What Are 6 Characteristics of Successful Apps?

Not since the dot com days have there been so many technology startups as there have been since 2010. The rise of mobile technology and innovations such as cloud computing have spurred this round of tech entrepreneurship.

Every successful startup starts with a good idea, followed by effective execution, and a stand-out app, website, service, or product. By doing solid research and integrating lessons from the past, new start-ups can be better equipped to achieve success creating apps in an increasingly competitive environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Successful startup app development usually comes from a successful business model that includes a good idea, attitude, plan, and team.
  • Successful apps are most often unique, platform-appropriate, easy to use, affordable (usually free), engaging, and attract word-of-mouth excitement. 

Not every new company or product makes it, but many successful startups share characteristics. (For more, see: 9 Tips For Growing A Successful Business.)

Understanding Characteristics of Successful Apps

A Successful Startup Is a Successful Business First

Whether the next big thing is a mobile app, social networking platform, or part of the "sharing economy," these qualities are important to achieving success in a highly competitive marketplace:

A Good Idea

The best place to start a business is with a good idea. While this may sound obvious, nothing dies harder than a bad idea. Everybody knows somebody (if you don't, that somebody may be you) who has an idea for a business they think is a killer disrupter, but in reality, the concept might not be practical, or it might just be plain dumb.

A Good Attitude

A lack of enthusiasm and optimism can undermine even the best ideas. Starting a business is frustrating: hard work with no guarantees. A positive attitude is crucial for navigating through rough patches and growing pains. A bad attitude may not only lead to abandoning otherwise great ideas but could also discourage employees and stand in the way of innovation.

A Good Plan

A clearly defined business plan or strategy does not have to be complicated or groundbreaking to achieve success. It should be well thought out and easily implemented to define how the business will operate and grow. A good business plan should include a marketing plan and product strategy as well as a program for employee retention. A sound financial plan including budgets, realistic projects, and cost-benefit analysis is also critical. (For more, see: 5 Steps To A Small Business Marketing Plan.)

A Good Team

Co-founders, employees, advisors, and investors all are members of a team formed to operate and manage the company. Having trusted advisors who can convey unbiased advice and draw from a well of wisdom and experience can help a young firm succeed. Advisors should challenge and hold founders highly accountable. Employees should be hired who are smart and ambitious but also fit in with the developing corporate culture.

6 Characteristics Of Successful Apps

The company has been founded with a great idea, a team in place, and a vision of how to proceed. Some characteristics of products or services successful tech start-ups offer that can give insight into what works are:

Unique and Appealing Design

Make the app, website or product appealing and pleasing to look at. With so much competition, app developers and web designers need to make their products look amazing. Branding and packaging the app in a unique and recognizable way is essential. Even if two companies offer basically the same service, they can be differentiated by the design, look and feel of the user interface.


You may have a great app, but if you only developed it for the Apple iTunes app store when it will appeal to users of Android mobile devices, you are handicapping your business. When operating across platforms, the user experience needs to be modified to take advantage of the native features of different devices.

Ease of Use

The website, app, or service needs to be easy to install and use. People do not have the time or patience to learn how to navigate a complicated app or website when a competitor may offer a much more intuitive version. Make sure users can get what they want from the app instantly or sooner.


Price competition is fierce, with one firm likely to undercut another to grab market share. In addition, the proliferation of free apps and websites supported by advertising or other alternative revenue sources makes charging money a potential turn-off for customers. Try offering a free version as well as full-featured paid version.

Fun and Engaging

The majority of all apps downloaded to mobile devices are used just once and then eventually deleted. To avoid that pitfall, consider adding features such as embedding social media, or gamifying the experience by offering bonuses or points for unlocking various achievements and rewarding users for remaining engaged.

Leveraging The Network Effect 

Marketing and advertising are key, but so is word-of-mouth and user-generated reviews. Maintaining high user feedback scores encourages new users to sign up and then spread the word to others. Even a great idea from a great company that follows all of the rules for success may fall flat if they don't get enough downloads or unique users to build a critical mass. Part of this may be dumb luck or whimsy, but creating forward momentum in as many ways as is possible helps put luck on your side.