How much does it cost to build an app?

Apps Are Like Hamburgers.

Question asked by Jessie on March 22, 2014
Paul Keck Badge

Apps Are Like Hamburgers

How much does app development cost? This is a question that has been asked time and time again. I hope to answer it in a way that has not been done before… Apps are like hamburgers.


hamburger ingredients

This requires a bit of explanation, so here goes. Let’s say, for a moment, that I have no idea what a hamburger costs. However, burgers are simple enough, and I would be able to easily tell you what I want on mine. An all-beef patty on a bun (I might be particular about the bread) with the following extras:

  1. Lettuce
  2. Cheese
  3. Onions
  4. Mayonnaise

If I were to ask “how much will I have to pay for my hamburger”, would you be able to answer with a single number? No. I think the realistic answer to such a question might be “between 99 cents and 16 dollars”. Holy crap! The range in price varies by a factor of sixteen? How can that be?? Hamburgers are not that complicated, and I’ve told you everything I want on it!

Ready for my brilliant insight?

We buy hamburgers with the goal of eating something that tastes good, but all we ever do is specify what should be on it. We never specify how good it should taste, which is the most important thing when deciding what’s fair to pay!!

People are fixers by nature, and we all make the assumption that if other people do what we say and how we say to do it, our goals will naturally be accomplished. But our goals are also difficult to communicate. It’s hard to describe to someone exacly what great taste means, so we substitute the easier requirements like what to put on the burger. Similarly, when seeking price quotes for an app, we tend to describe only what an app should do as an easier substitute for how good it should look and how well it should work.

If we had a hamburger consultant to help out with our pricing dilemma, the conversation might go something like this:

Customer: I’d like someone to make me a hamburger. How much will it cost?
Consultant: On a scale of 1–10, how good does it need to taste?
Customer: 10
Consultant: That will probably cost $16 or more.
Customer: I can’t pay $16 for a hamburger!
Consultant: OK, you can get a pretty good-tasting one for around $9
Customer: I guess I can live with that.
Consultant: Here is a list of restaurants that make $9 burgers
Customer: OK, I’ll check one out. Thanks!

Of course this example is over-simplified, and in real life we don’t need hamburger consultants. We know that going to McDonald’s will get us a cheap hamburger that tastes a certain way. It doesn’t cost much to try a bunch of restaurants and find out which ones have great burgers for a good price. So when we specify what we want on our burger at a restaurant, we’ve already decided what to pay for it by being there.

The App Equivalent Of Measuring Taste

So how does this work with app development? Trial and error would be very costly, so we have to figure out a different way to decide on a budget.

If you don’t have a consultant who can point you in the right direction, you’ll have to do some leg-work. One way to accomplish this is to find a set of apps that you like. Consider the way they look and how well they work, as well as the success of the company behind it. Make a few phone calls to find out who built the apps and then contact those companies to find out what it might cost to build yours. All companies should be able to throw out a ballpark figure based on a description of goals for the app (although the less experienced ones might demand a spec — move on to the next). I also find this article about the cost of popular applications to be a pretty good read for ball-parking some well-known apps.

At BOUNDLESS, we have a flat fee for app development based on our experience with launching minimal products. Just about every new company can pick the right feature set for version one and hit the target price (with a little help from us along the way).

The important thing is that the client and solution provider work together to arrive at an agreement that works for both parties based on goals. Try and address the tough questions about how good the app needs to be, rather than just what the app is supposed to do. If you get in touch with enough companies to discuss your ideas (3–5 should do it), you’ll be able to spot the ones that are genuinely interested in the success of your app and your startup.

Have a question you need answered?

We've been helping entrepreneurs like you build great apps for a long time.

IMG_0133-2.jpg contact-paul.png

At BOUNDLESS, my co-founder and I have over 35 years of collective experience building software. We’ve helped many startups clarify their ideas, find workable solutions, and build their apps. We love answering questions and helping entrepreneurs get started. Fill out the form below and we'll answer your questions regarding building an MVP, lean app development, choice of technologies or any other subject you think is relevant!

Thank you for your question! Here at BOUNDLESS we take helping people very seriously. Someone will be in touch shortly to follow up with any questions or to give you an answer to your question.

Use Lean methods to plan and validate your app idea before you build it.

Over 50 pages of step-by-step instructions on how to develop your idea and validate your business plan before you spend time and money building your app.

I want to get started on my own