Snapchat success is a classic Silicon Valley tale.
A guy gets a seemingly silly idea, starts developing it in college and later in his living room. Gets lucky, raises some funds and a few years later refuses to sell his company to Facebook and Google for a huge pile of money. He goes to IPO instead and lives happily ever after I guess 🙂
While you won’t be able to walk the exactly same walk….you can build a product as successful as Snapchat.
In this post, we attempt to estimate how much did it cost to make Snapchat and outline the key reasons of the platform’s success.
How Long Did It Take to Make Snapchat?
That’s how the product looked back in July 2014 according to the company’s leaked pitch deck. The app just started rolling its functionality for businesses and luring in more advertisers, while aggressively growing their user base.
Between March 2014 and December 2015, the platform’s popularity has grown by nearly 50% and Snapchat has hit 110 million daily active users.
From an app launched our of a living room to an IPO in less than 7 years, that’s how long it took Snap Inc to become synonymous with “whooping success” for startups.
Again, who wouldn’t envy those numbers?
Two Key Product Lessons To Borrow From Snapchat
Let’s pedal back in time.
Snapchat started as a rather simple messaging up with one distinctive product feature – disappearing messages.
And it still remains one of the consumers’ top favorite with – 35% of users stating that they use the platform because of temporary content.
That’s the first lesson to learn from Snapchat – shape your product experience around one defining product feature.
Here’s what else users love about this platform:
And there are actually some solid reasons why users love this particular functionality.
Snapchat is heavily fueled by the concept of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which most young adults (their target audience) are prone to. The fact that content will disappear within 24 hours encourages users to access and engage with the app more frequently.
While most new product owners struggle to build up consistent engagement, Snapchat found a sneaky way to turn their product into a sticky habit. The app is wired to nag users to access it multiple times per day (18 times on average to be precise). Good job, Snap!
Lesson #2: Get to know what really fosters action from your target audience and use their bias to your advantage.
So, if you want to develop an app like Snapchat, you’ll have to identify the right action triggers for your audience and encourage them to develop a new habit of using your product.
The concept isn’t brand new and is already popular in mobile games – “login daily to receive your booster” and similar kind of things.
Now let’s move on to what it takes to build a chat app like Snapchat money and time-wise.
Essential Features for an App Like Snapchat
Considering that you don’t have the funding just yet or merely closed the first round, it’s better to start with an MVP first. The costs and features for a custom app like Snapchat are broken down below.
Account Creation & Registration
Snapchat doesn’t support Facebook login as an option. Their original reasoning was rather simple – younger demographic fled from the platform to avoid befriending their parents ☺
Instead, you need to provide your name, birth date, phone number and choose a nickname. Afterward, you receive a confirmation code to complete the registration.
Development Timeline: 60-80 hours (backend development + one mobile platform)
Development Price: around $3200 ($40/per hour)
Contact Book Integration & Friend List
Users can add their friends using either of the following options:
- Search by username directly (the cheapest & easier to implement)
- Allow the app to import contacts from the address book (secondary viable option).
- Add nearby users – requires additional coding to enable location-sharing services. (additional $1.500-$2.000 to your budgets)
- Share your Snapcode (unique QR-code based identifier assigned to each user) via email, text, on other social media networks or in person. The user, who wants to add you will need to scan this code with their device camera to instantly follow you.
The last option is the most exciting one, and can be implemented relatively quickly using an open source library for QR code generation. The development price would be around $1500-$2000.
Timeline: under 70-90 hours for the first two options.
Costs: $2800-$3600 for basic registration.
Here’s how Snapchat messaging works:
- The user sends a message to another user and it’s uploaded to Snapchat servers.
- The user receives new message notification and the content is downloaded to a temp location on the receiver’s phone.
- Once the user views the sent snap, time starts ticking. In 24 hours the message will be deleted from their phone and from Snapchat servers.
- If the recipient haven’t opened/seen the sent snap, it would be automatically destroyed within 30 days
Unlike standard messaging apps, users are encouraged to exchange multimedia content, not mere texts. Images can be additionally tuned with stickers, custom texts, filters or lenses, which will result in a higher project price.
Timeline: around 120-150 hours to implement disappearing multimedia messages.
Costs: approx. $6000.
The grand total proto Snapchat cost, in this case, would be between $20.500-$25.000.
Additional Features & Pricing
In Dec 2014 Snapchat has closed a $485 million Series D funding round and a hefty part of that money obviously went to developers. The app added extra cool functionality beyond the one listed in MVP section.
Deconstructing Chat 2.0.
Last year Snapchat rolled out a massive revamp to their chat functionality offering a new of mediums for communication. Those include:
Video and Audio Notes
You can record and send a 10-second video loop to another user. Perfect for creating and sending reaction GIFs. You can also send audio-only messages whenever you don’t feel like typing.
Video and Audio Calls
The new chat version now supports voice and audio calls, even if the user is offline at the moment and makes Snapchat more similar to Whatsapp and FB messenger. Previously we wrote a detailed post about incorporating video calls in your app. Go check it for more tech insights.
Timeline for incorporating audio/video functionality: 1-2 months depending on complexity.
Costs: Between $12.000-$25.000
Ok, so these are the user’s favorites. And you shouldn’t underestimate the value (and the revenues) those cute visuals can generate for your business. We’ve shared some industry insights in this post. (Teaser: 75% of medium messaging app users want to have custom emojis and stickers available to them).
Face modifying lenses are arguably the most distinctive feature of Snapchat. But as you know, the company didn’t build them in-house and purchased a Ukrainian startup Looksery, which was working on these facial recognition technologies.
So when answering the question how much does Snapchat cost, you should probably add the $150 million paid for acquiring the company ☺
While building the exact same solution will really cost you a lot, you can opt for a simpler alternative using Mirror Reality SDK (available both for iOS and Android). It enables creating real-time face transformations within your product.
The development costs will vary, but simplish augmented reality elements can be added for under $10.000
The company was to jump on the live streaming bandwagon before everyone else did with Instagram later being accused of copying their functionality (but well, it clearly is popular).
Users can publicly broadcast their content (video/photos), with the story staying live for 24 hours. Later Snapchat also introduced “Live Stories”, which also allows creating one community story with other Snapchatters when attending the same event (e.g. concert).
You can use Wowza Media Server to enable live streaming (like Periscope does) and a powerful content delivery network to distribute that content.
Development timeline: around 200 hours.
Costs: between $8.000-$12.000
“Discover” option was primarily launched for sponsorships. This screen offers a curated list of Stories from different editorial teams including CNN, BuzzFeed, Mashable and more. Again, each story is live just for 24 hours.
In 2014, Snapchat enabled micro-payment transfers for users at selected locations. It’s fast, secure….but mildly popular with the user base.
Here’s another selectively available feature. It enables creating custom graphical overlays whenever a user enters certain location e.g. city or event.
To make similar functionality, you’ll need to hire developers familiar with Geocoding aka converting geo coordinates in a description of a location. Afterward, the name of the location is overlaid on the image with some sorts of a template.
You can create similar functionality for around $3.000.
So that’s how to make an app like Snapchat:
- Find a unique product feature that would define your product concept.
- Create trending and in-demand functionality around it.
- Continuously improve it and add new features based on the community requests.
A similar full feature product will cost you between $80.000-$200.000 depending on the team, tech stack and final set of features. If you want to get a more accurate project cost estimate, grab our template, fill it out and send it to Alty team via email!