When people want to make an app, building an audience seems like one of the least exciting things. Designing the app is excited, drawing the wireframes, showing our friends, testing prototypes – these are the exciting things. But as it always is, the exciting fun things are not the only things you need to do in order to have a successful app. You need to spend time doing the boring things, like building a community around your app.

I’ve explained how you can build an audience before. Today, I’m going to tell you a story to illustrate why this is so important – my story with Pufferfish Software. Pufferfish is the company I started to sell apps for autistic children a couple years ago. Initially, I attracted some success without building an audience at all, selling as much as $1000 worth of apps in a month. On the outside, it looked like I was doing everything right. I was making money, taking out ads, blogs were reviewing my app, everything was going swimmingly.

I dropped my effort to a part time effort, to get jobs outside of app development and generally explore life in the way that eighteen year olds do. In a well constructed passive income business, that wouldn’t have been a business killer. Sales would have dropped because the ad sales dropped, but the light maintenance on my email list and content I was doing would have been enough to keep the audience intact.

However, when I came back and wanted to pick up development, my audience had completely eroded. Any business erodes when you don’t put in effort, but not any business would completely evaporate within months. All the way back to square one. $0 in sales, 0 customers to talk to. I had no customers to talk to, no sense of what they wanted to see out of my product, and investing more money into development would be firing blind. That’s bad when you’re starting to build an app, but that’s a really bad position to be in when you’re already seen as established.

When you build an audience for your app, you’re building your business. Your business isn’t your app, or your sales – it’s the ability to repeatably deliver value to your customers. A relationship with your customers is far more valuable than any app. Anyone can throw an app together, but only people who know their customers can depend on sales.

Apple doesn’t teach this philosophy of app development. Apple doesn’t care about you knowing your customers, they care about them knowing their customers. To Apple, you’re just a vendor, and they’re the people connecting resources to customers. That’s why Apple sales data is anonymized, and that’s why you need to look outside the App Store to build customer relationships.