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3 Key Differences Between Running a Mobile App vs. a Website

Ahmed Raza Updated on June 17, 2021

3 Key Differences Between Running a Mobile App vs. a Website

For most people considering the purchase of an online business to generate revenue, the options typically narrow down to a website or an app. Some people prefer the more manageable process of running and growing a website, while others prefer the more exciting process of running and growing a mobile app.

So the question arises, which one should you purchase? As with most investment options, the answer isn’t clear cut but depends mostly on your experience, risk appetite, and general mindset. As someone who has purchased and operated a couple hundred thousand dollars’ worth of websites and is currently running a mobile app available on the App Store, my advice would be to focus on three key differences.

But first, for some context, we’ll assume the website is an eCommerce site and the app is a social media app, and we’ll further assume the site is making $2K per month in revenue and the app has 50,000 users. This will help make the points below less abstract and more tangible. So, let’s talk about these three key differences:

1. The Bigger Picture:

App: Running an app is all about scale and optimizing at large numbers. Nobody builds an app to get to 500 downloads, and you won’t see meaningful revenue numbers until at least 100K downloads for most apps. Apps are also incredibly expensive to build from scratch, so it’s important to keep this in mind, even if you’re purchasing one already built, as the cost of the initial investment is still “baked” into the purchase price.

Alternatively, the scalability and growth upside with apps is massive, and one of the most beneficial things about (well-built) apps is that you can grow to massive numbers without having to upgrade your existing infrastructure significantly. If your app’s users grew by 10,000% overnight, you would likely be fine. However, if your eCommerce site realized a similar hypergrowth, this would likely require an influx of working capital, a larger warehouse space, and/or more employees to help process or ship products.

Website: On the other hand, websites like eCommerce sites are inexpensive to build (ranging from free to $30/month for a service like Shopify), and you can potentially see some revenue within the first few weeks to months. After all, if your total investment is only $200, you may only need to sell 4–5 products to break even, assuming your costs for inventory, ads, etc. are fairly low.

While eCommerce sites also have much potential—after all, the most valuable company in the world today is a nifty little eCommerce site named Amazon—they’re not exactly cheap to grow. Most eCommerce sites carry inventory, which requires working capital, warehouse space, and more. Therefore, if you were in the same situation as the app, where you saw 1,000% growth overnight, it could become quite difficult and expensive to handle this progress successfully. Even with a dropship eCommerce site that requires no inventory or warehouse space, the supplier or manufacturer with which you’re working may not have enough products or the capacity to handle this growth.

2. Day to Day:

App: With most mobile apps, your day to day will be much more technical. You almost certainly need (or someone on your team should have) a development background.* Freelancers work as well, but you have to be careful, as they can get expensive quickly. With your day to day being more technically focused, you also get the opportunity to solve interesting technical challenges. Your problems are more fascinating and novel; thus, developing solutions for them can also be highly gratifying.

In terms of marketing and optimization, you’ll also be focused more on the optimization of smaller percentages that impact larger numbers. For example, if you can increase your listing to convert by 2% more, this may result in tens of thousands more downloads. Marketing for an app, such as a social media app, is more challenging but also more creative. You get to utilize more “growth hacking,” and if your app appeals to a wide audience, you can organically grow it to significant numbers fairly cheaply and quickly by using the proper techniques.

Website: With websites, your day-to-day development or technical work should be little to none. Most eCommerce sites these days are built on an existing eCommerce platform, like Shopify or WooCommerce, which takes away the need for any development work or knowledge. The development work you might have to do may be as simple as aligning a button on your page or changing its color. So, while you won’t be pulling your hair out because of technical challenges as you might with an app, you also won’t get the gratification of solving interesting technical challenges.

In terms of non-development, you’ll probably be more focused on driving the next X visitors to your website and converting these visitors to customers, so your numbers will be much more tangible. Plus, your marketing efforts will likely be less interesting and less frustrating, simply because there are many best practices out there to grow your eCommerce site, such as SEO, PPC ads, etc., which aren’t always available for apps. The upside is that your marketing efforts will be more structured, and you are more or less guaranteed results, but your site that sells tractor parts, for example, will likely not go viral like an app building the next great social media platform might.

* Some sellers will pitch their app as “complete” and not require any further software development efforts. However, the reality is that very few apps can get away with not releasing updates. In fact, due to the competitive landscape of mobile apps today, not releasing updates will almost certainly hurt your app’s ranking in the App Store or Google Play Store. At the very least, you have to ensure your app is compatible with the latest software updates and phone or tablet releases.

3. Mindset:

App: With apps, there is a recurring theme of large numbers. You have to think BIG. How can your app reach millions of people? How can you keep scaling? How can you keep improving? If getting to this point excites you, building and growing an app likely will too. Your app will become primarily about large-scale adaptation, becoming a household name, and attaining prominence. Your drive will be focused on getting as many people as possible to use this incredible platform you’ve built. However, this drive to attain as many people as possible also comes with a downside, which is the realization that your business will not be viable until you get to the level of mass appeal.

Website: With websites, you can think, dream, and plan for millions, but your day to day will be much more scalable and tangible. You’ll be more focused on growing your revenue from $2,000 to $3,000 per month and then hitting your next benchmark. The growth journey is much less daunting and more attainable, albeit less exciting for some. Especially in the early stages, your mindset is not about chasing this reality of building the “next big thing” but rather about building a viable company from the get-go that you can continue to grow and that will help you attain your financial goals.

Overall, there are many great reasons to purchase and operate a mobile app or a website. The important thing is to understand what would best fit your financial goals, mindset, experience, and risk profile. With this information, you’ll be empowered with the information and knowledge to decide whether purchasing and operating a website or app is better suited toward you and your goals.

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