How to make an app like Scan2List

I recently sat down with Scan2List founder, Kate Cass, to discuss how she when about making the shopping list app.  You will find it in the App Store here

Please describe your mobile app, and the audience it targets.

Scan2List is a free Australian iPhone App that allows you to quickly and easily create shopping lists simply by scanning the barcodes of items in your pantry or manually adding them to a list. Lists can then be saved for future use and synchronised with other Scan2List App users in the household. When at the shops, a list can be organized into aisles that match the layout of the store and items can be checked off as they are added to the trolley. The main demographic we are trying to target is parents, the time poor, early adopters of technology and smartphone users. When you look at our app figures to date, the main users are woman aged between 18-45.

What’s your background (in brief)?

I am a commercial photographer by training and have been running my own photographic and graphic design business since 2002. Prior to this, I have been a studio manager, a mountain manager and staff photographer in the well know Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in Canada, and have also worked as an afterhours emergency assistance telephone agent for a corporate travel company.
Now married with two children, my busy lifestyle and everyday struggle with work/life balance provided fertile ground for the Scan2List concept.

How did you come up with the idea? What other research did you do to back it up?

The idea for the app came about on the couch on a Saturday afternoon. I wanted to get my husband to do the shopping and get the exact brands and items we used in our household, not the ones he thought we used! It was 2009 and Scan2List was born.

After I had the initial idea I started to scope the idea out. The beginning step was to research the market.  For my app, I was after the early adopters, smartphone mums and the primary grocery shoppers in the household. There are many shopping apps on the market. I went through all the competitors’ features and composed a competitive analysis on the best ones in the market at the time. The aim was to make the Scan2List app better and have a great user experience that involved a scanning feature.

Keep in mind it was 2009 and the only scanning technology that was on the market was for price comparison whilst most products sold on the Australian supermarket shelves were not supported.

How did you fund it? As you launched on a “shoe-string” what were the technology decisions/approach etc. that you made?

I initially funded the app my using some cash I had in an asset. My house! A very scary prospect.

After looking at our options we decided to licence the backend platform we used. We licensed the backend platform and customized the front end (skin) and built our interface to transfer the GS1 data and store info into the app. We found a partner in the US who was close to releasing a barcode scanner, had a stable platform and access to advertising case studies. This decision was made due to wanting to maintain first mover advantage and budget issues.  To build the app with the features I wanted was very expensive and would have slowed our launch in the market.

How did you approach marketing? What was your marketing budget? How effective was it? What channel worked best? What would you change?

Most of the marketing was done through PR and media pieces both on TV and radio. If you put your feelers out to network contacts you can do this very cheaply. TV and radio was by far the most effective form of marketing for Scan2List. Especially the radio pieces that involved an interview. We saw downloads skyrocket when these aired.

Marketing via the social media channels also worked well, although it did require more work for fewer downloads.

How long did it take you from start to launch?

I first took the shopping app concept to MEGA (Mobile Enterprise Growth Alliance) in May 2009.  In November 2010 Scan2List was launched.

What are the goals you set for your app initially? Have you met them?

One of the main goals for the app was to have it plugged in with a delivery service. We are still trying to forge these paths and hope to have a partner later this year.

What back-end resources did you need; what was the database interface?

We needed extensive data from GS1 Australia, the body that manages barcodes here, for our barcode information and had to build our own backend data base to support our barcode ingestion and store data.

Four days before we launched, GS1 realized that although they’d previously agreed we could provide barcode details to third parties, their own terms and conditions did not permit this.  This was a critical feature of the app, so losing it would’ve put the whole project at risk.  Fortunately, GS1 could see the benefit of our being able to share the barcodes with third parties, so after some negotiation they proceeded to amend their own terms and conditions to permit this third party sharing.

What’s your road map for the next six months, year?

I would like to see Scan2List downloads continue to increase. We have a recipe portal that is nearly ready to roll out as is the Android version of the app. Hopefully this will lead to a greater take up with the brands and other publications.

The ability to add items to a list from anywhere: television, a magazine, a web page or even another app leads to endless possibilities. I would also like to launch in other verticals such as home wares and the home hardware sectors too.

Watch this space. Who knows what the next year will bring.

What have been your biggest lessons so far? What would you do differently?

My biggest lesson so far is to ensure you have NDA’s drawn up between everyone you plan to show the “app in progress” to. I learned the hard way when I took our idea incorporating a delivery solution to a large chain, who rather liked it, but ultimately to our detriment.

Overall, I think actually building the backend platform ourselves would have been better in the long term. I would have had more control over the direction of the app in a broad sense and been able to add supporting APIs to complement our app in the Australian market without dramatically changing the scope of work with the app developers.

I would also have raised capital early on to invest into a stronger marketing plan and dedicated sales staff.

Take into consideration that everything takes longer and costs more than you expect it to. Keep smiling and when things get tough, take time to look back at the start and celebrate how far you have come over time.

To read more of this case study, including the key lessons, take our Course and learn how to make your own app.

Claudia Sangripanti

Claudia Sangripanti wrote on

Claudia's been a thought leader in mobile marketing since the early 1990s. She was the founding chair of AIMIA. In addition to expertise in marketing mobile apps, she brings a background in early stage funding to the Course. Claudia loves being surprised by new music on her Pandora app.