Building Apps 101: The Core Resources Tech Startups Need

September 28, 2016 - 9 minutes read

Marketing and growth strategy are the “software” of a startup. The “hardware” is the system of apps, products, and services that make running a tech business possible.

Five years ago, developing an app was like riding off into the wild west. No rules, no guidelines, no support frameworks.

The app development market has changed dramatically since then. Virtually all startups use some combination of products and services tailored to the tech industry to support their operations.

What’s more, using the right tools isn’t just a luxury — it frees up valuable time and resources for other tasks, as well as allowing startups to take advantage of years of trial and error in the tech industry.

Here are the core resources that virtually every app developer will need to succeed:

1. Android Studio & Xcode

In 99.9% of cases, building an app means building for iOS or Android. Each operating system has their own developer toolkit for building apps that fit within that operating system’s universe — Android Studio for Android and Xcode for iOS.

What’s great about these software suites is how powerful they are compared to their learning curve — newcomers to technical development can jump right in with tutorials and build simple apps, and stay in the same interface throughout their career as they level up to building more and more complex systems. Apple has even been venturing into building custom programming language, called Swift, to speed up the development process.

For non-technical founders and employees, Xcode and Android Studio are the place you’ll go to see demos and previews of features throughout the development cycle.

2. A good lawyer

AirBnB took on zoning laws and subletting. Uber took on the taxi licence system.

Chances are any app developer challenging the status quo with a truly disruptive product will have at least a couple legal questions to consider.

After all, the line between bending the law and breaking the law can be awfully thin — for those who bend the law to innovate, the rewards are high. But breaking over into outright illegal behavior can spell the end.

Lawyers are also useful for creating watertight contracts, LLC formation, and a laundry list of other fine-print headaches. While some of these needs can be met with off-the-shelf boilerplate solutions, having a dedicated legal contact generally pays off in the long run.

3. An accountant or bookkeeper

If your company generates enough revenue to support employees, having an accountant keeping the books will pay for itself. Taxes are enough of a nightmare for individual people to pay accountants to do them — so you can bet it’s worth having an accountant handle them for a thriving business, and keep you on track to properly manage expenses, employees, and etc.

Bootstrapped startups without the funding for a dedicated bookkeeper can consider systems like Freshbooks that are designed to handle invoicing and lite project management for small businesses. Gusto is another service worth taking a look at, for simplifying payroll for employees and freelancers alike. (We use Gusto at Dogtown, alongside a dedicated accountant.)


SCRUM is great. Agile development is great. But without a central framework, development processes have a tendency to get confusing. JIRA provides a “framework for frameworks” that gives developers a home base for tracking sprints, Kanban boards, and everything else involved in agile development.

JIRA is particularly useful for providing a birds-eye view for agencies or developers with multiple app projects on the line. Honestly, the days before it were pure barbarism.

5. GitHub

Open-source software is the heart and soul of the developer community — and GitHub is the universal touchpoint for that community.

Even if you aren’t using GitHub for your project management and version control, GitHindispensablensible for sourcing and contributing to the myriad open-source frameworks, tools, and plugins that make the tech world tick. They’re known for the free version control and hosting for open-source projects that’s publicly searcahble, but GitHub’s premium tier offers the same services privately for startups and tech companies.

One last tip for non-technical founders: when interviewing technical staff, check that they have a profile first. If not, be suspicious.

6. Sketch

Sketch is the young upstart in the visual design space, challenging a market long ruled by the Adobe software suite, particularly Illustrator and Photoshop. (The $99 price tag, compared to Adobe’s quite steep monthly fees, is another compelling plus.)

Adobe illustrator and the rest of the Adobe software suite are essential tools for graphic designers, but they can be a bit challenging for UX designers. Sketch is less like a software tool and more like a framework, designed for rapidly prototyping web and mobile apps.

By making assumptions about how designers structure documents and predicting the sorts of tools and elements they’ll need to tweak screen-oriented imagery, Sketch cuts out the fluff that made Adobe so intimidating to less-visual users. Most importantly, it cuts a lot of time out of the prototyping process for multitasking San Fran app developers.

The drag-and-drop feel of Sketch makes it approachable even for non-designers who need to quickly sketch out an idea for explaining to team members, investors, or anyone else.

Branching out: task-appropriate toolkits

The roles, frameworks, and softwares covered above aren’t the only ones needed for a startup to succeed. They’re simply the ones that are universal.

As the app development industry has matured, carving out a niche is a question of finding the right balance between “hard-coded” solutions and “off-the-shelf” tools. Not every app needs SMS communication, but you can bet that those that do use services like Twilio rather than managing it in-house. Startups that try to outsource their database management, on the other hand, will usually run into trouble.

The thing that makes your startup most unique, in most cases, is the thing that you want to make sure happens “in-house.”

Tools of the trade

Learning a series of tools and frameworks can seem like a headache for newcomers to app development, but I promise you it’s nothing compared to the headache of building apps back before these frameworks existed.

Tech startups have gone from being something only “100X” programmers like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerburg could build to something accessible even to entrepreneurs with limited programming backgrounds.

This has been great for the tech industry, as it’s paved the way for mobile app ideas to inhabit every vertical in the market from agriculture to fine dining to healthcare. With the right core staff and tools in your toolkit, you don’t need a huge crew or expensive software to carve out a niche for your great app idea.

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