The cost of building an App

by Josh Owens

January 6th, 2021

What will my app development cost me?

I get this question from time to time "what is the cost to develop an app"? I posted an answer a while back on Quora, but thought it would be good to revisit it on our blog. When you have an app idea and some cash, but don't have deep technical skills and knowledge, where do you start? It can feel overwhelming to figure out how to get started with the app development process.

First off, welcome to the new Kickstand blog! Our team has worked with Fortune 50 companies and self-funded startups. We have a lot of experience building applications and software for web and mobile. I’ve personally been building custom software for over 14 years now, my goal is to share some of what I learned on how to create an app.

Be clear about app features and why you need them

One of the most important things is to convey to your developer is why you want to build an app. When your app development team understands why you want to build an app, the good developers will use that knowledge. They will make sure the solutions they build will fit the needs of the business in the best way possible. Most people with ideas want to describe how to build the app. But it is the deeper why that will lead good developers on a better path to turning your vision into a user experience.

Think about a grocery product page. The product page exists only to get people to add the product to the cart. The add to cart button the most important on the page. When we understand the goal is to sell groceries we can start to get context... Things like, where is the traffic to that page coming from? Do we need to think about SEO? Will page speed matter? These are questions we likely ask during the discovery process. Because we know eCommerce is a big goal, we know page speed does matter. Optimizing page markup and descriptions do matter for search engines. It changes where developers spend time and where they focus on app features they build.

Ok, but how much will it cost to create an app?

The cost to create an app is like buying a car. The cost of the project depends on a lot of different factors. Things like how many app features, size of the app development team, do they have a project manager, what kind of QA process, etc. You can get a ‘used car’ version of an application built (10k), but expect more bugs and problems... The team is likely cutting corners and trading off major concessions to get things done cheap. You can buy a new car version of an app too. Do you want something dependable like a new Honda Minivan? You can get a solid app built for $50k. Want the top end of app development? That is gonna be like a new sports car, upwards of $200k. The top end will be many rounds of development, testing, and release. A whole team working towards a stable and full-featured application for customers.

Iron Triangle

When it comes to cost, you have three main factors to consider; Quality, Speed, and Cost. Projects are usually drive by budget, timelines, and scope of app features. To deliver something of value, you will need to choose between quality, speed, and cost. Whenever someone asks me if it is possible to build a product or an app feature, I laugh. Then I reply that given enough time and money, we can build anything.

Above all else, keep in mind the old adage: You get what you pay for.

Can I get a fixed price on my project?

There are two options for building out a project: fixed bid or time and materials. Fixed bid is where you try to scope out a project and document everything the team is going to build, up front. Fixed bids are tempting, but they tend to lead to arguments. Those arguments usually center around "Did we mean X or Y in our scope docs". The developers will also try to get done as fast as possible and will push back to not change scope. You will have ideas and want to expand and change scope as you see the application in action. As Mike Tyson said, no plans survive the first punch.

A quality dev shop will want to do time and materials. They charge an hourly rate, will give you an estimate and write user stories to work against. Estimations are a guess and at the start of the project, you and the development team have a lot of unanswered questions about the product. Working in an hourly fashion may seem scary, but it gives you the flexibility to change your mind as you use the app and start to learn what works. You know what the product should be... Why limit your app based on an assumption made weeks or months before a team started working on the complex app?

What about bugs?

No software is bug-free. You should run far away from any dev or dev shop that says otherwise. Sticking with the car analogy, it is very rare to have a new car out for a year and have no recalls on it. Humans are fallible, we should account for in the development process. This is why Kickstand does automated testing and manual testing of applications. We want to find these bugs before they ship to production or an App Store.

How do you choose an app development team?

You have an idea and you likely have a source of cash. Your top priority is to understand how much of your idea can be built and what is the total cost. The next step is to vet out the developer or dev shop you are talking to. Have they launched software before? Can you talk to other app owners to see what the process was like for them? Have they ever had code audited? Ask them what processes they have in place to ensure code quality? Do they pair program, what kind of testing or QA work do they do? Do they have a weekly check-in where they show off working code?

If you are interested in getting an app built, feel free to drop us a line and we can chat.

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