Calling All APPs - Build MVP Under $20K

Mobile apps are one of the most common products created by startups today. Many startups come up with an app idea that will require a big budget to develop.  

Over the past few years or so, apps have become a big deal and many people are looking for help with their app idea. Often, they are shocked to learn how expensive it can be to get their full app developed.  

No matter how big and elaborate an app idea is, and how complicated it will eventually become, I always propose to build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for under $20K.

MVP Light

Basically, an MVP is a “light” version of your app that can be developed quickly and inexpensively. There are lots of great reasons to go with an MVP first, not the least of which is that you will probably be able to self-finance the development -- a definite perk for most startup entrepreneurs.

You then test the market for your app without involving tremendous debt or angel investors. Think of some of the most wildly successful startups--Instagram, Uber--and chances are they began as MVPs.

Bear in mind, the ability to develop an MVP app for less than $20k is the result of lots of experience and understanding of the app development process and tweaking it at several steps! We achieve it with some thoughtful, deliberate choices.

Developing An MVP For Less Than $20k?

Here are some key points to consider:

Create a Prioritized Feature List

You want to write a detailed feature list for your app. Don’t worry about how technical it sounds. That’s not the point. All you need is a basic list of features that you’ll be able to trim to keep your budget under $20k.

Write your list from a user perspective and product owner perspective.

Below is an example of a feature list: 

  • User should be able to signup with email ID and password.

  • User will receive a push notification for all the users.

  • User will see a home screen with following option.

  • User will be able to see a list of news with a description, image, and tile on the home screen.

  • User will have an option to filter out all the screens.

  • User will receive a push notification for all the users.

Once you have your list ready, you can reach out to app developers to get an estimate on the cost.

If they all estimate below your $20K budget, then go with all the features. If the ratings are higher than your budget, then you’ll need to cut down the features list. You can drop down the features and functions that are not a high priority or are redundant.

For example, if you want users to be able to login with email, Facebook and Twitter, you don’t have to have all three methods to login in the MVP, it will increase your cost. In MVP, you may want to have just the login by email, or login by facebook. Select the one method you think is the best.

Keep Your UI/UX Design Cost Low, Under $4K

An absolutely critical aspect of cost control for app development is the amount spent on User Interface and User Experience design. You can’t determine an app design based only on the feature requirements.

You will need to create a wireframe to help you visualize your needs and determine the presentation of elements and flow that would be most appealing to your users. If you can create wireframes yourself, it will help keep your cost down.

You can use tools such as Balsamiq,, or Sketch to create wireframes of your mobile app. It will only take you a few hours to learn these tools, their tutorials on how to build wireframes.

If you can not create wireframes yourself, you can simply hand draw a sketch on a sheet of paper. A wireframe doesn’t have to look beautiful. It just needs to be detailed enough that a developer can use it to provide an accurate cost estimate for your project.  

Based on your wireframes: If a developer estimate the cost to be under $20K, that’s great, if the cost is still above $20K, you want to trim down more features to keep the cost low.

Don't Create The UI Design First

Once your wireframe and cost is determined, then you start on the graphical design of the UI. You don’t want to create UI Design first and then determine the estimate, UI design should be created after the cost has been determined to avoid any rework in the design.

The entire wireframing and UI design process should be completed under $4K to control your cost.

Create a Free Focus Group

Create a focus group to get feedback for your app idea.

Large companies with big budgets can hire a company to do research with focus groups to get feedback. Just because you can’t afford to do that doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from the input of a focus group.

Create a focus group from your friends and family who can provide you with information. It is extremely important to get feedback from other people. You don’t need to have a lot of individuals -- somewhere between five and seven people should be plenty.

Between your friends, family and neighbors, it should be pretty easy to assemble a cost-free focus group to provide feedback on your app’s feature list and wireframe. Their feedback will help you identify the features in your app that will be most important to users.

Pick Only One Platform: iOS or Android

For your MVP, you want to build you app on only one platform. Lots of startup owners have a mindset that they will not be successful unless they have their app on both iOS and Android. This point is simply not true. Remember Instagram and Snapchat? They both were available only for iOS for almost a year, and they ended up becoming billion dollar startups.

Starting with one platform will help you to keep cost down significantly.

Once you launch your app on one platform, you will start getting valuable feedback from your users. If it becomes a superhit with users, great! You will know it is working with iOS users and will then be able to replicate it on the Android platform.

If the iOS version is not very well received by users, you will likely gain insight into why it is not working. You will then be able to tweak your iOS version and launch the Android version with the new improvements.

If You Need A Backend, Use A Cloud-Based Backend

Most apps today require a backend.

I rarely see apps that work on a local database only. Using a cloud-based backend, such as AWS, Azure or Backendless, will help you to keep the cost down.

These cloud-based backends provide databases, APIs, SDKs and integration that can be used to build the backend for your mobile app easily, compared to using a custom LAMP or .NET environment. These come with push notification design features that you can use to add marketing functionalities to your app.

Also, these apps generally have features to send text message or email. They provide a free plan where initial storage and usage is free. They have several in-built functions for security so you may not have to do extra work to add security in the backend.

Your backend needs to have a default admin panel thatyou can use to view and update the database. Those cloud-based options listed above have this. 

Use A Global Shoring Company

Some people try to get all the app work done onshore, which will make getting the MVP done for under $20K nearly impossible.

With an onshore company, the MVP cost will likely be around $50K. You can go full offshore to cut down the cost, but I do not recommend that for your MVP.

You will have to face different challenges with offshore companies, such as communication issue, timezone issue, trustworthiness and personal relationship problems.

Use companies that can provide you global shoring options. These companies have resources onshore and offshore and can provide you with the best value for your money. Their cost is closer to offshore companies while their value is similar to full onshore companies. These companies provide Project Managers and Designers onshore, and offshore developers.

Using this model allows you to communicate with onshore resources, within your timezone and culture. It will make it easier to communicate your vision and design of the product.

Developers with this model will be offshore, but you never have to interface them; you always talk to the Product Manager who will provide you with updates. This keeps your cost down and quality high. This also will give you a feel for what combination of onshore-offshore would fit best for you.

Once your MVP is done, then you can adjust or change your team based on your budget and expertise with the MVP.

Align Your Vision With Your Budget

You can’t have infinite features in a finite budget. Build the full vision of your product, execute it in two to three phases, launch phase by phase, and capture the market reaction.  I hope I have provided you enough to see the value of MVP app development. If not, please give us a call or send us a message with questions. We would be happy to discuss your mobile app idea with you!