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Have you been burned by app developers who couldn’t see your vision? Don’t get burned by outsourcing to a developer or development team who are only OK. Find superior service capabilities using these 5 Easy Steps for how NOT to get burned by outsourcing app development in 2019:


Step 1: Validate with Scope and Clarity in Mind
Step 2: Interpret Estimates and Pricing
Step 3: Choose the Right Partner
Step 4: Cut Your Search Time in Half
Step 5: Conduct An Interpersonal Interview


Step 1: Validate with Scope and Clarity in Mind

So you have an idea for an app.  How do you find the right app developer?  For starters, finding the right developer is nothing like finding a great restaurant on Yelp, where even if it ends up not being exactly what you wanted, you still got well-fed and you probably won’t get burned by a 4.5 star restaurant.  Compared to that, the map to finding a great app developer is full of landmines. Before you know it, you hear the tell-tale “click” and you’re in a $50k hole (like I was.)

Part of the difficulty in 2019 is that well-meaning, otherwise-intelligent entrepreneurs oftentimes don’t know what to look for.  The second part is that, once you know what to look for, the services meant to help you find the right fit for you haven’t evolved to legitimately do so.  

You may be asking yourself, why am I taking advice from this guy?  

I’ve been on both sides of the equation. I’ve been the buyer and the seller, the client and the developer – I can at least attempt to speak objectively from either view.  Here’s a bit of my history:

  • In 2012 I was an entrepreneur with no technical background;  
  • In 2013 I was a wordpress developer who lost $50k hiring the wrong app developers;  
  • In 2015 I became a full-stack developer out of necessity, just to keep my own startup alive;  
  • In 2016 I started a development agency. That agency is Topflight Apps.  

At each of these phases in my tech career, my answer to the question, “How do you find the right app developer?” has continued to evolve: I’ve gained a more complicated view of the truth, but have also developed a working list of “must haves” to help someone like you avoid the same mistakes.  So, without further ado, here’s my hold-nothing-back tell-all:

Enter With Clear Scope

In plain English, Scope is everything that your app contains and how it functions.  Why start with this very unsexy topic? Because without a clear Scope, the rest of this piece is moot.  Many first time app entrepreneurs ask for an estimate on “a game like angry birds” or “an app with payment procssing, member profiles, direct messaging, and some other basic features”.  In the first case, you have a supposed clone where it never ends up being a clone. In the second case, you’re not accounting for the full list of features and how everything fits together.  

Please understand: Every little thing changes the estimates.  If you think the app developer should just “get it”, that’s basically asking them to read your mind.  Talented software developers are masters of precision, not mind reading. These types of asks not only set you up for failure but also scream “I’m a first timer” to talented developers. Remember: talented developers want to be attached to ideas and entrepreneurs that have longevity and won’t be sold purely on how “cool and innovative” your idea is.   

If you don’t have a clear scope already, I’d recommend you stop thinking about coding first and invest in a design phase to put your idea into a visual prototype.  A completed prototype leads to the validation of your idea, and then to solid development estimates that end up leaving you in the happiest outcome possible when hiring a developer: getting a winning product without overpaying.

“Scope.  Got it. Now what the heck is a visual prototype?”

Validate The Design Before Coding

A visual prototype is pretty much the closest thing to getting what you want to build, without writing a single line of code.  First off, it’s worth stating that this isn’t to make you feel better about your decision by having something “visual” to support your idea.   A visual prototype is in reality the cheapest way to get your idea into the hands of real users, and it offers a way to both test out and validate your assumptions.  Based on how users respond to and interact with your prototype, the designer can iterate the design and try to flesh out a winning product. Even though a small investment is required to come up with a prototype (let alone change it multiple times), this initial sum will always be far cheaper (as in 80-90% cheaper) than the coding part.  

For more on this, we recently published a separate guide for entrepreneurs on how to iterate design toward improving KPIs.

The second benefit is that going through this process will be a learning experience, especially if you’ve never done it before. This method teaches you how to talk about your product in precise terms (see “Scope” above), and to see how your words translate precisely into visual consequence without spending a ton of money to find out where that communication fell apart.  In short, this process is ultimately as much about showing your idea’s merit to the world, as it is about you gaining fluency in the language of app development. Visual prototyping is the closest thing to a “app development 101” crash course as it comes, a truly rare, guaranteed win-win situation if there ever was one.

Do I Even Need A Project Manager for Mobile App Development?

So to summarize:

  1. Going through the design process will teach you how to communicate what you want in a way that’s clear to the people building it;
  2. Going through the rapid prototyping design process with user testing to validate your idea will help you iterate toward a winning product.  This is oftentimes the main thing that many experienced entrepreneurs, let alone first time entrepreneurs, skip over.

Reference: Betmingo is an example of a client who came to us with a basic idea for an app that helps casino-goers find tables with the best odds.  He hadn’t developed an app before, didn’t have a clear idea of what it would look like, and was on the fence about whether some features belonged in the MVP.  Instead of jumping into a development estimate, we wireframed it here and then added high-fidelity designs here, and validated these prototypes with potential users before we moved onto development.  

Related Articles on Validation and Scope


Feeling confident about validation and scope? Read on: 

Step 2: Interpret Estimates and Pricing

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