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How to Cut Your App Development Costs by 50%

Gone are the days of traditional software development where the barrier to entry was prohibitively high due to proprietary technologies with high license costs, high infrastructure costs and a small pool of resources to create software.

Things have changed in the last decade and a half where more of non-technical founders are now building tech products. The barrier to entry is at its lowest with the proliferation of open source technologies and cloud services among others.

While the costs are at their lowest as compared to the earlier decades, startup founders could do with every bit of saving they can in the first phase of their journey.

While building the first version of the product, be it a website or a mobile app, here’s how founders can save development costs by nearly half, without compromising the quality of the product.

1. Focus on the must-haves

Enough has been said and written about building the first version of the product in a lean manner, where one focuses on the must-have features and does away with all the nice-to-have features.

To a founder, it’s often challenging to segregate the must-have features from the nice-to-have, but one thing that can help focus on the must-have is to identify what’s the core value offering of the product.

Once you’ve identified that, automate just the experience for the end consumer, leaving everything at the backend to be managed manually. Gradually automate various features of workflows at the backend once the product has achieved product/market fit.

For instance, if you were to build a food delivery app, let the order placement experience for the customer be completely automated. You could however, have all the orders come to a central place that manages the restaurants and deliveries, rather than have automated processes for restaurants to receive the orders directly, as do the delivery professionals.

You can save a ton of money and time to market by focusing on launching just the core value of the product.

2. Consider outsourcing

It’s a big fallacy that outsourcing is bad. Some of the most successful products that you use today were outsourced in their initial version(s). Some of the examples are Slack,, Skype, GitHub, AppSumo, Alibaba and UpWork, among many others.

Outsourcing gets a bad name for people have had bad experiences outsourcing to Eastern Europe and India. But the fact is that there are many similar incidences emerging from the developed markets as well. There are good and bad developers everywhere.

Most founders fail to qualify developers and that often results in bad products.

Outsourcing the initial version(s) of your product helps you keep the costs at minimum and accelerates time-to-market. Once you have product/market fit, you’d be able to raise funding and build an internal team.

3. Build for one platform

Part of the lean development strategy is also to build for one platform in the initial version(s). Most often, founders end up spending too much money upfront in developing for multiple platforms at the same time (for example, develop an app on both iOS and Android), for want of capturing a much wider audience.

Don’t make this mistake, unless your product’s core value proposition is the interaction between multiple operating systems – such as in the case of WhatsApp.

How many customers do you need to kick-off your product journey with? How many do you need to validate your product idea? Is a million not enough? Each platform has hundreds of millions of customers to tap into. Save money by building for one platform initially.

4. Create requirements analysis

Your planning stage has to be impeccable. You must detail every bit, feature and workflow in the application for the first phase. Most often, costs escalate through the development process when founders start building with high-level requirements.

A detailed requirements analysis document breaks the product down into bite-sized components that help with the wireframes, design and even development (without assumptions). If you don’t have the skills or knowledge to create the requirements analysis document yourself, have a development team create this document for you before you fix on the project pricing.

Once the requirements analysis document is drafted, it brings clarity to yourself as well as your development team, thus estimating the timelines and pricing more accurately – saving you tons of money through the development lifecycle of the first version.

This post was originally published in Inc.

Rahul Varshneya is an entrepreneur, advisor, columnist and a startup enthusiast. He is the co-founder of app development company Arkenea. Rahul is a columnist for Forbes, The Huffington Post, Inc and, writing on mobile product and marketing strategy. He is the author of Appreneurship: Build A Mobile App Business With No Technical Knowledge.


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  1. Rahul,

    Sorry for this brutal feedback, but your posts are seeming more and more generic and almost synthetically produced (just words without substance)

    When you speak of these points, how about giving examples?

    We have 90+ million downloads of our apps and I can SWEAR than outsourcing is NEVER the cheaper option!

    Can you give an example of a “Requirement Analysis” vs. just writing a theoretical paragraph?!

    Can you share how you focussed on “MUST HAVE’s” on a live app / product? Show what was planned and what got built?!

  2. Hi Alok,

    Thank you for being honest, feedback is always great. What I didn’t expect from your end was to be judgemental about something you haven’t had a discussion about. ‘Words without substance’? Really? How quick are we to make judgements.

    Firstly, there are different insights for people are different stages of their evolution. Not everyone is a seasoned entrepreneur and not everyone has deep insights or experience about entrepreneurship. For some, you start with a high-level insight which gives them enough to dig deeper if that’s their situation. Since you haven’t guessed it already, this is an article targeting someone who has no background or experience in building a product and is a first time entrepreneur. Not someone with a ‘live app/product’.

    When you say outsourcing from your perspective, you’re a company that’s been built over the years. Your situation is different from someone who’s building their first product. How do you suppose they should go about doing that? Hire a developer, designer, QA at the very least to develop the app/website only to know customers don’t want it? Who’s going to fund that?

    Most so-called startup gurus or pundits suggest getting a tech co-founder, like they grow on trees. You can’t just get a tech co-founder to build your first version of the product. Co-founders have to share the same passion and vision for the product and the business. Developers are just sitting around waiting for a business guy to come in, share their idea and start building a product with.

    In this case, how is it not cheaper to outsource? Also, outsourcing IS done for the reason because it is cheaper than building a product in-house and it also helps to ramp up quickly. 

    I’m amazed at your lack of knowledge about the outsourcing industry – I can be judgmental too, just like you! 🙂

    I did give examples of how billion dollar products have been outsourced in their first version. Slack for one was built by an agency and once the product was validated, it was brought in-house. is another example – outsourced to a company in Pune. Once successful, they bought over the company. 

    I’m not suggesting outsourcing is the only way, but depending on your situation, it can be a cheaper option for non-technical founders. 

    How many founders have you built an app for? Do you know that when they come with no clarity or lack of clarity for the first version, that’s the single biggest reason for their relationship going sour with the development teams over money and scope of work? Of course, you wouldn’t know that. But then, don’t be judgmental about it too.

    It helps to draw up a detailed requirements document when outsourcing so that things are transparent between the two parties and there are no issues in relation to what was expected and what was delivered. 

    Every article, including several of yours, doesn’t satisfy the need of every audience. And it doesn’t have to. This piece has its audience too. I’m not putting your 10,000+ members in the same bucket. 

    One piece of advice… if you have an opinion, have a discussion. Not pass a judgement. Don’t be disrespectful of someone who’s spent the last 6 years working with startup founders helping them build their products (and also have built three of their own) without knowing or taking time to understand the background or context of the article.


    Rahul Varshneya

  3. I agree and apologize

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