6 Steps To Finding the Right App Development Team

Ladder graph with the 6 steps to finding the right app development team.

There are several situations where you might have arrived at the stage where you need an app development team.

A) You have an app idea but don’t know how to bring it into reality.

B) You’ve created a minimum viable product, but now it’s time to put the “big app pants” on.

C) You need a lot of help, FAST.

D) You can’t or don’t want to hire internal employees (or add to your existing team).

Whatever the situation that finds you looking for a team, there’s a lot on the line when you’re hunting for the best app development shop. This post won’t tell you which company to hire (although I like Sourcebits 😉 ). Instead, my goal is to explore the 6 primary elements to consider when you make your choice.

First, I assume you’re not building a cookie-cutter app (there are tools for that and you should use them vs. hire a team). You need something custom – and you want quality.

Now you need to decide on your priorities. When it comes to services providers, your choice lies in the triangle of cheap, fast, and good. Aiming for fast and cheap will lead you to a very different development partner than fast and good.

(For the record, Sourcebits falls in the “good and fast” area.)

So how do you pick one great app development partner from your hundreds of options around the world?

1. Set a Ballpark Budget

First consideration: your budget. Because some shops work on a fixed-cost system while others charge an hourly rate, your budget will serve as a major filter when working with development partners. Both systems have their pros and cons. A fixed cost means you know how much you’re paying and exactly what you’ll get for the money, but it doesn’t afford much flexibility for modification.

On the other hand, paying an hourly rate for time and materials allows far more flexibility in the design and development process, such as changing features and functions, or even entire product pivots.

It’s important to keep in mind that the “You get what you pay for” adage holds very true in mobile app development. Looking at reports on hourly rates or typical project budgets, make sure you and the team are on the same page. For example, a team that regularly does $50K apps might not be a fit when you have a $500K idea in mind, and vice versa.

Get a Ballpark Estimate

Drafting a very simple, consistent summary of what you’re looking to build is key to getting an apples-to-apples comparison between shops, while keeping in mind that estimates are not final costs. Then contact interesting development partners to get a ballpark on how much they would charge to see if you want to go further.

But how do you pick the companies to actually contact to get ballpark estimates? Starting this post with money is important because you need that ballpark top-of-mind before you begin researching. But there is far more than just the cost for you to consider.

2. Identify the Services You Need

When talking about development partners, of course app design and development services are your top priorities. But you may need other specialties, such as custom integrations with other platforms, back-end architecture, or in-depth analytics built into your app.

Truly great development partners can also help you beyond just product building: they can support your business development. Find a partner that can help you with ideation to refine the product concept, to plan for future iterations, or to help you pivot. If they can support your marketing efforts, create a business plan, seek investors, and/or connect you with influencers, so much the better!

Think about all the areas of help your business needs, not just your product, and then look for a team with this bigger picture in mind.

3. Evaluate Their Talent & Experience

Of course, you want to find a team that has the right skills for your vision, so how do you fairly evaluate their talent and experience?

Don’t just do a Google search (although that’s a start.) Look at various lists and vendor research sites. Sourcingline is a useful, more credible research firm – they interview every vendor and then conduct direct interviews with clients to evaluate firms. After your research, you’ll end up with a list of developers to check out. Go down this checklist to see if they could be the one for you:

1. Evaluate their website.

How they present themselves offers valuable insights into their approach to design and UX. Also read their blog. Does it have interesting, relevant information? Has it been updated lately? Are they serving as a resource on mobile topics?

2. Take a look at their portfolios and galleries.

What companies have they worked with in the past? What types of products have they delivered? How does this compare with what you need?

3. Download at least 3 of the apps they’ve built.

How do the apps look? How’s the user experience? What problems did they solve, and how do you feel using the apps?

4. Look at the reviews.

What do the ratings and reviews say in the app stores? What do the case studies and client testimonials focus on? What is the media saying about the company, and the apps it built?

4. Consider the Work Logistics

Given the globalization of the workforce, and the cost-effectiveness of overseas talent, many development firms operate in a hybrid model. You’ll have a point of contact in the US, and a team in India, or China, etc. This can present significant cost savings – but the time zone differences can impact communication and project timelines, so when it comes to straight-up logistics, ask yourself:

1. Where are YOU?

2. Where are THEY?

3. How important is it for you to have a lot of in-person or hands-on time with your team?

4. Are there language requirements or cultural familiarities that are important when working with you?

As Thomas Friedman says, the world is flat – but it’s up to you how far you want to expand your search.

5. Consider the People

Since you’ll be working closely with these people, how they communicate and handle pressures and challenges will have a tremendous impact on your experience. Answer “Yes “ or “No” to the questions below to make sure you’re not ignoring the people factor:

1. Do you LIKE the people you’ve spoken with and/or met?

2. Do you think they’re smart and knowledgeable?

3. Are they passionate about your idea? Do they care about your SUCCESS, or just their bottom line?

4. Do they respect you and consider your needs?

5. Run the “beer Goggles” test – Would you have a beer with the team?

6. Zombies vs. Ninjas

I’m not talking about the characters in the game you want to build, but about the type of development partner you want to hire. A “zombie” developer will build exactly what you want – but only that. They won’t ask questions, or enhance your product, they’ll follow instructions – period. Which might be what you want, but that’s not much of a “partnership.”

Instead, you might look for a Ninja team. They’ll got to BATTLE for your success. They’ll focus on the details, challenge the products features and functions, ask you tough questions and keep you focused on the big picture. Hint: The ninjas always beat the zombies.

So what stage of app development are you in? Still feeling unsure about your next step? If you have some questions about where to go next, contact Sourcebits (or reach out to us on Twitter or LinkedIn) to let us answer them for you.

For the record, the Sourcebits answers to the above questions are:

1. Budget: Our typical project starts around $100K+, and lasts 4-6 months. Contact us to get more information.

2. Services Offered: We’re a design-led company, and that impacts everything we do. In addition to design and development, we also serve as strategic consultants on product ideation, launch marketing, analytics, monetization and business planning.

3. Talent & Experience: Since 2006 we’ve completed more than 500 projects. We’ve developed more than 30 chart-topping apps, won numerous awards and we’re consistently ranked #1 for iOS app development.

4. Work Logistics: Based in San Francisco, we have designers, developers, product managers and strategists at our headquarters. We also have a global team of designers and engineers in India and throughout Europe.

5. People: We’re a team of 200+ smart, passionate, talented people. We like us.

6. Of course we’re NINJAS! Our army is ready to battle for YOUR success.

Piotr Gajos, Chief Innovation Officer

Piotr is Sourcebits Chief Innovation Officer. A 2006 Apple Design Award winner, Piotr draws much of his inspiration from film and music, and focuses on leading our Innovation Strategy Workshops, generating new ideas for Sourcebits, and consulting on projects.