solution but might not include every little feature or detail.
“The importance of this is you want to get feedback from the market as quickly as possible. Users are the ones who will tell you whether your idea is good or not,” he said.
Instead of “getting caught up in venture capital,” he said it’s better to just release the app and start learning from users about what’s working and what isn’t.
“Once you get that information, you want to iterate quickly. You want to make those changes as quickly as possible. You release it, you get data back and you change,” he said. “Nobody ever launched a perfect product on day one. Everybody always iterates and changes. The first iPhone was horrible and now almost all of us have one and we love it.”
Stay focused on users
As an app grows and becomes more popular, Simkhai said it’s easy to get caught up in things like adding new features or figuring out how to monetize right away. But he said it’s always important to keep the user in mind and remember why they are using the app in the first place, because they are the ones who ultimately sustain the business.
“If you solve a good problem and you have a very good solution, people will gravitate towards it,” he said. “People will often talk about it. They will become your advocates.”
He used the example of Waze, an app that allows users to share real-time traffic and road information.
“The importance of Waze is the crowdsourced information that comes into it. I’m a huge advocate of Waze, I talk about Waze all the time,” he told the crowd. “Why? Because I want you guys all to use Waze. It’s a win-win for us. I’m telling you about a service that’s really, really great that’s going to benefit you, and if you’re on it, it’s going to benefit me as well. That’s a magical combination.”