If time is money, lost time means wasted money. In a world where IT technologies rule, the sooner you launch a customer-oriented business app, the more money you can make with it.
Many of our partners come to us asking questions like “How long does it take to build an app like Facebook? Or Uber? Or Shopify? Or AnyOtherCoolApp?”. The question is hard to answer; Facebook was founded in 2004, and a huge team of software engineers still works on its web and mobile version. Uber was started more than 10 years ago and it keeps improving. Shopify started its path in 2004, too, and as well as in Facebook, there are hundreds of software engineers who dedicate their skills to product development.
So we can say that creating a Facebook takes over 16 years.
But this is too much for a person who wants to make money with a spectacular app ASAP! Besides, multiply the number of hours by the hourly price for the development services and you get… billions of dollars. Almost unreal budget for the young startup.
But wait, this method of calculation of how long it takes to create an app is completely wrong.
Do you think that more than 16 years ago Mark Zuckerberg was worried about the average time to develop an app like Facebook? Do you believe he was wondering where to get some money to produce it? No. He had no clue about how much time he needed to build an entire full-featured solution, he even didn’t have an idea what features Facebook will have in a few years. He didn’t calculate how much the development would cost him. Probably if he did, he’d apply for a boring office 9-to-5 position to make some money for his app. But would he give up on his idea if he knew all the answers?
He did what he could and what he was good at; he raised the idea with the resources available at that moment. After a while, interested investors started reaching out to him with profitable offers.
Eventually, this idea took his name to the list of the richest people on a planet.
Mark started with Facemash, an app where Harvard University students could play something like a “hot or not” game online. It had poor design and very, very limited functionality. At the same time, it attracted more than 450 visitors during its first 4 hours. And then the website went viral.
16 years ago, this “poor functionality app” turned into one of the top companies worldwide, worth $425 billion.
This is a great example of a successful startup: it may take several years before you launch a nice handy app generating multi-million revenue. But it is much easier, faster and cheaper to launch an MVP with minimum features describing your idea and start raising funds for your further growth right now. You don’t have to invest a huge amount of time and money in your software business immediately. What you should do is to get acquainted with the initial steps and their duration and start working on your dream right now.
The prototype, MVP and fully-function app: your successful app development timeline
There are 3 stages in profitable app development:
Creating a prototype
Duration: up to 1 month
An app prototype is a simple sketch, the alpha-version of your product that allows testing the concept. Typically, it describes how your app will look like and may include a few key features. It is quite easy (and cheap) to design an app prototype. But the main advantage is: you can make even global changes in the app structure quickly and cheaply. Prototyping allows you to experiment with the concept of your product. It demonstrates the general idea and doesn’t require much resources to be launched.
DoorDash, a food delivery service with $900 million of revenue in 2019, started its path from a simple prototype. A team invested only a few hours in a prototype development! But look at it now: this is a powerful software product that attracts more and more users, each month.
Do not be afraid to start with a prototype; do not be afraid to edit it and ask for potential users’ opinions as many times as you may need. As Reid Hoffman, one of the Linkedin co-founders once said, “If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late”.
Launching a Minimum Viable Product
Duration: 4-6 months
MVP, or a minimum viable product, is a version of your app that includes key features to satisfy users’ needs. With its help, you can go to production fast, collect customer feedback and evaluate the app’s potential.
Analyzing feedback, you can improve your app precisely according to users’ demands. With customers’ opinions, you know exactly what is wrong. You have a well-defined vision of how to build app users need, but not the one that will rest somewhere on 178 page of PlayMarket shelves.
Sometimes, ideas fail. But even if your first MVP-attempt won’t be successful, you still have so many other chances to build a profitable product.
MVP helps to start raising your brand. What is most important, it allows attracting investments. This is a perfect circle: you raise funds with MVP, you invest them in app improvement, you raise more funds to build even more advanced features and attract additional funds, new powerful users and partners!
Can you remember those times when Uber was called Ubercab and operated in San Francisco only? Since 2009, when the product was born, it has raised a total of $24.7 billion in 24 rounds. It all started with a single simple MVP. And then, with years and billions of investments, it became one of the most powerful solutions in a market.
Full-feature app development
Duration: 12 months+
On this stage, your MVP turns to a complete powerful software product, extended with numerous interesting features. Due to the continuous growth and functionality augmentation with new features, it is hard to estimate precisely how long it takes to create an app.
Software development and improvement should never stop. You as an app owner should constantly talk to users, work on new ideas, better features, optimized experience etc. Besides, there’s always a chance to implement cutting-edge trends and become a front-runner in your industry. As long as development process continues, your app lives and grows.
With the revenue generated by your app and investors interested in cooperation, financial question isn’t as hard as it was at the very beginning. You don’t need to invest your own money; instead, you can upgrade a product using the investments and percentage of your revenue. This is how never-ending development becomes affordable; this is how your product grows.
Just take a look at the multi-billionaire businesses: Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, and others are still on their development stage. These apps bring money, they serve users’ needs and their success stories are the objects of numerous interviews and articles. However, day by day, hundreds and thousands of software engineers work on essential features to make Facebook, DoorDash, Uber and many other top apps even better!
Never stop brainstorming and revealing new ideas. Remember: as soon as you stop making your app better, one of the competitors outruns you and occupies your leading position.
So the questions about how long does it take to build an app are very blurred. However, talking about MVP, we can define the approximate time: it’s 4-6 months. Starting to build your app now, you will see it up and running in fall 2020! And by December, you’ll collect your very first investments. It sounds like a dream, isn’t it? It may come true if you really want it.
Now, let’s take a look at stages of MVP development and find out how long each of them lasts.
6 components of the app development timeline, or how to start building an MVP
A clear vision of the app development timeline is your first step towards a fast, successful MVP. Let’s see what to start with.
1. Start with business analysis
Time to invest: 1+ week
Sometimes it feels like our ideas are pure, natural gold, so promising and excellent that we wonder why such a great solution hasn’t come to our minds earlier. However, we need to share it with someone and analyze the current situation in the market to make sure it is really viable.
Here are 3 tasks to deal with on the first stage of your MVP development:
Brainstorm and come up with a great app idea.
Share it with your partners, colleagues, and friends, people who have proficiency in the defined sphere or their opinion matters to you. It may be tough and challenging but it will help you to polish the concept.
Study the market and find out if similar solutions exist. Are they good enough? Do they have disadvantages? To attract potential users’ attention and conquer the market, you should analyze all the issues with the existing tools. You should produce a better solution; a solution more reliable, easier to use, customer-oriented and interesting.
2. Create your business plan
Time to invest: 1+ week
To structure data and have everything prepared for the start, opt for building a business plan canvas for your mobile app MVP. There are several components to think over, like key partners and activities, value proposition and customer segment, etc. They all are significant but now, we’d like to draw your attention to the financial aspect of your plan:
Define how much you are ready to invest in your app and what are the ways to attract investments.
Analyze your app once more and discuss how much it costs to build an app and MVP with your partner. Once you find a reliable software development partner to cooperate with, this stage will get easier.
The other side of a financial topic is the revenue stream. You can advertise on your app, sell advanced plans or offer paid content. There are many ways to monetize an app, and you can even combine several of them to demonstrate the investors that your app is potentially profitable.
3. Proceed with design
Time to invest: 2+ weeks
Build a simple sketch of your app that will turn to a prototype later. Visualizing your idea, you can discover more ways to improve it or, on the contrary, reveal the imperfections you haven’t noticed before.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, that’s the first version of your app. A simple sketch you prepared when the idea has come to your mind was just homework. Now, it is time to create a prototype for your upcoming software app.
- UI/UX Design
To create an impeccable, catchy design, start with defining your buyer persona. With a clear understanding of who are your app’s users and what they want to see in your app, you can build a more user-oriented, attractive app.
A team of designers builds an attractive, simple and intuitive user interface. Here, every detail matters: from a color scheme, stylistics and fonts, to animations, buttons and their locations, textures etc. The more screens you need your app to demonstrate, the more time it will take the team to design them. On average, you’ll need 5-7 screens for an MVP and 20+ screens for a fully functional app.
Designing an app, your team should not only demonstrate great Adobe Photoshop skills; UX designers should also be highly sensitive to customers’ wishes and give them exactly what they want while still following the key business purpose. Navigation should be flawless but it should lead to checkout; design should be minimal but it needs to make a user fall in love with your app.
4. Dive into software app development process
Time to invest: 12+ weeks
Again, the average time to develop an app depends completely on your project and team specifics. It usually consists of 2 large components:
- Back-end development
Back-end engineering is the component of the process when the server-side of the app is built. It is a complex stage that includes:
- Server-side architecture and logic;
- Work with the database;
- User management, from creating the account to security and access control;
- Integration with third-party services;
- Push notifications development etc.
- Front-end development
Simultaneously with back-end development, front-end engineers work on a user interface of your app. Following activities take place:
- Front-end logic development;
- Interface development, or turning prototypes to pages of a real software app;
- Data processing on front-end and caching etc.
Between back-end and front-end there are many dependencies. Different teams work on different sides of an app however sometimes full-stack engineers are involved in a process. These specialists are skilled in both server-side and user interface development and can work on both parts of an app. Typically, server-side development may start earlier as it takes more time.
5. In the meanwhile, test your app
Time to invest: 4+ weeks
First and foremost, to ensure code and product quality, software developers cover their programming code with unit tests. When the minimal amount of functionality is ready, alpha testing, or testing before the commercial release, starts:
- Manual quality assurance: this is a process when a test engineer checks all the features manually, following specific test cases;
- Automation quality assurance: the engineer builds algorithms that check the functionality automatically.
QA and software development are parallel processes. You don’t need to wait extra time while engineers test your app; you can build a product and enhance it with new features while the QA team ensures every single component of functionality works correctly.
Testing does not require additional time but helps to launch high-quality solution.
6. Finally, Deployment
Duration: 2+ days
Once you’re sure you can let the users try the MVP, it is time to publish it. App Store and Play Market have slightly different application requirements; check them thoroughly, make sure your app responds to them, and submit it! Typically, it takes from several days to several weeks for your app to be published.
What makes the biggest difference in your app development timeline?
After several dozens of projects we’ve completed, we are ready to highlight 3 critical factors that impact MVP development speed:
1. Software development methodology
A software development framework your team chooses defines process organization and communication rules within a team:
According to Waterfall, the development team passes to the next stage only when the previous one is finished. The development process follows a strict, well-defined plan with fixed deadlines. Once there’s a need to fix some issues, or you decide to implement a fresh idea, the troubles emerge. Lack of flexibility doesn’t allow any changes, any extra time in the development process.
It fits the needs of small projects.
This methodology along with the Scrum framework wins more and more attention and popularity worldwide. According to it, the entire process is cut into iterations called sprints. Typically, a sprint takes 2 weeks and each team member has a defined scope of work for this sprint. It allows detecting and reacting to any tiny issue fast and allows estimating app development time more precisely; it enables instant changes and saves the team’s time significantly.
Agile is suitable for all apps, especially the big and powerful ones, those that never stop improving.
No matter what methodology you choose, strong software management skills are required to control the process and speed it up. The useful tip is to delegate this task: hire an experienced IT project manager to save your time and focus on other essential business activities.
2. Features’ complexity
MVP’s features have a great impact on development time. The more advanced, trendy features you would like your MVP to demonstrate, the more time you need to devote to development. But at the same time, spectacular functionality is a must if you want to win users’ attention. So as we’ve already mentioned, focus on key functionality on the MVP stage and proceed with the innovative features in future.
3. Team expertise
The more experienced, skilled software engineers you work with, the faster you can launch your app. Senior back-end engineers will take care of fast, high-quality app’s architecture while front-end experts will enhance user interface with lovely effects and animations within short terms. In a case with junior specialists, mentoring, code reviews, refactoring and similar processes may take too much time.
Thinking about how much time it takes to build an app, you should analyze on-site vs outsourcing software development. In-house development requires much more time as you need to find and hire skilled recruitment and HR team, attract best tech talents, interview and onboard them, find a perfect office etc. In case of outsourcing, you can either hire an entire team or extend the existing team with experienced professionals in a matter of days.
How to speed up the app development process?
Some of the app development cases are pretty impressive describing the apps built within several hours or less; some were pretty depressing saying that time to market took so long that app’s idea became outdated and out-of-market. And here’s the thought from Reddit we’d like to draw your attention to:
“Keep it (app development time) short, iterate and push it out as early as you can to ensure you have a pulse on the market.”
It is not enough to know for sure how long does it take to create an app. It is also essential to find the ways to cut app development time and optimize everything so well so your competitors have no chances to outdrive you.
How long does it take to develop an app: 5 tips to speed up the process
Your high-quality MVP, thorough preparation and wise choices will be of great importance on each stage of the process. But still, reaching out to the potential user is a priority. So we prepared this list of tried and tested tips to cut your time to market and launch a great app swiftly:
- Build a hybrid mobile app
The only chance to succeed in a modern app development market is to launch an app that works and looks great on any device. There is no need to focus on Apple or Android as multi-experience is a global trend: popular brands now strive to provide an exceptional experience on any device, any platform, any OS. In case if you are thinking about native mobile app development, keep in mind it means the development of 2 different apps (one for Android devices and another one for iOS) which may take more time.
The native development approach requires hiring 2 separate teams: Java/Kotlin developers for Android app development and Swift developers for iOS app development. It is hard and expensive. Instead, go hybrid and use one of the latest technologies to build one app that runs on any mobile device. Ionic or React Native may come in handy!
- Automate everything you can
Minimizing routine work, you save your engineers time for the more essential, weighty task. Use DevOps and CI/CD (continuous operations and continuous delivery) techniques to diminish repetitive tasks and automate deployment, testing and build management.
- Do not re-invent a solution
There are myriads of apps built for each particular industry; there are tons of solutions built for each particular scenario. If you think about a special, unique feature, likely, someone has already built it. Many companies offer ready-made and well-tested scripts and third-party services for a variety of needs. Wouldn’t it simplify your team’s efforts?
For example, building a custom online chat for your app may take up to several weeks. The integration of ready-made chat solutions may cost just a few dollars and take up to several hours.
- IDE as your assistant
Eclipse, NetBeans and Visual Studio are some of the tools that make the engineering process much better. These are integrated development environments (IDE) where all the tools for project management are gathered. Team collaboration, bug detecting and fixing – this all becomes easier within IDE.
Another effective way to cut development time is to employ modularization. This means dividing code into small modules instead of storing it in big, heavy files. Initially, you need to spend more time creating convenient architecture and file structure; however, in the future, thanks to modules, it is much easier and faster to find issues, modify components and scale your app.
How many hours does it take to build an app? Somewhere between 600 hours and infinity.
The duration of the process depends on the project’s requirements and complexity, development methodology you choose, the expertise of your team and many other less meaningful factors. Being aware of all the stages that contribute to app development time, you can optimize them and reach better performance. Using the best tactics to cut app development time, you can launch a product faster than your competitors. As a result, you get the bigger part of the market share.
But there is a magic pill in all this process. A pill that saves time and attracts the investments; a pill that helps to collect users’ feedback and build a better solution. It is called MVP.
Usually, it takes several weeks to roll out a high-quality, well-tested MVP and start getting users’ feedback with it. Of course, it still depends on your requirement, however, it is a chance to take the first step to success with minimum time and financial risk.