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Should You Build an App Yourself or Outsource It?

Abhinav Girdhar
By Abhinav Girdhar | Last Updated on April 14th, 2023 1:08 pm | 3-min read

You’ve got an app idea that you want to publish in the App Store. But… you don’t know how to code iOS apps. Should you learn to code, or outsource development to another developer? That’s what we’re going to discuss in this tutorial!

Here’s what we’ll get into:

  • How much does it cost to hire a developer?
  • How much time does it take to learn iOS development?
  • Which is better for you: Do-It-Yourself or outsourcing
  • Tips and tricks to make the most of both approaches

Build It Yourself Or Outsource App Development?

Here’s a question I get regularly from readers of the blog: “I’ve got an app idea, but should I build it myself or hire a developer?”

Well, it depends.

That’s hardly a helpful answer, so in this tutorial we’re going to discuss what your best approach is – what does “it” depend on? We’ll discuss this by focusing on two questions:

  1. Would you enjoy building this app yourself?
  2. Are you willing and able to pay a developer to build it?

If you get a kick out of learning iOS development and building an app yourself, then by all means, get out there and build! And if you’ve got the capital to hire an iOS developer, then by all means, save yourself some time, and start the project with them.

The DIY/outsource question doesn’t have an either/or answer. If you won’t build the app yourself, you don’t necessarily have to outsource, and vice versa. The answer lies in what you value. Do you value learning a new skill, or excitement about a new weekend app project, or getting the app out there ASAP?

When you invest $20.000 in an app project, you might not get a return on your investment. After all, there’s (almost) no way of knowing whether an app idea is going to succeed. In fact, there is a way, which we’ll get to. But first, we have to move forward from DIY/outsource question.

Option 1: Learn To Code iOS Apps

OK, let’s say you’re considering learning how to code iOS apps. What would that look like for you? Here’s what I think:

  • Almost everyone I know enjoys eating tasty food. People have different tastes of course, but the enjoyment of eating mouth-watering food is almost universal. We like tasty food!
  • Now, let’s assume it’s possible to learn how to cook such tasty food. Why doesn’t everyone do this, given that they enjoy eating it so much? After all, it’s only logical to seek out what you so much enjoy.
  • When you think about it, it’s not that logical. Learning how to cook takes effort, time and persistence. You need to like food so much you’re willing to go through the trouble of learning how to make it. (We could even argue that chefs like making food much more than just eating it.)

That brings us to iOS development. What do you really want? Do you want to have the app, or do you want to learn iOS development?

The experience of building an app, and having published an app, are two different things. If you want to learn iOS development, then the iOS development itself will need to give you some sort of satisfaction, enjoyment or reward, in order for you to continue with it. You can use this insight to answer the above question for yourself. “It depends, what do you really want?”

Want to learn how to code iOS apps? Check out the Developer bundle, here.

Option 2: Outsource To An iOS Developer

OK, let’s say you’re now considering to hire a developer to build the app for you. You don’t want to learn iOS development, you just want the app. After a quick bit of Googling, you’ve found plenty of platforms that can help you find a freelance iOS developer.

  • Upwork
  • Toptal
  • Codementor

Looking through the hourly rates iOS developers charge, you’re inevitably going to ask yourself: “How much is this going to cost me?” The demand for app developers is high these days, and rates range from $35/hour to upwards of $150/hour.

Provided it takes a skilled iOS developer 1 to 2 months to build your app, we’re looking at an initial cost of $5.600-$11.200 at the low end, to $24.000-$48.000 at the high end. And that’s for a Minimum Viable Product (MVP, or prototype), excluding maintenance and ongoing app development costs.

Maybe you didn’t blink when you read that, maybe you did. What I know for sure, however, is that if you’re investing that much into an iOS app, you’ll want to see some returns. That’s inevitably got you asking: “How much money can I make from this app?”

It’s hard to determine, from the start of a business, whether it’ll be successful in the long run. One approach can help you here: the lean startup methodology, as popularized in Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup.

In short, you build a small scale version of your app or product, that you put in front of your target audience, after which you measure their responses. The smartest option is to ask them to make a purchase, but anything from email signups to ad clicks works. You want to prove that your target audience is willing to pay for the product you’re about to build. This process is called business validation.

If there was one proven approach to build a 100% successful business, you’d see fewer get-rich-quick schemes, and fewer failed businesses. If a recipe for success existed, we’d only see music artists who produced Greatest Hits albums. A workflow that helps you find the proof you need, and validate your ideas, is the best we’ve got – from there on out, it’s a calculated risk.

Quick Tips & Tricks

So far, we’ve looked at this question: “I’ve got an app idea, but should I build it myself or hire a developer?” Since the answer to that question is “It depends.”, we’ve defined 2 substitute questions that help you move forward:

  1. Would you enjoy building this app yourself?
  2. Are you willing and able to pay a developer to build it?

Based on those questions, we’ve discussed that there’s no point in learning iOS development if you just want the app. If learning how to code iOS apps execites you, though, you should definitely pursue that path.

Likewise, outsourcing your iOS app to a developer is a potential path forward, but the money you can spend on building an MVP is restricted by the level of success you can expect. You’ll want to know if you’ll recoup your investment. An approach to find out, and to what degree, is lean business validation and building an MVP.

What’s next?

Let’s discuss a few alternative approaches, too. We’ve already asserted that DIY/outsource isn’t an either/or question. You’re doing much more than just building an app.

Consider the following ideas:

  • Learning how to code has intrinsic value to you – it’s exciting – but it has a market value too. More specifically, you can learn how to code iOS apps, get hired as a professional iOS developer, and use that to fund your own indie app projects.
  • You learn a lot from launching and promoting your app. If you won’t learn iOS development, consider learning more about marketing. When your project fails, you’ve learned lessons for next time. You can use this experience to help the projects of others (businesses, startups, etc.) succeed.
  • It costs very little to find out. You can try out iOS development on Day 1, and decide to outsource on Day 2. You can validate your app idea, and move on to another idea next week. Making an attempt to fail is crucial in business, heck, in life! A person who’s never made a mistake has never tried anything new. (Thanks, Einstein!)

Further Reading

We started out trying to answer your question of: “Should I build an app myself, or outsource? and we’ve come away asking all sorts of other questions, and trying to find answers, about business, building apps, and finding success.

Awesome! I hope it’ll help you move forward, and let me know how it’s worked out for you.

Abhinav Girdhar

Founder and CEO of Appy Pie

App Builder

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