Elance Blog

Guest Post: How To Make An App With No Prior Experience.

Occasionally we invite clients to discuss issues of importance to businesses and freelancers who use Elance.  Here are some thoughts from Nicholas Wright.  He frequently hires freelancers and is one of the founders of AppInstruct, an online Course that teaches people how to make mobile apps utilizing the Elance platform.


If you’ve never made an app before, then how should you get started?  This is the very question I myself had a year ago. I answered the question by hiring the relevant domain experts, and in the process created AppInstruct’s Online Course — which teaches all us of who have an idea but have never built software before, how to create an app.

This post begins a series here on Elance’s blog, where we’ll explore both the technology and business aspects of making a mobile app.  Whether you’re interested in making an app as a hobby to create additional income, to promote an existing business or as a start-up, we’ll set out the roadmap you need to get started.

The great thing about Elance’s platform is the remote network of design and programming expertise it provides, allowing you to manage the process part time from home. This enables a budding entrepreneur to validate their idea, whilst remaining secure in their day job.

So where to start?

1. Research your idea

The first thing to do, is actually write down a list of all the ideas for apps you have, even the silly ones.  Then refine this list, first by opening up the App Store (for completeness you could also look in Android’s Google Play, but one is probably sufficient at this stage) and searching for apps that do similar things.

With over a million apps now in the App Store, it’s likely that you’ll discover an app at least similar to your own ideas.  Whilst that can be bad news – if your idea is to build a public platform on which people can stay in touch with old friends, then, well, that’s already been done pretty successfully, by a Company that now has huge resources, so may be tough to compete against – it can also be good news, it can demonstrate a market demand for your product idea, and if you think your idea improves upon it, then it’s time to move forward. 

Hey, and remember there are also exceptions – that social network called Facebook, is right now more than a little worried by a little photo sharing app started by 3 college students 2 and a half years ago – Snapchat.  So much so, they offered to buy it for $3 billion in October of last year.

2. Choose a business model

It can be all too tempting to ignore this at an early stage, especially when you see companies such as Snapchat being valued at $3 billion, when they’ve not yet earned any meaningful revenues.  However, to do so would be a mistake.

Snapchat has a business model, it’s just not a traditional one, in that its business model is an ‘Audience model’.  That is, its plan is to build a very large audience, in the key and valuable demographic ‘teenagers’.  It’s funding this, by raising increasingly large amounts of money, from Venture Capitalists who have past experience and success in supporting companies following a similar plan – yep, Facebook again, and Twitter, and companies like Pinterest. 

So, you need a model too.  The latest statistics from the main app stores, Apple’s App Store, and Google Play, suggest that 92% of revenues are now being generated from apps that employ a ‘freemium’ model.  That is, apps that are free to download and use, but then make additional value, be it features, or virtual currency to skip game levels, available to buy via an in-app-purchase.

This is not to say the paid download is dead.  Apple announced customers spent $1billion in the App Store in December, so that’s $80 million on paid apps.  For example, Simago’s Year Walk game has made over $500,000 since it was launched in February last year, with 200,000 copies having been downloaded.  That’s a nice little earner.

3. Identify the correct platform

When you’ve chosen your preferred idea, and selected a business model for it, then you should decide on which platform you’ll launch it.

There’s no one size fits all here.  Your choices are:

  1. Build a native app, that is one optimized to work on Apple, Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry devices;
  2. Build a hybrid app, that is one that utilizes HTML5, or an existing platform, such as Appcelerator, to then work across the different native platforms.  Unfortunately, the technology isn’t good enough as yet for the user’s experience to match that of a native app;
  3. Build a responsive website - the app is an internet site, found through the browser of people’s mobile devices (as opposed to sitting behind its own icon on their device’s screen).  It differs from a traditional website, in that the site is designed to be as easy to use on a small mobile screen, as a traditional desktop. 

We’ll explore the factors you should consider in choosing a platform in more depth in a future post.

In our next post, we’ll discuss the methodology of lean startups and our own thoughts on ‘minimum viable products’.

About the author:

Nicholas Wright is a co-founder and CEO of AppInstruct. Nic is actively involved in the start-up space, mentoring other founders with mobile, fundraising and legal advice. Nic’s favorite app is WhatsApp, which allows him to remain in contact with family in America and England.



New mobile software, devices and technologies appear every day. 57% of Americans own smartphones, while 42% own tablets. And those users are all downloading apps. In fact, 80% of all time on mobile devices is spent using apps.What’s drawing us to mobile apps in such large numbers – and what will those apps look like in the future? http://bit.ly/1nl5SPg