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How much does a mobile app actually cost to build?

This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a while because consultants and technical professionals of various kinds purposefully keep this topic mysterious.

If you have a project or app idea in mind and have gotten to the point where you’ve begun shopping around for developers, you’ve probably heard quotes ranging from $5,000 to $200,000. And you’re probably completely unsure where the variation is coming from and of whom to trust.

With that said, the average mobile app cost around $35,000 to $50,000 to build. This is the typical cost to build an app (from scratch) and release it into one of the two main app stores.

However, that small range doesn’t tell the entire story.

The cost of building a mobile app is directly tied to the time it takes to build it. And this is a wide variation. At Lotus Technologies, we’ve built apps that have taken anywhere from a couple weeks to build to over a year.

Why? Because of the complexity. A lot of mobile apps empower users to be able simple things. Things like take notes or manage simple tasks. But the complexity increases sometimes exponentially with every new feature. And so does the price.

For example, if you wanted to build an app that gives users the ability to share some kind of text based information (i,e tweets, posts, messages, etc) that’s fairly simple and could be done in a pretty short period of time. But let’s say you also wanted users to be able to share videos. You might have just increased the timeline and overall quote for the project by 20% to 30%. Infrastructure has to now be developed on the app and on the backend service ( where the information gets saved) to upload, stream and download multiple video format files.

It’s good practice to make sure every feature you build in your first version is absolutely necessary. Not just to save on cash, but so you can get to market as fast as possible. I’m not saying to cut down on your product’s look and feel. But what I am saying is to not waste 6 months building features that no one’s going to care about anyway. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year go wasted on investments into start ups who spend all their money building products without actually getting feedback from their users. (I would go as far as saying this happens to the 90% of consumer facing start ups that don’t make it). And what results are garbage apps that have a bunch of useless gimmick that you’ll never use again for any reason at all and add zero value to anyone’s life. Don’t believe me? Check this out: http://startupgraveyard.io/

You need to get to market and discover the high value opportunities that will get you into escape velocity. Both on messaging and on product. And wasting too much time could force you to miss upcoming opportunities in the market and in competitor growth.

Where do I get a mobile app developed?

There are 4 main ways of getting a mobile app developed. You can build it yourself, hire a contractor or development company, find a technical co-founder or hire your own in-house development team.

Let’s really go over the pro’s and cons of each so you can imagine what might be the right for you in your given situation.

Doing it yourself.

😎Pros

  • Full control of product vision.
  • Little to no upfront costs.
  • Move fast as you need to.

😟Cons

  • If you’re not already a software engineer you’ve likely got months of learning (if you’re really hardworking and intelligent) before you can even begin build a polished product.
  • You won’t be able to focus on equally difficult tasks like fundraising, marketing or hiring.

Hiring a contractor or development company.

😎Pros

  • Flexible pricing.
  • Expert experience and help.
  • You can focus on all the other sides of your start-up.

😟Cons

  • Inconsistent pricing.
  • Potential risks in hiring any remote third parties.

Finding a technical partner.

😎Pros

  • You can focus on all the other sides of your start up.
  • Flexible upfront compensation by sharing equity.
  • Expert advice.
  • Business partnerships can be very helpful.

😟Cons

  • Getting out of partnerships can be difficult if the business relationship doesn’t workout.
  • Finding a worthwhile technical co-founder who isn’t running their own start-up or a super star at some other large company can be difficult.
  • You may have to consolidate the product vision to their approval.
  • You may have to learn how to keep them accountable earlier on if there isn’t a large cash incentive.

Hiring an in-house team.

😎Pros

  • You can hire a team of experts to build and manage your vision with very little risk of failure.
  • You can focus on all the other sides of your start-up.

😟Cons

  • Hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year to maintain payroll.

It should be mentioned that there are definitely exceptions out there that mitigate the risks of some of these potential ‘cons’. At Lotus Technologies we do this by giving start ups unlimited mobile app development at a fixed monthly rate. Feel free to learn more about that here.

Consider what your current situation is and what type of risks you’re ok with managing in the beginning of your start up. Sometimes a lot of risk has a lot of reward. Though I would suggest choosing the method that allows you to move as fast as you can afford in the short term with as little risk as there needs to be is probably a good idea.

Always remember the high level blueprint for start up success. Get to market, iterate into a strong position with a strong market and then scale to the f***ing moon.

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