There are three steps in the product development process that are terribly difficult to overcome. The first one is coming up with a truly great idea. The second is its actual implementation. And the third step is taking a ready-made product to the market.
One of our clients, an entrepreneur from Hong Kong, thinks that the transition between developing a product and going to the market with this product is the biggest challenge in the app development process. Idea, development, and market testing is what we talked about in an interview with the founder of BitHorse app. His pretty unusual approach to developing a sustainable product is what I'll share with you in this article.
The product we built for our client from Hong Kong is called BitHorse. You guessed it – the app focuses on horses, the graceful animals you can ride, and...bet on. Hong Kong and horse racing isn't just a coincidence. The city is known as the biggest horse racing center in the world. Besides, this sport sounds like a great niche that hasn't been disrupted by technology startups yet.
Me: How did the BitHorse app idea come about?
Founder: I’ve made some very good friends in the horse racing community. One of my partners used to be a jockey back in the day, and my other partner was a race caller at the biggest racing clubs in the world. Whenever I’m out with my horse racing friends for dinner or drinks, they chat about horse racing non-stop. Two hours straight sometimes. But the conversations they have are almost never done over the internet, and we do now live in the century of mobile internet, however.
It appears the only channels by which people in the horse racing community tap into to obtain news about the sport is through TV, newspapers, or simply, and probably, most used, the word of mouth. Hence, I wanted to create an online platform by which horse enthusiasts are able to leverage internet and modern technology so that they can chat about horse racing more efficiently.
Me: The BitHorse app is, basically, Twitter for horse racing?
Founder: Yes, it’s basically Twitter for horse racing but has been redesigned for the purpose of horse racing. For example, to keep things organized for the best practice reasons and data analytical purposes we have a fixed database of the horses that users are able to select. Each horse entry will have the horse name in English, horse name in Chinese, and the brand number.
Me: What's the main app's objective?
Founder: Our main objective is to bring horse racing news and tips at your fingertips. A platform that helps players both in Hong Kong and outside to collectively participate in conversations about horse racing before, after, and during the race.
Currently, horse racing information is limited to what’s been around for centuries, and that is television and newspapers. Information that could be a day late at times. With BitHorse, we want players to have access to real-time information regardless of where you’re located. For example, with BitHorse, Chinese players in California that enjoy Hong Kong horse racing can now actively participate in conversations and trade ideas with fellow enthusiasts in Hong Kong and other parts of the world. Without BitHorse, they are left dependent on limited resources, and hoping that there are no events that occur the day of the race that might have changed their reasons for backing a particular horse.
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The Development Process
No matter how great the idea may sound, almost all entrepreneurs tend to have a roadblock, or something that prevents them from taking that crucial step of starting a business.
The BitHorse app development started about 10 months after the idea came about. Even though moving too fast doesn't always work, the reason it took so long was our client being hesitant about investing time and capital into building something which he didn't know would meet his expectations.
Me: Why did you finally decide to give it a try?
Founder: Last year I was involved in a near death accident, and had been in the hospital for one month and in recovery for additional five months. I remember thinking to myself that I could have lost my life, and never giving the business idea a chance. But after the accident, my perception of money was different. Money can easily be made and lost in this day of age but preventing death cannot so easily be controlled. This thought pushed me to sign a contract with Yalantis.
Me: How did you select a development team to work with?
Founder: I have many friends in the startup community back in California. I reached out to my contacts and asked for referrals, one of which was Yalantis. Yalantis was actually the only company referred to me that was from Ukraine. Most of the other companies were based in California, China, Singapore. After interviewing several vendors, I down selected to two – one from Singapore and Yalantis.
Me: Why did you choose Yalantis?
Founder: The reason why I chose Yalantis was based on their portfolio and the capability of the team. When I interviewed the vendors I asked them a couple of questions to get an understanding of how they approach problems and how they approach at solving those problems.
What impressed me about Yalantis was that they provided some advice and suggestions to my business idea itself. Other vendor companies appeared to base their services solely on my requirements and their ability to meet those requirements. They won’t second question your idea or suggest any better way of building a product. Whereas Yalantis actually provided such recommendations early on. It wasn’t just about getting the job done, but about getting the job done right and in the best manner possible.
The team behind BitHorse app included our iOS developer Maksim Usenko, designer Anton Kosolapov, QA specialist Yevgeniy Anosov, and project manager Maksym Chuvpylov.
Taking the BitHorse app to the market
What happens after an app development process is completed? Launch? Well, in most cases. The founder of BitHorse, however, didn't launch the app after it was developed. He decided to do some thorough A/B ...and C user testing, instead.
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Me: Tell us about your testing approach.
Founder: We have a group A, a group B, and a group C. We’re currently working on the group A. It includes 20-30 “celebrities” of horse racing -- race callers, journalists, anyone who’s seen in the media for horse racing and has a reputation. They're using the app and we’re collecting feedback. Based on their feedback we'll introduce some changes to the app, and then, invite group B users. These users consist of distinguished people of society who attend horse racing events as a hobby. They may be directors of companies, horse owners, horse trainers, and other members of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. And group C would be the public users.
Me: Why did you choose this strategy?
Founder: This was my strategy of what the startup community coins as “growth hacking.” I decided that this would be the best approach because I believe that once you have group A happy with the app, these users will actively participate in the app. If group A is participating, then group B will want to follow and participate with the “celebrities” of group A. Once both group A and B are happy, and actively participating in the app, group C will most likely follow suit.
Based on the feedback thus far, it appears group A is happy with the product. We’re hoping to go public sometime by the end of the year.
Me: How challenging is getting users to test the app?
Founder: It’s been a challenge to have the group A users install the app. They are horse racing enthusiasts, and not technology geeks or corporate businessmen. Hence, at times, I would have to write clear instructions walking them through the steps of installing the app. Group B should be easier to work with as they actively use their mobile phones and apps due to their line of business.
My job is to help the development team build the product and implement the strategy. But in terms of going to the market and to the customer, it’s my two co-founders. I am very interested to see the growth rate of user adoption once we go public with group C.
Me: How are you gathering user feedback?
Founder: Two of my partners have direct relationships with group A users. Since it's a limited number of people, we prefer to make gathering feedback very personal, through one-o-one conversations or over a call.
Group B will be a larger community, so we might end up doing some sort of a survey, and in addition to that, we’ll also talk to people from group B on one-o-one basis to get their feedback.
Me: What features do you consider adding?
Founder: We’ll prioritize the enhancements or changes based on what our users want, and what features will attract more user registrations and user activity. It's hard to tell what we'll add, but one idea is media sharing, basically pictures and videos, another feature is being able to have a favorite list of horses. Right now we have one feed, but we’ll have multiple feeds based on who a user follows and what horses these people favorite. I want the app to be your go-to place and the only place to get all the information on horse racing before you actually place your bet.
Me: How are you planning to monetize the app?
Founder: We’re looking at different options. We’re looking at leveraging the Twitter model. We may or may not have advertising once we have the traffic, but we’d prefer co-sponsorships and partnership deals. I don’t like ads and want to avoid that model, if possible. Our main goal is to build a vibrant community of horse enthusiasts and serve the needs of our users to build the best experience possible. We built BitHorse for our group of friends and now want to make it accessible for others. Monetization comes last.
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