Have an App Idea, Don’t Start From Scratch.

I have this great App idea, how much to build it?


I encounter this question often at business networking events, from emails from my readers, at meetups, recently even at the departure lounge of the airport. The real answer requires a detailed understanding of the vision of how the app will be used and experienced. Without a detail/screen by screen understanding of what is wanted, the question is similar to asking “how long is a piece of string?”

For the kind of apps I build where the end user can register and do things with location, photos, chat with other members of the community, send messages, share on social media and purchase items — costs start at $10,000. Whoa … hold on … what if I only have $500 or even less! An alternative to building up from scratch is to re-skin an existing app where you can get the first cut of your idea up and in the app store for much less. In this blog post, I outline how I did just that with my SnowJokes app.

Re-Skining an App

Many of you are familiar with setting up a WordPress blog, and one of the choices you can make is selecting a theme. That theme defines the way pages and posts are presented. Allowing the blogger to select color palets, make font choices, establish button sizes, and set the location of supplemental information. The idea of the theme is to separate how the blog looks from the content off blog. That is separate the decision of where new blog posts should be shown from the content of the blog. After 12 years the WordPress community has developed a very powerful platform allowing bloggers to concentrate on content and then apply new visual experiences by just changing the theme. The app world is not as sophisticated but conceptually you can separate what and how the app does things from how it looks. Thus, separating content from presentation. Changing how an app looks without significantly changing how the app works is called re-skinning.

The skin of an app includes the following items:

  • The name and description of the App
  • The App Icon and Splash Screens displayed at app startup.
  • The color scheme of view title bars, buttons, etc.
  • Specific graphical elements such as custom buttons, characters in games, view backgrounds.
  • In-App Purchase item references
  • Account Keys for Ad Networks and Analytic Data

When you purchase the source code of an existing app with the purpose of re-skiing it, all of these things should be changed before you publish the app.

Finding the Source Code for an App

A Google search of “mobile app source code” generates a few hits of interest. I took a close look at three marketplaces.

Flippa.com – This site is oriented to purchasing existing apps and websites as an ongoing business. You purchase the exclusive rights to the property. For a successful business with demonstrated revenue streams, they can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some properties go for millions in the “private sale” section of the site.

Apptopia.com – Sells both exclusive rights to existing apps and app templates for re-skinning and producing your own branded app. Apptopia also provides analytic tools that you use to get the best performance out of the app. These tools are used to establish the value for the product if and when you want to sell your creation.

Chupamoble.com – Offers full apps for re-skining, app templates, visual themes and other components for putting together your app. Chupamobile also offers technical services to do the re-skining process for you.

For SnowJokes, I purchased the “jokes, facts, and puns” iOS app for $149, with the rights to re-skin and publish the app as many times as I want.

IOS Simulator Screen shot Jun 10 2014 1 46 45 PM

Changing Graphics and Other Content

I am not a graphical designer, so I found a person on Fiverr.com that did application icons. He did an icon based on my SnowJokes idea that I like. For an additional 20 dollars, he produced a splash screen and icons in all the different sizes required by the Apple store. I then asked him to create the background images I need to complete the graphical portion of the process. This was an additional 25 dollars.

I also paid an internet researcher on fiverr $15 to gather and format the jokes need for the app.
Fiverr is an awesome marketplace for finding all types of technical skills and know how.

Building and Submitting App to the Store

Being a developer I was able to take the instructions that came with the app and within a few hours make all the other changes discussed above. The materials provided by the vendor on Chupamobile included instructors that helped. However, there were some issues that required the knowledge of an experienced developer as well as an understanding of the various ad networks used by the app. If you don’t know your way around the development tools, I would suggest you find someone to do this work for you as well. There are several developers advertised on Fiverr. I’m using one to help me with another project. The good thing with this approach is that you have a very specific task to ask your technical resource to bid on. Provide a copy of the Instructions and ask for a fixed bid.

To publish the app with Apple, you will also have to establish an account with Apple which cost $99 per year.

My out of pocket expenses are under 250 dollars since I already have an Apple account, plus about 6 hours of my time, brainstorming the original idea, selecting a template, managing my requests on fiverr and doing the technical work. With this app, I’m generating revenue through ad placement and in app purchase. My biggest day so far has been $20. Still too early to project what the ongoing revenue will be. It has been exciting to go from a wannabe to an

app entrepreneur with such a small investment.

Bringing Value to the Market with Your new App

Just mimicking someone else’s app by changing the name and a few colors, I don’t believe will create enough value to give you adequate returns to make it worth it. Creating a new story and message by establishing a visual impression that communicates that on the back of an existing app’s functionality, I think is enough additional value. Put another way if only a few hundred dollars of investment can get an app in the app store what will give you a platform from which your app will be noticed. That is where your original ideas comes in that started this conversation. Apply this idea, with your specific knowledge of a marketplace, a group of people that are your audience and recast an existing app that appeals to what your tribe is looking for and you will have a winner that will reward you far beyond the effort.

In my case, I’m thinking beyond just another joke app. My bigger vision is to provide tools for ski instructors with snocoach.com. Ski instructors often like to tell jokes to engage better with their clients. A joke app fulfills that need for my tribe.

Need help with your idea?. Leave a comment here or contact by visiting the contact page for a free consultation.

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