How Much Does A Mobile App Cost To Develop? [1-14-2021]

How Much Does A Mobile App Cost To Develop? [1-14-2021]

Dustin McCaffree

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TL;DR: About halfway down there’s a table where I break down what I think it would cost to get a mobile app built by either a freelancer or an agency/studio.

Cut The 💩

I've read too many articles about how much an app or a website would cost... And they ALL say the same thing:

It depends. - Every Article Ever

Sure, every project is different, blah blah blah. But you need a starting point as an idea for how much a project would cost you! I'll try to work that out here.

Real Talk - Here's What We'd Charge You For An App

Let's talk real numbers that we charge as a starting point. We charge $250/hr. That's a lot, huh? Especially for most people that are still at a point where they are Googling "How much does an app cost to build?"

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I get it. When I did freelance work on my own, I charged about half of that before I started Terrible. But if you go through an agency, they typically have a lot more costs to cover than a freelancer does! They also have a higher standard of work to maintain a long-term positive brand.

Added expenses for an agency include bigger office leases, customer acquisition costs, employee wages, down time (work typically lulls and goes in feast-and-famine waves 🌊 for agencies), education, benefits, etc.

And you pay for that stuff, not them. 😂 There are absolutely agencies that would charge you $1,000/hr or more. And that is okay too! People will pay for companies and people that they like to work on their projects with them.

And I know I said we charge $250/hr, but that’s for new features and maintenance hours! We actually use our own approach to price new apps.

Forget The Hourly Rate

Some agencies/freelancers won't want to discuss an hourly rate. They would rather do a "value-based" or "project-based" cost. This can work well for you in some situations, because you know exactly what you expect to pay when all is said and done. After the project, you can usually keep the agency or freelancer on retainer for ongoing maintenance or feature hours.

At Terrible, we focus on getting your project to fit OUR budget. So, we charge $10k and help you figure out how to get a beautifully polished V1 of your app for that price. It’s a win-win, but definitely not the traditional way to price things.

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On To The Good Part 🌟

Here's our best guess at what you'll pay for each of these examples. We'll try to be unbiased and give you a pretty good guess at what it will cost you for each thing:

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Terrible's Tip: This assumes you are building the MVP (first working version to prove the product-market fit) of your product. Please don't underestimate the need to keep v1 simple.

Estimated Mobile App Cost ($USD)

Project TypeEstimated HoursFreelancer(s) CostAgency Cost😈Terrible Cost
Habit Tracking App
200
4000
17000
$10,000.00
Messenger App
350
7000
29750
$10,000.00
Restaurant Loyalty App
300
6000
25500
$10,000.00
Kids Book Reader & Marketplace App
400
8000
34000
$10,000.00
Instagram For Politics App
1100
22000
93500
$10,000.00
Recipes App
150
3000
12750
$10,000.00

Let's Break It Down

First, I'll note that my estimated hours is what I have personally seen. In real life. For these exact kinds of projects. I've either sent estimates, billed clients, or seen others bill clients for these exact types of apps and these are the prices and hours, assuming $30/hr for a freelancer and $85/hr for the agency. However, this is on the lower end. So know that you absolutely can find pretty good work for these prices, but the best work will usually cost more. Okay. Lecture over.

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1. Freelancer(s) Cost (at $30/hr)

A freelancer is usually a good option if you feel confident with you hiring skills. They will be more of an employee, so assessing their technical skills and making sure that you lead the project is important. I highly recommend this option if you have experience in hiring, especially for developers/designers.

The risk is that you can easily get freelancers that don’t actually have the right skill set, some that have poor communication, and others that take a first payment and downright disappear! I’ve seen it all with freelancers...

But frankly I’ve had about 70% good experiences with this one. Plus, once I find a freelancer that I like and can afford for the project, I usually can reuse them for a longer period of time before they disappear or get too expensive.

The place I’ve had the most success both as a freelancer and when looking to hire a freelancer is Upwork. Listing a project there is free, and the freelancer actually pays a % fee of each dollar earned.

Do keep in mind that you’ll find freelancers from $5/hr all the way up to $300+/hr. And often you get what you pay for, but not always. 🤷🏻‍♂️

2. Agency Cost (at $85/hr)

Agencies tend to be a safer option, and it’s even safer the higher your budget. Reputation matters more to an agency, so they are willing to go out on a limb to make you happy more often.

I find this to be less true over seas, but I’ve worked with amazing teams from 10’s of countries and had good experiences with many!

I’ve paid agencies anywhere from $18/hr to $400/hr, so it’s going to be most important for you to do what you feel comfortable with. At a higher price point, I recommend working with agencies that someone you know has had successful experiences with and recommends.

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I’ve had about 95% success working with agencies, even when the project ends up being a little bigger than I originally expected.

Communication tends to be better, there’s a full team working on your project, they usually communicate well, and they have a lot of diverse experience (whereas a freelancer may specialize in something very specific).

3. Terrible ($10k flat)

This is probably the most unique offering that we know of (although we love what the guys at AJ&Smart are doing with Design Sprints)! Let’s talk about what changes with Terrible.

🧠 We understand products & business, so we help you make smart decisions for the beginning of your product/business.
  • We are a business-first team. So, if you’re looking for people who just follow orders, we aren’t your ☕️ . We want to help steer things the right way. We’ll push just the right amount for you to question your decisions but never force you anywhere.
  • Think of our team as the CTO/CPO that you don’t have. On top of building everything you need. Cool, huh?
⚙️ We’ll build you an MDP (Minimum Delightful Product), which probably isn’t the full app you envision.
  • A lot of people talk about MVP’s (Minimum Viable Products). This is a great concept where you concentrate on getting the first, most basic version of a product out that will prove your product-market fit and allow you to move forward.
  • We’ve adopted the MDP mentality. Our goal is to build the least features for your V1 of your product that will be so polished, so satisfying, and so d*mn beautiful that they will want to tell their friends about how in love they are. A great example of this is Honk. Isn’t it slick?
  • You’ll need to give up some notions you have about ALL the features you envision for your app. But that’s how we keep it at $10k. We build you something your customers will die for, but it starts as the simplest, most delightful version of your idea as possible. It’s worth it. After your users fall in love, you’ll be able to build more features that they’ll swoon over!
😊 We care. Like a weird amount. I’m not sure what else to say — I’m blushing.
  • Hey, I said I didn’t know what else to say! I love you though.

I won’t go into any more depth than that, but if you decide to go the MDP route with us, we’ve got your back. Just send me a message at dustin@terrible.app.

And if you’d like to read more of my thoughts and fancies...

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