How Much to Build That Mobile App?

At ExtensionEngine we recently launched an online budget estimating tool for mobile apps and I thought I’d share a bit of the back story.

Almost every day I meet with our current clients or prospective clients and I get some version of this question, “Back of the envelope, how much will it cost me and how long will it take to [build/maintain some sort of web or mobile software solution]?” Usually this question comes from the business sponsor for the project, like a Chief Marketing Officer, General Manager or a Product Manager.

For the past few years, what happens next is a little bit like Groundhog Day, the movie (not that I mind doing it). I launch into a series of questions that ask about an important driver of work effort and complexity with a question that isn’t technobabble, i.e something answerable by a business person. Typically after about a dozen questions I can usually come up with a guess on cost and timeframe that historically (across hundreds upon hundreds of projects) is accurate to about +/- 25%, although by no means not always that close.

I think someone who sells professional services to other businesses gets this same question, relevant to their services, equally as often and I’ve always wanted some sort of solution that is halfway between a Magic 8 Ball and a full-on detailed proposal.

So we built one!

We decided to see if we could come up with a tool that would automate this process, specifically for mobile apps. We looked back at about 100 proposals and teased out 15 key questions and the few hundred potential responses to them. We then generated unique functions that map the 6.5X10^13 potential combinations and permutations to specific budget estimates. We then back tested it on old estimates and then threw all kinds of fringe scenarios at it.

Then, once we had the math worked out, we handed it over to the UX/design team to figure out the best way to ask the questions and deliver the estimate and the end result is an amazing tool.

Obviously to do a proper proposal and estimate, it requires a lot more detail, but I really like this quick estimation tool as a way to give a sense to folks based off our years of experience and without the overhead of having to take a meeting, go through all the back-and-forth and, worse yet, the obligatory follow-up.

So with that, I hope you check out the tool and I’d love to hear any feedback.