How to create the next killer app

I am an engineer at heart, obsessed with details and design. However, I also like to consider myself a creative, full of imaginative ideas. So when developing what would eventually become Trivia Crack, I had to call on both sides of my brain to make it happen. It was clear from the beginning that I wanted to create a game that was entertaining and educational — but that also looked really cool. I was determined to make it stand out compared with all the bad games out there.

Maximo Cavazzani
Source: Etermax
Maximo Cavazzani

So from our humble office, inside a working textile warehouse in Buenos Aires, Trivia Crack was born. Along with the small Etermax team, we revised and refined Trivia Crack countless times, often driving ourselves a bit mad in the process. Eventually, after hundreds of hours of hard work — and a strong dose of Argentine ingenuity — the game was ready for the world.

While developing this highly successful game with massive cross-cultural appeal, I learned several lessons that I think speak to both the engineer and the artist within me. I want to offer them here to all aspiring tech developers looking to make a mark with their apps.

Make the purpose clear

Your app has to do one thing, and do it well. Period. It must be apparently clear from the get-go what the game is about and why it will be fun to play and easy to use. You will undoubtedly have limited resources during the development process. You must focus on being the best at one thing, not average at ten. Your app has to be an titanium hammer, not a case of cheap tools.

Pass the smile test

You want your app to make people smile when you describe it to them. This may seem silly, but it is incredibly useful advice, whether you are speaking to potential players, investors, or fellow developers. In a connected world, where everyone has access to everything all the time, people choose their content based on emotion, and the Smile Test is a surefire way to know if you have a winning idea or not. Just watch the expression on people's faces when you tell them about your app. Passing this test will also help you overcome the next hurdle: getting them to take 60 seconds to download and use the app.

Use it every day

A few years before Trivia Crack was born, I designed a tip calculator for Android. It was the No. 1 finance app in the world on Google Play for months, and generated millions of downloads. Then why did I not make millions of dollars? Because people used it a couple of times and then forgot they had it on their phones. When creating your app, look for the little things that people need or have to do every day; things that will help you maintain their long-term loyalty. Here, the name of the game is retention.

Generate buzz

We are in 2016. People talk face-to-face much less than they did even five years ago. You may not be able to change this, but if you take advantage of social tools and work to promote your product through word-of-mouth, it won't matter if you don't have any money for marketing or PR. Generating buzz, even if it's among your friends and family initially, is hugely important.


Details, details, details. Use your app all the time. Have your sisters, your brothers and your cousins use it. Use it obsessively. Check similar apps and return to yours, while comparing them in the process. Strive for perfection. It's a tough crowd out there; only the very best products will survive in 2016, and the same will be true one hundred years from now.

Embrace aesthetics

No matter how good your app is, in the end, everything comes down to perception. The look of the icons, colors, and buttons is of paramount importance. A single pixel can make the difference between an attractive app and an ugly one. If you don't have a good eye for design, find someone who does.

Try this experiment: look for an app designed to address one vertical or space, such as running. Download the first one that catches your eye, download a few other similar ones. Then decide which of them you would keep. You'll probably come to realize that the functionality of the app is of little importance in your final decision; it's the appearance that will likely pull you in. People like pretty things — always remember that!

Don't let it crash

There is nothing more discouraging than seeing an app crash. I always say that applications have to be able to withstand the test of a restless finger. This means you have to be able to touch every app on the screen at the same time, and your app still should not crash. Usually stability is the last thing considered during the development process, but it really should be among the first things you focus on. Again, by maintaining simplicity, you create less opportunity for crashes, keeping users coming back for more.

Always innovate

Finally, success comes from either being the first or being the best. If you're going to create an app that has already been done, and it isn't better than the previous ones, there is no point in creating it at all. It's amazing how many times people think they can dethrone apps that are king without developing a sexier app with better functionality and features. Remember, people will choose your app because you offer something different — and the substance of that creation is all that really matters.

It can take months or sometimes years of hard obsessive work to create an app — let alone one that explodes in popularity. We're all waiting for the next viral app. Go forth, my friends, and create.

Commentary by Maximo Cavazzani, the founder and CEO of Etermax, a Buenos Aires-based mobile-gaming company responsible for popular apps including Aworded, WordCrack and Trivia Crack. Cavazzani created Etermax when he was still a university student in Argentina. The company´s first product, iStock Manager, was sold to Ameritrade. Follow him on Twitter @MaximoCavazzani.

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