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Building A Successful App Is More Than Skin Deep

Operations & Management

Isadora Teich wrote this article


All developers and entrepreneurs would love to create something big, loud, and wildly successful that takes the world by storm in a flash.

There are many paths and approaches to building, marketing, and improving apps, and millions out there. It’s a very cutthroat world for developers because app users have almost infinite choices.

At Chop Dawg, we believe that a few key things lead to successful start-ups with widely-used apps.

I want to explore some of the biggest and most successful start-ups of the last decade, who are making huge strides currently. What do they all have in common, and what can they teach us about creating and maintaining thriving start-ups amidst intense competition?

Let’s take a look.

Major Companies Making Big Moves

DoorDash recently became a publicly-traded stock and performed incredibly on its first-ever day of trading.

The stock price soared, closing at 86% above its opening price. Airbnb is a similar success story. It priced its IPO initially at $68 a share and closed at $144 a share. It raised $3.5 billion, surpassing DoorDash’s massive $3.4 billion success.

This shows the power that small start-ups can have in the longterm. Click To Tweet

Start-ups becoming stock market powerhouses is a relatively new phenomenon that has huge implications for the economy and the future of tech on multiple levels.

These two apps, while they accomplish different things, have had a few big things in common from their inception as small enterprises to national and international powerhouses.

The Beginnings Of DoorDash

DoorDash was founded By Stanley Tang, while he was still a student at Stanford University. His goal was to build technology to help small business owners thrive.

In order to do this, he sat down with small business owners and listened to them, in order to understand their problems and needs.

During a meeting with the owner of Chantal Guillon, a macaroon store in Palo Alto, she brought up her frustrations with limitations of delivery. She had pages and pages of deliveries that she could not personally do while managing her business day in and day out. Tang found that other business owners in the area echoed these frustrations.

It seemed so simple to him to solve these issues.

He almost couldn’t believe that no one had thought to create an infrastructure for food delivery yet. In an afternoon he and some friends created a simple landing page with some local Palo Alto restaurant PDFs on it, got their first delivery order, and were off to the races.

They even made their first Thai food delivery themselves because they didn’t have anything else to do.

The Beginnings of Airbnb

Airbnb has similarly humble beginnings that have received wide coverage.

One of my favorite headlines about their meteoric rise comes from Forbes and reads “How 3 guys turned renting air mattresses in their apartment into a $31 billion company.”

Airbnb started out of necessity in 2007. Roommates Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky couldn’t afford their San Francisco rent.

They knew that there was a large design conference coming to the city, and finding accommodation would be difficult. So, naturally, they decided to rent out their loft as a BnB. They would get rent money, and someone who needed accommodation would get it.

It was a complete win-win.

In 2007, what would become a massive international company was just 3 air mattresses in their loft and a simple website. Click To Tweet

However, they quickly realized that this had massive potential. Many people need a way to make an income and have extra space they can use, and the world is full of travelers who want affordable and diverse accommodation options.

Pragmatism Is King

I wanted to highlight the humble starts and massive success of these apps over the last 10 years to show that you don’t need to do the most ridiculous advertising, have the most intense gimmicky features, and pour all of your money and effort into creating the most gorgeous and intricate apps and updates.

What your start-up really needs to do is effectively solve a problem.

The roots of DoorDash and Airbnb show this incredibly well.

The Power Of Listening To Your Customers

Stanley Tang of DoorDash created his app by listening to business owners, finding out what they needed, and giving it to them. Click To Tweet

Even though many people act like the world of digital entrepreneurship, app-building, and start-ups is chaotic, esoteric, and impossible to crack, I disagree.

Listening to your customers, figuring out what they need, and delivering it, is an approach that can serve any business well. Whether you are a mom and pop ice cream shop, a dog-walking business with a dozen employees, a tech start-up, or a multi-national corporation, this strategy cannot fail.

DoorDash started off as a simple landing page with a few local restaurants on it, but it grew into a business powerhouse because it has always solved a problem. Business owners and consumers needed delivery infrastructure.

DoorDash filled that gap.

Solving Problems In A New Way

Airbnb founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky took the different, but equally important, approach of trying to solve a problem of their own. Click To Tweet

Because they personally experienced it, they had an invaluable direct insight. It is likely that if you personally are having a problem, you are not alone.

They were definitely not the only people on earth struggling to pay their rent.

Gebbia and Chesky also solved a second problem with the creation of Airbnb. Before the days of Airbnb, travelers’ options for accommodation were limited.

You could stay in expensive hotels, cheap hostels, or with friends or family for free. If you wanted to travel somewhere but did not have a friend there, your options were to spend a lot of money on a hotel, or possibly share a bedroom with 10 other people in a hostel. There was not much in the middle in terms of price and comfort.

Using your own experiences to build smart-solutions is another road to take. In fact, if you can drastically improve some aspect of your life, why not pursue making that innovation widely available?

Be A Zebra, Not A Unicorn

You may have heard us talk about this before.

Essentially, it boils down to the idea that pragmatic no-frills start-ups that address real problems in chaotic times will succeed, while just looking slick or sounding cool is not guaranteed instant lightning in a bottle.

We are seeing more startups that stick to their roots and focus on solving problems, even as they expand wildly, achieve massive success. On the other hand, we are seeing companies that had meteoric rises run into problems as they lose sight of this.

Don’t Focus On Being The Biggest, Just Be The Best At What You Do

Endless growth might not be the best strategy.

For example. Facebook is about to be hit with antitrust lawsuits by the US Federal Government and state of New York for monopoly abuse. This is the largest regulatory attack in the company’s entire history. Facebook’s ownership of Instagram and Whatsapp is being threatened.

Facebook is famous not only for making world governments unhappy with its business practices but for making users unhappy with its products.

Instagram and Facebook are notorious for negatively impacting users’ mental health. There is even a phenomenon called “doomscrolling,” where Facebook users obsessively scroll their timelines looking for more and more upsetting global news.

Also, virtually every update Facebook has ever made to their platforms has been met with complaints from users. Their recent Instagram update has been criticized for making the platform “a TikTok copycat with an ads tab.”

In 2018, it’s speculated that an update they tried to spring on users was so unpopular that Facebook tried to claim it was just a bug.

What Do You Think?

Do you think we are in for a whole new world of startups overtaking the world of traditional business? What do you think makes a startup, or any business, successful in these chaotic times?

Talk to me.

About Since 2009, we have helped create 350+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.


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