How much does it cost to make an app?

Phase Idea
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how much does it cost to make an app? Depending on who you ask, the answer can vary. But it really comes down to two key things:

  1. The people involved.
  2. The time it will take.

How is the cost affected by the people involved?

If you’ve already read my Intro Guide, you'll have noticed there are at least 6 phases involved in making an app. The two phases that most people will hire for are Design & Build. This could require hiring at least one UX/UI Designer and one Web or Mobile Developer, or a unicorn that can do both. Their rate is what will drastically change what you might spend.

According to one source, Bonsai’s freelance rate explorer, the lowest hourly rate for a Junior iOS Developer is $20-60 while a Senior iOS Developer can cost as high as $180/hour.

This is why most people will shop around for the best rate, or, in other words, a rate they can afford.

How is the cost affected by the time it will take?

This is where things get a bit more complicated. The time it takes ultimately depends on a few factors:

1. The skill level and speed of the people you’re working with.

If you hire individual contractors or a team (such as a dev shop or product consultancy), they could either charge by the hour or by the project. Either way, the resulting cost will be based on the project scope (work to be done) which is based on their personal estimate of time plus a buffer. This can greatly vary if you’re hiring individuals vs a team and will depend on their work experience and speed.

2. The complexity and number of features you’re hoping to have.

The project scope is formed from the features you’re hoping to have. This is what a contractor will use to determine how long it may take them to finish the app. The number of features and their complexity has a direct impact on the overall cost. Simply put, the more features, the more complex, the longer it will take and the more it will cost. This is why creating an MVP is a smarter way to start. But more on that later.

3. The platform you want to support.

If you wanted to build a mobile app or a web app with the same features, the mobile app will typically take longer to build depending on how many devices you want to support. This is why they will always cost more.

How do I find someone that won't break the bank?

Here’s the thing, no matter what, there may be something you have to be willing to compromise. Are you willing to compromise the quality to get someone cheap? Are you willing to scale back on the features to lessen the time it will take? While you can always find a unicorn who will fit everything you need, it’s important to set expectations. This will help you to get just what you need with just the right people.

I’ll leave you with these quick tips if you decide to hire someone to make your app.

  • If you’re based in the US and not set on hiring someone locally, explore outside the US or outside metro areas where rates tend to be highest. According to one source, Your Team in India, an iOS developer in India may cost $18-40/hr while in the US, the cost can be upwards of $100
  • Consider hiring junior level people with some experience. Their rates are typically lower than senior people but it might take them longer and they might need more guidance to get the job done
  • If you can afford it, hire a team (such as a dev shop or product consultancy). They will generally cost more but it's easier to manage a project with them than with multiple individual contractors.
  • Find co-founders who are as passionate about your idea. It would lower costs dramatically but you’ll have to give up a piece of your company (equity) instead.
  • Reduce the scope of features for version one.
  • Be open about your budget with prospective contractors so they can give you a better sense of what might be possible in that range.

Being realistic about your budget, searching in unconventional areas, and being smart about the scope of your app will make this part of the process a little bit easier to swallow if you do decide to hire someone to make your app.