1.2.14 Finding Technical Resources


I’m Kartik, and we’re going to discuss Finding Technical Resources. For software startups, a major challenge that non-technical founders face is that of identifying relevant technical resources. Some of the questions that entrepreneurs must answer include, should I build the feature myself, or is there an existing tool or open source resource that provides the functionality we seek?
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Should we build internally or outsource our software development? If we build internally, how do I find and recruit people with the right skills? And finally, if we outsource, how should we manage that process? In this session, I’ll address each of these questions in turn. First, is there an existing tool I can use instead of developing the product from scratch? Now, we live in an era of modularity and open source. Before we invest all the effort to build a product, it’s useful to confirm that there isn’t something already out there that serves the purpose. For example, if you’re trying to build an ecommerce firm, a number of existing tools like Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, Weebly and others might suffice. In fact, some of them help you set up an ecommerce website using simple drag and drop functionality. If you’re trying to build a basic website, several alternatives such as Squarespace, Weebly, WordPress and Tumblr can be used.
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For blogs on your website Tumblr and WordPress are quite popular options. If your trying to build a responsive design, meaning the website that is compatible with all kinds of screen sizes, there are several templates that are available online. One well known tool for responsive design is Bootstrap, which was originally developed at Twitter. Similarly if you’re looking to launch online courses, and you’re looking for a website that makes it easy to launch online courses, Teachable is a great website out there that can be used. Suppose that you have concluded that an existing tool doesn’t solve your problem and you need to build it. The next question to ask is whether you should build it in-house or outsource the product development process. I like to ask two questions to help make that decision. The first question is whether the feature or the product is a core differentiator for your business. If the product or feature is strategically important, firms usually will not outsource such features. For example, Google will simply not outsource its search algorithms. On the other hand, if the feature is operationally important but not a differentiator, it becomes a candidate for outsourcing. For example, custom software tied to your human resource needs or legal needs. Or if you have a tech enabled business, but the technology itself is widely available. For example, if you’re an ecommerce company and you’re looking to build a basic website with standard features like the ability to browse products add to cart functionality and features of that type, then outsourcing might just work.
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For example, if you’re looking to build an ecommerce company and you need a basic website with standard features like browse products and other such features. The ecommerce website needs to work well, but the technology itself will not set you apart. This is something that you may not need to build on your own, and outsourcing might work just fine.
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The second question I’d like to ask is whether you have the necessary expertise in house. It might take too long to build that expertise in-house and there might be outsiders with the necessary expertise. Outsourcing might work in these cases.
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If you have concluded that you need to build the product in-house, the next step is building the right technical team. That can deliver on the product vision. You need to hire designers, you need to hire developers. And in fact, many of the earlier comments on finding your founding team members or hiring management team members are just as applicable in hiring members of your technology team. A focus on skills, and culture fed and personality fed are equally relevant over here. Even if you outsource product development, I would recommend that you own key aspects of product management. For example, you should prioritize the product features first. You cannot just share a product vision with a freelancer, and expect the product back. You need to think through the features, prioritize them, and communicated to the partner. Next, identify your budget. This will help drive decisions regarding where to outsource. Also, spec out the product in terms of user flows. Or perhaps develop some low fidelity wireframes. Together, these decisions will help insure that you can both find the right partner and also have a better working relationship with that partner. Next, in addition to owning product management, a good practice is to also be involved in screening developers. One to ensure there’s a match in terms of both technical skills and also soft skills, such as communication skills of the developer. It’s useful to understand their past projects. Meaning their entire portfolio. And understand their exact roles within those projects. It’s useful to conduct reference checks for the developers. So all of this ensures that you’ve found the right partner.
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The next question is, of course, where do you find these partners and where do you outsource? Budget is actually a good starting point. For software development, you can find firms at every price range. From as low as 25 to $50 dollars an hour all the way up to 100 or $200 per hour. At the low end of the range you usually looking for developers in South Asia or or Southeast Asia that are used to servicing starters. At the mid range, you’re looking at firms in Asia as well as in Eastern Europe that are used to servicing startups as well as mid-market companies. And finally, enterprise-grade developers in the US or Western Europe cost closer to $200 an hour. It helps to be in the same or similar timezone as your developer. So your location, along with your budget might help focus your search appropriately.
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And finally, once you’ve made these choices about budget and location, you can look for developers in a number of different websites. Marketplaces where you can find developers and outsource development firms include VenturePact, RentACoder, eLance, Upwork, Freelancer.com and many others. For designers 99Designs, Behancec, and Dribble are great sources and in fact there are many other great options out there. Finally, whether you build internally or you outsource your development, you have to manage that process. To do that well, identify who, what and when of your project. In terms of who, identify clearly a person who is accountable on both sides. In terms of what the task or product being developed is clearly defined and speced out.
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And in terms of when, this is really just a deadline and everyone in the team understands when the product or feature’s due. Another recommendation is to use project management tools to streamline the interaction with their developers. Popular tools for task assignment and tracking progress include Asana, Jira, Trello, Basecamp among others. And some tools that are commonly used for messaging among team members, include Slack, HipChat, Skype, Google Hangouts among many others. This list is by no means comprehensive. Start by looking at what’s out there, and you will find that the task ahead is not that overwhelming. There are many tools and resources that you can count on and use to simplify to process of building your product.

Jim Rohn