Why You Should Not Build an App for Free
Here’s a common situation in the app world: a person has an idea for an app and wants to move forward with it.
But, that person doesn’t have the financing to pay a developer or the application development chops to do it on their own. That leads folks to investigate the options for building an app for free.
There are really three basic options for building apps for free or at a nominal cost. These include:
- Paying a developer with equity
- Building an app with DIY tools
- Learning how to write the code yourself
The first option – paying with equity – actually often results in a higher development cost over the long term when compared to hiring a professional developer. And the second and third options are often just farfetched, with many people starting down that path and realizing they don’t have the time or true desire to learn the programs and languages needed to build a reliable app.
However, if you’re dead-set on making your app a reality, you’ll probably investigate each of these avenues in more depth. So, we’ll walk through each of the options with you and help you understand why, in most cases, it’s best to avoid the “free” options for building your app.
Using Equity Shares To Finance Your App
You may be tempted to offer a contractor a share of your company in exchange for developing a minimum viable product (MVP) in addition to future support.
However, it’s almost always better to pay for the development up front, which should typically include at least six months of maintenance. If you don’t have this much cash on hand, you might consider applying for a line of credit to cover it.
Assume for this example that you wish to offer a contractor 5% equity, which is at the low end for developing an MVP. The cost of this service is typically in the range of $10,000 to $15,000, so this strategy only makes sense if you consider your company to be worth no more than $200,000 to $300,000.
Your company may be worth less than this if your idea is all you have to offer towards your company’s future success, even if it’s a good idea. On the other hand, your company is probably worth more than $300,000 if you can make other contributions towards success such as executive management, fundraising or sales.
Furthermore, a contractor is unlikely to provide future support if you’re only compensating them with equity. Assume the contractor agrees to provide development and support for two years, with the transfer of equity spread out over this period.
The contractor in this arrangement will have leverage over you and will be likely to ask you for more equity at some point because they’ll know you’re completely dependent upon them for technical guidance.
If you agree, you’ll give up more of your business. Even if you refuse, you’ll still lose out because the contractors can simply walk off with whatever equity they currently have, leaving you without the support you were counting on.
While 5% equity is a minimal figure for developing an app, it’s still more than the 1-3% that early-stage technical employees typically receive. That means you’re paying more to a temporary contractor than an employee who actually has a vested interest in your company’s success.
In this case, it would be better to give the equity to the employee who is dedicated to your company than a contractor who likely has other clients. Even though you’re also paying employees a salary, you will still get more buy-in from an early tech-hire than a contractor.
Another disadvantage of offering equity is that it keeps you from hiring the developer full-time. Even though you aren’t paying the contractor anything, you’ll almost certainly have to sign an iron-clad contract that prevents you from poaching the contractor’s employees.
Using DIY Tools To Create Your App For Free
DIY tools like Appy Pie, ShoutEm and SwifTec allow non-programmers to develop mobile apps. While they do allow you to develop simple apps without writing code, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to develop a robust app – or any app with customized features – with these tools.
About Appy Pie
Appy Pie is a tool for creating mobile apps on all the major mobile operating systems (OSs), including Android, iOS and Windows Phone. It also allows users to monetize their apps with its own marketplace.
You can use Appy Pie to create forms, such as those that might be used in a simple survey or quiz and create an app with Appy Pie that links to these forms on an external source. However, you won’t be able to create complex forms, gather data or create statistics without additional development.
ShoutEm was originally a social app for mobile networks, although it’s now used to create mobile apps. You can use ShoutEm to develop apps with written content and multimedia files that allow users to select their favorite pages for quick access.
However, it won’t allow you to create in-app purchases, as is the case with some other app makers. You could get around this by creating a separate version for paying customers with additional content. Pages that allow users to input their own data would also not be possible with Shoutem.
SwifTec is one of the most popular mobile app makers currently available and has helped to create over a million apps since 2010. Its customer loyalty features are some of SwifTec’s most distinctive characteristics.
These features can be a highly effective method of promoting discount coupons. You can use SwifTec to create an app for a store by integrating services from Etsy and Shopify or using a checkout feature from a payment service like PayPal.
However, you can’t create a composite seller app like eBay with SwiTec, as this capability would require a back-end that app makers can’t handle. One possible workaround to this limitation would be to create an app to host basic classified ads by using social post, although this approach wouldn’t enforce a consistent appearance for the posts.
Using Educational Tools To Build Your Own App
Learning how to build an app from scratch is something that’s possible, but it’s certainly a long-term approach to building an app. You’ll risk losing interest, someone else developing your app while you learn and many times you’ll still end up paying for part of the build even if you learn how to do part of it.
With that said, the most popular tools for teaching non-technical users how to program include Udemy, Codecademy and Udacity.
Udemy is an online learning platform with over 10 million students currently enrolled. It offers more than 40,000 courses, which students primarily use to advance their careers or improve their personal education.
The biggest challenge with using Udemy for learning to program is that many of these courses are too short to provide the student with a solid background in the subject matter.
Most courses don’t have an assessment feature, and those that do have assessments use them inconsistently. Furthermore, Udemy courses aren’t regulated for consistency on pricing or quality.
Codecademy also offers additional features for a charge, including live support, a personalized learning plan and realistic projects. It offers a hands-on approach to programming, but fails to place these exercises within the context of creating a real-world project. Students can learn to write code with Codecademy, but they won’t be able to develop an independent app.
Udacity offers massive open online courses (MOOCs) for a fee. It was originally created to provide university-style courses, although it’s currently best known for its vocational courses for professionals.
Cost is the greatest disadvantage of MOOCs like Udacity, which typically budgets about $200,000 to develop each of its courses. By comparison, universities only spend about $50,000 to build their online courses.
MOOCs must recoup these costs in the form of tuition, which makes them an expensive method of learning online. The high cost means that MOOC users are primarily large organizations that are already spending heavily on traditional training methods.
The Real Price Of Building An App For Free
Now you can see why, for most, building your own app for free will likely cost you more in the end. You also realize the folly of giving up equity for software development so early in the game. In order for your app to be truly worthwhile, it’s best to leverage a professional app developer to support you. The only question left is, “Are You Ready?”