Lesson Seven

Should you build a website or a mobile app?

Certain ideas are more effective if they’re built first as a mobile app rather than as a website.

If you’re considering building a mobile app, there’s a few main factors to look at to decide if it’s the right path for your idea:

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1. Your app has a location based component

Will you need to present your customers with relevant information based on where they are located right now?

For example, the mobile app Uber connects drivers with people who need to go somewhere.

Uber iPhone app
Screenshot of the Uber iPhone app

In the case of Uber, there’s a location-based element that’s necessary to coordinate drivers and passengers. Because people are most likely to carry a phone rather than a desktop computer when traveling, it made sense for Uber to build their initial product as a mobile app rather than as a website.

2. Your idea requires delivery of information in real-time

Does your idea need to give people access to do something the moment it happens? For example, Lift is an app that helps people build habits by tracking their behaviors.

Lift iPhone app
Screenshot of the Lift iPhone app

Since people perform many behaviors they might want to track when they are away from their computer (i.e. running at the gym or flossing in the bathroom), Lift starting as a mobile app made sense so it was more convenient for people to track these habits. People don’t have to remember things they’ve done and record them only when they get to a desktop computer. They can do it from their phone, wherever they are.

If your idea connects people with information they need now, it’s likely building a mobile app will be the best route.

3. A mobile app is key competitive advantage

If you’re building your product in an industry with similar competitors that have already taken advantage of building for the web but perhaps not as much for mobile devices, then building a mobile app could be a route to consider.

For instance, Mailbox is an app that simplifies email specifically for mobile devices. If Mailbox had started as a web product, it would have been difficult to stand out from more established web-based email competitors like Gmail or Hotmail.

Mailbox iPhone app
Screenshot of the Mailbox iPhone app

Because Mailbox focused on improving email for mobile devices, it allowed them to differentiate more effectively from competitors. Within months of their launch, Mailbox received widespread adoption from hundreds of thousands of customers.

How to start building an app

Building a mobile app requires a budget. App design and development can range from $10k for a basic app with 1-2 core features to over $100k for more complex apps that work across multiple platforms like iPhone, iPad, and Android.

If the budget to build a mobile app isn’t in your range yet, there are other ways you can start making progress on your idea.

1. Create a prototype without writing any code

There are many tools available that you can use to create initial designs of your mobile app without writing any code. This is often called a mockup or prototype.

Here are 2 products we’d recommend to help create a prototype without needing to write any code:

POP app – This is a free app that allows you to create a clickable prototype of your app from pencil and paper sketches. You can draw your app on paper and take pictures of these sketches with the POP app.

Then, you can create clickable spots on each sketch that allow people to go through your app’s different screens. This can help identify areas of your app that work well and other parts that need to be improved before you’ve written a line of actual code or designed anything.

Marvel app – Marvel allows you to create a clickable prototype from designs you already have created using a graphics editor like Adobe Photoshop. You can assign certain areas within the prototype to make it clickable so it feels similar to how your app will function.

You can share the link to your Marvel app with potential customers to get input on areas of the app could be improved.

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2. Build a web prototype

Even if a mobile app will ultimately be the best route to go, it doesn’t mean you need to start there.

It’s typically more expensive to build a mobile app that works across multiple mobile devices compared to building one website. If the resources you have available only allow you to make a website first, this can still be useful to test an initial concept.

If you begin with a website, you can identify the core features you’ll need to build for your mobile app. By better defining what you need to build, you may be able to save time and money in the long run when you build an app across multiple platforms like iOS and Android.

There isn’t one correct process to build every idea but hopefully, looking at the factors above will help steer you in the right direction.


Are you looking to build a web-app or a website? Crew connects you with vetted developers – Tell us about your project or read more about hiring a freelance developer.