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How much would it cost me to build my app idea?

Web & Mobile

Joshua Davidson wrote this article


This is a question that we hear very often.

In fact, I probably wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that we hear this question each and every day. And it makes sense.

You have an incredible idea, and you are willing to put down an investment to make it happen. But do you have an idea of what the price point for building an app? Because everyone’s idea is different, and every idea requires a different amount of resources, there is no one-size-fits-all figure. A plethora of options of who can build an app exists from freelancers to outsourcing overseas, to development shops, to more inclusive technological partners like us here at Chop Dawg. Each model is going to bring different pros and cons, but most importantly, different pricing due to different types of operations.

This article is meant to break down exactly what you need to consider when creating an application and why such costs are warranted.

One of the biggest things that I often see is that people think an idea might only take a few thousand dollars to build, while it may, in fact, take a few hundred thousand. Sometimes it is the exact opposite. The issue here is that due to such wide-range of pricing, nobody knows what is a true fair value and what the market is demanding.

One of the biggest things to understand about building an app is that you aren’t just building an app. A lot of different dynamics go into building a product that you see on the app store, on your phone, coming into the market. Let’s break things down in the simplest, macro overview to give you all an idea. Let’s say that you wanted to build a social networking app, similar to Twitter (easy for everyone to relate to). Here is everything that you would need to do just get it into the Apple App Store:

1) User Interface Design (Wireframing and High Fidelities)
2) Branding (Logo Design, App Icon, Color Scheme and Typefaces)
3) Marketing Materials (Frontend Website and Advertising Materials)
4) Mobile Development (iOS Development and Backend Development)
5) Web Development (Administrator Backend)
6) Server Setup and Integration

For those who have been through this process, you probably realize that I am summarizing everything too generally. In fact, you can break down all of the items above into much more detail. That is the point. Building an app isn’t just building an app, as it requires multiple individuals who are talented at what they do, can work together as a team, and produce results to build a quality product.

So let’s break things down a little bit further…

Let’s say Twitter didn’t exist and that we are creating this application from scratch. Designing an application alone isn’t just a sketch on a napkin that it sent to the development team. You need to focus on every detail. How are you going to focus on user engagement? How are you going to encourage individuals to sign up? How are you going to make the user experience delightful? What kind of logic (messages, tutorials, instructions, and steps) will be in place to guide your users to make the application work as intended?

The design process ALONE can typically take somewhere between 2-4 months. This is because quality takes time and you want to lay it all out on the line. Every single wireframe. Every single user functionality. How it is going to behave. How it is going to function. How it will work when you have a ton of users, minimal users, and when it is growing quickly. Every single piece needs to be well thought-out. We use the mindset ‘no pixel left unaccounted for’ internally. That’s the mindset that you need to have when designing an application.

Even once the wireframes have been nailed down, you need to move into high fidelities.

High fidelities are also known as finalized mockups, depending on who you talk to. These are the pixel-perfect versions of what a product will look like. Basically, you can show someone a high fidelity and they would think they are looking at a fully functioning app (just that no code has been established yet). This is a big deal. You want your development team to have no room for interpretation. You want your product to make design sense so it can be developed perfectly the first time around. It needs to look absolutely beautiful. After all, the design of a product is the product to an average user, not the code.

Again, I am oversimplifying the above steps. But you can already get an idea of how detailed a process of building an application can be. You need to break down all the time of back-and-forth discussions, meetings, revisions, coming up with mood boards (style tiles) on how the branding and story-telling will fit in with the final product. Every piece goes hand-in-hand.

You finally have the design nailed down and you’re ready to code the application (again, using Twitter as an example type of product for this scenario).

Development doesn’t happen overnight.

Think of how complex Twitter really is, even at its most simple stage. You have the ability to Tweet, the ability to follow (and unfollow), the ability to search, the ability to use hashtags, ability to direct message, the ability to advertise, to modify your settings, to create lists and to delete and draft tweets. I keep going on and on — all of a sudden, the simple idea doesn’t seem so simple, does it? This is one of the biggest things to understand about all digital products. Even the smallest of small ideas still have complexities to them. You need the proper database structure, the proper user interface design planned, but most importantly, scalable code that can play nicely with each other while simultaneously allow you to continue to grow as you begin acquiring users.

Development along can take up at least 4-6 months of time for an idea of this size and scope.

Again, think about everything above, applying it to the details and, above all, the back-and-forth discussion, revisions, alpha testing, beta testing, preparing to launch. A lot goes into building an application that people, more often than not, do not realize until they take the time to understand the details that go into the products that we take for granted each and every day.

You probably realized I skipped through three other elements defined earlier — your website, your server setup and building an administrator panel (ability for you to manage your product after-all!). This is also all going on at the same time. You have a lot of moving parts, a lot of organization, all while trying to build the best product possible. It is always important to plan every single piece intricately from the offset and ensure everything has been accounted for before launching.

You’re finally ready.

You have a product that took 6-10 months to build. Let’s now take a step back and think of the type of labor and individuals needed to build a product such as this. You require a user interface design, at least one or two iOS developers, a backend developer, a web developer, a project manager and potentially a frontend website developer. You have a team roster of between 4-6 people. Apply this to working 40 hours a week (minimum) for 6-10 months. All of a sudden, this should provide a clearer idea of where to look at costs for an application.

Example being: if someone asked us to build the application above for Twitter, we would more than likely be quoting you between $100,000.00 — $125,000.00 for 6-10 months of work. If you wanted to add a web counterpart, Android counterpart, any additional platforms — keep doubling the budget required. More resources required will equal more funding to make it happen.

With that mentioned, what do real app ideas cost to make? Here is a realistic idea.

For the type of products we have built since 2013, 60% of our work has fallen between the $40,000.00 – $60,000.00 price range, 20% between the $60,000.00 – $100,000.00, 10% between the $100,000.00 – $150,000.00, 5% between the $150,000.00 – $200,000.00 and lastly, the remaining amount all over $200,000.00(+). The goal is having a realistic budget in place but making it work for you.

One of the biggest strengths we have as a company is planning around someone’s budget. What if you have a $50,000.00 budget but your idea requires the resources of $75,000.00? This is where the concept of building a minimum viable product (MVP), an entry-level product comes into play. Think about the Twitter example above. How many of all the complex processes and features we described are actually needed if that was a day one product? Odds are you just need the ability to search, tweet, follow, and delete. Things such as lists, monetizing through advertisements, and direct messaging are all nice to have but won’t break your idea. All of a sudden, by carving those off from day one, you just cut your budget by 30%-50% just like that — and as well, the timeframe needed to get the job done has shrunk.

The best thing that you can do is understand in advance a realistic expectation of what it would take to build your app. Think of all the different roles and pieces required. How it will break down into having a team. How long it will take. Give yourself a realistic idea in advance. Figure out how to make your specific budget work. Sometimes, if you need more funding, think about family and friend rounds. Talking to an angel investor. Tons of different options are available. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to reach out to a company like us, suggest you have a $50,000.00 budget and that you need to make it work. Companies like us are built to help people. We work with our clients to make their ideas become a reality, even if we identify that not all features can be in day one.

One last piece to have you think more as you begin planning how much exactly you will need to build an app.

First, I’d recommend reading this great article from The Next Web, even though it is from 2013. It’ll break down how much top companies across the globe would charge to build the world’s hottest startups. This will give you a good idea of how to compare your idea to those already existing for figuring out the potential budget and timeframe requirements. Second, do not hesitate to reach out to companies such as us (in fact, click here and do reach out). We help everyone. Have a budget and unsure how much it could give you? Just ask. We work to help people make their ideas a reality.

Of course, this is only one type of thought-process to building an app. For those with limited budgets, building non-functional prototypes is another manner that works (in fact, a lot of clients do this!). I’ll be writing another blog post soon about this type of mythology and how it may apply to your startup idea too.

Until then, please let me know your thoughts or feedback in the comments below! Have you built an app before and learned additional ideas from what was applied above? Be sure to share.


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There are over 5 comments. on this article. Join in on the discussion!
  • Chris Somers said:

    This was my favorite article by you guys to date. Pretty much spot-on. It’s amazing to me how you will see people get quotes for an app idea for as little a few hundred bucks to almost a million dollars. Important thing is to always understand who you are asking and compare that type of company to similar companies. You can’t compare a freelancer to a company like you guys, for example. That’s an unfair comparison and as you guys wrote, pros and cons for each model.

    Two thumbs up. 10/10, would read this again.

  • Jen said:

    This is a huge eye-opener. Thanks for breaking it down in bite-size chunks. I’ve been considering having an app designed for me on a freelance site, but I had no idea it was so involved.

  • Jorge said:

    Very well written article. I also came across another interesting article written by an app development agency around this topic. It also gives a good idea of how much it would cost to build an app through a service provider:

  • Diana said:

    Thanks for sharing useful information. I appreciate your content!

Join in on the discussion! Leave a comment and get involved.

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