Have you been burned by app developers who couldn’t see your vision? Don’t get burned by outsourcing to a developer or development team who are only OK. Find superior service capabilities using these 5 Easy Steps for how NOT to get burned by outsourcing app development in 2019:
Step 1: Validate with Scope and Clarity in Mind
Step 2: Interpret Estimates and Pricing
Step 3: Choose the Right Partner
Step 4: Cut Your Search Time in Half
Step 5: Conduct An Interpersonal Interview
Step 3: Choose the Right Partner
Should I Pick An Agency, Technical Cofounder, or Freelancer?
One of the sexier questions that every app entrepreneur faces is “Do I hire an agency with a team in place, or build my own team of freelancers?” A little background refresher: I’ve been a freelancer and have hired freelancers. I’ve run an agency and have hired agencies. I have so much personal data on this age-old question it hurts.
Let’s start with the obvious. If you’re a bootstrapped entrepreneur, of course you want to build your own team. Agencies were not created because they think you’d rather pick them than “own” your personnel. Agencies, and tens of thousands of them to be specific, exist because it’s extremely time consuming and expensive to build an in-house team and then grow it up.
And that’s why most entrepreneurs at this stage start out by looking for a technical cofounder: your unicorn 50% equity owner that can code. They think it’s the cure to all their ills, to pass off the technical side to their cofounder. And it could be! This strategy is the backbone of most successful startups.
In fact it was when my roommate in college started travbuddy with his brother, a site that ended up being a pretty successful niche social networking platform, that I decided to go on the same search for my significant other in 0’s and 1’s. Unfortunately I had to learn the hard way how difficult it is to find someone trustworthy. And when you finally find them, how difficult it can be to keep them.
Remember that point earlier about talented developers having their pick of hourly projects? To that point, your talented cofounder and in-house team members will also get presented with other lucrative opportunities. Once the excitement of building an unprecedented product on equity dies down, you better get traction and funding right away, otherwise you’ll likely see your cofounder running to someone else. And all the power to them, but as an employer, I want to be the place that people are running to.
Entrepreneurs who understand this risk and who want to avoid it have tried a slightly different path: taking small gambles by hiring a bunch of freelancers and seeing what sticks. There’s good and bad to this. This is a very good way of identifying junior talent when they’re just starting out. But it’s a huge time suck because 9 out of 10 will probably fail. But even when you land good freelancers, similar to the cofounder situation, you have to be wary of that imminent competition and raise your rates. If you’re looking specifically at someone in the states, that competition becomes much stiffer. Cheaper talent in the U.S. doesn’t stay cheap on the market. As someone that’s hiring pretty prolifically in the states, I’ve seen market rates jump up 2x over the course of weeks once developers have a portfolio.
The story I just painted with freelancers may seem extreme, but it’s not an exaggeration. You can achieve great results and hire a great team, so long as you understand that it will come at the cost of your time. But if you have the time, and building a team is something that excites you, by all means, do it. I chose to build my own team up at Topflight, and even though I’ve gone through the exact turbulence described of fighting hand-over-fist for my team, it’s been worth it to me because I love team-building and because hiring is a challenge that excites me.
Still, not all clients feel the same way. Those that are more interested in building and launching a functional product than investing their time into building a team may opt to go with an agency. A carefully-vetted agency would be able to offer the same development quality with 2 additional costs: the overhead of it being a company, and the loss from you not getting to put your name on it to show to angel investors as “yours”. The benefits are that they remove the pain point of hiring entirely from your plate because they’ve (presumably) invested years and huge money into solving this exact problem. In a nutshell, working with an agency means a higher hourly rate but freeing up your time to focus on other aspects of the business.
Hiring an agency also comes with the benefit of that agency being more likely to fill multiple needs (design, development, marketing), and may already have the in-house skills to scale as your needs evolve. From a tech standpoint, as you gain more traffic you may need more digital marketing talent to optimize your funnels and find your most effective paid advertising channels. Or you may need to make changes to your existing technology to scale with (and perform well under) the increasing traffic. You may instead choose to add machine learning to turn the data you’ve collected into more insights and find that your agency already offers this service. Again, the agency may save you time here from having to find additional expertise in the open market.
P.S. One important caveat to remember when you hire an agency is to never make a decision after talking to only the founder (hello!) Think of an agency like a company you’re acquiring. Would you acquire it after speaking with only the person selling? Nope, you’d do a deep dive into the company, probably go undercover and to find out the dirty secrets at every level. Similarly, if you work with an agency, get to know the team members at every level. There are a lot of agencies out there that have a founder based in the states, outsourcing all the work to a firm overseas. You have the right to ask to speak with everyone who will be touching your product, and I highly recommend you use it.
Local or Overseas? Wrong Question.
This is another provocative question that many ask, with many tropes. The conventional wisdom goes: you’ll get a cheaper hourly rate overseas. It leaves out the part where you may have to tell them everything they need to code down to even the most minute details, that communication will be a huge pain in the butt, and that shortcuts in coding may be taken to meet deadlines at a huge long-term cost. And if you’re one of those people who says “if it doesn’t work out, I only lost X thousand dollars!” then you simply don’t value your time. Have ye so little faith in what you bring to the table?
Ok. You may think I have a one-sided view of hiring overseas developers, but lo and behold, the complete opposite is true. I said you shouldn’t ship development overseas because it’s cheaper, not that you shouldn’t do it at all. There are absolutely good developers overseas that deliver quality products and communicate well. In fact, I’ve hired plenty of them and I eat my own medicine!
The key for me is to look for the same criteria overseas as I would locally. Whether you work with a local team or an overseas team, you should have a standardized and unforgiving set of criteria. If you’re looking for a local developer because of communication and trust the ability to build a relationship, figure out what sort of interview questions and trials you need to run with an overseas developer to find those same traits. There will be some differences that you shouldn’t expect to overcome entirely, such as time zone, language, and cultural differences. But a developer’s character and skills will shine irrespective of those differences if you ask the right questions (More on this in “Conduct An Interpersonal Interview” below).
Related Articles on Finding the Right Partner for your Project
- Find out more about how I found the right technical partner.
- Don’t go it alone, check out Why You Shouldn’t Develop Your Own App, and Other Horror Stories.
- Are you a developer who needs a designer, or is it the other way around? Be honest with yourself when walking the Designer-Developer Rope.
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