How-to-Outsource-Development-Effort-without-Cooling-Your-Hot-Startup-Down 2

As technology is making it easier to start a business, startup founders keep shooting for disruption of the status quo ‒ or at least settling at a juicy acquisition deal. The good thing about the tech startup business is that you don’t have to do it all alone: nine times out of ten, technology is merely an enabler, but not the core startup activity lying beyond the outsourcing realm.

As marketer at a technology services company, I’ve sifted through our history of startup-initiated projects in an attempt to sum up what type and scope of tasks are typically outsourced and emphasize what aspects you as a startup owner shall watch out for to secure a most favorable output.

The-Old-Good-Build-Me-another-Uber-Story

The startup scene is not all about technology breakthroughs, innovative business models and virtuoso entrepreneurial visions. Once the Next Big Thing pops up, then everybody wants a piece of the pie, and the market gets flooded with a plethora of (well, often pretty successful) facsimiles. The Uber taxi service model alone has brought to life hundreds of businesses, from its whole-nine-yards rivals to “Uber for private jets”, “Uber for janitors” or “Uber for Saudi Arabia” variations.

Every third request technology vendors receive from startup companies holds down to:

“We want something similar to <insert any popular online service here> with some minor changes to the concept.”

And so long as such “secondary market” endeavors will continue to take off and show satisfactory growth dynamics all along the way, the trend is not going to shrink.

If kick-starting your way into the lives (and hearts) of already “heated” audience is something you were contemplating on, look for technology partners who offer:

  • Width of tech expertise. Given the wide variety of web and mobile development alternatives, don’t let the vendor’s technological focus govern selection of the implementation option for your business.
  • Mature maintenance and support service offering. Even when there’s a CMS system underlying the working solution, assuring productive application life after going live and evolving it over time shall be an important item on your startup growth plan. Pick up a technology vendor that would cover both pre- and post-deployment needs of your project.

Domain-Savvy-Innovators

Apparently, not all of the most exciting startups and the co-called unicorns drawing millions of dollars in investments are the world’s best high technology innovators. Roughly only 1 out of 10 companies named to the 2016 Red Herring Europe: Top 100 Short List claims to use some know-how, proprietary R&D achievement or patented technology including those in artificial intelligence, sound technology, medical research, biometric security or sensing technology. This is definitely something industry experts trying to solve real-life problems people in their profession face every day and non-tech market visionaries able to spot an unfilled market need can relate to. The startup founders driven by passion for and knowledge of their domain request all-round support regarding technological implementation of their concept and a fully-featured team to handle all aspects of the application delivery. And with an experienced technology partner it’s exactly what they get.

“I need a team of software developers I can trust.”

If you happen to recognize a possibility to automate and streamline previously untapped processes and workflows within your industry (yes, there are still no apps for a bunch of things!), look for a vendor with:

  • Solid IP rights management policy. The surest way to secure your patent pending designs or any other sensitive intellectual property assets is to avoid exposing them to anyone. Otherwise, make sure the vendor has not only a standard NDA document to sign, but a comprehensive multi-level IPR management and protection policy in place that would include measures taken to assure security of organizational infrastructure, production-related IP protection, insurance coverage, and more.
  • Prototyping services. The decision on how far software outsourcing is going to take your startup (whether it’s a production-ready application or just a minimum viable product (MVP) for drawing investments or product vitality check) leaves to the discretion of the startup founder. But even if you are not looking for app prototyping services, look for vendors who lay this offering out in a self-sustained service, which would indicate they tailor their delivery models for startups and therefore have solid experience ‒ or at least interest ‒ in this market.
  • Strong expertise in frontline tech. Favor the vendors who have a track record of working with frontline technologies that have huge consumer potential and, as such, are drawing sizable investments ‒ these include machine learning, big data management, virtual reality & augmented reality and industrial IoT.

Dedicated-Tech-Talent-Please

“We are a rapidly growing, well-funded startup, and we need to develop technology faster than we can hire engineers.”

Starting to explore options to contract the work is what startups naturally come to as they grow. But shall outsourcing be considered prior to the takeoff? A research by CB Insights identifies Disharmony on the team to be number 3 out of top 20 most cited reasons why startups in the US fail, after Lack of product-market fit and Running out of cash causes. No big surprise, right? A team with diversified skill sets is critical to the success of starting a company, but all too often startups fall short of bringing all the required professionals on board a team. This is where outsourcing takes the deus ex machina role.

Another good call is to turn to an external partner for balancing, including sanity checks for the technology decisions that are being made:

“In a nutshell I’m really not quite sure how the POS system would communicate with the server/app and am looking for advice here.”

If you are currently looking for a quick-and-easy access to highly qualified developers to augment your startup team, make sure to:

  • Never compromise on quality of dedicated team members. One great developer can often outperform several mediocre ones. Ask for candidate’s CVs to assess their capability to get into the project details on the fly and jumpstart contributing to it. Cooperation and communication patterns are important, but no matter how fine-tuned, processes never compensate lack of subject-matter experience.
  • Don’t be afraid to delegate. Trying to do (and know) everything on one’s own is the mistake people new to the business world frequently make. It saps resources and money, leaving you frustrated by a lack of progress. Meanwhile, there is a well-shaped network of technology partners on the market. Get them involved from the start, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.