I get this question often.  Actually, it normally starts with “How much to build me an app that does XYZ?”.    The answer is that its more complicated than you might think.  Before getting to how much your app will cost, we need to figure out what your app needs to be!

First, Let’s Research the Idea

Brilliant_Idea_Barnstar_HiresBefore going into any project you need to do some research first and find competitors and understand the market as it currently stands.  This step is non-negotiable unless you are building an app for an established business with an existing user base and have a very good understanding of your customers’ needs.

When you start doing this research remember that competition is a good thing so don’t let it get you down.  Competition means someone else thought it a good enough idea to execute on.  Knowing your competition before you start can tell you what is working (and is not) in the market right now.   If there is a lot of competition then you have that much more information.  After all, being the first to the idea is often times not the best position to be in.  That means you need to educate the users on what your new product category is and why they need it!

When doing your research, think about these things and make notes:

  • How successful is each competing product?  Who are most successful?
  • How long have they been at it and what sort of resources do they have (small team, indie group, well funded, etc)?
  • How are they making money?
  • How does your take on the problem improve on what they’ve done?
  • If there is not a lot of successful competition, will people understand your product?
  • What is everyone competing against (the status quo)?   For example:  Evernote is competing against pen and paper.

Once you have a list of the competition out there and have downloaded and played with their products, you are ready for the next step.

Now, Figure Out What Features You Need

This can very easily be the hardest step.  Think through the problem you are trying to solve and try to break it down into smaller pieces.   For each of these problems figure out what your product will do to solve them for your customer.  This list is your feature list for a ‘perfect’ product.

Now start eliminating features.  Be ruthless.  Have a friend help you that is not as close to the project as you are, they will be more subjective.  The point of this exercise is to figure out what your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) needs to have.

Even if you have enough resources to build out every feature you initially came up with, its almost certainly a bad idea to go at them all right out the gate because your product is built off of assumptions which may, or may not, prove true.  The bigger your product before testing assumptions, the more work to make adjustments when you find that you’ve missed on something.

A quick example:   When we were taking our first stab at SocialPar, we assumed that people wanted to know they would have another single golfer to pair up with before going to the golf course.  We assumed they they wouldn’t be overly concerned about who that person was since the status quo (getting randomly paired up at the golf course) was totally random.  We were very wrong in this assumption which meant we needed to scrap a lot of work done and start much of it over.  We had taken about one month building that first version of the product and if it had been two months building out more features, it would have been that much more time wasted.

How Will People Find Out?

This is where a quick dose of reality is necessary.  1000s of apps are put out there every week.  Some of those apps are plain garbage.  Some of them are amazing products and very well funded with huge marketing budgets.  Every one of those products wants to go viral but very few will.

The answer here is not that it will go viral.  Very few things do and those that do are hard, if not impossible, to predict.  If your product does not go viral out the gate, you will need some form of sustainable growth mechanism to keep going.   What can your product do that will make people want to share it with their friends or cause it to come up in conversation?  Spend a lot of time brainstorming on this and, once again, talk with people not so close to the project.

Finally, Who is Going to Build it?

In the interest of full disclosure (and shameless self-promotion) I fall into the Independent Developer category and I am taking on new clients.

Let’s actually look at 3 options.  With all 3 options, do not go forward without seeing past work and, if possible, talking to past customers.

The ‘Cheaper’ and Far Away Option

It’s very much in everyone’s face that a lot of development is being outsourced to India, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe.  Skilled laborers there are less expensive and can technically be just as good as people here.  That said, just like hiring someone in your own country, it is hard to find good people.  If you have ever had to hire anyone you know this all too well.  If you elect to go this route I strongly recommend that you understand software development or have someone that does whom you trust working directly with your outsourced workers.

In my past I have seen this work well and not work at all.  Keep in mind:

  • This option will require that you have your product extremely well thought out and documented.
  • You probably end up spending a lot of time managing those you hire in this situation.
  • Keep in mind that good developers are paid well, no matter where they are.  These people are not getting $5 an hour.  Expect a good (not great) developer to cost at least $40k a year over there.
  • A great developer does not mean a great ‘product person’.  Someone that is both is generally 2x the price and at least 2x as rare.
  • Don’t expect them to always tell you ‘no’ when you ask for something that doesn’t make sense.

A Big Development Shop

Typically this is the most expensive but a fairly safe route to go.  Most often these shops are dealing with projects ranging from a minimum of $50k but probably averaging the 100k – 500k+ range.  With this type of shop you can let off the controls a little as, the better ones at least, will have product people that will help guide you through figuring your product out.  Consider that these groups can have significant overhead and that you will be looking at paying somewhere between $150 – $250 an hour for developers and management depending on quality and reputation.

Keep in mind that in this type of shop there is a good chance that the people working on multiple projects at once.  If you are paying the big bucks try to ensure you have someone that is full time devoted to your project so they can be fully held accountable for the end product.

An Indie Developer / Small Development Shop

This can be a very good option if you can find the right people.   Small shops or Independent developers will have a great deal of pride in the products that they produce since their deal flow is much smaller and seen from start to finish by a small group.   The cost for this type of development will  vary widely from $80 – $200 an hour depending on their experience and quality of product.

If you are interested in working with me, send me a note via the contact us link at the top of the page!