How to Build an App With the Crowd


I have at least 7 really cool app ideas… but I have no time, and I frankly couldn’t program them to save my life. Could you?

I started looking into how I could design and make an app quickly and cheaply… Normally what I’d do is go out and hire an in-house developer (or a freelancer). But that is so linear.

There is a better way… And ultimately, now I’m doing it.

How am I building an app?

I recently met with Narinder Singh, the president of a company called [topcoder], when he presented to the CEOs in my Abundance 360 community (here).

[topcoder] is the “world’s largest crowdsourcing development, design, and data science platform. Their community gathers the world’s experts in design, development and data science to work on interesting and challenging problems for fun and reward.”

For reference, they have over 640,000 developers, designers and data scientists on their site right now, waiting to build your app.

With [topcoder], rather than a single designer, you actually get a group of designers and coders all competing to concept and build your app, on a rapid development cycle.

Why is this important?

  • Incentive competitions work! There’s a lot of latent talent that wants a chance to prove themselves. People are looking to earn money; people are looking for significance. They want to earn a reputation. People want a challenge, and oftentimes they want to solve your problems. Incentive prizes play into these desires.
  • The crowd is immensely powerful, giving you multiple ideas to choose from. Why have one person pitching you app designs or concepts when you could have 50? Now you have dozens of options to choose from. Many may come up with variations and improvements that are meaningful and valuable. The amount of creativity increases exponentially with each contributor you add, especially when they are competing against each other. The development speeds are higher and the cost is often lower in the long term than traditional methods. And, when you use the crowd, you tap into a diversity of talent and levels of expertise that would have been impossible to reach otherwise.

Let’s break down the step-by-step process for developing an app using the crowd.

Getting Started: Step By Step, Using the Crowd

1. The Napkin Sketch: You don’t need to know how to code. You just need to be able to describe what you want. Try to understand the ins and outs of what you want to build. Begin by writing down your goals. Sketch out a basic interface. Think about user experience and flow. Think literal napkin sketches.
2. Design Competition: Next, the [topcoder] team will convert this and launch a design competition. With their help, you create basic wireframes, design a prize, and press Go. Designers then compete to design your app for you. Here’s an example from the Innovation Partnership Program, delivered by XPRIZE and Singularity University.
3. Feedback and Iteration: Throughout the process, you get to give feedback and iterate your idea. Predetermined checkpoints let you interact with the designers before locking in a winner.
4. Development Competition: Once you have a design, it’s time to develop the software. Again, with [topcoder]’s help, you’ll outline your specific needs and platform requests (e.g. iOS, Android, HTML5, responsive website). Developers join the competition, and each code different pieces of the app. You can even elect to have the competitions done under NDA in secret.
5. Pick the Winning App: After a few more rounds of iteration and downselecting, you pick a winner and you have your new app.

If you want to get started with [topcoder], send an email to The time for developing an app will run you two to six months depending on the level of complexity, and the cost is probably around $12,000 per month, but if this app is central to your business and your revenue flow, it’s worth your time and money.

Some examples:

[topcoder] does data science competitions as well. At Planetary Resources, we partnered with TopCoder to run an AsteroidZoo challenge. We took all of the data that’s come out of the Catalina Sky Survey, millions of photographs, and are working with their crowd to build the algorithms and capabilities to find asteroids in these images of the sky.

A company called MESH01 just developed their entire app using [topcoder]. Here are some stats to show you that these aren’t just small simple apps (and a video). These are large-scale, complicated projects with lots of moving pieces. Stats: 80,000 lines of code, 130+ challenges logging 7,500 hours of development time, $130,000 in available prizes, 30% labor cost savings, 1/2 time savings. The software built by [topcoder] is powering nearly 100% of this company’s revenue.

What’s the bottom line?

It’s time to tap into the crowd. This is just one of many examples of the power of the crowd. If you want to learn exactly how to incorporate these tools into your business, join me here in January 2015.

Every weekend I send out a “Tech Blog” like this one. If you want to sign up, go to and sign up for this and my Abundance blogs.

[Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr]

Peter H. Diamandis, MD
Peter H. Diamandis, MD
Diamandis is the founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions. He is also the executive founder and director of Singularity University, a global learning and innovation community using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and build a better future for all. As an entrepreneur, Diamandis has started over 20 companies in the areas of longevity, space, venture capital, and education. He is also co-founder of BOLD Capital Partners, a venture fund with $250M investing in exponential technologies. Diamandis is a New York Times Bestselling author of two books: Abundance and BOLD. He earned degrees in molecular genetics and aerospace engineering from MIT and holds an MD from Harvard Medical School. Peter’s favorite saying is “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”
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