What Does it Cost to Develop an App?


mobile app wireframe


It’s official: mobile apps are now integral parts of life (even old ladies gossip about them at country clubs). Formerly a millennial phenomenon and currently a multi-billion dollar industry that is clearly here to stay, the mobile app industry is the way of the future (and the present).

So, how can an entrepreneur achieve longstanding recognition in this crowded field? What are consumers looking for? How can you build a successful app?

We enlist the help of Rameet Chawla and Ryan Matzner, who run the show at Fueled, our mobile development shop that works with startups and more established enterprises alike, to give us some insight. With over a decade of experience in the technology industry and relationships with hundreds of startups in New York City, the duo boasts an understanding of both the technical and social aspects of app building. Who better, then, to share all of the industry’s secrets?

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s your everything guide to building your very own (and very successful) mobile app:

How do I find a good developer?

Remember: credentials precede promises… and reputation supersedes all else. Chawla suggests reaching out to agencies that have won awards, have been mentioned on tech-related news sites, and, most importantly, have the sort of experience that your specific app requires.

“If [your] app [has] a heaving programming or coding component to it, [you] don’t necessarily want to go after an agency that only has experience with more simplistic apps,” he says.


Can I Start Building the App Myself Before Reaching Out to a Developer?

Yes. “We call [them] ‘rescue projects,’” says Matzner. “[These are projects that] people have started elsewhere and they end up coming to us because they realize that these promises someone else made were completely empty, or they didn’t know about us when they started and they have figured out some pitfalls with their current setup.”

He continues, “They’re looking for someone who can actually finish the app and get something released. Or, they’ve released something and it just doesn’t work and has one star in the App Store, and they need help fixing it.”

Although starting to work on the product on your own is not impossible, Matzner explains that the app will most likely not possess “the same polish and quality as a product built by professionals.” A skilled product team will undoubtedly bring more expertise to the endeavor.

How is a Mobile App Development Team Set Up?

Matzner breaks it down for us: “A development team […] is sort of like a Broadway play. You have the actors on stage, but then there’s a whole bunch of stuff happening behind the scenes. An app that gets built properly is sort of similar.”

A successful team should include:

  • A designer who creates all the visual content that will be coded into the project
  • An account manager who acts like a liaison for clients and works with product managers and producers to coordinate the completion of different tasks
  • A product manager who executes the functions of a director by overseeing the app

How Much Does it Cost to Build an Average App?

Aaron Cohen, a highly-respected top representative at Fueled, gives us some insight: “With Fueled’s experience you’re going to find that you’re going to need at least $150,000 to build the first version of your product.” This budget, he continues, would probably be the same regardless of the shop hired.
Although Fueled has built version one products for as little as $150,000, the agency has also catered to customers who had more extensive requirements for their minimum viable product (MVP)–costing them as much as $500,000 for their first version app.


What Qualifies as an MVP?

“As we like to say, the definition of MVP is completely context dependent,” explains Cohen.  “If you are going for a social media play, you want to test assumptions about how people want to share content, then you can probably get your app out of the door for $100,000-$150,000. But if you’re an e-commerce play, you need to integrate advanced payment services, profiles, databases, perhaps an email marketing system, then you’re looking at involving back-end engineers, creating custom back-end systems, and the price tag can very quickly escalate.”

One way to estimate the amount of resources needed in the first 18 months of operation “is to look at the amount of money that successful startups raise for the first year or two of their operations,” explains the expert. “Traditionally, a startup will get going with a seed round or a friend-and-family round of $250,000 to $500,000. That will allow them to run the company for 6 months or so. Generally, they then need to raise a bridge round. Another $500,000 to a million dollars, which will really let them take whichever prototype or proof-of-concept they validated in the first phase, take that to a higher level, [and] really polish it up for widespread consumer release.” The result? About a million and a half dollars to operate a startup for the first 18 months.

A deeper analysis of an app’s cost and development time.

What if I Hire a Freelancer Over a Shop?

Hiring a freelancer results in a decrease in costs… and an increase in risks. Risks may include inefficient work ethics and habits, miscommunications, and a lack of consistent efforts and availability. Unless catching a lucky break, hiring a freelancer will most likely lead to an end product that won’t match its original footprint.

Think of building an app as you would think of filming a movie from scratch. Budget and motivations are key components, and your dedication to the task at hand will be of paramount importance. You will be putting as much effort into a one-dimensional app as you would when scraping together a casual student film. On the other hand, if you’re working on the next world-changing app, the time and power invested in the product will resemble that required to roll out the next summer blockbuster.

When employing all these resources and energy into the product… wouldn’t you want to rely on a company whose entire day is dedicated to you as opposed to a freelancer who constantly deals with other clients as well?

Agile Mobile app development

Ultimately, What is the Success of My App Truly Based on?

App development is a science based on trial and error. The secret to eventual success involves tempered expectations. The most common success stories are based on a solid beta test or a proof-of-concept that is splendid enough to generate another round of funding and maybe even attract some press.

Most app developers have big dreams for their grand product before even entering the scene. But, remember: to traverse a mile, you must take your first step. So come up with a grand idea, believe in yourself, and enlist the help of professional developers who can turn your vision into a reality that will change both the mobile app industry and the lives of the consumers.

About Mary Hurd