Potential clients come to us with a litany of questions prior to engagement: What’s your process? Should I build a native or a mobile web app? Is all development done in-house? We see all of the questions. But, by a large margin, the most frequently asked question we get at stable|kernel is: How much does a mobile app cost? Startups need a number. Even Fortune 100s need a number.

In stable|kernel’s experience, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where we can build a first version of an app for less than $150,000. And this is usually a minimum viable product (MVP). But, we have seen MVPs go over $500,000, depending on how extensive feature requirements get. The reality is that mobile app cost varies depending on a myriad of different factors. 

Related: High-Level Differences Between MMP & MVP Product Development Strategy

This is where it gets complicated. Let’s say you have an Ecommerce app you want built. At a bare minimum, an app like this will need to integrate payment services, profiles, databases and a lot more. It would also need a UX team, project management (to keep all parties on task), backend engineers, frontend engineers and Quality Assurance (QA) testing. Prices can and do escalate in a hurry.

We typically operate in one of two ways when we scope potential projects: time and materials or fixed-bid. In our experience, putting fixed-bid estimates and Statement of Works (SOWs) together can be wildly inaccurate when forecasting mobile app cost. Many times, we have to send change orders to clients due to drastic changes to the requirements. That’s because building software is an iterative process. There are so many unknowns; scope literally changes directions during every single sprint cycle. This is where the difficulty of giving someone a fixed-bid price comes in. No amount of padding can account for every possible scenario.

Clients sometimes don’t know exactly what they want. During this iterative process, clients needs and priorities typically change. And they change frequently. So, in our experience, the sooner we get set up as a product team, the sooner we can deliver on our wealth of experience in the mobile industry. 

Remember, fixed bids are limiting. They often stifle the software process because the approach becomes much more waterfall-like. It’s not easy for a lot of clients to move away from a fixed-bid approach. Most large businesses are accustomed to working with a set budget. Our advice in these cases is for clients to prioritize features and work towards an agile development process.

Is it better to hire a freelancer?

The ambiguous answer: maybe. Freelancers/contractors are almost always going to be cheaper than working with a company like stable|kernel; though keep in mind, you get what you pay for. The risks are substantially higher working with freelancers. Consistency and availability are always a potential concern when working with an individual. And, of course, it’s not really possible to harness an entire team’s collaborative energy as a freelancer. Typically, you’re working on an island. When you work with an established company like stable|kernel, we bring years of experience to every aspect of the design and development process. We anticipate potential pitfalls, live and breath industry-wide best practices, and we provide a key ingredient to success that freelancers will not have the capacity for: project management.

Related: The Business Case for Good Software Architecture

Once you’ve selected a team to build your app, don’t forget you’ll also need to factor in the cost of support and maintenance beyond the initial release of your app. Will you bring the app in-house for further development and updates or will you continue to use your external product team? We guarantee that when it’s time for updates to features or additional development, the apps we develop have a solid foundation that is easier to build upon; a problem we frequently encounter with apps built by freelancers/contractors.

Have a project you need kicked off? We’ll walk you through a phased approach that gets you to market quickly so you can begin generating revenue or cost savings that can fund future phases of your project. App development isn’t cheap, but the way we approach a project ensures our clients get the most bang for their budget, ensuring scalability and longevity of the software we build.

Jason Russell

Managing Partner at Stable Kernel

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