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Category: Blog, Fundamentals, Project Management

How to Build a Mobile App? | Guide for Business Owners

Learn how to build a mobile application from scratch. Understand the mobile app development process and decide who will build your app.

how to build a mobile app

To deliver outstanding customer experience, businesses are now investing in mobile apps. If you have an amazing idea for a new digital product, you’re probably wondering how to build a mobile app that attracts thousands of users.

You’re in the right place. In this article, we share all of the steps you need to take when building an app, from revising your idea and understanding how mobile apps are built, to deciding who is going to develop it for you.

If you are a beginner in the area of mobile app development, I recommend you to check on the article What is a mobile app? Basics for businesses.

Ready to start building your unique mobile application? Let’s dive in!

Table of contents

  1. Understand the process of building an app

Phase 1: Planning and discovery

Phase 2: Development

Phase 3: Maintenance, support, and further development

  1. Build a mobile app strategy
  2. Decide who will build your app

Building an app in-house

Outsourcing mobile development

Conclusion

1. How to build a mobile app – understand the process

Before joining other business owners on the quest to turn your idea into a mobile app, it’s essential that you learn and understand the common industry practices in mobile app development.

Depending on the team you hire and the complexity of your app, the timeline of starting the project to getting the app launched in an app store might differ. However, each project will follow a similar trajectory. 

Here are the most important phases in mobile app development you should know before jumping on the mobile bandwagon.

Phase 1: Planning and discovery

During this phase, you need to strategize and define the experience your app will deliver to users. An important deliverable of this phase is a solid product roadmap. Building an app without establishing these elements, in the beginning, is very risky.

Create a strategy

The first step is understanding the requirements of your business:

  • What are your business goals?
  • Who are your target audiences?
  • Which features your app will include as a priority?

You need to specify all of this information before creating an app. It will bring you closer to finding your product-market fit and help you avoid the risks of building a mobile application nobody needs or wants to use.

Focus on user experience 

Next, it’s time to think about the particular experience you want to deliver to your app users:

  • What kind of problem will the app solve?
  • What are the common pain points of your target audience?
  • What sort of goal will it help users to achieve?

The key deliverable of this stage is a solid architecture that includes a well-defined user journey and sketches of the user experience delivered screen by screen. At this point, it’s also smart to invest in creating high fidelity mockups and prototypes that you can test before the development phase begins.

Develop a product roadmap

Once you gain a better idea about what your app is going to achieve, it’s time to come up with a detailed technical requirements document. A part of it should be a UX specification too.

That type of product roadmap should include everything you need to create the app. That way, it will help you to estimate the work required to complete the project and set the direction for short- and long-term development.

If you team up with a software development agency like Droids On Roids, you can be sure that the entire process of planning and execution is carried out by a cross-functional team that consists of business analysts, UX/UI designers, software developers, QA specialists, and product development experts. They will all come together to help you crystallize your idea and make sure that your app finds a product-market fit.

Business Analyst

Ireneusz
Business Analyst at Droids On Roids

Phase 2: Development

Once the planning phase is complete and you have a well-defined product roadmap, as well as early designs (mockups or prototypes), it’s time to build your solution.

We should start with the app development kick-off & project setup – these are responsibilities of your development team, but you as a Product Owner take part in project kick-off.

During this phase, the development team will write the code and realize your app idea. The duration of this phase will depend on the number of features and complexity. 

For example, if your app is based on just offering users information and providing them with a few interactions, the team might be able to build it in less than a month. However, more complicated apps with geolocation features, social logins, dynamic content, or a user database may take much more time.

Note that testing will take place during the development phase as well. It’s essential that the team gets an opportunity to test the app as soon as possible. In fact, involving Quality Assurance professionals right from the start is a smart move. That way, you will remove bugs or errors at the earliest stages of development, ensuring that they don’t become a huge issue further down the road.

Also, making final design adjustments is a good idea at this point. That way, you’ll avoid building an app that doesn’t deliver the experience you were looking to provide. 

Phase 3: Maintenance, support, and further development

Once your app has been developed and approved by the app store, it’s time for the launch!

You might be thinking that you don’t need to do anything from now on. You’re wrong. 

Once your app is downloaded and used by real people, it’s smart to listen closely to their feedback. This will help you determine which features you should build next or what you should change in your app to deliver an even better experience.

Also, it’s important that you implement ongoing testing to make sure that the app works correctly. Naturally, some of the updates will be part of your product roadmap you developed back in Phase 1. So, you have a solid foundation to build upon. Check with your users whether additional features would bring them value. Maybe it’s time to switch to something else?


Understanding the process of how mobile apps are built and seeing the best practices from successful mobile development teams is essential before you make your first move.

We hope that this section helps you understand the most common and widespread practices of developing mobile apps.

2. How to build a mobile app – create a mobile app strategy

What does it mean, exactly? That you will be formulating a strategy for your app development project.

Why is it worth your time? If you do it at this point (before launching the development work), you won’t miss any critical steps along the way and avoid making mistakes that might cost you a lot.

A mobile app strategy comes with two benefits:

1) You will know what questions you need to answer before building your app 

2) You will identify what results you’re looking to achieve at the end of the development process. 

Here are the most important questions you need to ask yourself when building your mobile strategy:

a. Who are your competitors?

Are there any similar apps available on the market today? Who are your direct competitors, and what unique selling propositions they offer to customers? Remember that your competition might not always be a mobile app. For example, it could be another type of online digital product or even a spreadsheet.

b. How much will it cost to build my app?

How much does a mobile application cost in 2020? The answer to this question largely depends on who you hire to build your app. However, note that on top of the build cost, you also need to identify your other expenses (like support and maintenance).

Once you know that, compare your spendings to the hypothesized amount of money you can earn through subscriptions, in-app advertising, registration fees, and others. This is also the right moment to rethink the monetization strategy of your app.

c. What is the goal of my app?

What are you trying to accomplish with it? It’s important to articulate your goal clearly. It will serve as the foundation of your strategy. If you don’t identify your objective, you will be building just for the sake of building. Instead, it’s best to rely on a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. Every step you take will bring you closer to achieving that vision.

Your initial objective doesn’t have to be “building an app that competes with Instagram.” Instead, focus on this: You’re building a digital product for a given purpose – to solve a particular problem your users experience. Your objectives should be deeply rooted in what you’re planning to deliver to them, not in a competitor app you’re looking to beat.

Wojciech Szwajkiewicz - CEO and President of Droids On Roids

Wojtek
CEO at Droids On Roids

d. What are your key metrics and KPIs?

It’s smart to consider the type of metrics and Key Performance Indicators you’re going to measure. Choosing them wisely will limit the amount of effort it will take to measure and track all the potential metrics. And if you keep a close eye on your most important metrics, you will always get an accurate picture of your app’s performance.

What metrics should you consider measuring? 

  • The total number of downloads that indicate whether enough people are interested in your app to actually download it to their smartphones.
  • The number of monthly active users – this is the number of users who log in and take action inside your app.
  • Daily active users – the number of users who use your app every day
  • Churn rate – the percentage of users who delete or cancel your app every month.
  • The number of sessions – how many times do your users actually use your app?
  • Daily or monthly sessions – time how much time users spend using your app.

e. How will you inspire users to use your app?

This is one of the key elements you need to figure out before starting to build your app. How are you going to get users activated after they download your app? You need to inspire them to actually start using your app. People tend to download a new app, open it once, and then delete it or hide it in a folder, never to be used again. You need to convince them to stick around. Focus your initial sign up and onboarding experience on making that happen.

3. Decide who will build your app

This decision is based on many different factors, such as your timeline, budget, technical requirements of your app, and whether you want to build for iOS, Android, or both platforms.

At this point, many prospective business owners ask themselves this question:

Should I outsource the development work or build my app in-house? 

There are pros and cons to both approaches, so it’s important that you’re aware of them and choose the option that matches your unique situation best.

Building an app in-house

If you decide to build an app in-house, it means that you will be using an internal development team to make your idea a reality. You will have to first carry out recruitment, find the skills you need, and then oversee the process of building your app. This approach has its unique advantages, and a few drawbacks you need to know.

Pros of in-house development

Insider knowledge 

An internal team will know your organization better than a mobile app agency. It will know your brand voice, target audience, vision, goals, and competitors. All these insights are part of your DNA. It’s possible to pass them along through to an agency, but only after a long-term collaboration.

Streamlined process

Generally, approvals happen faster when everyone involved in the process is working from one location. Your entire team’s scheduling calendar can be easily synchronized and allow time for reviews. You won’t have to engage in a constant back and forth to find a time that works for everyone. Moreover, you can easily have a quick chat about a mobile app design decision with a team member.

Flexibility with revisions

This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, developing a mobile app in-house offers you plenty of opportunities to be flexible with revisions. On the other, the potential drawback of this is that you might end up spending many hours tweaking and modifying your app features without making any real progress.

If you team up with a mobile development agency, you will typically be working with a budget. This constraint will inspire you to be more thorough during the planning stage and weigh the pros and cons of each revision carefully. Also, a development team will deliver features in every sprint, so you can decide to move on to the next feature instead of spending time on perfecting the previous one.

Wojciech Szwajkiewicz - CEO and President of Droids On Roids

Wojtek
CEO at Droids On Roids

Cons of in-house development

High cost

And that’s no matter where your business is operating. Finding qualified candidates is becoming a challenge in practically every region of the world. Moreover, new hires entail a process that takes a lot of time and money. The cost of hiring an individual includes job postings, interviews, training staff, and background checks.

And then comes the salary. In February 2019, the average salary of a mobile app developer in the United States amounted to $107,000. And this is just one role in a development team.

An ideal app team will involve developers (frontend and backend), a UX designer, a product manager, and a QA engineer. That number of people represent a very high paycheck. In addition, consider other costs such as unemployment, healthcare, and taxes – as well as overhead expenses such as hardware, software, and office space.

Finding talent is hard

The demand for IT specialists is at an all-time high. That makes it more challenging to find and hire the right professionals in practically every region of the world.

As a recruiter, you should also be able to assess technical skills accurately. Most of the time, you will have to pay for someone to do it for you. And that’s an additional cost.

When recruiting staff for your project, expect the entire process to last about 2-3 months. So, if you want to start working on your app as quickly as possible, building your app in-house might not make sense. After all, it will take a while for an employee to become an effective team member.

If you decide to team up with a software development company, you can be sure that the team knows how to collaborate most efficiently and can get started right away. Moreover, you won’t be spending your time, money, and resources on recruitment, training, or onboarding.

Wojciech Szwajkiewicz - CEO and President of Droids On Roids

Wojtek
CEO at Droids On Roids

b. Outsourcing mobile development

If you decide to outsource the process building of your app to a mobile app development agency, expect many advantages. However, outsourcing mobile development also carries some risks – prepare for them by reading our guide about the benefits and risks of outsourcing software development.

Pros of outsourcing mobile development

Established teams

Most mobile app development agencies offer teams of developers, designers, business analysts, Quality Assurance engineers, and project managers who have worked together on multiple projects in the past.

The main perk of hiring such a team is that its members can get to work much faster. They won’t have to integrate with a new team and go through the onboarding process. An in-house team will take the time to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This will probably take place during your project, exposing it to unknown risks. These are all the things an agency team is already familiar with.

Experience

An agency that specializes in mobile development will have a far greater understanding of what you’re trying to do than a general app developer.

Such companies have streamlined processes that the tried and tested on many different app development projects. The most proficient agencies use various strategies to better understand the app requirements, business goals, and priority features.

Such development teams leverage their industry experience and knowledge of the latest trends to offer a productive perspective that comes from years of building projects similar to yours.

Lower cost

By hiring a mobile app agency, you will avoid all the costs that come with sourcing, attracting, recruiting, and onboarding developers. All of this is expensive and takes lots of time. You won’t have to pay any of the overhead costs, taxes, and all the other costs that come with maintaining full-time employees at your company.

Flexibility and scalability

A software development agency can easily add new members to your team to match the changing needs of your project.

If you’d like to address the new business requirement, you can have people working on it almost instantly. And once your project is over, the team can be reduced to provide only the support and maintenance services you need.

Achieving the same level of flexibility and scalability with an in-house team is just impossible. Hiring new members takes a lot of time. Firing them could ruin your reputation on the market.

Fast time-to-market

Once you formulate your app concept and decide that you want to build a development team, you will be looking at 2 to 3 months of delay in realizing your idea.

By outsourcing development, you can get started almost right away. You won’t have to onboard your team or create processes. There are no guessing games or learning about your mistakes in outsourcing. If you partner with an agency, you’re bound to accelerate the time-to-market of your app.

How to build a mobile application – conclusion

Building a mobile app is a process riddled with different challenges. Practically every step in your journey will help you to learn something new, rethink your strategy, and identify your goals better.

However, it’s also a very rewarding journey, and these projects bring a lot of satisfaction to app owners. Take the steps outlined in this article, and you’ll make sure that you’re building a product that has a market fit.

Why outsource app development to Droids On Roids?

At Droids On Roids, we have been delivering mobile app development services for 9+ years to companies operating across different industries. In total, we developed more than 130 mobile and web applications for clients from all over the world, including countries such as the USA, UK, Norway, Switzerland, and Australia.

We follow a six-step Quality Assurance process to provide partners with the best quality of development services. Our team follows the Scrum framework and other industry standards to ensure we deliver the highest business value.

If you’re looking for an experienced mobile development team, get in touch with us. We have the talent and experience you’re looking for.

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