How to make a viral app like TikTok: Purrweb’s guide for 2024

How long can it take for an app to hit 3 billion downloads and be installed on phones by 2/3 of the world’s population? For TikTok, the journey took less than 5 years.

Even a couple of years ago, the market of social media networks was saturated. It felt like we had everything: YouTube for mostly long videos, Instagram and Snapchat for editing and sharing photos or short clips, Facebook for chatting and spreading news, and nothing new could occur.

Although TikTok was founded in 2016, it conquered the market and became viral only in March 2020, gaining 680 million market users during lockdowns.

In this article, we break down how to make an app like TikTok, how long it takes, and what is the key to the success of such popular solutions in the 2020s. Let’s go!

Reading time: 15 minutes

how to make an app like tiktok
Table of contents

What is Tiktok?

In a nutshell, TikTok is a mobile application for creating and sharing video content. The platform allows its users to make short, up to 3-minute-long videos, then upload them to a profile and add captions and hashtags.

The app is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. In September 2016, they launched a local version of the future TikTok — Douyin, an app that targeted the Chinese market. Later, in 2017, TikTok was released for both iOS and Android outside mainland China. 

However, it only became available worldwide after merging with another Chinese social media service, in August 2018. The apps were similar in the idea of combining a short vertical video and a music track, but the type of content was different. was focused on dances and choreography, while TikTok had everything — from monologues, movie clips, and comedy sketches to recipes.

Surprising statistics about the TikTok app

Before digging into how to make an app like TikTok, we gathered a diverse and representative set of statistics about the app. Recently, in the summer of 2021, the TikTok app hit an important milestone: it officially became the first non-Facebook-owned app that users downloaded over 3 billion times.

Here are some other inspiring numbers:

    • In 2020, TikTok was the #1 most downloaded app globally from both iOS and Android marketplaces.
    • The #7 most used app in the world with over 689 million active users. Keep in mind that the app is not available in some huge countries and regions like China or India.
For the Chinese market, the company ByteDance has a ‘ mirroring sister of TikTok’ — an app called Douyin that has over 600 million users that can be added to the TikTok community.
    • TikTok has earned $34.3 billion in revenue in 2020, and increased by 111%.
    • Average users open the app multiple times a day and spend around 52 minutes

The most popular TikToker is Khabane lame who has over 161.8 million followers.

How does TikTok make money?

Before we dive into the development process, let’s break down the income of the viral service. ‘What makes an app like TikTok profitable?’, you might wonder. The answer is Ads. TikTok’s engagement rate is somewhere around 29% and that’s why it attracts advertisers.

TikTok has a separate service called ‘TikTok for Business’ that allows brands and companies to promote themselves on the app and engage with the audience. 

There are several types of ads on TikTok: In-Feeds targeting ads, brand takeovers, and branded hashtag challenges. Usually, advertising videos are integrated into a user’s feed, so they see them when they scroll the page or pop up when they open the app. 

Here is an example of an in-feed ad video from AfterPay and a hashtag challenge from Walmart.

how to make an app like tiktok

TikTok has not shared its official pricing, but the Internet has some estimates. For example, Voluum has calculated that TikTok’s ad cost depends on the ad type and can be anywhere between $10 per CPM and $150,000 per week.

how to make an app like tiktokSource: Voluum

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Key features of TikTok

Sign-up + Onboarding

The authorization page is as important to an app as the first page of a book — that is how users judge if they are going to use it. We recommend keeping it short and simple and asking for vital information only, as it makes the app straightforward and respectful to customer’s time.

Don’t forget about these elements of the page: 

    • Welcome page to cheer a user up.
    • Terms & Conditions to explain requirements and limitations.
    • Authorization process and an opportunity to skip it if possible.
    • Password recovery.
    • Choice of preference to pick the type of content users want to see.
TikTok gives users an opportunity to almost skip sign-up. First, users need to create a profile using a phone number, email address, or an account on another mobile app. Then, if a user skips choosing a password or a profile name, TikTok automatically assigns one, which can be changed later.

Below is an example of what the authorization process looks like on the app:

how to make an app like tiktok

For You page / Browsing content

Basically, the TikTok app is divided into two big parts: the For You page (FYP) and the rest. On the FYP, page users infinitely scroll through recommended and trending videos. We will dive into the algorithm further, but if a video makes it to the For You page on the app, it means it went viral — that is how creators measure success on TikTok.

On TikTok, every video on the For You page has hashtags, a caption, and a soundtrack they use at the bottom. As well as the like, share, and follow options on the left. The design of the page is very simple yet clever — it has everything to keep app users up to date with new content and engaged.

how to make an app like tiktok

Video Uploading and Editing: filters and effects 

Apps like TikTok allow users to create and edit videos in the app, like adding filters, effects, stickers, text, sounds, and captions.

Here is an example of these features’ layout on TikTok:

how to make an app like tiktok

Reactions: sharing, likes, and comments

TikTok’s engagement rate is over the moon, and the reason for that is the opportunity to actively interact with content by adding a video to favorites, leaving comments, sharing with friends, or proceeding to an author page and digging deeper. 

The core of the TikTok app is the simplicity of interactions — everything a user needs on one page. Reactions are icons with no descriptions and are easy to understand for people from different regions.

Moreover, TikTok displays the number of reactions: views, likes, comments, and shares on the For You page. Taking these details into account, users can quickly form an opinion about a video. 

The rule is simple: the more likes and shares it has, the higher the chance it is good enough to watch and spend a couple of minutes with. Reactions are valuable: creators usually try to get as many reactions as possible because that is how their content will be judged by users on the app.

The last important thing to say is that TikTok has third-party integration with other social media platforms which allows users to share content on Instagram, Facebook, or iMessages. But this feature is tricky: for example, since Instagram introduced a competitor with Reels, there is information they can shadowban users with for posting content with the TikTok watermark.

how to make an app like tiktok


There are two types of push notifications on TikTok: in-app notifications and outside ones. Here is how it works: when the app is not open, a user just receives a regular banner at the top of the screen, and when the app opens, there is a visible pinkish or red icon at the bottom.

If a user clicks the icon, it takes them to the Activity page that shows follow requests, live notifications, and previous interactions with comments or content a user has posted. The feature helps users stay updated and involved in what is going on in the app.

Also, there are settings for notifications where a user can choose the frequency and type of things they want to get notifications on. It makes the app more audience-oriented and helps to enhance the user’s experience by allowing them to pick categories to update them on.

how to make an app like tiktok

Duets / Stitches

These functions let users base their own on another user’s or brand’s content on TikTok. The difference is tiny: Duets allows users to display another person’s video alongside their own, while with the Stitch feature users can clip and integrate separate scenes from another user’s video into their own.

Before each duet or stitch, users add a related hashtag, for instance, #stitch or #duet, and then indicate the name of the user whose content they record their video on. These examples will help you understand the difference as well:

how to make an app like tiktok

Direct messages

It is a basic feature that allows users to communicate with each other and stay longer on the app. Direct messages are located in the ‘Inbox’ section of the app and have an icon that looks like a paper plane. Inside, there are recent chats with a minimalistic and simple UX/UI design of the page.

how to make an app like tiktok

TikTok algorithm

One of the secrets of how to make an app like TikTok is the algorithm. The more you watch, the more personalized your feed becomes. For a long time, no one really knew how videos wound up on the For You page — the criteria were fully covered up. Creators came up with several conspiracy theories on how to make a video viral. For example, it should be precisely 6 seconds or be posted at exactly 12:45 pm.

Not that long ago, Tik Tok broke this secret down in their blog article. The algorithm uses the method of an exponential distribution. Once a video is posted, it is shown to a small segment of the audience that is expected to like it based on their previous interactions. Then, if users are engaged with the video — like it, share it, or watch until the end — TikTok expands the audience and shows the content to more people with similar interests. Gradually, step by step, it ends up on an FYP of millions of users.

Long story short, the algorithm works like a digital word of mouth: the more buzz your content generates, the more viral it becomes.

To determine if the chosen audience is going to like a post, TikTok tracks how a user interacts with the video, what caption/sounds/hashtag it has, what type of device is used, and what the profile language is.

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5 things to consider when you make an app like TikTok

TikTok is a chameleon app: its interface is easy to navigate, its UX/UI design looks simple and minimalistic, and its feature set is reasonable and on point. But behind those things, there is a complex structure with an exponential algorithm. 

To give some direction to those who want to make apps like TikTok and become viral in 2024, we came up with 5 factors to contemplate before.

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Research the market

When you have an idea to make an app but do not know where to begin, start with market research. First, identify what problem your future mobile solution will solve and how it will benefit potential users. Then, research the competitors, inspect their advantages and disadvantages, and note what problem they solve. If their solution is targeted at the same customers, we advise startups to learn what user experience and customer service competitors provide to know how different your app will be.

Write down these brief results, as they can be a direction for where to go and set goals and a strategy for mobile app development.

Know your audience

After that, it is time to meet people who will use your app. For example, TikTok currently has an audience from more than 150 different countries, speaking over 75 languages. It is quite a big area to start with for an MVP — that is why instead, we recommend segmenting an area you want to work with and starting with a local audience.

TikTok was also initially released on the Chinese market only, and then it started expanding. So, first, start with one or a couple of countries and 1-2 languages, and after the first wins and growths, initiate the localization process.

Design matters

Robust UX/UI design is what hooks users and can make the app viral. The way an app welcomes and onboards new customers creates new habits and enhances the behavior, significantly contributing to the success of the mobile solution.

TikTok is a very straightforward app that offers no distraction to users: short onboarding, the opportunity to skip sign-up, choose a name later — everything makes the app authorization process shorter, and ease access to the content. The TikTok app chose it as the golden rule and stuck to it in every process of the user’ journey.

We recommend doing the same: make the registration process quick and easy, create UX/UI design with the user in mind, and come up with features, like an infinite autoplay feed, that will keep a person in the video-sharing application for a long time.

Find a professional team

Making an app without a good team of experts is not easy. If you pick wisely, you will seal the deal with experts who already know how to perform market research, map out a user journey, and execute dope design concepts.

Plus, frontend and backend developers from the team will execute the solution that allows users to navigate through the content, interact with it, customize a profile, edit and post a video, and much more.

We always recommend outsourcing mobile app development, instead of hiring in-house experts: it will save you time and money. The ready full-cycle team doesn’t need to be onboard. It usually takes only one or two meetings to learn about a project and start creating. 

Moreover, a professional team will have diverse and versatile sets of experts who will help with different aspects of the app. For example, to make an app like TikTok, the project will require a lot of people: frontend and backend developers, UX/UI designers, copywriters, QA analysts, and project managers.

Start with an MVP

If someone asks us, ‘Do I need an MVP to make the app work and succeed?’, our answer is always a yes. MVP is the first fully functioning version of the product that helps many startups test the idea, get feedback from real users, and see if your project correlates with what the market needs today.

MVP prevents business owners from spending all assets on a solution that might end up unwanted on the market and unclear to users. Instead, with a minimum viable product, you can try out your idea for less time and costs without serious risks.

Costs and timeframes

As we mentioned before, the TikTok video-sharing application has a complex architecture and a long user journey. We pulled all steps together and calculated an estimate of how much a similar app could cost.

No more talking, let’s get straight to the point. Here, you can find an overview of how much it costs to make an app like TikTok and how long it will take for the Purrweb team:

Side note: The estimation is provided by our team and may be different from company to company. This is how much time it will take us to make an app.

Stage What are we doing Estimation in hours Estimation in weeks Approximate costs
Initial meeting Discuss the idea of your app 1 day no costs
UI/UX design Map out a user journey, come up with design concepts for each step, and present them to you 152 hours 5 $7,600
Development Work on architecture and the interface on both client and server-side 1361 hours  16 $68,050
Administration tools Create features for an administrator to manage profiles, edit in-app texts, recover passwords, etc. 406 hours 5 $20,300
QA Testing Look for any possible bug and fix it before it even occurs 530 hours  Alongside development $9,540
Project management Manage the mobile app development project and solve administrative tasks Alongside development Alongside development $4,575

Overall, the mobile app development process for an app like TikTok will take around 7 months and will cost $110,065.

The prices include all services that cover your video-sharing application from head to toe: user page, For You page, video creating functionality, search, and results browsing, profile, and the rest of users’ needs.

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Wrapping up

In 2022, TikTok had an audience that is more than 2/3 of the planet’s population and it keeps growing. The app uncovered a major trend for short videos with music that slowly overtake other types of content.

Every day, users come to TikTok to catch up with recent trends, take some time off and unwind, read messages from their friends, or even look for dinner receipts using different hashtags.

But how to make an app like TikTok and get that much of a customer’s attention? The key is personalization and care for users. TikTok has a quick and smooth sign-up/log-in process that brings newcomers straight to the content. Then, it memorizes their interest and customizes the feed to engage users and keep them on the app.

5 factors to take into account before you create an app like TikTok

    • Research the market and analyze the competitors as it helps to set goals, understand the uniqueness of your product, and define the strategy.
    • Learn about people who will use your app and section. First, define your audience, think of where they live, what language they speak, and what they prefer. Then, choose a small local market to test the waters and validate the hypothesis.
    • Value UX/UI design. The intuitive and eye-pleasing visual aspect of a mobile solution directly influences the user’s satisfaction and the amount of time they spend on the app.
    • Find a skillful team. The right experts will help fulfill all your dreams and execute the wildest business ideas. Want to be able to sort videos by trends or tags and have very private profiles so no one can see what you liked, commented, or saved? Our developers will complete any task that supports your hypothesis. 
    • Don’t skip the MVP stage. Before diving right into the idea and making app right away, start with a minimum yet workable set of functions. MVP will help launch an idea faster and without securing complete funds until you make sure it meets the market’s needs and is aimed at the right audience.

The best tech stack for building an app like TikTok

Not only does a solid tech stack act as a foundation for your app, but it can also improve its performance and lower the cost of TikTok app development. Most importantly, it future-proofs the app. If the programming language you’re using has a decent-sized audience, it’s highly unlikely that major companies like Apple or Google will stop supporting it.

At Purrweb, for over  9 years, our development team has been perfecting a set of tools we use to develop all sorts of apps. We’d like to share some of the technologies we would use to create an app like TikTok below:

React Native. It’s a framework our development team uses to create the frontend and backend of the social media app. The former is responsible for the visual look of the app, i.e. we make sure every button and design element functions as intended. The latter concerns code and databases hidden from view. A decent analogy to use here is a car: in this case, the frontend includes a coat of paint, bumpers, and tires, while the backend includes everything under the hood of the car.

PostgreSQL. This tool is all about databases. It’s essential for storing short videos and other data, like user logins, passwords, and profile pictures. PostgreSQL has special features like optimized indexing that allow the app to pull up short videos faster, so if you’re planning to create an FYP in your video-sharing app, it’s indispensable.

Postman. In TikTok app development, it can be used as a script for API creation and testing. You can imagine APIs as intermediaries between the video-sharing app and the phone’s features. Overall, Postman makes it easier to discover how our APIs actually work in the TikTok-like app. Test it and see if the app utilizes the camera among other things without issues.

How to make an app like TikTok

At Purrweb, our development team has a clear understanding of the TikTok app development process. One of the things we discovered to be crucial in creating an MVP first and the rest later. It’s a simplified version of the social media app, showcasing the main features and the unique selling point. With it, gauging the market and getting your first customers is cheaper. And even if the idea doesn’t work out — you won’t lose as much money.

Our road to MVP

You can imagine that social media app development is like a road, and each checkpoint you pass is similar to completing a certain stage of the process

Here, we’d like to go over five essential steps of TikTok app development. Let’s dive in.

1. Conduct market analysis

If you have a TikTok-like app in mind, it’s important to figure out who’s going to use it. Do you want to create a product solely for millennials? Or do you wish to tap into the growing market of both late zoomers and generation alpha kids? In any case, try to understand what your target audience wants and needs. This will help you choose the appropriate business model and features that will enhance the UX of your video-sharing app.

We also recommend analyzing your competitors at this stage. Try to figure out their business model, strengths, weaknesses, and areas where their apps overlap. This info will help you understand market trends which you can utilize in your social media app.

2. Pick features for your social media app

At this stage, it’s important to refine the unique selling point (USP) of your video-sharing app. What feature or detail differentiates your app from TikTok, Douyin, and the rest? What features are so important that your users won’t enjoy the app without them? Answering these questions can help you choose a functional business model and build a viable video-sharing app.

If you’re drawing a blank when it comes to picking actual features for your social media app, we recommend choosing the ones we talked about previously: sign-up pages, filters, and so on.

3. Create the UI/UX design of your social media app

With the features and business model settled, it’s time to make them real. We begin with a mind map to outline a clear user journey. It’s a diagram with features and links between them. In it, we visualize the path of the user from opening the social media platform to scrolling the FYP and sending a funny video to a friend.

After finalizing the mind map, we begin working on the actual design of the social media app, from wireframes or barebones versions of future app screens to polished design concepts.

4. Begin TikTok-like app development

Our developers begin developing the social media app using the tech stack outlined above. After finalizing a particular feature, we also perform QA testing and screen it for bugs and unexpected errors. In about 3-4 months, the development process comes to a close, and you get a solid MVP that’s ready to hit the market.

5. Release and maintain the app

Finally, the social media app is released in the App Store and Google Play Market. Now, you can collect reviews from your first users and refine the social media platform accordingly. From here on out, a feedback loop emerges. With each cycle, your app becomes more appealing to potential users and smoother for the current ones.

Where to find the team

At Purrweb, we work with different types of app development, including content creation and sharing solutions. Our goal is to provide straightforward and cutting-edge UI/UX to level up user experience with your company. 

To create an app, we always start with MVP for future bigger solutions and then provide optional post-launch services to scale up and update the solution. With us, making app like TikTok will take approximately 7 months and will cost around $110,065.

Wanna move forward and get a personalized estimation of your app idea? Fill in the quote below, and we will get back to you with more info!

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