My boss gave me the challenging assignment of interviewing some of our clients about building mobile apps and mobile app development in order to generate some insights about the process. After several mail-outs, I found that very few people would agree to discuss their experience openly, and the ones who did didn’t provide enough details about how they constructed (or at least tried to construct) a mobile app. At last I received a precise story from one of our loyal clients (who asked that his name be kept private), and I think it is valuable enough to share in a blogpost. It’s a perfect happy ending type of story, but I hope you enjoy reading it and get some insight from it as well!

Case Study: the Challenges of Building a Mobile App

Launching a mobile app is a hot trend these days but I don’t know how so many people have managed to do it. I’m a marketing director at a medium-sized business, and I opted for a small experiment. I was interested in whether $5,000 was enough to launch at least version one of a mobile app. I must admit that the process was a total catastrophe: it was really bad, and here’s why.

A year ago I was a marketing director with no coding or programming background. Not like it’s easy, but working in the digital world wasn’t new to me. I blogged, I did some of the usual website optimization routines, and I tried to keep up with the trends. That was my mistake. I challenged myself by trying to fit the mobile app into a ridiculously small budget of $5,000—with room for possible minor deviations—and it turned out I didn’t have many options. The entire mobile development industry is targeted at huge corporations that are ready to splurge zillions of dollars on pricey projects. There were many “individual” services, but I wasn’t happy with the app building schemes they offered, and I wanted to figure out whether it was possible to do the entire thing from scratch and be the true and only owner of my content. I wanted to make all the important decisions concerning the app construction in constructing the mobile app and the ways it should work.

I was aware that it would be time-consuming and, most likely, costly, but I was still determined to experiment. Honestly, I didn’t realize that the project would be such a tough test for my sanity, my nerves, and even my personal relationships. Not to mention totally wasting $5,000. I don’t wish I had never done it—it was a valuable experience—but it didn’t benefit my company in the least.

I started by deciding that I’d have an HTML5 web-based app guide for our services—it was very cheap to produce and helped me to gather some feedback from the clients. It wasn’t sophisticated or fancy, but it was an integral step towards understanding what my target audience needed and how the user might interact with the app. As a result, I drew several mockups showing how things should work and what elements the user needed to interact with in order to move from one part to another. That was a nice start.

Case Study: the Challenges of Building a Mobile App

Next, I hired a consulting group because I knew that trying to code or program everything myself would be a disaster. None of our company IT specialists had the experience or skills to help me out. I wanted some help, and my friends got me in touch with the former employees of a Silicon Valley firm. When we started discussing and formulating the wireframes and the functionality of the interface, the consultant told me it would cost at least $50,000. As you know, that wasn’t an option. I explained the nature of my experiment and thanked these people for their time. In fact, I thought that if it were a failure (which it was at the end of the day), I would ask my bosses for an increased budget and call these people once again, saving time on the negotiations.

I decided to try a popular freelancer hiring platform, and the only company that matched my budget and my requirements was one based in India. I provided content and design along with some of the mockups, and they wrote the code. Two months of development were horrible, for many reasons.

First, many support/sales representatives and some of the project managers that I had to deal with had a hard time communicating effectively in English. Delays were frequent and especially irritating. I didn’t even pay attention to the design flaws that happened every now and then. Often I had to to Skype the developers at a convenient time for them in India, even though I was in a United States time zone. The irritation and stress gave me trouble sleeping and edginess that even led to personal problems.

The final product could not be promoted in any way because of its bugs. In spite of the contractual obligations, the Indian development company refused to fix them and ignored my emails and calls. Prior to total neglecting the project, the development company uploaded the horrible app into the AppStore, but because of several user complaints and my own assessment—it was obvious that many integral parts didn’t work—I asked them to remove it until everything was fixed. They did, and then they disappeared without fixing it. Even a year later I still can’t understand why so-called professionals behave like this.

Case Study: the Challenges of Building a Mobile App

I learned my lessons: do not outsource the app and do not think that you’ll fit the project into a small budget, even if you are a confident director, have a college degree, and know a little bit of coding. A good app starts at $50,000, and that’s only the first step before maintaining, updating, fixing new bugs, talking to the users, and promoting your app. I’ve decided to talk to higher management about extending the marketing budget for this project.

We’re grateful to our (anonymous) client at Publ.com Ready Mobile Apps for sharing this experience. Does it sound familiar? What is your experience with developing a mobile app? Have you faced any of these challenges yourself?

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