How Much Does it Cost to Build an App like TikTok?

Ali Hickerson
Ali Hickerson
Published: 10.08.2022

If you want to replicate the complexity (and success!) of an app like TikTok, it’s impossible to create alone. There is a lot of work involved in making an app, and the cost of hiring developers and ongoing maintenance can vary widely.

There are currently over 5 million apps on the market, with exponential growth year on year. Luckily, if you’re thinking of developing an app like TikTok, app revenues are still increasing despite the huge amounts of apps available.

Person holding white smartphone and filming video of woman performing to the camera and wearing blue jeans.

Despite a saturated app market, it is still possible to create the next Tiktok. In 2016, TikTok entered the race for top social media platforms, far later than its competitors. However, it quickly climbed the ladder to rank as the fifth-highest social media platform for monthly active users worldwide, with 1 billion users, generating $11 billion in revenue.


Bar graph of quarterly iOs app and game revenue between 2016 to 2022 (in billions of dollars) using data from the sources Data.ai and Sensor Tower. The bar graph begins at Q1 2016 at 6 billion dollars, and generally increases each quarter, topping at 21.8 billion dollars in Q1 of 2022.

Read on for factors to consider when budgeting, an estimate of the costs involved, and answers to your frequently asked questions.

Launching an MVP Versus Full App Development

When thinking of the full financial picture of your future app, it’s important to consider whether you are simply budgeting for the MVP (minimum viable product) or a full version of the app. Making a blockbuster app on the first launch isn’t likely–even TikTok began as another app! It was initially “doomed for failure,” according to founders, so the app had to adapt to stay afloat.

Taking a step-wise approach to developing an MVP first will help you understand if there are enough target users to create demand for your app and assist in knowing which kind of added features (and their subsequent additional costs) are needed to keep your users engaged.

Still, launching an MVP is no small feat. For the MVP of an app like TikTok, over 800 hours of development are required for features like basic UI, user logins and profiles, geolocation features, image and video creation, search, and social sharing.

Why App Development Costs Vary

If you’ve heard of an app created on a shoestring budget, only using a single developer in a garage–unfortunately–an app like TikTok will require a much bigger amount of funds due to the app’s complexity. This article breaks down how the costs can differ depending on:

  • The mobile platform: The more platforms that your app uses, the more developer hours that are required. Also, Android development generally costs more than iOS or Windows.
  • Who and where your developers are: Where your developers are located, their levels of experience and expertise in app development can create huge ranges in cost. For instance, developers in India only charge $15 to $20 per hour on average, whereas North Americans, the British, and Australians charge at least $150 an hour.
  • The complexity of your app: Apps designed for basic tasks like notetaking require simple login interfaces and visual design, which only cost around $40,000 to $60,000. However, an app needing functionality like TikTok can start at $300,000.

Other factors that affect the development budget include the size and design of the app, security and user authorization, media features, data usage, third-party data integration, and e-commerce functionality.

TikTok’s complex design supports its sophisticated algorithm that is continually improving. TikTok’s well-known algorithmic prowess is so good that studies show that the app is addictive to some users, with its highly customized feeds that recommend content based on the users’ engagement within the app.

For a fuller look at the features included in various levels of complexity, this article also has a thorough breakdown of potential features, including descriptions and examples of each.

Ballpark Budgets for an App Like TikTok

The initial cost of developing an app like TikTok could cost upwards of $400,000, depending on the regionality of developers, and the scope of the MVP or fully-developed app.

With so many variables to consider when developing an app, some online calculators give decent approximations. But before confirming a budget for app development, it’s best to get a custom quote for your project.

A young person smiles and holds a smartphone to show an image or video to their friend, who is looking at the smartphone screen and is also smiling.

Be Mindful of Ongoing Costs

In addition to ongoing maintenance of the app, TikTok has had to contend with many security concerns and alleged breaches, which require close monitoring and support.

Apps that also seek to have longevity need to ensure there is a budget to stay competitive with other apps that are rising in popularity, just as Facebook recently overhauled their algorithm to contend with TikTok’s feed features.

When planning for an app development project, it’s crucial to ensure that budget is set aside for future development and resolving issues as they arise.

Ways to Reduce Your Budget

If your budget estimations are giving you cold feet, considering these amendments to your budgeting plan can keep your costs down:

  • Consider reducing any unnecessary functionality to your app until you are bringing in revenue.
  • Develop your app across platforms, rather than as standalone projects.
  • Keep your designs simple and leverage templates.
  • Use APIs and invest in MVPs to test the market and your product, before spending an additional budget on more bells and whistles.

Ready to get started? Use Pangea.ai to search for vendors that meet your app’s scope and budget.

Developing TikTok-Like Apps FAQs:

It’s hopefully clear now that app development budgeting is a science with a large number of factors that dictate costs. Knowing more about how TikTok’s development with these frequently asked questions (and answers!) may create further clarity and inspire you.

Q1. Can I Develop an App Like TikTok?

Yes. With the right resources and a novel go-to-market strategy, it is possible to develop an app that is as multifaceted and popular as TikTok.

Before you begin app development, these considerations about TikTok’s development will help manage expectations. TikTok is a complex app; it’s an all-in-one music, video-sharing, and social networking platform. The app’s parent company, ByteDance, considers itself an artificial intelligence company first, rather than a social platform.

So while app entrepreneurs may have the technical know-how to create an app like TikTok, the platform requires incredibly intelligent algorithms to learn from very granular user data. To truly succeed in developing an app like TikTok, your app will not only require a wealth of data, but interested users to feed into the dataset, and highly-skilled developers to harness the possibilities of the data.

Q2. Who Coded TikTok?

TikTok is derived from the Chinese company, ByteDance, which was owned and founded by Zhang Yiming.

TikTok evolved from ByteDance’s video-sharing app, Douyin (which is similar to Musical.ly), in China in 2012. After Douyin became a hit domestically, it merged with Musical.ly and was launched overseas in 2016. In 2016, TikTok entered the U.S. market, and later surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

Q3. How Do Free Apps Make Money?

Many free apps can successfully create revenue streams using in-app advertisements, sponsorships, and referral marketing. By far, the most lucrative way to make money through “freemium” apps is with in-app purchases. For instance, while TikTok can be used for free, users can also purchase “coins” and virtual gifts to give to other users. 98% of the income derived from free apps is from in-app advertisements.


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