I had the distinct pleasure of working with several Dominican University Brennan School business students on various school projects this week.  Some were presenting new business ideas, others were developing marketing plans for existing businesses.

All did a terrific job, bringing academic rigor and enthusiasm to real business problems.  As expected, all emphasized smart use of social media in their marketing plans.

However, the preponderance of “apps” in the presentations surprised me.  In some cases, students presenting new business ideas emphasized their new apps, technology and user experience over the actual logistics of running proposed businesses.  Even business ideas that centered around delivering tangible goods to customers focused more on the apps for ordering on one’s phone than on product specifications, procurement, vendor relationships, warehouses, delivery, staff, inventory, capital tied up in inventory, and all the other elements of managing a consumer product business.

Almost as if a cool app makes products appear – like magic – on a customer’s front stoop.  Maybe that’s not surprising, given how this generation has grown up in a “one click” mobile-enhanced world.  Afterwards, professors talked with me about how this generation’s perspective on business in an app-driven world calls for some adjustments to curriculum.

The term “app” simply means a software application that can be downloaded to a mobile device to assist the user in performing a specific function.  I myself have over fifty apps on my phone – way more than I would have thought had you asked me to guess. I probably only use a dozen on a regular basis, but yet I can rent a car or book a flight at the touch of a button.

I wouldn’t say that my travel-related apps prompt me to travel more (although I will grant you that they enhance brand loyalty.)  Perhaps Amazon’s app does prompt impulsive purchasing. But these apps all help me access products I already know and want. They are convenient, and important, but they are tools, not actual product.

If your business plan hinges on having a flashy, fun app, make sure you have quality product behind it.  A business starts with product, not the app used to order it.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...