Currently, there are many talks around the Clubhouse app, an audio-based, invite-only social media platform that is, for now, available to iOS users only. Despite, or maybe better to say, thanks to its unique ‘private club’ nature, the app has literally rocked the social media landscape. 

This data leaves no wonder why Clubhouse has become the subject of unending discussions, including those on how to develop a Clubhouse-like app, and how much does it cost to create one. So when you look for these answers in Google, there are hundreds of various estimates given upon its price and the process of development, but nearly all based on some fixed state of the app, whether it is its current version or some previous one. 

However, the truth is that Clubhouse is much more than the plain, fixed in its state app a user sees, which means that there are plenty of hidden costs and development stages involved in its creation. So when honestly answering a question of how much does it cost to develop an app like Clubhouse, the answer can’t be made up of some exact numbers (unless you are the app’s founder).

The key goal of this article is to get you through its hypothetical process of creation to show some rarely discussed aspects that reveal development stages and costs hidden from the sight of an outsider. To do so, we talked to our specialists who, based on their experience, shared their ideas on what’s included in Clubhouse app development cost. 

From MVP/MLP development discussed with Vitalij Usov, Head of Mobile Department, design issues considered together with Dmitry Novik, Head of Design Department, to comments on architecture and its cost given by Nikita Gorbachik, Lead Software Engineer, we are going to provide you with a clearer picture of what it takes to create a Clubhouse-like app and what forms its price.   

MVP or MLP Development

It’s important to note that while we start our overview from MVP (minimum valuable product) or MLP (minimum lovable product) development, the very first step in the creation of any new product is an idea validation. Still, as it’s usually under responsibility of a founder, we don’t include it in this article.

So, let’s assume you know what you need, and it’s a Clubhouse app. What will be the steps to take in the creation of its MVP or MLP? Here they are.

Step 1: Outlining Features

At this stage, we’ll take a close look at all of the planned features of the future product to evaluate them in terms of necessary and less necessary, important and less important ones. As the result of this process, we’ll come up with a scope for MVP/MLP, which has to include minimum features, yet made up of those that perfectly resolve a specific issue users are facing.

Step 2: Choosing Backend Service

When it comes to backend development, we try to minimize expenses by choosing some option offered by third-party providers instead of developing the one from scratch. So did Clubhouse, which is rumored to be based on Agora.

While cutting expenses at this stage is important, one more thing to pay attention to, especially when designing an app that has a potential for rapid growth, is the opportunity for fast and easy scalability. Later, we’ll discuss it in more detail.

Step 3: Development

At the development stage, we create and implement all of the chosen features, the backend, and the design. 

Step 4: Launch

Here we can choose from two options: to launch live or to take advantage of the TestFlight — the mode in which you upload a beta version of your app to App Store Connect. The key difference between them is that the latter implies that your app can be found in the App Store and will be available for download via direct link only. 

As for Clubhouse, it was initially launched in the TestFlight mode. This allowed collecting valuable feedback from about 10,000 testers before its release while keeping the unique product idea secret, away from the public’s eyes. 

Step 5: Analytics Gathering

After the product is launched, whether in public or hidden mode, it's time to analyze feedback and test hypotheses. At Emerline, for such purposes we often take advantage of the mixpanel tool that allows us to determine which features are appreciated by users, as well as to see how many power users the product has attracted. 

And here’s where hidden costs can appear. It may turn out that some feature is not used at all, and there’s a need for the development and implementation of another one. Changes to the solution at this stage can take a while until the winning set will be found. 

Step 6: Testing

While there was no MVP testing in case with Clubhouse, because the value and the uniqueness of the solution’s idea won’t stop a user from exploring it even in case of rare crashes, generally testing is included in the development and is estimated at about 25% of its total cost. So in case you are building something less unique, the testing phase will require your investments. 

Step 7: Product Changes, Updates, and Enhancements 

Do not underestimate this part — working on product improvements and new killer features is a never-ending process. Here we are talking about both new functionality and technical upgrades. 

To test the idea, product development companies create an MVP using a range of third-party libraries, as the key goal here is to find out whether it will work and win recognition. In case of a positive scenario, the product will require a number of amendments, which results in significant investments. 

Concluding This Part

When looking at Clubhouse-like app development price estimates on the web, which in average range from $50,000 to $100,000 with respect to hourly rates set by different providers, it is important to understand that the price in such cases is calculated for some fixed product state. It means that such cost estimates do not take into account processes that stand behind its current condition, value and demand. Though, such processes as, for example, hypothesis testing, require effort, increase the development time, and, consequently, affect the price.

Design 

When we talk about just copying some app, e.g., Clubhouse — it looks quite simple. However, design development for a new product is a much more complex process. To let you create a picture of efforts involved, let’s take a look at some of its aspects. 

Mockup Creation

The first thing to understand about the design creation is that the mockup handed over to implementation has gone through numerous iterations. As a rule, there are at least two major possible versions a designer chooses from, each with its own variations. And this is the process that is hidden from the eyes of a client while it still stands behind the final mockup. 

Interactive Prototypes

The current state of the Clubhouse app design has probably involved the creation of various types of prototypes, which allowed testing initial assumptions and ideas before the final version was introduced to the audience.

Depending upon the complexity of the product’s functionality, at Emerline, we build low-fidelity, medium-fidelity, and high-fidelity prototypes. Each of them requires different levels of effort and amount of time, impacting the price of design. And because the key goal of prototypes is to help with qualitative and quantitative research before the main development stage starts, it’s an important stage that should not be avoided. Meanwhile, most Clubhouse-like app development estimates on the web skip it. 

Hypothesis Testing

The hypothesis testing stage is probably the longest one. It is made up of hypothesis generation, changes to the product in accordance with it, and quick testing of its worthiness. The testing phase involves gathering of data that has a proven statistical value, so in accordance with it, we can know if the hypothesis tested is a better solution than an alternative option. 

Some of such tests could be done during the interactive prototyping stage. Still, our experience shows that most apps test about 10 hypotheses at the time you use them. Such an approach allows making decisions based on real data, not mere assumptions or individual preferences.

Same to the previous stage, this one is not included in price estimates of Clubhouse-like app creation you can find on the web.

Product Support

In addition to everything said above, the important thing to remember is that we develop applications for the existing, chosen by a client, versions of operating systems. It means that when some new one is released, there is sometimes a need to adapt the design accordingly.  

For example, iOS 14.5 requires a user to give permission on data gathering, and our role here is to smoothly and accurately integrate this request into the existing application. 

Concluding This Part

Design development is not about the creation of a monolith but rather about a liquid, alive process that requires adaptation to the changing demands and requirements. Considering its nature, price, and time needed for design development can largely vary. So while the estimate for the replication of the existing Clubhouse design is, say, a few days, the complex process that has brought this winning app to its current state has probably taken months. And for sure, prices on replication and the contrasting empirical process are very different. 

Architecture

In addition to design development and MVP development, a large portion of investments that are generally not included in price overviews on the web is associated with the architecture of a Clubhouse-like app. We are giving you the answers on how providers' costs affect the price.

Provider’s Costs 

Clubhouse-like app development requires making a choice upon an audio-streaming provider. It is rumored that Clubhouse itself uses the Agora service. But there are also other options (Zoom, Cisco Webex Meetings, Adobe Connect, etc.), as well as the possibility (yet highly expensive one) for building such a service from scratch. 

Let’s assume that we, in the same way to Clubhouse, choose to outsource audio-streaming issues to a provider. And here’s where huge expenses can be found. To witness them, let’s take a look at Agora pricing.

The service claims that they charge $0.99 per 1,000 audio minutes (it’s 16,5 hours of the stream). If we assume that Clubhouse has 2 million of active users, each taking on average 3 streaming hours a day, then Clubhouse pays about $1.4 million per month to Agora just for audio streaming. 

For sure, providers like Agora have discount offerings, e.g.: 10% discount for 1 to 3 million minutes a month. Still, if you own an app like Clubhouse, be ready to face high spendings on audio-streaming, and not at once, but on a monthly basis.

Scalability Issues

When it comes to scalability issues, there are those under responsibility of a chosen provider (you address them when making a decision on the one to choose), and those connected to the application itself.

At Emerline, we take advantage of kubernetes with containers to ensure easy and fast scaling in the production. The simplified description of how it works is the following: when your audience grows from 1,000 to 10,000 users, DevOps deploy 10 copies of your application to address the increased load. But while it can be done quickly, a client needs to pay for each replication.  

Concluding This Part

Architecture planning deserves your special attention, because in such apps like Clubhouse, it will probably exceed the cost of all other development activities summed together. 

Marketing

Even though there were no significant marketing spendings in case of Clubhouse, because naturally, people are attracted to exclusive things and love special attention - both specific to the idea of Clubhouse. In other words, the app’s virality replaced the need for marketing. Still, such situations are rare and in the majority of cases, founders have to include marketing spendings in the overall product development strategy. And sometimes, the talk is about significant investments. For example, the price of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 game development is estimated at about $40-50 million, while $200 million from the budget were spent on marketing. 

The Bottom Line

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you try to calculate the price of some existing product is that the version you see and use has undergone through a huge number of changes. It means that its real development cost is much higher than the one estimated upon its fixed-in-time version.

In case with price estimates for Clubhouse-like app development, which according to different sources vary from $50,000 to $100,000, hidden costs such as those spent on hypotheses testing or product enhancements (please mind that successful MVPs need revamping anyway), architecture, and marketing issues must not be neglected, because, as you already saw, they make the largest portion of the app’s cost. For sure, you can simply copy the app and pay the estimated budget, but why would you need it?