I get asked all of the time: “what’s the difference between a successful application and a failed application?” Turns out, it has has nothing to do with the technology, the design, or the user experience.

It’s simple. The difference between a winning application and failed one is the same as the difference between any failed or successful business. Mobile is a novel channel in many ways, forcing businesses to adopt new strategies for success. But the process of getting there isn’t dependent on your technology, talent, or market segment. It’s about asking yourself the basic questions that any business must ask – and answer – to determine if it is viable and positioned for success.

The important questions

What?
What benefit are you proposing to provide? What are the basic terms of your value exchange with users? You would be surprised how often this question is overlooked.

It’s overlooked because, as it happens, entrepreneurs and product owners at big companies are actually very smart. When you’re smart, it’s easy for people to see validity in most of your ideas. So now you have a bunch of cheerleaders around you, and the question immediately becomes How: “how much or how long will it take to build something like that?”

Why?
Why should people care about what you’re offering? Is it really different from the 10,000 other choices? If it is, it’s because it solves a problem for someone, because it’s answers are at the top of The Pain Pyramid. The Pain Pyramid is a simple but useful test that forces you to consider – at all times – the pains that are at the top of people’s lists. Remember that the pain pyramid has different life events such as looking for a cab (uBer), searching for a reasonably priced room (HotelsTonight), or hunting for your future ex-girlfriend (Tinder). How many suffer this pain and how often? What are the current solutions? And those solutions might not be in the form of competitive companies, but of real-life alternatives like public transportation (uBer), staying with a friend (HotelsTonight), or going to a bar (Tinder). Understanding why people would add your product to their rotation of options to solve their pain and more importantly choose your product is where the rubber meets the road.

Who?
Who exactly are you targeting? Because it’s not “everyone.” There’s this little thing called an addressable market, better known as the group of early adopters that will decide your app’s fate. Understanding the most likely audience that will adopt your service and care about your message is foundational. Understanding what moves them is also critical.

Forget the How
“How?” is the wrong question. It’s tempting for these people because not only are they smart, they are often tremendously efficient. After receiving confirmation that their idea is a good idea (from other smart people like them), their temptation is to execute – immediately.

Instead – stop executing and start thinking. You give consumers what, in exchange for what? Is that fair? How will the ask change over time?

Would you open an office, storefront, restaurant or any other business with no marketing budget, operational support for 6 months and no plan of how it will make money and sustain itself? Well why would you do that with your mobile experience? This is your digital doorway and you can find ways to keep people in and spending money.

Stop focusing on the how – that’s the easy part. Focus on What, Why, Who. Look at each new product as a revenue driver or an extension of a major revenue driver and you’ll be in the right mindset.

Look at your mobile efforts as strategic business initiatives for the long term. Anything short of that will create a product that only serves to damage your brand and make adoption of viable products more difficult.