You Can Learn A Lot From ‘Planet Of The Apps,’ Just Don’t Let It Stress You Out
As an app entrepreneur, you may want to take a deep breath before you watch Apple Music’s new web series Planet of the Apps. The emotional rollercoaster that some of the contestants take and the rejection they face can be thrilling but possibly discouraging. “I thought that app sounded great. Why didn’t they get support from the big names?” You’ll probably be putting yourself in the shoes of every app entrepreneur that walks into view.
But if you watch it closely and listen carefully, you’ll find lots to encourage you on your journey from 9-to-5er to app entrepreneur.
What is Planet of the Apps?
Planet of the Apps is a bit like Shark Tank meets The Voice, only for app developers. The initial panel are mentors, as on The Voice, rather than venture capitalists like on Shark Tank. You see app developers take their existing apps and pitch them to a panel consisting of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, will.i.am, and Gary Vaynerchuk. How and why the producers came to choose these particular mentors isn’t answered during the first show. All four of the panelists run businesses, but only Vaynerchuk has a claim to being a true entrepreneur.
The panel is definitely opinionated, but their reasons for choosing and rejecting various apps isn’t always clear. For example, the sci-fi battle app seems pretty cool to them, but no one green lights it. This might be intimidating for an app entrepreneur viewing the show!
However, some apps still make it to later rounds. If one or more panelists gives a developer a green light at the end of the pitch, the developers have a mentor, or a choice of mentors, and they proceed through coaching and further development to eventually pitch their app to a venture capital firm.
Planet of the Apps can be scary for the little guys in app development
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the first episode (available here for now, though it may eventually move behind Apple Music’s paywall) is how contrary panelist Gary Vaynerchuk comes across. Over and over, he tries to scare developers with the notion that Facebook or Google or even the show’s sponsor, Apple, could come along and just steal the app developer’s idea. This is a big concern for Gary, and some of the magic of the show disappears when he forces guests and viewers to consider this devastating angle.
In one sense of course, Vaynerchuk is right. The whole point of app development — the reason you’re even on this site, reading this post — is that there are, as the MBAs like to say, “low barriers to entry.” What that means, of course, is that if someone has a good idea, almost anyone else with the skills can quickly imitate it. While there are strong intellectual property protections for some important aspects of your idea, the fundamentals are hard to protect. (How many different “bubble pop” games are there, for instance?)
The big guys don’t always get it right
The openness of the app market works both ways though, and Vaynerchuk really doesn’t seem in the pitch sessions to understand that the little guys often do win, though he starts to see it as the mentoring begins.
During his discussions with the Companion developers, Gary asks them about the possibility that Facebook might move in on their territory. (Companion is a social media app that allows people walking alone at night to have virtual contact at all times with friends or family who can track their movements and make sure they arrive safely.)
“I love when people ask that question,” responds Lexie, one of the two creators of Companion. She points out that Facebook spent millions of dollars trying to copy Snapchat with “Slingshot” and still lost.
“It just failed even though it had Facebook’s name on it.”
Vaynerchuk fires back that Instagram (a product Facebook bought) is now copying everything that Snapchat does.
But Gary misses an important point, which is that simply copying wasn’t enough. (And, to be honest, it remains to be seen if Instagram will really displace Snapchat. Both apps are very popular, but users still seem to use them differently.) Facebook tried to use its size and brand to steal Snapchat’s users, and it failed. No one even mentions Google+, perhaps the most recognizable failure of a tech giant to steal business out from under a competitor. Being big and famous is good, but it’s hardly enough to win in the app development game.
Hopefully you take away a balanced view from Planet of the Apps
It’s not that Vaynerchuk is completely wrong, and in fact, some of his instincts are totally aligned with what we at The Appineers want you to think about, too.
In the first episode, for instance, when the developer of Pair shows his product as primarily a consumer-oriented tool for doing interior design, Vaynerchuk is having none of it. As the developer Andrew starts to talk about creating a Software Development Kit (SDK) for the unique Augmented Reality (AR) tools that make Pair function, Vaynerchuk jumps in.
“You’ve actually completely sold me on the tech advantages,” he says. “Would you be open at all to really thinking about a B2B [business-to-business] environment, not just a consumer play?”
When Andrew says he’s very serious about that SDK technology, Vaynerchuk switches from a no to a yes. As Andrew’s mentorship (with Jessica Alba, not Vaynerchuk) develops, Andrew’s emphasis shifts from the consumer/design oriented idea to emphasizing the core technology, and aims to sell it to businesses instead.
It’s not that every app needs rethinking. But part of our role at the Appineers will be to help you develop your idea into its most valuable version. With Andrew, he began by developing technology to do one specific thing, but with the help of Vaynerchuk and Alba, realized that the tech itself was the most important idea, and potentially the most marketable.
Keep breathing, because fear is good
The Companion developers did work with Vaynerchuk, and here, too, his instincts to find the key value helped the developers narrow down their ideas. The day before their first mentorship meeting, Google announced “Trusted Contacts,” a product that significantly encroached on Companion’s space.
“This is a straight up atomic bomb to their business,” Gary tells the camera.
However, shortly before their pitch, Companion had run an experiment with a paid service that would provide users with security professionals to monitor journeys.
“A lot of people were using Companion every night, but their ‘companions’ were passively watching them,” Lexie said. “This feature [having someone from Team Companion actively watching] goes way beyond what Google offers.”
“Are you guys willing to make that your product?” Vaynerchuk asks, with all sorts of dramatic music playing.
Don’t stress out! You’re still a long way from venture capitalists
In the end, among the apps pitched to the mentors, only Companion and Pair take their ideas before the venture capitalists. Companion gets an offer for a $1 million investment after Vaynerchuk tells the panel he’s taught them to fear the Googles and Facebooks. Pair is not successful, because Andrew appears not to really have finished settling in his own mind on exactly what his new technology means, and therefore what product he is developing.
You are a long way from having to stand in front of a venture capital firm and sell yourself to them, if that even fits with your dream. Of course, anyone who watched the tech boom of the late 1990s probably has spent a few evenings dreaming of how to spend the proceeds from their $1 billion IPO, but the truth is, you don’t need to get anywhere near that to be successful.
However, even the possibility of taking your app that far can be a wonderful tool to help refine and improve your idea. Allowing the thought “Google or some other giant could just steal this” to discourage you would be a mistake; as big a mistake as ignoring that competition.
Allow it to motivate you. Let that fear cause you to refine and improve and develop in ways that make your product the best it can be.
Maybe you’ll stand on your own. Maybe a big company will buy you, like Salem Media did with Trevor McKendrick’s Spanish Bible app. Maybe you’ll wind up on a future episode of Planet of the Apps, and really will face those venture capitalists.
Whatever happens, let fear push you, not stop you. Start by talking to an expert developer, who can guide you and show you your apps strengths and weaknesses. We’re here to listen, and we promise that app development is a lot less stressful than you might think from watching Planet of the Apps! Call us now at (877) 534-1301!