How much does it cost to build an app?

6 minute read | | Author: Murtaza Nooruddin

If you’ve ever had a brilliant idea for an app, you’ve probably also wondered, “How much is this actually going to cost me?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Mobile app development can be surprisingly expensive, but there are a lot of factors involved. In this blog post, I’ll break down the different costs you need to think about and help you figure out how much your app idea might run you.

On a ballpark basis, smaller MVPs or simpler apps start at around $25,000. Medium complexity apps start at $50,000, and anything more serious with a larger user base, polished UI, security, and scalability in mind will generally start around $200,000.

But what actually behind those numbers? these numbers can greatly vary based on what path you take.

Why a discovery process is so important?

A common mistake is to give a very brief introduction of your idea and ask for a quote or price. This usually won’t give you a fair estimate of your immediate and long-term costs. Here is an example:

“I want users to be able to sign up on the platform” - It can be worth $2000 in it’s most basic form or can be up to $25,000. Here is why:

Simple requirement, but experienced software companies will break it down for you and offer you costs associated:

  • Do we need social login (google, apple, facebook)
  • What details do you want to capture and will it support SMS or MFA verification? If not now in future?
  • Should we validate phone or email on signup
  • Do we want to block fake emails and temporary domains to avoid spammers and scammers off the platform?
  • Can the user reset their password using email or phone verification?
  • Do we support GDPR or other privacy requirements on protection of user data, deletion, downloading user data?
  • Can user change email address? What will be the flow to verify them and do it securely?
  • Do I want to be able to see user logs of sign ups, sign-in acitvities. Failed attempts, IP or country- users are attempting to get in
  • Do you want a firewall or security logging in the event of a hacking attempt?

As you can see the costs start to add up with each of those screens, flows, technology use and work involved.

If the above surprised you or was insightful, it’s best to get a discovery-only session done with the company you engage with. It’s a relatively cheaper process that also helps you gauge the capabilities of the company you are dealing with. The discovery process should give you:

  • Detailed requirements documentation
  • Flowcharts for complex flows
  • UI Designs or mockups on how the app will look like
  • Non functional requirements, such as security, support, compliance, privacy features
  • Hosting, scalability, business continuity

The discovery session helps uncover hidden requirements that you may not realise when asking for a quote. It might cost a bit to go through this as a paid work, but it helps you explore the reality of what you really need, prioritise that into phases, and minimise scope creep as your costs keep adding on when you have “Aha!” moments later on and keep asking for more features that weren’t part of the initial quote.

At the end of the discovery phase, you will appreciate what it takes and the real cost to build your app. The next step is to continue with the same provider if you liked their work.

What’s next, is it cheaper to find my owner resource, find a local or overseas software company? Read on for more insights

Hire a full stack, go local or overseas development agency or find a tech co-founder?

Freelancer or Full stack

This path is the cheapest but with the lowest success rate, especially long-term. Most people who are self-funding will try to find a freelance developer to build their app. It’s like asking a tradesperson to build a house. They may succeed in getting something out there as an MVP, but for a proper product build, you need UX designers to build the UI, understand the flows, and make the app sticky and amazing to use. Most developers (well, almost all) will never be as good at this. You need programmers good at backend (database, API, etc.) and some who excel at frontend (web UI, mobile app functionality). And then there are testers who ensure the app is not buggy, performs well, and meets specifications and other requirements. The other major drawback is reliance on one person for your entire product and investment. That person may leave, and even with their code and “documentation,” it’s usually quite useless and difficult to transition to a new provider.

Hiring an agency

This is usually the safest option but can get expensive. A software company will do things “properly.” A business analyst will handle discovery and requirements mapping. A UX designer will create mockups of the actual app and its user experience. Developers specifically trained for the type of work you need and testers who dedicate themselves to software testing. Then there are architects and senior project leads who ensure requirements are met, the project stays on track, and delivery is a high-quality product.

Choosing between local and overseas options is a decision. Overseas is not always a bad option if you have significant experience building apps before and are prepared to manage the development process and understand common pitfalls. Most clients I have worked with have had really bad experiences overseas due to communication issues, lack of accountability, and ending up with mediocre products despite lower upfront costs but higher long-term expenses.

There are great companies providing services overseas, but they are generally just as expensive. If you are getting it done cheaply, you are ultimately paying for what you get: a product that might be unstable, might not scale, and may lack polish. Additionally, as most of these low-cost software companies run teams who are not experienced, you might find yourself in trouble with security issues, privacy features not respected, leading to long-term compliance issues.

Finding a tech co-founder

If your vision is to make money from the app and it’s supposed to be used by hundreds of thousands of users, it’s definitely a large-scale app that will need a lot of technical supervision, direction, and architectural oversight. If you find a great software company, you are lucky; they will help you bridge that gap. However, in most cases, finding an experienced tech co-founder is probably the best thing you can do for the team. You need someone who has exposure to multiple industries, has worked in mid to large organisations, and understands what it takes to build software at scale. This is NOT the same as hiring a full-stack developer and giving them equity, treating them as a co-founder. You can always hire programmers. A tech co-founder usually should not be involved in development work. They will either build and run a team for you or hire a software company and keep them accountable by knowing what’s being built and delivered.

Conclusion

Building an app involves various costs and considerations, ranging from initial discovery to choosing the right development path. While costs may vary depending on factors such as complexity, features, and the development team’s location, investing in proper planning and expertise upfront can save you time and money in the long run. Whether you opt for freelancers, agencies, or seek a tech co-founder, prioritising quality and accountability will ultimately lead to a successful app launch and sustained growth.

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