How much would you charge to create a _______-clone?

My partner and I have always struggled with what to charge clients being that we a a start-up web-design and development company with no formal business training. We want to give deals in the beginning without giving the work away, and we want to be fair but low-cost to be able to compete with the big-name companies in the long-run. So I thought I would do a little inquiry to brilliant folks here at Sitepoint. If your client said, “I’m starting a website that essentially works like ________. How much would you charge?” What response might you give once you’ve had a chance to think it over?

Assume that any accessibility, usability, and functionality that goes with the original would be included in the clone. So, ballpark, how much might you charge for clones of the following:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google(Just search-engine functionality)
  3. Yelp!

And feel free to say you wouldn’t take on some of these jobs due to whatever conflicts. Keep in mind, everyone, that I realize that these jobs would be very complex. I’m just wondering what type of price range YOU PERSONALLY would find yourself in for sites like these.

Millions of dollars. If your aim is to truly clone the platform of one of those websites, you’ll need to move to California, you’ll need investors, you’ll need a team of experienced developers, and you’ll need months just to get started.

Of course, you don’t actually need to clone any of those websites. Your client doesn’t really want you to clone any of those websites. He doesn’t need to develop Cassandra like Facebook, BigTable like Google… he’s not going to search trillions of webpages or need to compose news feeds from so many hundreds of millions of users they can’t possibly be stored in relational databases. He probably doesn’t need a patented pizza order tracking system that links the website with computers in a retail store and mobile devices with the driver to provide real-time tracking of orders as they move from creation to delivery.

So you need to get to the core of what the client really wants. What is it that they want to do that’s “just like Yelp!”. They probably need a basic business directory script, not a true clone of the deep and nuanced feature set of a site that’s been in operation for many years, developed by many developers backed by significant investment. And the quote to find an appropriate business directory script for their more limited actual requirements, and customize it to fit some design you’ll do, is not going to be so high.

Not including marketing, advertising, etc.
Including development including load balancing, admin, etc:

  1. Facebook - $9 million
  2. Google(Just search-engine functionality) $20 million if they give us the algorithms, $500 million if not
  3. Yelp! - $4 million
  4. - $19 million
  5. - $12 million
  6. - $6 million

These estimates are binding for 30 days!

Wow, significantly high! I imagine the time spent on these sites merits the pricetag though.

To Mr. Grossman’s point, you’re right, maybe not something so in-depth, but something in-depth nonetheless. Like reviews good or bad, a star rating system, profile pages for members and consumers, payment for businesses wanting to advertise available directly on the webpage, etc. Many of the things that make Yelp! what it is.

For those services what might you charge for development?

Just for the backend coding without any design, at least several thousand dollars. If the site needs to do all that and scale to hundreds of thousands of users, then you start tacking on zeros and they’ll need more than just a developer to accomplish it.

If you can find a script with all those features that you can customize, that’s one way to save a lot of development and testing time.

But I don’t half-a** things. You can get someone in another country on elance to code that site up in a week for a couple hundred bucks. It’ll probably work fine, until you have more than a couple dozen visits a day, a couple hundred rows in the database tables, or you need to add more features.

I am right there with you on that. I am usually hesitant to take someone else’s finished product and then use it for production. It took me quite awhile to even start using jQuery! I much more prefer to do it myself and make sure I do it to the best of my ability.

Alright that is helpful thanks! And just out of curiosity Dan, how much of a project do you take on yourself? Out of Design, HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, MySQL? Do you do it all? Do you prefer just a few?

I have only worked for myself the past few years, though I did freelance design and development in the beginning of college. The sites in my signature show the scope of my work now – I do the full stack for each site, from building custom servers all the way up to the JavaScript for the UI. I occasionally outsource some part of the design to a 99designs contest – pretty much zero risk since you can see the work before paying for it – but that’s all I’ve trusted to anyone else so far.

I agree with everything listed above, there’s no point you pricing yourself so low that your working for peanuts (in the sense of spending months, possibly years coding such an infrastructure only to get a few hundred bucks out of it). You charge however much it requires for you to cover your costs and expenses (and perhaps have a small amount of profit). If people wanted a bottom dollar piece of code, they could go to an Indian college student sitting at rentacoder and have some gnarly piece of junk purged into an editor for a low fee. If you want quality code, an experience which matches and draws millions of users and the complete works to get something of that level… you should be charging based on that, not on trying to undercut your competition. Building a high end website takes time (a LOT of time), money and skilled craftsmen… and none of that comes cheap. Don’t be the bottom dollar throw-out deal, sell your skills for as much as you feel their worth, even if they match your competition… there’s more than enough space in the market for everyone from the clique “studios” who charge thousands for something expertly designed right down to the average “by the hour” designer. I wouldn’t expect an expert UX designer to earn less than a general pixel pusher. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the input everyone. I think you’re right Alex, if you want it done right, you will need to pay for that accountability. Doing the site right the first time must be better than wrestling with a designer/developer that works for “peanuts” that will fight you every step of the way. I just need to find that happy medium between not getting taken advantage of and providing my clients with an overall better experience than my competitors.

Let me just say Alex, that we are the same age yet you seem to be experienced beyond your years. I would love to just have a few words with you regarding your history, present, and business philosophy if that is possible.

Smola, Feel free to send me a private message, I don’t mind having a chat :slight_smile:

Does anyone else, upon seeing these type of requests, think cargo cult or that movie [URL=“”]The Gods Must Be Crazy?

It’s a pre-technological mindset trying to grasp the technical and human factors.

First, basic marketing theory. Or the “don’t make a frontal assault on a heavily entrenched (market) position” rule. They have mindshare, momentum, possibly money and credibility in the marketplace – you don’t. Which leads to…

The “if I only get one percent of the market share I’ll be rich” fallacy. You won’t get a percent. Most of these guys are lucky if they get one tenth of one percent, max. After years. That is because 5,000 of these copycats are tying for the same one percent.

People want the end result without the work. They don’t want a Facebook clone or whatever – they want the famous company bank account (aka ‘cargo’) to drop into their laps without understanding a single thing about what made the company successful in the first place.

And, sorry to say, a lot of that was being at the right place …at the right time …and identifying a niche which was underserved or not yet visible until the famous company explored, failed, tested, iterated over several generations, and then succeeded.

Someone, starting today, has to be substantially different from Facebook to have a chance against Facebook. You can’t out Facebook Facebook.

Finally, for any degree of success, these companies have learned to keep a keen eye on the customer. All these cargo cultists do is keep an eye on a famous company’s bank account, not mistakes they may be making with their customers a startup might exploit.

  1. Facebook - I’d hire Dan Grossman LOL, and lots of millions haha.
  2. Google(Just search-engine functionality) - Couldn’t do it
  3. Yelp! - dunno what this is
  4. - Oh mercy, milllllions
  5. - Dont know whats that great about this site, maybe 500k
  6. - prolly like 200k