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I am developing a communications app to help college students from all universities in the same country to connect with each other. This is my first time developing an app, so I don't know who the stakeholders are for this project.

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Maybe have a look at this Wikipedia page which could give some suggestions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_stakeholder.

If nobody gave you this task, and you have no users yet, you're the sole stakeholder at the moment (as the project leader and single project team member). It's your hobby project, you're the only one who is unhappy if it doesn't come to fruition, as nobody else even knows about the plans to create such an app.

Once the app is deployed and you have a user base, you might consider them stakeholders (as the product user group) as they have an interest in your application being usable. If and how you include their opinions and preferences in determining the future direction of your project is entirely at your discretion.

If your app interferes with other interests (for example if students use it to cheat at exams), other groups may become stakeholders as they are affected by your app in some way.

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The pure definition of a stakeholder is someone who is interested in the project, either because they are paying for it or will be impacted by it. But I would also include those people who will be interested in it or whom you want them to be interested in it. The reasons why we identify our stakeholders are so we know how to include them in some way, through communications, education, participation, etc. So if you do not begin to think about your target stakeholders, so that you can figure out how to engage with them, then you are late to the game.

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Analysis

I'm going to highlight a few items and assumptions from your question in order to answer based on the limited information provided. You say:

I am developing a communications app to help college students from all universities in the same country to connect with each other.

Assumptions

Here are some key assumptions based on what you wrote:

  1. You are a solo developer.

    You aren't doing this as paid work for a company where you are an employee, nor is someone paying you to develop the app.

  2. Your project is not being funded by investors.

    You're doing this on your own time, with your own money. You are not financially accountable to anyone but yourself (and your vendors or service providers) for the way you handle any development costs such as equipment, software, licensing, cloud computing costs, and so on.

  3. Your product plan is self-directed.

    You have some goals and perhaps even features in mind, but you haven't been handed specifications by a customer, client, or supervisor. That means the product deliverables are up to you, so while you might have a target market you don't have any actual stakeholders in a product management sense.

Take-Aways

You don't have a formal project, nor do you have a formal product plan. You most likely don't have a formal budget or marketing plan either. As a result, you have an objective but it isn't a project with stakeholders in the professional sense of the word.

The only real stakeholder is yourself. You're the one with "skin in the game." The time, budget, and success or failure of your endeavor are entirely yours, so while there is a stakeholder, the sole stakeholder is you.

From a project management standpoint, you are the project sponsor. You are responsible for planning and budgeting the project, and deciding whether the deliverables from the project are fit-for-purpose. You are also responsible for managing the project's resources, including labor, time, and money to fit within whatever parameters you've set for the project.

Shift to an MVP Mindset

Unless you're planning to scale this up more than your original post suggests, your best bet is likely to treat this as an opportunity for validated learning about your potential market. That means putting together a "minimum viable product" that may not be fully functional or salable, but that you can show people and ask questions like:

  1. Would you find this product useful?
  2. Would you buy it instead of some other related product if it had these unique features or value proposition?
  3. How much would you pay for this product?
  4. Is there anything that would prevent you from buying or using the product as it's currently envisioned?

These are just suggestions. Entire books are written on marketing, market analysis, product design, and finding a market fit.

Focus on Your Resources and Market Goals

Since you don't have any stakeholders, and assuming you're not just doing this as a hobby, your only concerns at this point should be:

  1. Whether you have the skills and resources to build whatever it is you're imagining.
  2. Whether what you're imagining has a target market.
Differentiate Between Stakeholders and Customer Prospects

"Build it and they will come" is certainly one approach, and perfectly suitable for small projects that don't need a lot of up-front resources. However, from a business perspective, building something you already know people want to buy is a much better long term plan. That means shifting your thinking from engineering and project management to marketing.

Take a look at the way some of the projects on Kickstarter are handled. Once someone commits resources (such as a pre-order) to a project, then they are de facto stakeholders, although the Kickstarter model isn't one that gives such stakeholders much power beyond the Net Promoter Effect and the recourse of a refund. Still, looking at the model will give you an idea of the difference between "prospective future customers" and project stakeholders, which seems to be at the heart of your original question.

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