How We Bill

A crystal-clear look at how we bill for our services so you’re never surprised.

How We Bill, How Much We Bill

An excellent question! Synapse Studios is a custom software consultancy. We build web applications for clients on a time and materials basis: essentially, you pay for the time it takes for us to plan, develop, iterate, and maintain your project.

No fixed bids: we’ll work with your budget

Software development is a tricky, sometimes fickle thing, even when you’ve been doing it for over seventeen years like us. Because these projects are living, breathing things, we don’t price projects on a fixed-bid basis. Instead, we discuss your budget, upfront and openly, and determine what features and functionality we think we can build within that budget. This is only an estimate, so it’s extremely important for us to identify what requirements are most important for the project to ship its first release.

Validate, iterate, rinse, repeat

We’ll work with you to validate those requirements as best as we can before we start work on the project, and we’ll be iterating throughout the development process to make sure we’re on the right track, adding new features or shelving others based on your feedback (and the feedback of your end users). Software development is time, and we bill for all of the time we spend working on a client's project. We build out a roadmap that includes desired features and functionality, rank them by priority, slot them into releases, and then continue to evaluate our progress against that roadmap, updating it as we go.

Sometimes features take less time than we expect them to take to complete, in which case we move on to the next feature sooner than we expected. Sometimes, things are more difficult than we expected, and we need more time to deliver them. We’ll work with you to ensure that we’re managing expectations all along the way, and that you know what you’re getting each release.

Software is a green field

Software is a space of near-limitless possibilities. It sounds hokey, but it's true: given enough time and money, we can write code to do almost anything you need your app to do. But we don't have infinite time and money to work with, so our focus is on helping you focus. We may throw out a few dozen ideas in our brainstorming sessions for features that we think would be really cool, but that doesn't mean we're going to build them now, or maybe even a year from now. We focus on building for the features and functionality that we think will have the greatest impact and drive the most value to your users, while staying aware of the time and budget it'll take to get there.

Other budgetary considerations

We’ll poke and prod you a bit: if you’re building something with external users (a service you’re planning on selling, instead of a back-office tool, for instance), we’ll want to make sure you have a budget set aside for marketing and basic operations, along with any follow-on development for features you determine you want once we reach first release. Think of this as the "full-stack" or "holistic" budget: if you're planning on this being your livelihood, you'll need money in the budget to eat, to pay the hosting bill, to keep the lights on, and to hire people to help you with your vision. We'll help you think through these considerations.

Initial consultation

Your initial consultation is completely free: we’ll spend time talking through your project on the phone, reviewing any documentation you have, and having you in for an in-person meeting (or videoconference if you’re remote) to meet our team and help us determine what features can fit within your budget, and if we’re a good fit for your project.

Evaluating for fit is important. We operate on a single, primary technology stack (React and Node) so if there are constraints as to what programming languages we can use, we’ll determine if we can accommodate your project. We’re always happy to take this time to direct you to some of our trusted partners if we don’t think we’re going to be able to help you.

We’ll fight (for) you

You can also count on us to try to talk you out of approaches we don’t think have a high likelihood for success, or which overly reinvent the wheel.

Even throughout development, we make liberal use of third party services that supply features without significant additional cost, wherever we can. We push back, we provide constructive criticism and strong alternatives, and we love working with you to build a successful app.

The big, scary number

We've perfected simplified billing in our model: Currently, we bill at a rate of $1,400/resource/day. A “resource” in this case is a developer, front-end designer, or product manager who spends a whole business day working on your project. Generally speaking, day-to-day QA manual testing work is included in this rate, but complex projects will typically require automated testing resources, which are billed like developers. Our project support team (or "Project Coordinators" as they're called) are included in the PM daily rate.

Some amount of consulting time with our Principals is also typically included in this arrangement, but dedicated engagement with them may be billed at their daily rate of $2,000/day. We’ll let you know before this happens, but it’s not as typical, or typically necessary.

What goes into that cost?

Great software isn't built just on the strength of our developers and designers. Our support team includes Product Managers, Project Managers, and our highly skilled, fully integrated Quality Assurance team.

Our Product team sends out weekly status updates, coordinates communication, manages task assignment and oversight systems, and generally assists the development team throughout the project. But they're more than that: they're your product strategists, helping you think through complex interactions, answer hard questions, and helping you hone the vision for your project so that we get to ship something amazing. This role is so important, and projects live and die by it. It's not an unfair assumption to expect about 20% of your total budget will be in dedicated PM time, but we promise you it's so very worth it.

Finally, we're one of the few development shops with a dedicated, full-time QA team. Our on-site testers test your application every step of the way. After code has been reviewed by a fellow developer, a test release is shipped upstairs to our QA team, who attacks it mercilessly. They confirm the features we've introduced work as expected, but they also try to throw everything they can at it to break it. They take advantage of our comprehensive device lab to test on mobile devices and different computers. And they act as the gatekeepers, rejecting code and sending it back down to be fixed, reducing the number of bugs we see constantly.

When we bill - Startups

When working with startups, we estimate what our monthly spend will be for the team working at full utilization, and take that to calculate an upfront retainer. We then issue an invoice every Friday against that retainer so you know where you are in your spend. Toward the end of the month, we require another payment to keep the retainer funded. As a project shifts in team size or winds down, we'll estimate how much the next month's retainer payment should be.

When we bill - Enterprise

We invoice every other Friday, across all of our enterprise clients, for the days utilized over the previous two weeks. Invoices are due NET 15, payable by check or bank transfer. (We also accept credit cards, but they're subject to a not-insignificant 3% fee.)

Everyone on the same page, every week

We send out weekly status reports on all active projects. This allows you to see the progress we’ve made, what new features we’ve worked on, and allows us to discuss with you what we plan to work on next, with your approval, along with where we are budget-wise. We also typically aim to have a demo of shippable code ready every two weeks so you don’t have to use your imagination.

What’s in a team?

Depending on the size of the project, the time-to-market requirements, and our availability, we’ll configure the team we think is best suited to build your project.

Our most typical team consists of two developers and a front-end designer working on your project until the first release, supported by a Product Manager, a Project Coordinator, and our QA team. Depending on the project, the designer may drop off at some point in the project, coming back as we prepare to ship the first release to ensure all front-end components are built out and wired up to the application backend.

For smaller projects, we may pair up a single developer with a designer, or for a back-end administrative tool, simply utilize a developer with just a few designer days. Similarly, we'll scale a team to be larger if the project allows for it and the client has a need for it.

What will I spend each month?

This depends on the size of the team! For our typical team, each four-week month will cost between $90k-$115k, based on:

(2 dev + 1 design) = 3 resources + ~1/2 PM x 5 days-a-week x 4 weeks = 80 resource days x $1,400 = ~$100k per month.

Generally speaking, we get a lot done in that time.

Now, this can vary a bit: we frequently will only bill partial time for a PM, or rotate a designer on to a different project. And if someone’s out sick or there’s a holiday, you only pay for the days someone is actually working on your project, so this will further lower your spend. For more complex projects, the PM may stay full-time for the duration.

Remember, you're getting much more than you're paying for: we include Project Coordinator time (our assistants to the Product Manager), as well as our manual QA analyst time. The total number of people working to make your project reality is frequently closer to 6-8, rather than the 4 resources you're being billed for.

How many months does a project take to complete?

This depends entirely on the scope of your project, along with a few other factors. Good sized projects with us typically start in the 2-3 or 3-4 month range, but we've worked on projects in the 9-12 month+ range as well, and we've built proof of concept projects closer to $125k-$150k. We’ll work on smaller projects if the scope is well defined and we can accommodate them in our schedule and otherwise think we’re a fit for you.

What adds cost to a project?

All software development takes time. Adding features adds time. But some features and requests are disproportionately expensive compared to the value they bring.

We’ve written about this in a bit more detail here.

Do you work for equity/free/sandwiches/etc.?

Short answer: No. :-(

Long answer: Sometimes, though rarely, we will participate in equity offerings from established clients, if we think there’s a mutual benefit. Please don’t ask us to work on your project “for free”: we have to pay our hard working team! In the cases where this makes sense with a startup, we approach this as a discounted-rate-for-equity by way of a warrant. This isn't a universal offer, and is contingent on a number of factors lining up for us.

Why is software development so expensive? Can’t I get this done cheaper?

Synapse Studios isn’t the most expensive agency, but we also know we’re not cheap. We hire only in-house, on-site talent, and we hire the best talent available to us. 100% of the work we perform is done in the US, either in our Tempe, Arizona, or in our Portland, Oregon location. Many competitive firms have a couple of local resources, but perform their principal development outside of the country.

This is a workable solution, perhaps, for very small projects without a lot of abstract thinking or complicated workflows, and where you’ve defined the exact requirements for them in advance and don’t expect to need to change anything.

But we find our clients typically hire us because they don’t necessarily know every detail of what they want. We’re true consultants—we’ll work through your business and help you identify the best path forward. We can solve for complex problems, suggest graceful solutions, and deliver them in an extremely high quality finished product that will serve as the foundation for much more.

Our focus on best practice extends to having a fully staffed, on-site Quality Assurance/Testing team that tests all of the features and software we build, across multiple platforms, constantly throughout the development process. This is baked into our process and helps us with our goal of delivering an extremely high quality finished product.

We see many, many clients try to shop their complicated project overseas or to cheaper firms that lack the process and practices we preach: they typically spend nearly as much (or more!) than we charge and then realize that they’re not going to get what they need.

Unfortunately, we’re not able to take over projects from other providers like this. With certain rare exceptions, we typically need to start over, and we know clients hate to throw the baby out with the bath water, but better that than throwing good money after bad.

Next steps

If you haven’t reached out yet, please contact us for an initial consultation so we can discuss your project and evaluate if we’re a fit for you.

Chris Cardinal
Chris Cardinal
Chris Cardinal is a founding principal of Synapse Studios. His primary focus is on business development but enjoys helping architect software solutions for clients.

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