App Development, Thought Leaders

How to Choose an App Development Partner for Your Startup

November 19, 2019

by Keith Shields

Partner, Designli

Are you looking to establish a successful relationship with an app development partner? Based on our experience at Designli, an app design studio that focuses on startups, this article will show you how to be prepared with the information you need to start the discussion, the right questions to ask, and what to look for.

If you want to create an app that attracts and retains users, selecting the right development partner is critical. You need to find a partner you can work well with, one with plenty of development experience and an understanding of how to design products that keep users engaged.

Nearly half of small businesses (42%) have a mobile app, and it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses of all sizes.

Do Small Businesses Have Mobile Apps?

We’ve been on both sides of the partnership experience, and we’ve learned a lot as a result. Our first startup partner showed us the challenge of building quality mobile apps. The lack of agencies and development firms that understand the needs of startups, the business aspects of development, and the importance of a transparent process led us to start our own digital product development studio.

We’re sharing what we’ve found to be essential for building a strong working relationship between a startup and its development partner.

How to Find the Right App Development Partner

  1. Know what you need for your app, its budget, and platform
  2. Ask questions when potential development partner
  3. Know the features to look for in an app developer

Know What You Need Before Working With a Development Partner

It’s important to be prepared with some key information before you reach out to developers for your project.

First, you need clarity on the app you want to create and why:

  • What is your goal with creating the app?
  •  Who do you expect your app to serve?

These questions will be important not only for building the app but also for marketing it.

You’ll also need to think about a budget range for the project. It’s important that your budget aligns with the typical cost of a minimum viable product (MVP) that fills a strong need so you can get out into the marketplace. Decide if you’ll bootstrap this initial development or if you’ll raise funds for development.

Another decision you will have to make is the platform you want to build for. Should your app be developed for Android, iPhone, or both? Development requirements are different on each platform, and the decision will come down to which platform(s) your target market primarily uses.

Once you have all of the information gathered about your expectations, budget, and the app platform(s) you plan to build for, it’s time to consider the questions you want to ask potential app development partners.

Ask Questions When Selecting a Development Partner

Several specific questions will help you with the selection process.

You’ll want to get a feel for the developer’s experience building apps similar to what you’re looking to build and their knowledge of product development. It will also be helpful to gain an understanding of their development process and how they handle testing and maintenance.

Here are 8 questions to ask a potential development partner.

1. Share Your Experience Building Apps. Have You Built Anything Similar to the App I Want to Develop?

Review the developer’s portfolio to see if they have experience in your industry or with the type of app you want to build.

Do they have the knowledge and expertise that you want? Have they been around awhile? Do they have strong customer feedback?

2. What’s Your Development Process, and What Involvement Will You Want From Me?

You’ll want to work with a development partner that offers transparency and involves you throughout their process.

The developer should have a clearly established process that’s organized and methodical and regularly solicits client input.

3. Can You Offer Product Development Guidance?

Will the developer make suggestions for good development practices or simply fill orders?

A development team that has experience with concepting and building successful apps and can provide product development guidance will help you produce a better product.

4. What Ongoing Maintenance Do You Offer Post-Launch?

Most apps will need updates and patches after they go live, particularly to keep an eye on any security vulnerabilities that may arise.

You’ll want your development partner to actively monitor potential issues and available to fix any problems in a timely manner.

5. What Documentation Do You Provide?

It’s essential to receive development documentation about the app, including instructions for how to use it.

This is especially important if your developer does not handle post-launch app maintenance.

6. How Do You Handle Testing?

What testing methods are used for the apps? What does the developer recommend specifically for your app?

User testing is essential to ensure the app is intuitive for users to engage with and that everything works the way it should. Testing takes care of many issues in advance of release, preventing headaches.

7. How Will You Keep Me Up-to-Date on Progress?

Keeping clients in the loop is an important part of the development process. Good developers understand this and will be transparent about their communication process.

Make sure your chosen app developer communicates consistently and in ways you prefer.

8. Does Your Process Include Submission to App Stores and Marketplaces?

Submitting to stores and marketplaces isn’t too difficult if you know what you’re doing, but it can be cumbersome if you don’t have experience with it.

Will your app partner handle the submission for you? Or will they provide guidance on how to do it? You will want to be sure they’ll provide guidance on creating your listing and submission if they’re not handling it.

Knowing the right questions to ask is an important part of selecting the right developer. There are also some key things to look for in their responses and your interactions.

Know What to Look For in a Development Partner

You now have a full understanding of what you want to build, and you’ve spoken with development prospects to ask key questions.

Now it’s time to narrow your options. Here are the most important things to look for in a developer.

Portfolio of Apps Demonstrating an Understanding of Behavioral Design

When you review a developer’s portfolio, go beyond checking reviews and feedback. Take the apps they designed for a test drive.

Do the apps demonstrate a strong understanding of usability, UX design, and behavioral design? Essentially, are they engaging enough that users will want to use them, and continue using them, on a daily basis?

Technology Chops

A development partner’s competencies must match your needs. Consider the platform you want to use for your app, as that will determine the technology that will be required.

For example, Android app developers need solid Java and XML skills. This expertise will be important for Android apps but not for iOS apps.

The platform you use is up to you: 75% of businesses with an app use iOS, and 61% use Android.

Android vs. iOS apps

Will your app interact with other apps and systems? Then experience with APIs is important. Will there be a large volume of data collected with your app? Solid database experience will be valuable.

All app developers should have a thorough understanding of security, as mobile apps are vulnerable to cyber threats. The developer should have a process for identifying security threats, proactively implementing safeguards pre-launch, and quickly implementing patches post-launch.

Business Knowledge

Developers also need to understand marketing and monetization strategies in addition to their technical knowledge. They should be able to offer creative suggestions based on their experience with converting app users into revenue.

Optimization should be considered throughout the development process to ensure that it will support your monetization strategy. For example, if your app will use in-app advertising, you want to make sure the ads will not distract the user.

An experienced developer will know how to optimize each strategy effectively.

Interest in Your Business

You want to work with a development partner with a real interest in your business. It will be difficult to see success with a developer that just wants to get the job done.

Look for a developer that not only understands technology but also is invested in understanding your business.

Sound Development Practices and Strategic Planning

Development partners should have a documented and transparent process and set clear expectations at every step. They should also follow coding standards and use a framework for development.

Having this level of organization enables multiple team members to work on the same project and minimizes confusion. They should also be able to see the bigger picture for strategic planning and help you make decisions leveraging their experience.

Informed Preparation Will Help You Choose the Best Development Partner for Your App

Establishing a successful relationship with a development partner requires an understanding of what app you want to build and why, knowing the right questions to ask, and understanding what to look for in the answers.

Technology partners should have solid technical abilities in the skill sets you need as well as business skills and expertise on how to keep users engaged for the long term.

Ideally, you want a partner that’s seeking to build a long-term relationship with you. A successful app doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of combining all of these factors.

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