How to Choose the Right Mobile App Development Company to Build Your Dream App

James Hsu
James Hsu
Apr 30, 2018 · 7 min read

So, you’ve got a winning idea for a new mobile app that’s going to change the world (and the funding to make it happen).

But, what do you do if you don’t happen to have a team of UI/UX designers and mobile developers at your beck and call?

If time is of the essence, you’ll probably start looking for an external mobile app development agency. The best mobile app development agencies possess extensive experience helping startups and have the specialized creative and technical talent to execute on your plans.

Here are some guidelines to help you find the right agency you can trust to turn your million (or billion) dollar idea into a fully-realized mobile application.

Find the right TYPE of partner for the work you need done:

Generally, app projects will fall into one of the following categories:

1. End-to-end mobile app creation: some companies, especially startups and SMBs, want external help with every aspect of their mobile app: (1) strategy, (2) design, (3) development, and maybe even (4) post-launch marketing and maintenance.

TIP: A common mistake occurs when clients needing end-to-end services choose an offshore development company that attempts to advise them on mobile strategy or help them execute on design. Because such companies often don’t have the right personnel to offer these services, the result is often the stuff of nightmares, not to mention a huge waste of time and money. If you need end-to-end services, talk to a full-service mobile app agency that has dedicated specialists to perform such services. (LinkedIn is a great way to understand a company’s org chart).

2. Design & development: perhaps you’ve already got extensive specifications documentation or a complete business plan. In this situation, you might just be looking for help to execute the UI/UX design and development of your app.

TIP: Stay away from development companies that try to bundle design as an afterthought (often by tacking on a junior freelance designer), as UI/UX design requires specialized tools and approaches. An agency that offers UI/UX will often provide an Art Director and a UI/UX designer for your project. Try to use the same agency for both design and development when possible, as the collaboration between the two teams is critical — for example, to ensure that the UI/UX is created faithfully by the development team.

3. Design only: perhaps you’ve got a working prototype or MVP, but your design needs to be reworked. Or, maybe you or your partner is capable of handling development personally, so you only need to outsource the UI/UX design work.

TIP: As with the previous example, make sure that the agencies you’re considering have dedicated experts in UI/UX design and that they’ve had successful design-only client engagements. Ask “What are some examples of work you’ve done for clients that were strictly UI/UX design-only projects, with no development?” (If they can’t answer, they’re probably not right for your project.)

4. Development only: if you’ve already got the designs, great — you’re that much closer to having your app created. You have more options here and can consider development companies that are nothing more than teams of overseas developers and a project manager, if you are on a shoestring budget.

TIP: However, if you have little margin for error or are pressed for time (for example, if you face fierce competition in your category), I encourage you to look for a full-service mobile agency, as agencies typically do a more thorough job with Discovery (the process of identifying all relevant assets and requirements) as well as client communication. Both of these elements are critical to building a mobile app that reflects your vision. Working with overseas development-only companies can often seem like a black box and is often exacerbated by language barriers.

Be Ultra-Selective

With more than 6,000 mobile app development companies worldwide (listed on Clutch.co), it’s clearly a buyer’s market. Use a reputable referral website like Clutch.co, whose ranking methodology considers verified customer reviews and Clutch analyst assessments of “Clients and Experience” and “Market Presence.”

For example, if you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to look for a local partner, you’d go here.

Websites like Clutch.co allow you to understand your options and how they stack up against each other.

Using a referral site like Clutch.co, you can do several things:

· Review past client reviews, ensuring that an agency you’re considering has multiple verified 5-star reviews for projects like yours. In general, you want to avoid companies that have even a few bad reviews (unless you like the idea of playing Russian Roulette).

· Make sure the listed budget ranges are “in the ballpark.” Do keep in mind that these are only suggested ranges, and that an agency might want to work on your project even if your budget falls below their listed range. This is especially the case if an agency: (1) believes in your mission, (2) is experiencing a temporary lull in business volumes, or (3) sees the potential for future opportunities with you down the road.

· Contact one or more companies that meet your criteria. This is only the beginning. (You certainly don’t choose a mobile partner based solely on information online.)

Share openly with prospective partners

Once you’ve made contact with a few potential partners, it’s time to share your vision or plan with each:

· Begin with high-level discussions. If the fit feels right, move towards a more detailed Discovery process.

· If your business idea is sensitive or valuable from an intellectual property (IP) standpoint, ask for a signed non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before you discuss your project in detail. When in doubt, execute an NDA.

· OPENLY share your documentation and plans once you’ve got an NDA in place. This ensures that each company or agency can accurately assess the scope of work (SoW), decide whether it will bid on your project, and if so, craft an accurate proposal.

· If you hold back on critical aspects of your plan, you might initially be pleased with a lower project cost, but you could later face missed deadlines (which will infuriate your investors and shake their confidence), incur cost overruns, or risk your entire investment altogether.

· When possible, try to meet face-to-face. Not only will it foster a better working relationship should you choose to move forward with a given team, but you’ll have a better read on their interest level and degree of fit.

It bears mentioning again: the best engagements begin with full transparency and a well-defined scope of work. (We’re Discovery-heavy at CitrusBits, as this helps us ensure the highest-possible success rate for our clients.)

Review your bids

Once you’ve got estimates in hand, it’s time to get critical.

Some companies make decisions based solely on price at this juncture, because they assume that their earlier due diligence leaves price as the only remaining factor.

Here are three other important considerations to go along with price:

· Timeline: If an agency bids the lowest but can’t start for three months, your company will incur an opportunity cost (reduced “speed to market”). On the other hand, if an agency bids the highest but can deliver your app four months ahead of the others, that constitutes added value in the form of increased “speed to market”.

· Fit: The “best” agency might not always be best for your project. Ask yourself whether each team really understands your vision for the app, has the right resources to deliver on it — and, importantly — is interested in your project as more than just a revenue opportunity.

· “Hidden” details. Some of the most important considerations aren’t on paper. Ask questions like:

· “What does the project team look like?”

· “Who will the developers be? Are they full-time employees of your company? How long have they worked for you?”

· “What systems or tools do you use to do (X, Y, and Z)? Do you practice Agile or Waterfall methodology, or both?”

· “What are your thoughts on using (SYSTEM A) versus (SYSTEM B) for a project like ours?”

· “Who would be our main point of contact? How often would we communicate?”

· “What do you think of my business plan? What would you change about it?”

· “What do you foresee as the two biggest challenges in working on my project?”

Finding the right app agency is basically a job interview where you’re the hiring manager, and the agencies want desperately to work for you.

Move forward with confidence

The process of outsourcing your mobile application project might seem daunting when you consider all the moving pieces.

Trust the process.

The companies you’ve whittled your search down to are the best agencies for the job, have completed hundreds of successful mobile apps like yours, and are fully capable of doing exactly what you need, according to the timeline they’ve agreed upon.

Stay positive and collaborative once the work is underway, and you’ll soon get to experience the magical feeling that comes when you see your app become a reality.


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James Hsu

Written by

James Hsu

Emerging tech, business & growth strategies, mobile apps. UCLA MBA. VP of Strategy at CitrusBits, a mobile app design & development agency based in LA & SF.

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