I often come across great ideas that would obviously make for blockbuster mobile apps. I proceed with almost none of them.

The reason I hesitate to build new apps outside of my current project, Power 20, is because mobile apps almost always lose money. Few apps create a business large enough to attract venture capital, so the money I’d lose is my own.

Apps Are Expensive To Build.

It’s not enough to build on iOS alone. You’ll have to build on iOS and Android, and it’s hard for one developer to master both. For this reason, you’ll probably have to outsource at least one part of the development process. As of May 2013, excellent US Android developers charge between $110 – $150 per hour. Highly skilled US iOS developers charge between $75 and $110 per hour.

Android developers may be charging more because their clients can pay more. Most companies will first test their product’s viability on iOS, where more customers are willing to pay for apps. Only after they’re confident about their iOS launch do they embark on Android development. At that time, they have money, they’re confident, and they want the work done fast. Hence Android developers can charge more. At least that’s my experience in NYC so far.

Apps are Complicated.

Just as browser compatibility issues plague tech companies of all sizes, different devices and screen sizes complicate the development process for apps. This adds time and complexity to every build, and with the rapid adoption of new devices, you’ll always be a bit behind.

Most Apps Are Not Fundable.

Venture Capitalists need their investments to grow 10x in five years, and most of them are investing over $1 million in each company. They won’t invest in a company that doesn’t have the potential to be worth $100 million. Few apps meet that criteria.

Who Should Build An App?

I think it’s a good idea to proceed with building an app if:

  • you want to create a company that builds multiple apps over time.
  • you want to learn to code in the process of building your own app.
  • you have an existing business where the customer experience can be improved with an app.
  • you are building something that can one day be worth $100 million. Photo and video sharing apps and social networks can have this potential.

Otherwise, do yourself a favor and stay away.

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