Inhouse Developers vs App Development Company – Part #3

Intro:
Over the last 11 years, I’ve worked as both an app developer building innovative apps for startups and large organisations working on game-changing technologies and I’ve also worked for a number of app development companies as a consultant advising startup (and corporate) entrepreneurs alike. This guide is a collection of my thoughts and things I’ve learnt from working on (building, designing, advising on etc) countless mobile apps and web-applications. This guide give you the information you need to understand the difference between hiring an inhouse app developer vs hiring an app development company.

=== Guide Articles ===
Part 1 – Guide Introduction
Part 2 – The App Development Team #1
Part 3 – The App Development Team #2 (you are here)
Part 4 – Hiring an Inhouse App Developer #1
Part 5 – Hiring an Inhouse App Developer #2
===================

Part 2 – The App Development Team #2

In the last article we looked at three of the 5 key people involved in building your mobile app or web application. Let’s look at two more, then consider why this is important for the success of your business / project.

Front-End developer
Like the back-end developer, the front-end developer is not involved in designing the features or layout of the mobile app or web-application. Instead they accept blue-prints from the UX designer and visual designs from the visual designer and create the required interfaces / screens for your app. If we use the apartment complex metaphor again, they would be the ones who connect the plumbers, electricians, plasterers and painters. They don’t decide the colors, lights switches,

However, in the mobile app and web-application world, they need to build interfaces (screens) that can work on different screen sizes and different types of devices (mobile, tablet, laptop, watch etc). If they are building an interface for a web-browser, they also need to factor in different types of browsers (they all act slightly different), older browsers and factor in accessibility considerations for the visually impaired, for instance, to support screen readers or braille boards (for reading). Accessibility is generally a greater concern for government agencies building apps than for startup founders / corporate entrepreneurs.

Project manager
This person is obviously good at planning a project, however they also have a lot of connections to front-end devs, back-end devs, UX designers and visuals designers and they know what each of these people is worth (so they’re not easily fooled on price). They also know what they need for a project and can find the most appropriate person with experience in either the technology or the industry your app is in.

When you work with an App Development Company, you get pro-rata access to each of these specialists. The number of specialist disciplines you get access to is one of the main advantages you get when working with with an app development company.

However as your startup grows, an app development company can become too expensive and not culturally integrated into your team. If your mobile app or web application is part of your core-services, your design and dev team is better suited to being in-house over the long term. That said, I suggest against hiring a developer from the outset but instead suggest working with an agency first and then building your team.

The next article in this series will discuss why.

P.S. There is also the infrastructure / sys-admin discipline, however this discipline is generally seen in a later stage startups (after they’ve released their first product) unless you have particularly heavy server requirements from the get go (uploading large videos, heavy processing tasks, large storage requirements etc).

Inhouse Developers vs App Development Company – Part #5

Intro:
Over the last 11 years, I’ve worked as both an app developer building innovative apps for startups and large organisations working on game-changing technologies and I’ve also worked for a number of app development companies as a consultant advising startup (and corporate) entrepreneurs alike. This guide is a collection of my thoughts and things I’ve learnt from working on (building, designing, advising on etc) countless mobile apps and web-applications. This guide give you the information you need to understand the difference between hiring an inhouse app developer vs hiring an app development company.d.

=== Guide Articles ===
Part 1 – Guide Introduction
Part 2 – The App Development Team #1
Part 3 – The App Development Team #2
Part 4 – Hiring an Inhouse App Developer #1
Part 5 – Hiring an Inhouse App Developer #2 (you are here)
===================

– Intellectual property

I’ve seen all kinds of BS happen when it comes to intellectual property. The earliest IP scam I can remember is when my father was selling his business to a larger acquirer and his in-house developer suddenly claimed that the intellectual property of his entire nurses agency placements application belonged to him (my father owned a large Psychiatric Nurses agency that relied heavily on a custom built application to make hostpital placements).

The in-house developer my father hired demanded $350,000 for the intellectual property powering his businesses agency. If my father went through months of legal battles he would surely have lost the offer on his business. So he sold his business

Despite having IP contracts in place, my father wanted to close the deal to sell his business and wasn’t ready to go through

#02 The Two Keys to Business Success

If you’ve met me, you might find a pop-entrepreneurship sounding article title like: the “Keys to Business Success” a bit strange coming from me. You’d be right; I try to steer clear of the hype driven, “self development” world of motivational rhetoic and instead focus on understanding the underlying mechanics that create or break businesses and entrepreneurs.

If you’re not into hard-sells from “business coaches” trying to sell you and the rest of the audience on a $3,000 weekend workshop to get “this part of your life fixed” but you love thinking, reading and have an appetite for powerful knowledge and building innovative new things, then you are definitely the type of person I want to talk to.

So here are two things that, to my mind, are the long term pursuits of career entrepreneurs and form the critical framework for success in business: Opportunity and Mechanics.

Mechanics:
Business and clocks (the mechanical type) have a lot of similarities. Clocks are unique, they have a complex set of gears and sprockets that work together to produce a very defined outcome. I like this clock metaphor because it highlights the consideration that the clock maker went into designing and crafting a clock to get it right and also how a small change to the system can stop a clock from operating. Much like a clock, your business has a business maker – you and even small changes to the system can make huge changes to the success of your business.

At it’s core, entrepreneurship is about mechanics; it’s a cause and effect relationship. The study of entrepreneurship and business is really the study of seeing into the future; of understanding “If I do this, that happens”. Those that don’t understand business and the nature of human beings, are at the mercy of an unpredictable world with little mercy for those out of the know. However if you are a student of business and of people, you’re going to have a much easier time getting to sleep at night knowing where you and your business are.

So how does this relate to the two “keys to success”, as I’ve called them: Opportunity and Mechanics? Business is about engineering and designing a reliable and loyal machine. The more you understand about business engineering, the more elegant, reliable and successful systems and businesses you will build.

In this way, your ability to design successful businesses is closely tied to your ability to acquire knowledge.

Mobile app development
Working in mobile app development, I see an incredible range of people with different business and app concepts that either are a new spin on an old idea or an entirely new concept that has never existed before. I’ve seen both approaches create success.

However there’s a lot of inexperienced people attempting to build businesses that don’t fully understand how people will interact with their web application, how they’ll reach their target market efficiently, what problems their business or app solve. Other times I’ve seen entrepreneurs try to  build already existing ideas – nightclub mobile apps are a common one. It reminds me of this scene from the Internship:

I’m not saying that you can’t build a successful business from an idea that’s already “been created” (although there’s a lot of people that will say exactly that). Because there’s a word for it: competition and businesses do it all the time. Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg didn’t build Facebook because he thought MySpace had already built “his” idea. Hard to imagine.

What I am saying is that some people understand when it’s possible to compete and when there’s anti-competitive business landmines like network effects and economies-of-scale that are going to put a torpedo into your battleship. It all comes down to understanding of business mechanics.

The mobile apps I’m excited to work on are cutting edge web applications thought up by sharp entrepreneurial minds that understand business. These are projects I enjoy working on and run by people I’m comfortable to introduce to investors.

Just on that note, the advantage of being experienced isn’t only that you produce great ideas; businesses, projects or apps that work, but people also recognise your experience and believe in you and your vision. Hiring and motivating staff is easier when people see you’re an intelligent person on the way tot success.

Conversely, while it does happen, great ideas generally don’t come from an untrained business minds.

I’m not in any way trying to criticise those who are less capable or have had less opportunity to learn, because I have had my fair share of stupid ideas over the years. However the quality of my ideas and the intricate understanding of human nature and of business that guides the creation, idea evolution and testing of my ideas has only improved over the years as I’ve met more entrepreneurs, interviewed and learnt from them.

One of the best ways I get information and knowledge is by meeting smart people and having private discussions or discussions as part of the Startup50K podcast. I also listen to a lot of podcasts myself and that helps me think about my businesses and projects.

I’ve found many blogs and podcasts like to talk in details about an entrepreneurs “struggle” and how everyone thought they were stupid to be building a business or to labour on about how they built their business to “help the community”. My advice; get away from that stuff and find out exactly what went on to create the company, who the players were and what the deal-breaker was. This is where you’re going to find the tools you need to build an incredible company.

One of the key questions I ask entrepreneurs on the Startup50K podcast is: how did you create your company? What fuels it, what was the businesses first engine of growth? I suggest doing the same and look for podcasts and blogs that provide you with real answers.

[Part 2: Opportunity]

 

#01. Engines of Growth

One of the key things I ask when I’m interviewing an entrepreneur on the Startup50K podcast is; what was the first step they took in growing their company. This is by far my favourite question and where the magic sauce is.

In the life of a business, there are very often different engines of growth and the engine that grew the startup in the beginning isn’t always the same engine that powers the company once it’s mature. An engine of growth is what gives an entrepreneur their break and the resources they need to capitalize on an opportunity.

I want to understand what was the first break-through in getting from no money, no cashflow to a multi-million dollar company. Was it a step-by-step process building on smaller previous successes, was it a large capital raise and selling off equity or did the founder build a business outside their current business and use that company’s cashflow to fuel and kickstart their new business.

In the early stages entrepreneurs are vulnerable and when the cash stops, the business stops. So to understand the engine of growth of these hyper-growth companies is one of the most important things I (and listeners of the podcast) want to understand.

When I ask questions around this, a few entrepreneurs have tried to side-step the question and circle around to another topic, often about the issues they were facing – instead of discussing how they got their start or how the business works.

However some entrepreneurs are completely transparent about how they created their business and when they are, it’s incredible to sit there and listen. So I thought it was worth sharing a few stories from my interviews with successful entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs below provided a completely transparent look at how they built their companies, so many thanks to these show guests for sharing the full story of their business.

(in interview order)

SpotJobs – 850,000 users, 3rd largest jobs board in Australia
Jake Williams and Lewis Romano came up with the idea to create SpotJobs – a casual / non-career focused jobs board. They were 22 and 24 when they started their company. They spent 12 months pitching their idea to investors before securing $2.5 million to build the company and grow it into a $9million+ company (at the time of interview)

However what was unique about this raise is that Jake and Lewis didn’t have a working product, (obviously) no sales or a website prototype and still managed to raise $2.5 million. The key things they did have; a “really good slideshow”, a unique and well researched market opportunity and the drive to see the business created and an introduction to a wealthy Melbourne family that was a majority shareholder / funder.

These two guys were real gentlemen to work with. Many thanks to them for sharing their stories. Their interview is on the podcast under episode #1.

Vinomofo – $40million in wine sales in 4 years
Andre Eikmeier co-founded Vinomofo – a group buying / discount wine online retailer after a failed acting career, a job in phone sales selling wine and a failed business with his father (“failed” was Andre’s term). Vinomofo went through several pivots and Andre himself went through hard times financially before he and his co-founder Justin came up with the group-buying / discounted wine sales approach that caught fire.

Despite Andre’s previous wine-related business ideas (a wine-review platform) not working, he had built a large community that responded strongly to the cheap wine pivot and the company grew quickly. I’d put this one down to a good / desired product and a listening community.

Andre was another super honest guy that I have personal respect for and I think everyone in the room got a sense of the personal struggles he went through on the way to building his company. See episode #2 of the podcast for more info.

[Part 2 coming soon]

Inhouse Developers vs App Development Company – Part #2

Intro:
Over the last 11 years, I’ve worked as both an app developer building innovative apps for startups and large organisations working on game-changing technologies and I’ve also worked for a number of app development companies as a consultant advising startup (and corporate) entrepreneurs alike. This guide is a collection of my thoughts and things I’ve learnt from working on (building, designing, advising on etc) countless mobile apps and web-applications. This guide give you the information you need to understand the difference between hiring an inhouse app developer vs hiring an app development company.

=== Guide Articles ===
Part 1 – Guide Introduction
Part 2 – The App Development Team #1 (you are here)
Part 3 – The App Development Team #2
Part 4 – Hiring an Inhouse App Developer #1
Part 5 – Hiring an Inhouse App Developer #2
===================

Part 2 – The App Development Team #1
I’ve seen many entrepreneurs go out and hire an inhouse app-developer with the goal of building an MVP (minimal viable product) launching it and slowly building a team as the company grows. However most entrepreneurs I’ve had conversations know very little about interviewing developers, how applications are developed or understanding of the career (or business) objectives of the folks who work as mobile or web app developers. The result? Quite frequently; losses in both time (to market) and money invested in wages, very often above $10,000.

Mobile app development and web application is an area where mistakes can cost tens of thousands of dollars each – if you’re building an app it pays to read the right articles and speak to app development consultants like myself to avoid these issues.

So you can avoid some pain (or at least anticipate it and plan for it) by understanding what issues you will faces by hiring an inhouse developer (or an app development company). You will mostly likely, bring your tech team inhouse as your startup matures (as many other startups do). However for the early startup startup building the first version (or MVP) of their product I suggest going with an agency – but there are exceptions to this rule.

Let’s start by looking at the team will be involved in building your application because this is one source of confusion. Many entrepreneurs new to app development don’t realize that a developer is only one of around 4 other disciplines that will be involved in building your application.

Here’s a list and description of all 5 disciplines that will be required to develop and launch your app (3 on this article and 2 on the next article in this guide). Many people think you only need a “programmer”. Nope, there’s a full team of disciplines that go into building your app:

Back-end developer
Often referred to as a “developer”. They model your applications database (data modeling), build the logic and code behind your application. They are the digital equivalent of a builder on a construction site building an apartment complex. Using the apartment complex metaphor, a backend-developer is not an architect, they are not interior designers they don’t even lay down the carpet, plaster or benchtops. Their job is to interpret the blue-prints from the architect and lay down the concrete, steel girders and major structural components.

If the back-end developer isn’t experienced enough for the job (maybe the technology requirements for the job as too challenging for the dev), the application will not be poorly built and will likely need to be completely overhauled (the same way a building would be). Overhauling an app is a very expensive task that undoes the work of visual designer (the interior designer) and the front-end developer (the plasterer, electrician and plumber). This is another of the feaered $10,000+ mistakes that you just have to keep your eye out for.

Visual designer
Going with the apartment complex metaphor, the visual designer is a specialist comparable to the interior designer. They determines the colors, the branding and the style guide of you application. However they don’t decide where the chairs will be placed, how many chairs there will be or where other functional components will be placed. This is the job of the UX/UI designer (the architect) that researches the customers needs and requirements to determine what the most efficient and usable layout should be.

This means visual designers don’t decide where signup forms, navigation components other features of your application will be displayed or even which fields are included in the form (as this is the job of the architect). Visual designers are limited to the development of style guide, brand guidelines, iconography, typography, colors and themes.

UX / UI designer (User Experience / User Interface)
People are often misled by the term; “design” and they think “design” means “colors” or “themes”. However there is “visual design” (as mentioned above) and then there is “functional design” as in how something is architected; how the blue-prints are designed. The UX designer most closely resembled what the general public understands as the role of an “architect” in a building complex and is arguably the most “important” role in the development of your mobile app or web application.

The UX designer’s role is to understand your app users intimately; to understand the different types of user personas / user groups, their differing needs and then “design” the blue-prints for your application to be built. UX designers determine the navigational flow of your app, the number of fields in a form, the placement of that form in your app, what screens need to be built in your app and more important functional details.

However if the UX designer gets it wrong and fails to cater for a user persona or a sub-group of app users, over complicates the application then they (like the backend developer) could undo all the hard work of all those following their blueprints. Meaning: if a UX designer “changes their mind”, all the the other team members roles will need to upheave their work and redo it based on the new design.

Hence why the UX designer is considered by some to be the most important role when building your app.

 

In the next article of this guide we look at the remaining two roles / people required to build your application: the Front-End Developer, the Project Manager and we make a polite nod to the Sys-Admin / Infrastructure guy that you will no doubt see at some point, but generally not in the early stages of building and launching your application.

Inhouse Developers vs App Development Company – Part #1

Part #1 – Guide Intro:
Over the last 11 years, I’ve worked as both an app developer building innovative apps for startups and large organisations working on game-changing technologies and I’ve also worked for a number of app development companies as a consultant advising startup (and corporate) entrepreneurs alike. This guide is a collection of my thoughts and things I’ve learnt from working on (building, designing, advising on etc) countless mobile apps and web-applications. This guide give you the information you need to understand the difference between hiring an inhouse app developer vs hiring an app development company.

=== Guide Articles ===
Part 1 – Guide Introduction (you are here)
Part 2 – The App Development Team #1
Part 3 – The App Development Team #2
Part 4 – Hiring an Inhouse App Developer #1
Part 5 – Hiring an Inhouse App Developer #2
===================

When it comes to success building a mobile app or web application; success often hinges on the choices you make around the partner you choose to build your app. How you go about selecting an app designer / developer and the things to watch out for (the subject of another guide) are key decisions.

There’s also a lot you should know about the difference between hiring an “inhouse” app developer vs. working with a app development company (the subject of this guide) and is critical to your project’s and business’ success.

I’ve seen entrepreneurs make mistakes here many times – that why I’ve written this guide. I’ve seen mistakes in app developer choice cost entrepreneurs tens of thousands of dollars and months of productive time lost, so ignore this guide at your own peril!

If you’re building an app and unsure of anything, please just drop me a question via the contact page. I’m happy to help out and provide advice; I really don’t want to see people making costly mistakes, so I help out where I can. Talking to entrepreneurs working on mobile apps or web applications is also one way I get to get to discover kickass app projects and the entrepreneurs behind them that I can potentially work with or introduce to investors I’ve met. So feel free to ask any questions!

Now onto the first article: The App Development Team.