Whether it’s Tinder or Uber, every digital product agency gets questions like this. Questions which are understandable, but wrong at a given time.
If you need to know the general cost of app or web app development, there are many articles on this topic.
This is a competitive space in Google because there are other people like you searching for the answer. Companies hope that by providing you with an answer, they can point you toward their services.
We don’t develop mobile apps, but still get these questions from time to time. I’ll try to answer it from a different perspective than you usually find elsewhere.
The wrong question
You know the app, you like it, and you think a similar app in your domain could be an excellent business opportunity. All you need to know is the cost to see if the numbers add up.
So why might this be a wrong question?
What makes this question wrong is not the question itself, but the time and place you ask it.
If an agency tells you that your app will cost $100k, does it also answer whether it will generate an income of $10k/month at some point? Does it tell you whether your app turns into a viable business? Or if it attracts any users at all?
The right question to start with
Even if you get a good deal on your app development, it still doesn’t mean that you eventually haven’t thrown your money out of the window. Digital online space overflows with new business ideas. There are thousands of apps added daily to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Users are more demanding than ever before; always one click or install from the competition.
So the right question to ask is:
How much does it cost to validate my business idea?
Of course, your app, up and running in the app store for some time, is an ultimate validation of your business idea. Cheaper ways exist, though.
How to validate your business idea
The basic principle is to proceed in small incremental steps and figure out what could resonate with your users. Everything new you learn will inform your next steps. This is a much safer way than building a full-fledged app, only to find out nobody is using it.
Very few people are fans of writing dry business plans. That’s why new, more agile approaches emerged as alternatives. Two of them are:
- Lean Canvas is a template created by Ash Maurya which allows you to elaborate your idea in a single page business model
- Product Strategy Framework is a model which can help you decide whether to develop a particular product.
Problem vs. Solution space
Too often, entrepreneurs try to come up with a solution to a problem which only exists in their heads, but not in the minds of their users. So before jumping to a solution (the app), we need to understand whether there are users who have a problem that our solution addresses.
Dan Olsen, and author of the Lean Product Process, illustrates this in the following diagram of the Problem versus Solution Space.
What are the target customers of your app? What are their underserved needs that your app would fulfill?
Talking to users
To find answers to these questions, talk to your potential customers. It’s usually enough to talk to 5 or 6 people representing your ideal customers, or buyer personas. With more people, information repeats. If you have recorded your interviews, you can further process them with a tool like Dovetail.
Another popular method to get an insight into a potential interest in your business idea is to validate it through a landing page.
Once you wireframe or design your application, you can connect its screens together. This will create a prototype of a user flow through an application.
Prototype is not a functional app yet, but it allows you to run usability tests and detect potential issues.
You can compose prototypes from low fidelity (wireframes) or high fidelity (actual designs) screens.
A no-code app
Maybe you’ve got so far, but still feel uncertain about your business idea. You hesitate to commit to app development. If so, you can try to build it as a no-code app and validate it with real users in real-life scenarios.
A no-code app is a functional app built with one of the SaaS products, like Bubble. The app produced this way is usually cheaper, however, not suitable for long-term production use.
Even if you start with the real development of your app, you don’t have to create the whole app at once. Quite the opposite – a usual process is to come up with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and add new features later. Finding a balance in what minimum should mean in your MVP can be challenging. However, it ensures that you collect user feedback before spending resources on features nobody is interested in.
Finally, the MVP is an important step on your path to product-market fit.
Discovery is a process conducted by trained UX and other professionals at a digital product agency. It can comprise the above steps, along with many others.
If you are not comfortable doing your own research and validation, contract it from a digital agency. This brings us to one more point related to your original question:
Can you trust the agency which replies with one number, rather than a list of thoughtful discovery steps?
More than just one question
Whether you validate your business idea yourself or leave it to an agency, you’ll end with more than just one question. The question about the cost is understandable, but it doesn’t live in a vacuum.
When the time comes to ask about cost, you will have more than just this one question. You will have answers and new questions. You will have a better understanding of your business idea and your users. And you will not only get a more accurate estimate, but will also have a higher chance of success.