Application Costs as You Scale

September 14, 2015,   |   Business, Tech
Agile League

In a previous post, we detailed the monthly cost for running a web application. Our figure of $150-$200 per month was for a newborn app with a small userbase, just emerging into the world. We got a lot of feedback from people about hidden costs we missed, but many of those were for more mature apps. So, this is a follow-up of what you can expect to pay as your app starts to grow up. Think of these as what a “tween” app might need.

Development

By far, your biggest cost will be additional development. Whether it’s your own personal nights and weekends, your in-house technical team, or a group of consultants (like us!), you can expect to pay for development forever! There will always be new features on the horizon, bugs to fix, partners to integrate with, newfound security holes to plug, and so on.

How much you spend depends on your budget and your goals, but don’t expect to achieve great things on a shoestring budget. If you’re just trying to stay afloat with maintenance and simple bug fixes, you might squeeze by with an hour or two per month. If you want to see any real progress, budget for at least 10-20 development hours per week. From there, the sky’s the limit.

Project Management – $0 – $40/mo

Sometimes you can get away without PM software, especially early on, but eventually you’re going to want some way to keep track of all the crazy ideas you have, the bugs that are reported, and what everyone on the team is working on.

The industry darling is still Pivotal Tracker. They’ve grown and added features over time, but generally resisted the devolvement to a mishmash of options like most PM and/or trouble ticket systems become. Keeping things simple has kept Pivotal Tracker the preferred choice of many agile teams.

Customer Service and Contact – $10/mo – $35/mo

If you have thousands of users, you will quickly outstrip the ability to manage their support needs via a simple email address or contact form. Even if you make it super, duper usable, there will still be people that get themselves confused, locked out, or otherwise need help using your app. That’s where a support forum and/or ticket system come in.

We like Tender, a very simple support forum that also has a built in knowledge base for writing simple help/support articles. If you want you can combine it with Lighthouse, an internal-facing ticketing tool. They’re both similar but solve slightly different problems. Tender focuses on supporting the users, while Lighthouse focuses on tracking bug fixes and code changes.

Various Developer Tools

A living project with an engaged tech team will attract tools and services like barnacles to a ship. This can get expensive, but it’s generally a good thing as long as your team is making good use of the tools. Here are a couple that we like to attach to our projects:

  • Airbrake for error monitoring. Usually free, can pay if you have a high load of errors
  • Codeship for continuous integration and development. Small teams can get by with the free version.
  • Loggly or Papertrail for cloud-based log file management. Again, you can usually get by with the free version.

Overall Additional Cost (excluding development): $50-$300 / mo

Assuming you’re already spending around $200 a month on your base hosting (as per our previous post), the additional tools and services listed here will end up adding a premium on top of that. However, if all is going according to plan, your app is generating significant revenue per month, and additional tool costs start to look smaller and smaller as revenue grows. That initial growth phase is an exciting time, so enjoy it!