Ask A Developer – How To Hire An iPhone Ninja

This is a new idea that I thought would be awesome for all you readers out there –  interviewing people who are experts and asking them all the questions you guys ask me. Meet Steve Derico of Bixby Apps in San Francisco. Steve has made apps for BMW, Nielsen, and other big clients and knows what’s up. He was one of the many people who dropped a line to my calling all developers post and, well, I’m hooking him up for that.
This video is sometimes hard to hear so I had the whole thing transcribed below. The questions I ask are:

  • How does someone get started with an app project?
  • Do you really need an NDA with a developer?
  • How much does it cost to develop an app?
  • How long does it take to build an app?
  • Should you design in-house or get your own designer?
  • What can you do if you know nothing about apps?
  • Do you do equity splits on apps?

Carter:    Okay, great.  So, all right, I’m here with Steve over at Bixby Apps and we are going to talk a little bit about what you need to know to hire a developer.  And to start off we’re going to introduce Steve.  Steve’s out of San Francisco, right?  Is that correct?
Steve:    Yeah, out of San Francisco.
Carter:    Awesome.  And, yeah, we’ll do a little quick intro then go through a few of the questions that people have been asking me and see if we can get people some answers.  So, why don’t you do a quick intro of yourself and we’ll go from there.
Steve:    All right, great.  Well, yeah, thanks for having me; I really appreciate it.  My name is Steve Derico; I’m the founder of Bixby Apps.  We’re a mobile app development company here in San Francisco.
We develop iPhone and iPad apps for big companies, small companies and even individuals with ideas.  So we’ve been doing it for just over two years now, built over 15 apps, and helped a lot of people go from just an idea all the way to the app store.
Carter:    Yeah, right on.  Well that’s perfect.  Hopefully we can help out a lot of the readers.  Kind of put together a few questions and, you know, probably one of the first things I get is people say, “Hey, man, I’ve got this awesome idea, just like super pumped, you know, like where do I start?  What do I do?”  You know.
And the first thing that I say to them is, “Well, you know, you don’t want to go to a developer and say “Help me figure this out.””  What would you say to someone who’s just looking to get started, who’s got an idea and they’re just looking to get going?
Steve:    Yeah, so to go, you know, just right off the top with your idea, the first thing you want to do is create what we call a ‘feature set.’  And it’s really simple.  It’s just a bulleted list in priority order of the features for you app.
So if you’re making a tip calculator, you know the number one feature on there is to be able to provide 20 percent of the total bill, right, like that’s the number one feature.
There’s a whole bunch of other things you can have inside the app, like maybe adding LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook integration; that’s probably number five and six on the list.
And to come with this prioritized list is really helpful because when you hand it over to a developer he’s going to look at it and he’s going to say, “All right, well, this is the number one thing that I have to get done, and all of these other things I’m going to prioritize as such.”
So the cost of the app and the duration of the app will be affected by how long and how much these features cost.
So to get it prioritized really helps also because you can pull out what’s called the ‘core features’ of the app.  Sometimes people have a lot of great ideas and they have a lot of features and a lot of things and everyone here has been overwhelmed by software before; so we always encourage people to keep it simple and to iterate and to add more features in future releases.
So just getting a simple feature list will really get you started.
The next document that I would recommend you create is just wire frames or mockups.  And these can be done in any way.  There’s plenty of tools online you can use but I always recommend to people to just use paper and pen.
Sit down with a notepad, draw out how you think the apps’ going to look, draw arrows to show when you click on one button what screen should come up – none of it has to be perfect.  It doesn’t even have to be colored.  Just sit down and brainstorm and get all that stuff on paper, because it’s a great document to hand over to somebody and then they can understand what the heck you’re talking about.
Carter:    Yeah, right on.  I think that’s pretty much spot on.  I think that that’s what I’ve heard from other developers and it’s perfect.
You know the other thing that people come to me always is they say, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea, but I just don’t want you to steal it.”  You know, and that’s – I’m kind of in the middle of the road on that.  You know, I’m a big believer that it’s good to have intellectual property but it’s also – it’s really important to be able to share your ideas with people to come up with new ones.
So for someone who is kind of concerned about the intellectual property side of things what would you say to that?
Steve:    So there’s a few different things that I usually talk to people about when they bring this question up.  The first thing is I bring up the analogy of the maid in the hotel, right.
If the maid in the hotel was going around stealing stuff from everyone’s hotel room, she wouldn’t have a job, right?  Her reputation would precede her.
So, right off the bat, if you’re worried about someone setting up a consulting agency or being a developer and stealing your idea and running away from it, you know, there’s other problems that you should be more concerned with.
Second of all, your idea – or anything for that matter – is only worth what you can sell it for.  So if you’re really worried that someone’s going to steal your idea go try to sell it to someone; see how much they’ll pay for it, because ideas are actually not worth a lot.  Apps, with 100,000 users in a regular income stream, now that’s worth something.
So if you go out and you build your app then you have worth, then you have something that is valuable and helps people.  And that’s really the thing that people that are asking this question need to understand a little bit more.  And it’s very, very common; a lot of new entrepreneurs have this question.  And development shops will sign NDA’s if they need to, but really they don’t do a lot in court; they’re more just a formality.
So I just encourage everyone to think about the value of an idea versus an actual app.
Carter:    Yeah, right on.  Cool.  So one of the biggest articles on my – on the blog is – deals with cost of developing apps and it’s a very gray area, especially with different operations, different project sizes – and it’s a huge scope.  I mean I’ve seen projects that were $100.00 and I’ve seen projects that are $1 million; it’s a huge scope.
So – and obviously it’s very hard to speak to that.  But what would you say?  What should someone expect to walk into a development shop; what should they expect to pay?  And if you have any, you know, “Hey, here’s an app.  Here’s what this cost to build.”  You know, something like that.  What’s your take on that sort of thing?
Steve:    Well, you know, there’s a few different levels of apps.  There’s pretty much an app that doesn’t connect to the internet, just kind of displays some information, again, like a tip calculator, right?  That’s not going out, syncing with a database or anything; that’s just simple, running on your phone.  Something like that will run you around $10,000.00 to get started.
Anything with a back end or some kind of service that syncs in the Cloud or has a website that goes in tandem, the prices can really go up.  I would say they start about $20,000.00 and go up from there.
But, again, it’s all about the complexity of your app and exactly what you want it to do.  And this kind of comes back to that feature-set idea.  I always encourage people to keep it simple; because early on you’re not really sure if you’re idea’s going to stick in the marketplace.
So if you just keep it simple and just do the features that you know are the value-add features; you’re going to safe yourself money in case the thing flops, and you’re also going to make it really easy on your users so they don’t get confused by all of these extra features.
So, yeah, it is a really big relative question, but I mean that’s about as much of a ballpark as I can give somebody.
Carter:    Yeah, that’s perfect.  I think that that’s a really good – you should definitely be prepared.  And I think that it’s a lot of ‘you get what you pay for.’  I’m a huge believer in that when it comes to apps.  And that it’s very important to walk into a situation ready to spend some money on quality.
So let’s say – so someone has an app – or has an idea, I should say – they’ve got the budget, got everything lined up; how long – what kind of timeline are people looking at with apps?  Is there like an absolute minimum?
I know, like when I design websites, I usually say it’s not going to happen in less than two weeks.  Like I don’t care if it’s a one-page html thing, it’s – you know, two weeks is like the absolute minimum, and that can go up to six months, a year, who knows?
Steve:    Right.
Carter:    What would you say in terms of expected timelines and things like that?
Steve:    Yeah, that’s great.  So actually it kind of merges back – what we were just talking about.  Sometimes you’ll see developers that are really cheap per hour, right, and you’ll say, “Oh, man, well, this is the same two developers, one’s just more expensive than the other.”  And that’s really not the case.
A more quality or more expensive developer typically is more efficient with the code that they write.  And that means that it’s more maintainable, so down the path you’re not going to run into problems where ‘Oh, we’ve got a bug,’ and when we try to patch it it, you know, causes another bug.  So you want quality code done right.
And to pay for that upfront is kind of like the BMW versus the Kia kind of model.  You can spend a lot upfront and get something quality, or you can buy something really cheap and constantly be repairing it.
So it’s just something to take into consideration that a higher-quality developer might act four to five times more efficiently than these low-quality developers.
So, that being said, we like to tell people have at least four weeks ready to have your app built.  But another thing that should be going on while we’re developing is you should be doing your marketing, right?  These are parallel tasks.
It doesn’t just mean that you go into the cave, you develop, and then you pop out with the app on the app store.  You need to be doing your marketing all throughout the process of your development, maybe leaking out a few screenshots, getting a newsletter out there, getting on Facebook and Twitter; but we would encourage everyone to have at least four weeks to get their app started.
Carter:    Yeah, right on.  I think that’s a good window and I think that’s really good advice about having concurrent marketing going on at the same time because there’s so much you can do even without having an app, and there’s a lot you should be doing.  But that’s a different discussion.
So one thing that I’ve run into especially – and I think a lot of people have – is in-house design versus independent designers.  And I think there’s pros and cons to each.  I think it’s – I’ve learned that it’s very important to have that conversation with the developer up front and to be able to understand what that entails.
What would you say about – would you recommend going with a designer independently or working with an in-house designer?  What are your thoughts on that?
Steve:    So we do both.  And the key there is just to have expectations clearly noted up front.
So if you take those wireframes or mockup diagrams that you started, those need to be signed off on both sides; from the development perspective and from the client perspective.
And if they’re bringing in the designer, the designer should work off of those templates to kind of color them in and make it look pretty and make it look great.
So the development team just needs to know how the heck is going to be going from one screen to the other, right?  They need to understand that workflow.  So if the designer’s on board with that same template then all is well.  But if for some reason the apps half-way through being built and then you come in with a new design there’s a lot of things that get connected into that frontend or design portion that the development team relies on.
So it’s best to have clear expectations for the framework and the design up front.  So you could even go get your design done before even talking to a developer and walk in with your colored pictures and just have them over.
Carter:    Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.  Let’s say you know nothing about apps, or, you know, person A knows absolutely nothing; they know nothing about programming, they don’t know how to do websites, but they have an idea.  And they have a very good – they want to get in the game.
Are there certain things that if – that you would say are really important to have, you know, whether it be project management skills or organizational skills or whatever it may be – but what are the kind of things that someone can work on to further their app progress that isn’t necessarily being able to program an app?
Steve:    There’s a lot of things.  So getting out and really seeing if a need is there; reaching out to the customers and talking to them.  Don’t just sit back and come up with a bunch of features and know or tell yourself that they’re going to do well.
Users know more than you.  Remember that.  So we constantly encourage our customers to release something and get user feedback.
One of the features that we left out maybe would be number ten on the list for the users and it was the next thing we were going to add in in our conversations.  So it’s really important to engage your users and get out there and talk to them.  And even without an app, right, go out and talk to your users of competitors of yours and find out what they like and what they don’t like.
And try to get a nice little mailing list or post on a forum, get on Twitter or Facebook, all that, and make sure you really engage with your user.
So getting out, engaging with your users, starting your marketing campaign early.  Someone that can’t develop should be all over that.  They should have the workflow and the feature set clearly defined upfront.
And even getting some investors or some money together to get this started, because all of these items need to be ready to go come development time, and everything’s working concurrently; it’s a lot of things to handle at once.
So just because you can’t develop an app yourself doesn’t mean you cannot do it.  And some services, like us, will walk you all the way from just your idea to the app store and show you how to make these feature sets and mockups and do your design and ______

and your marketing and your distribution.
So, you know, just try as much as you can to get out there and check off those boxes.
Carter:    Yeah, right on.  I know for myself that was one of the first kind of – the first struggles I had was being like ‘I don’t have a clue what to do,’ but it’s – you know, you’ve just kind of got to dive into I guess.  But it’s nice to have a team that will walk you through it as well.
You know the last question – and you brought this up, and I think this is awesome because you look at the comments on some of my blogs and one of the top comments is, “Hey, I don’t have any money.  Bottom line; I’ve got $3,000.00, I’m a young college kid,” or, “I want to do this as a side job.  I want to escape my 9:00 to 5:00 life but I just don’t have the money, I don’t have the funding.  Would a developer build it for me?”  “Would I build it as an equity share or as a revenue split or something to defray those costs?”
Steve:    Yeah.
Carter:    I’m sure you get asked that a lot.  And so for that sort of question, what would you respond?
Steve:    So, yeah, this is a very, very, very competitive time in mobile app development and there’s more than the fair share of people that are willing to pay for quality developers.
That being said, if you want to compensate someone with equity you’re really going to run into problems because they have other options and there’s people ready with cash-in-hand.  Not to mention that equity is kind of turning the risk out of your hand and over to the developers side, right?
So you’re no longer taking money out of your pocket; you’re saying to the developer, “Hey, dedicate all of your time and hopefully, if this app does well, you’ll get paid.”  Meanwhile there’s someone else standing behind you in line with cash-in-hand ready to pay for you to develop their app in a quality setting.
So you’re really just not going to get a high-quality development team to jump on for only equity.  And it’s not to say there aren’t people out there or it’s a bad model, but it’s just so competitive right now and all the other customers have cash and they’re ready to spend it.  It’s really tough to get someone to do it just for equity, or even for a partial split.  So it’s a tough sell, to be honest with you.
Carter:    And I think that’s a really good way to put it.  One thing that I have come back to potential clients and said that I’d be interested in an equity split if you can prove to me that this is going to be successful, exactly because of that risk idea.
I say, “Look, if you’ve got a marketing outlet, if you’ve got a partner that’s guaranteeing me two million e-mail addresses that they’re going to blast it to the day it launches, then maybe I’d talk – you know, then it would be an interesting point.”
But I think that it’s really important to realize how much risk is being put on the developer with that kind of a situation.
So, yeah, that’s all I had.  I don’t know, Steve, if you have – if there’s anything else you want to add to – any particular comments or things you have to volunteer?
Steve:    Not right now.  But yeah, I would encourage people to really document their idea and really think it through; draw it out.  Put pieces of paper out on your kitchen table and figure out how the workflow should work.  Think about it.
Look at some of the other apps that you really like; how are they designed?  Who made them?  Who designed them?  What do they do that you like so much?  There’s a lot of potential for great, new apps out there and just because you come up with an idea and you don’t know how to program doesn’t mean that’s the end.
Carter:    Yeah.  Well, Steve, I really appreciate your time and everyone who’s watching this right now make sure you go check out Steve at  I’ll put the website up right below the video so you can check out what he’s doing and he’s a great guy, he’s got some great stuff there, and hopefully this helps answer some questions for everyone.
And Steve, thanks for your time again, and I’m sure we’ll be chatting.
Steve:    No problem.  Thanks again, Carter.
Carter:    All right.  I’ll see ya’.
Steve:    Ciao.
Carter:    Bye.


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