What Does it Cost and Truly Take to Build an App?
Your app idea is brilliant, truly groundbreaking. It could be the NEXT thing but you have no idea how much it’s going to cost to bring it to life. However, you’ve seen hundreds of awful apps in the App Store, so it can’t be that difficult. Right? If a 17 year old can do it AND now runs a multi-million dollar startup, surely you can. After all, you live tech, constantly coming up with ideas and building a startup is just the next natural step for you. But how much money do you really need? And how to get the ball rolling?
This has been the story of many entrepreneurs, many of them now successful and many of them who have called it quits. So what have we learned from them that you can glean nuggets of wisdom from in this article? A LOT!
Strap in, you’re about to learn a boat load!
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Let’s answer a question – Are you going to go ALL OUT and build the app from start to finish now, or are you going to build a prototype, a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) that you intend to pitch to investors so you can build it out later?
The difference between the two depends on several things. Are you likely to turn a profit right away? What about scaling, do you have money to help it grow after launch? How comfortable are you asking friends and family to help out when things get rough?
If funds are low, you may want to go the MVP route where you’ll prove to investors that they’ve made a good decision in supporting your idea. Though it’s worth noting, investors rarely onboard at the idea phase.
Alternatively, if you’re confident that the product and market is valuable, viable and validated, and you have a few dollars in your back pocket, going alone may be the right option for you.
Regardless of which you choose, being ready for the unexpected should be your greatest skill.
WHAT KIND OF COSTS SHOULD YOU BUDGET FOR?
Asking an app developer how much your app will cost to build is not an easy answer, in fact, you’ll likely get a wide range like $5,000 to $500,000. This answer is correct. You see, app projects have unlimited scope, limited only by the funds available. So how do you work out your project’s scope and cost? You have to ask yourself our next question.
Question 2: Are you building you app for iOS, Android, or both?
This question is important because each is a different programming language, so you actually need a different developer for each (yes, actually). If you yourself don’t come from a development background, you’ll need a technical project manager to not only keep on track, but to also be your ‘developer speak’ translator.
If you’re feeling extremely optimistic about your idea, you can build in both, however, most modest projects start with one, such as iOS (depends on your demographic, do they use iOS or Android more?) The costs of building and supporting both platforms prior to proving demand can be extremely high.
Question 3: How much do features truly cost and what other costs should I expect?
This, of course, is different for everyone, however, if you’re building an app with only a few initial features, no API (integration into other software), not many screens and a project timeline of several months (in other words, not rushed), you may be looking at something like the following costs.
- DESIGN: $ 3,000
- WEBSITE TO MARKET THE APP: $ 5,000
- GLOBAL TRADEMARKS + SETTING UP COMPANY + ACCOUNTING: $ 5,000 (+)
- DEVELOPMENT: 4 months
- $ 3,000 per month per iOS Developer
- $ 3,000 per month per Android Developer
- ESTIMATED BUDGET: $ 37,000 (+)
- OPTIMISTIC BUDGET: $ 40,000 (+)
So, before you even start, your budget is now $40k. This is why it’s important to truly understand your goal and how you intend on getting there.
Believe it or Not, NOTHING Will Run Smoothly
It’s really important to appreciate all the moving parts that comes from software creation. Respecting and expecting the ups and downs (where you may find yourself adding more money into the project) will ease those transitions. Things like bugs, developers working on other tasks and challenges can throw your timeline off-track quickly (this is why giving your project more time than it needs is healthy).
It’s a rollercoaster, but an amazing one! This is why having a ‘mentor’ whose been through it all before, is an great asset.
Having a mentor will help you understand how to work with your developer on delivering milestones if things go off-track. He or she can help you with a variety of things, such as adequate responses to issues and maintaining detailed time sheets of what your developers are spending their time on so you can protect your budget.
In this way, you’ll be able to make smart decisions on whether your app is worth pursuing, and whether it’s time to seek funding earlier.
Prepare For Ups, Downs and the Need for More Money — Just In Case
Not long after you start your project you’ll become familiar with the ‘Curveball’ and why you should have started budgeting for it months ago.
Just when you think you’re in control and everything is running smoothly, BAMM! Curveball.
Here’s an example. Discovering I needed to rebuild an entire piece of the app because Apple users hoard over 10,000 images on their phones, crashing my app and requiring an extra 2-3 months of development.
Or the greatest curveball of them all: Rebuilding the entire app after launching.
Why would that happen you ask? Several reasons, however, the one people don’t often consider is popularity. It’s entirely possible that your development team don’t have the resources available to handle the popularity an app can see. Who will service the bugs that pop up? What about adding the features? Dealing with complaints?
It can be heartbreaking to move teams, but hard decisions like this have to be made. Suddenly, you’re finding, negotiating, signing and moving your entire project and its code to a new team, who will reassess your code. It’s entirely possible that their perspective and experience tells you they should completely rebuild your app to deal with the popularity. BAMM! Curveball again!
So what would the lesson be here? You truly can’t know everything. You can inoculate yourself through knowledge, asking questions, strong finances and accepting the ups and downs, but the journey is just that, a journey, and it will ebb and flow. The only certainty in the app startup world is uncertainty, so plan for it financially and mentally so you don’t turn into a zombie when things take a turn.
How Can You Avoid Mistakes and Cut Your Costs Down?
Easily, the best way to cut down your costs is to avoid having to move your project to another team. How can you avoid the unexpected? Spend more time looking through the portfolios of your developers, ask for personal referrals to good teams instead of jumping straight into the project without researching.
You really want to resist the temptation to try and cut corners when hiring your team. Put a lot of time and caution into this very important step, it’ll save you headaches, time and money down the road.
Building Traction After Launching
You did it! Your app is now live in the App Store, your idea has been brought to life!
So what do you do after the celebrations? How do you get the masses to see how amazing your app is? To use it? To tell their friends?
The next steps after the app is built is a whole other world., and the most important piece of app building. This isn’t Hollywood, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come.
Also known as the traction (or growth phase), getting users to download and use your app doesn’t come free. Monthly maintenance such as bug management, ongoing development, accounting etc.. means expenses and it will differ for everyone. So what does a breakdown of ongoing costs look like?
- Ongoing development costs (iOS + Android): $ 2,500
- Bug Management + Customer Feedback Dashboard: $ 250
- Server: $ 100 (or more depending on what services you are providing to your users)
- Website, e-mails, hosting and Google Suite: $ 50
- Accounting, phone bills and Internet: $ 250
- MailChimp E-mail Services: $ 50
- Masterminds/Mentors + Online Education: $ 500
- Virtual Assistant: $ 800
Ongoing Monthly Costs: $ 4,500
That’s not all, you’ll want to find someone to help tackle the following ongoing tasks as well.
- CTO and management of development team
- Marketing/PR/Partnerships Manager
- Social Media and Community Management
- Blog writing
- Customer service
- Graphic design
- Suffice to say, building an app is NOT a get-rich quick scheme. It takes time and money, and over 90% of apps never make it to the app stores featured page.
Be prepared for the amount of time you will need to spend, or think early about co-founders or development partners. Only 1% of apps go viral, those success stories you hear about are few and far between. Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t move ahead with your idea, just temper your expectations and do it for the right reasons.
If your app does go viral, guess what? That’s going to cost you money. Don’t forget that detail.
You’ll probably won’t earn any money upon launch, you might lose weight, and you will wonder what happened to those weekends everyone talks about, including the mythical work/life balance ideology you keep hearing about. However, it’s an amazing ride and one that is extremely rewarding if you love the challenge, your idea and the audience you’re working for.
We’re not writing this article to scare you, no, quite the opposite actually. We want to prepare you, be honest and realistic with you because in the end, we would be your development team, your partners in your wonderful project. So it’s important we set the right expectations.
So keep reading about success and especially, the failures of others. Let their lessons sink in, and before you do anything, ask yourself, ‘How much am I truly willing to put into this. Then, do yourself the greatest favour you can ever do for yourself, research the heck out of your audience, your target market, the problems you’ll encounter, and how you can get in front of them!