Outsourcing app development to India

Not a journey you can endure

Before Zagl, I was part of Restoplus, who specialised in providing white-labelled mobile apps for restaurants. During my time at Restoplus, we came across a few potential clients who needed the app, but was not ready to pay $100 per month for the subscription. So they went on to develop their own app with the help of some developer in India and none of them got an app so far.

Interestingly everyone knows someone in India, who happens to have a friend, who is an app developer happy to deliver the app for just a few hundred dollars.

One of the challenging aspect of software products is to estimate how much the product is actually worth. Because for the same product the quote can varying from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Recently I was in conversation with one of my friends who runs a fresh vegetable delivery startup in Bangalore, India and he shared his experience in trying to get his own mobile app. To give a bit of a background, he was a software engineer himself before starting the company. And regarding the app, it’s pretty much similar to what one would expect in a food ordering app.

As an obvious first step, he asked for quotes from a few companies and the quotes ranged from $50,000 to $100,000. Please note that, this is in Bangalore — the silicon valley of India, where there are a ton of app development companies and it’s quite possible that someone you stumble across the street is a software engineer.

After further hunting and negotiation, the project was awarded to a company for $36,000 and a timeline of roughly 6 months. What followed was further shocking,

after around 7 months of development and a payment of $24,000 nothing shippable showed up

While all of this was happening the company itself was managing orders via. email, phone and whatsapp messaging. Losing confidence in the software house, he decided to abandoned the project and forgo the amount paid as well.

He did get the source code that the software house developed for him and now he has hired 2 developers, one for IOS and one for Android working full time under his purview to continue the development and ship the app himself.

There are a few key lessons here for anyone willing to get his own mobile app:

It is impossible to estimate the cost of software development

App development is not as easy as it sounds. Any software will look simple on paper. Unless you set out to make it happen you cannot possibly estimate the true cost of development. That’s why there is a huge variation between the quotes of different companies.

Quote never factor in future requirements

When you get a quote for building a house, it’s a quote for the house. It gets built and you move in. But in software the quote you get initially is only for those few features you had on the top of you head and it will never account for all the additions that will be required to make it complete.

Maintenance cost is ignored

Any software in production needs monitoring and maintenance. No software house will tell you up front that you have to spend a few hundred to a few thousand dollars every month to keep the product rolling. So the next time you are in for a discussion, ask for the ongoing maintenance cost.

Cost of Hardware

In Restoplus for instance the cost of hardware is shared by all the clients, but when you get something custom build, then you have to pay for entire infrastructure cost yourself.


Any piece of software will take a few months and sometimes a few years of constant nourishment to be able to handle all the edge cases and to become totally smooth and bug free. When you sign-up for an existing service, it means that the service has already gone through the nourishment phase and now it’s ready for prime-time. So the timeline estimated is always for the initial version or v1 as software engineers like to call it.

Do not believe the timelines at face value because the first version is never the version you quite want.

Source code is worth nothing

Again, in construction if a contractor leaves it’s fairly easy for other contractor to look at the present situation and continue from where the project is left. I’m not saying it’s easy, all I’m suggesting is that it’s real and you can see what’s left in plain sight. But in software, it’s almost impossible to start from where the project was left off. Remember we are not talking about software worth millions that is being transferred from IBM to Infosys.

Software hand-offs are only possible for large scale projects as the knowledge transfer is simply too hard

And this app for your business we are talking about, the source code is pretty much useless. If your initial contractor cannot finish it, then you have to pretty much start from scratch.

Design is overlooked

When a software is being built for let’s say a restaurant, the restaurant owner cannot possible know what to look for in terms of architecture or user experience or security. So mostly it goes like this:

  • I need an app where my customer can place an order.
  • You can take a look at YYY (some existing app) and we need something similar

This is a huge mistake on the side of the owner and this approach almost always never works.

And there are a lot more technical factors I can go on and on about. So the bottom line is this, if you are in need for an app, then better choose a service and be done with it. It’s often cheaper to just sign-up for a service and focus on the business, rather than trying to build your own.

App development is a journey you cannot possibly endure.

And before I finish a comment on the company that failed to deliver. This is not a post to defame the company in question, but to highlight the nature of software development in general. The company would have delivered if the client (my friend) had given them a few more months, but for that to happen both the company and the client must have a honest conversation upfront about the challenges in getting a software out and embrace the uncertainty that looms around it. Then it would have been a difficulty that you would have anticipated and perhaps endured.

If you have any experience in outsourcing app development, share it in the comments below. And if you are looking for mobile ordering platform, checkout Zagl today.

For newbies — Zagl e-Shopping Mall let’s you setup mobile ordering for your cafe/restaurant on a mobile app for free. For more information checkout the getting started guide.

Photo by Bruno Bergher on Unsplash