Got an idea for a smartphone app? Here's where you start

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Having a good idea for an app is the beginning of the journey.
The next step is finding out what it will cost to realize your vision and get it to market.

If you're a business person you may need to find someone to translate that vision into a product. If you’re a product developer, like me, you may need to find someone to help you with the business side of things.

What if there is already an app like that?
This is probably the most common pitfall. The successful smartphone apps do something unique and interesting in a new way. Finding a way to really impress people who download your app is critical.

Many apps fail because they don’t reach for creating a “Wow, that’s cool!” reaction. People have so many choices for apps today that you have to create an app that people will show to their friends.

What does it cost?
It’s pretty inexpensive to create and distribute a smartphone app, but to make one that makes money, you should probably budget between $20,000 and $50,000. This is because you need to commit to refining the idea, designing for “wow” and getting feedback from people who try it out.

Your first release of your app gets that essential feedback loop -- comments from actual users -- started. 

How do “free” apps make money?
I get asked this all the time.

There are really two business effective models for free apps. The first is advertising, but really you need huge numbers for advertising to get your investment in building the app covered. The second model is based on having a large audience already. For instance if you’re generating leads or creating opportunities for revenue in other ways already, a free app can widen your reach.

Larry Cummings specializes in digital strategy, business process analysis, software specification creation and requirements management. For more information or to contact Cummings, go to You also can email him at