How to Get Accurate Estimates From App Developers

April 11, 2018

Learn how experts determine the cost of developing your app and which tools you’ll need to receive the most precise cost evaluations from developers.

At App Partner, we’ve spoken to hundreds of entrepreneurs hoping to make it big in the app industry.

During these conversations, one question always arises: “How much will my app cost?

While this seems like a simple question, creating accurate estimates is an especially tricky task for agencies. This is because developers must consider a variety of factors when building estimates, all of which greatly impact the final number they give to prospective clients.

How App Estimates Work

An app estimate entails determining how many hours a project is expected to take and multiplying this number by the company’s billing rate.

That leads to a question: How do developers figure out how many hours it will take to make my app?

While every company determines this differently, all agencies use these essentials in their estimates:

 scope, complexity, platform, design, testing, updates

  • Scope: How many and which features does the client want in the app? How many of these features are “must-haves” and how many are “nice-to-haves”?
  • Complexity of features: Will certain features require additional development time due to their complexity?
  • Platform: Is the app for iOS, Android, Web, VR, etc.?
  • Design: How many screens will we need to design? Do we need to design branding? How many design iterations do we expect to go through?
  • Testing: How many quality assurance hours do we need to account for during development?
  • Updates: How much bug-fixing or minor code modifications do we expect to do after launch?

Formulating an accurate cost estimate requires a lot of information and educated guesswork. Much like a house, an app can be built in many different ways and will require a unique combination of time and materials to get the job done.

However, even the most meticulous estimates can be completely wrong by the time you receive an invoice from your developer.

When building an estimate, developers assume that your project’s scope won’t change and that the project will run smoothly.

If you choose to add or remove features from your app, or the development process ultimately takes longer than initially assumed, expect to see a few discrepancies between your estimate and invoice.

How Can I Receive the Most Accurate Estimate Possible?

If you want to receive the most precise estimates possible, you’ll need to provide comprehensive documentation.

Although this will require additional work on your end, documenting your idea will not only help refine your scope but also allow developers to understand your vision. This ultimately helps developers provide you with far more accurate estimates.

Not only will you receive an estimate that will elicit confidence in you and your investors, but your team will be able to hit the ground running once development begins.

Documentation comes in many shapes and sizes, which may be daunting to development newcomers. However, the following types of documentation are the most efficient vehicles for explaining your vision to developers:

 request for proposal, business plan, business model canvas, pitch deck

  • Request for Proposal: A document sent to agencies that provides them with information regarding your development needs and company background. An RFP provides essential information to developers, allowing them to quickly craft proposals for comparison.
  • Business Plan: A thorough explanation of your business, including an executive summary, company overview, marketing strategy, and financial plan. These plans are great for those seeking to secure funding because they provide both developers and investors with an in-depth look at your startup.
  • Business Model Canvas: A visual chart that lays out the basic structure of your business, including key partners, your value proposition, and target segment. The business model canvas is not as detailed as a business plan but still supplies developers with vital information.
  • Pitch Deck: A presentation that condenses your business plan into a more digestible format. Pitch decks are great for sharing with potential investors, though this information is also useful for developers crafting estimates.

No Documentation? No Problem

It’s possible to receive an estimate without detailed documentation, but you should provide the following information:

  • Feature List: It will be nearly impossible for developers to give you an accurate estimate unless they understand the features needed in your app. When creating your feature list, walk through your user’s experience and list all systems required for a streamlined experience. Some common features include social media login, geolocation, web-based admin, and push notifications.
  • Desired services: To create an accurate estimate, developers need to know which tasks are already completed for your app and which still need to be completed. Common services include strategy, branding, design, and development.
  • Desired platforms: In a perfect world, developers would only need to write one version of your app’s code for all desired platforms. In reality, each platform requires developers to code in a specific language, so developing for multiple platforms will increase costs. We recommend starting with one platform, which will keep costs down and allow you to catch critical issues that arise in your MVP. This means that you will avoid those issues when developing for future platforms.
  • Clear budget: This will allow developers to review the needs listed above and determine if the project is feasible. If you have many desired features but a relatively small budget, developers will work with you to determine which features are necessary for your MVP and which can be left for future updates. If you are still looking for funding, this is important to mention as well.
  • Timeframe: Developers need to be aware of any deadlines you require for development. Keep in mind that full development generally takes 3 to 6 months. If you need your app quickly, prepare to cut some features from your MVP and incorporate them into future updates.

Why Am I Receiving a Wide Range of Estimates?

Although many of your estimates will likely be similar, expect to receive a range of numbers from developers.

Various factors play into this, including the developer’s reputation, location, product quality, technical capabilities, and post-launch support offerings.

Another major factor that impacts cost is agency talent. If a company uses offshore talent, it will likely undercut many agencies that don’t outsource work.

Keep in mind, though, that the cheapest option is not always the best deal. Instead, carefully consider your project’s unique needs to find the right team for you.

Be Confident in Your Estimates

With so many factors involved in development, the art of cost evaluation is complex, as well as unique to every agency.

While this will ultimately result in a wide range of estimates from developers, follow our tips to receive the most accurate estimates possible.

About the Author

Headshot of Drew JohnsonDrew Johnson is co-founder and co-CEO of App Partner, a Brooklyn-based mobile agency. Johnson’s responsibilities include advising App Partner’s clients on their mobile strategic initiatives as well as overseeing the company’s business development efforts and day-to-day operations. To date, his company has led and supported the launch of more than 200 unique mobile applications, generating tens of millions of downloads.


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