App ecosystems should be flywheel with 3 players - the API platform, app developers and users. These players are all connected via a Marketplace.
The flywheel looks like this: More platform functionality >> more apps built >> more customer adoption >> new JTBD and more platform functionality.
Making the decision to build for a new ecosystem is an important one, and needs to take lots of factors into account. Building apps can be expensive and time-consuming, and stops your teams from working on other projects. You want to ensure you get the expected return.
Below is a checklist of things to consider before you begin to build:
- Is your strategy aligned with the platform strategy?
- Are you building and selling to the same customers?
- Are the Stores and the Mall (Marketplace) high quality?
- How important is virality for your success?
- Are you and the platform moving at the same speed?
- Has user behavior been established already?
- Is the new platform team fully staffed?
Is your strategy aligned with the platform strategy?
It's really important to make sure the new platform is going to help you achieve your goals. Making sure your strategies are aligned is vital. Some points to consider here - do you want this app to "compliment" your core products, or will it live indepentently? Do the platform policies and guidelines support these goals? Will you have full control over the platform functionality that you consume, or will the platform owner want you to use all of the latest features?
Are you building and selling to the same customers?
Is the app platform being built for the same persona that you want to access? Think about possible disconnects here - e.g. do you sell bottoms-up, and want to access users directly? What if the app platform is being designed for enterprise or IT admins which will limit direct adoption by users? You can look at installation flows and marketplace listing features to see who the marketplace is being built for.
Are the Stores and the Mall (Marketplace) high quality?
Having an app marketplace is a bit like owning a mall.
Customers come to the mall because they need something. You want their experience in the mall to be pleasant and productive. It should be easy to find what they need. The stores (app listings) in the mall should be high quality. It should also be easy to get around the mall, to trial and return products and to have flexible payment methods.
Developers will also want the mall to be nice, and they also need to create welcoming stores (listings). Is it easy for customers to find them? Can they merchandise in the way they need?
If there are issues with either the mall or the store, you are going to run into distribution challenges for your app, which may take a long time to get resolved.
How important is virality for your success?
If your app will live or die because of network effects, make sure the platform is designed with these in mind. Are apps enabled by default? Do users need to update a client application before they can get your app? Can users share and invite new users, or are admins the gate-keepers?
Are you and the platform moving at the same speed?
There are few things worse than an unstoppable force, meeting an immovable object. Do you want to be scrappy, release a MVP and iterate? Does the platform allow for that, or do apps need to be high-quality, polished s/w? Does the platform allow for side-loading for alpha and beta trials, or does everything need to be formally reviewed and published on the marketplace? Make sure you take this into account before you start to build.
Has user behavior been established already?
You could look at this as form of execution-risk vs. market-risk. If other apps have been successful in this ecosystem, you are likley taking on execution-risk. If not, and the platform you are building for is new, this could be market-risk. Changing user-behaviour is HARD. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.
Is the new platform team fully staffed?
First-mover advantage is nice, but make sure all of the teams you need to work with are in-place before you jump in. At minimum make sure there is a Head of Platform, Developer Support, Partner Marketing, some core Product Managers with medium fidelity roadmaps and not blank sheets of paper. There is such a thing as being too soon.
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