So you want to know how to hire a mobile app developer.
First things first: the ‘perfect’ app developer doesn’t exist.
But there are lots of good and not-so-good matches for your specific needs.
Problem is they all want your business, and as a non tech founder, it can be hard to hire a mobile app developer that will truly see your project to a successful finish.
Some will promise clients the moon, misjudge spectacularly, and land inside a baboon’s backside.
We’ve had clients approach us to rescue their app from previous developers.
This easily meant adding tens of thousands to costs and delaying launch time by months.
The worst part? That it was all unnecessary.
The Non tech Founder’s Struggle to Hire a Mobile App Developer
We hear these clients’ stories and see more red flags than a socialist march.
What led to them choosing these nightmare developers?
It often boiled down to inexperience and eagerness to do business. On both sides, by the way.
We’d like to help.
Below, we share the five things every non tech founder needs to be aware of to minimize guesswork. If you are looking to hire a mobile app developer, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got these bases covered.
Hire a Mobile App Developer for Three Things
Budget, time, and product quality.
If the product can’t be delivered within your budget, the project fails.
If it can’t be delivered within your time window, the project fails.
If it’s delivered within your budget and time window, but the quality sucks, the project fails.
As a non tech founder, you need to build a basic understanding of these five areas:
- App Development and Design Processes
- The Team
Together, they help measure a developer’s ability to deliver on all three factors.
Let’s get straight to it.
These Five Things Tell You How to Hire a Mobile App Developer
Let’s use an analogy here. Say you wanted to design a new car instead.
First, developers must understand what problem a client wants to solve – that’s the final destination.
From there, we determine what the solution looks like – the car itself.
Knowing these two things, the developer decides on the best way to build the car.
There are two main methodologies in app development: Waterfall and Agile.
Waterfall is linear.
Agile is cyclical.
With Waterfall, the client waits for their car at the end of the road, and the road is split into checkpoints.
Each checkpoint takes about 2 – 5 months, and only starts once the previous checkpoint is reached.
And there’s no going back.
As long as the developer has the technical ability and requirements don’t change, the client gets their car.
Corporate clients usually prefer using Waterfall.
They have in-house tech staff who spend months doing requirements gathering and only approach developers once they know what they need.
And, very importantly, they have the budget to pay for a whole new project if it comes to that.
If you’re a non tech founder, you probably don’t have bottomless pockets.
Also, we guarantee what you think you need now, and what you know you need once you start testing on users, will be very different.
That’s where Agile comes in.
Instead of waiting at the end of the road, the client hops into the passenger seat and goes along for the ride.
Instead of delivering a finished car in twelve months, the developer gives you a steering wheel in four months – a minimum viable product with the core components for you to test on users.
Based on feedback, we make changes to requirements and the developer creates a new iteration of the steering wheel.
As we go through these cycles, we add more parts, and eventually, you have your car.
Only instead of the luxury sports car you planned for, it’s now a family-friendly SUV – all based on market demand.
This means longer development and higher costs on average, but nowhere near the cost of overhauling a Waterfall project.
At Upstack Studio, we’ve never experienced a non tech founder that didn’t change requirements halfway through.
So we definitely recommend Agile for you.
Of course, the developer you talk to may have a different take. The important thing is to make sure there is a methodology in place, and that it’s justified.
Development and Design Processes
Waterfall or Agile, developers still need processes to research, build and test each component.
This is what our development process looks like:
- Requirements Gathering
- UI/UX Design
- Backend and Frontend Development
- QA & Testing
- Iterate & Maintain
Your developer should be able to lay out a similar step-by-step plan for rolling out your app.
They should be able to explain what each step entails and how long it takes (allow some leeway here).
In particular, we cannot overstate how important step 2 is.
It’s the design process, and if something gets missed out here, you won’t get the app you want.
UX is your app’s ability to solve a user’s problem.
If you have bad UX, you’re not solving their problem, and you don’t have a marketable product.
UI is how your app looks while delivering UX.
It may not have to look stunning, but it should be pleasing and have consistent branding.
And too bad, sometimes it may have to look stunning.
For example, if you’re building an app to sell beauty products to women, it better look gorgeous.
Your agency needs to determine what kind of UI/UX is needed through market research. It’s a combination of technical skill and business knowledge, and they should be able to plan and lay out this research for you to see.
At Upstack Studio, it takes about 4-6 weeks on average and we do it in-house.
Some developers outsource – not a dealbreaker, but we find that in-house research helps with quality.
When you meet a developer, ask them to explain their UI/UX research methods and timeframe.
If they seem unsure, run, lest you be led into a baboon’s buttcrack.
See, the term app development is kind of misleading. There’s more to development than just developing, so you need more than just a developer.
Strictly speaking, a software developer uses turns UI/UX designs into interactive features – when you combine those features you get an app.
But they don’t actually design UI/UX.
Designers plan what to build, then tell developers, “Hey, go build this.”
Developers take the designs and if they understand them, say “Yes, ma’am,” and build it.
Also, you need developers with two skill sets.
Frontend development builds what your customers see.
Backend development builds the server side.
Frontend always gets the spotlight, and the back end is kind of a thankless job. But both are important.
Sometimes they’ll have full-stack developers who can do both front and backend.
When they can do both really really well, we call them Upstack Developers.
Someone will also have to play the role of a tester and find bugs in the developer’s work. It’s not really necessary to have a dedicated tester. It’s just important that you know features being pushed to users have been screened.
On top of that, there needs to be a project manager who has technical expertise and experience seeing end-to-end project completion.
They make sure the designers and developers are working efficiently.
They’ll also be your bridge to the development team and vice versa since developers can be hard to talk to for non tech folks.
So when an agency tells you they have a team that can support a non tech founder, that’s what you should expect to see at a minimum.
Designers, full stack developers, and project managers.
Alright, so say the agency has all the moving parts you need.
Structured design and development processes.
The nerdiest developers and designers you’ve ever met.
Looks good, right?
Then you ask them if they’ve ever built something like this before.
Oh, ok. You ask them if they’ve ever built anything remotely similar.
Have they ever built anything?
No, you’re our first client. We’re begging you, please choose us.
Upstack Studio is begging you, please don’t.
We understand what it’s like to be hungry for your first client. We were in that position many years ago.
The thing is, non tech founders and young agencies do not mix.
Both parties lack experience and It ends up being a case of the blind leading the blind.
These agencies need clients with a clear idea of what they want.
Non tech founders need agencies that have the experience and maturity to give them a little smack sometimes and say hey, you’re doin it wrong!
And of course, if they have a portfolio, which they should, take your time going through it. Find the one with apps and designs that align closest with your vision.
Last but not least, we arrive at
Basically, should you stick to local developers or outsource internationally?
Our advice is simple: make note of the four factors mentioned earlier when screening,
Does their methodology align with your requirements?
Are their development and design processes clear?
Do they have a team with a complete skillset?
Does the agency have a good portfolio?
Then you’ve done your due diligence on how to hire a mobile app developer.
Want to outsource? Just a couple more screening questions.
Will they be available for meetings during my waking hours?
Do we share a common language with enough proficiency to communicate smoothly?
Can they agree to payment based on agreed milestones with a reasonable upfront fee?
If your offshore developer checks all those boxes, go for it and enjoy the significantly lower hourly rates!
Now You Know How to Hire a Mobile App Developer
Let’s recap the five things non tech founders need to know on hiring mobile app developers.
- The Development and Design processes.
- Credentials and
And uh, you know, we think our agency stands up pretty well against this checklist.
If you have an idea and you’re in the market for an app developer, give us a shout. We’re based in Malaysia but we have no problem accommodating international clients.
Here’s a link to get in touch for a free consultation.