I’m an entrepreneur and investor who’s spent the last 20 years working my way through the entrepreneurial journey. In that time, I’ve also become an investor and advisor to several startups.
My latest venture is Ovvio. Our platform was a pandemic baby that was born out of a need to connect humans with other humans to solve daily tasks with the help of someone else’s knowledge.
Technology has long been a passion of mine and, while I have some tech experience, my co-founder and I quickly realised that building the MVP for Ovvio with an in-house team may not be the best way to validate our assumptions and get to market quickly.
In this article, I’ll explore how we made the decision to build the first version of Ovvio with a software development company.
I’ll also cover how my co-founder and I went through the due diligence process and vetted potential agencies to ensure we found the right partner for us.
Finally, I’ll share some tips and tricks for setting up the founder-agency relationship the right way, so you can increase your chances of success should you decide to build your startup with an outsourced partner
But first, I’d like to give you a bit more background on the idea behind Ovvio.
- The Idea for Ovvio
- The Decision to Work with a Software Development Company
- How to Conduct Due Diligence and Find the Right Fit
- Onboarding an Agency & Kicking the Project Off
- The Pitfalls of Working with a Software Development Company
- The Benefits of Working with a Software Development Company
- Looking Back on The Collaboration
- Final Advice to Entrepreneurs Considering Building Their Product with an Agency
The Idea for Ovvio
During the pandemic, we had a leak in the shower in our home. Covid regulations said that you could not allow the plumber to come into your home – it was the early days of the pandemic, and we simply had no idea what the risks involved would be if we ignored this and called a plumber anyway.
I’m not a DIY guy, so the obvious solution was to try and get help remotely.
This wasn’t an easy thing to do, and it made us realise no platform exists to help you in your specific situation. And not just with plumbing, there’s a lot of knowledge and expertise that’s out there that could be applied to people’s specific needs and situations.
Sure, there are YouTube videos that can help, but they’re much more generic advice as opposed to things that can specifically help you in the situation you’re in.
In other words, if you could video call someone and show them exactly what you’re trying to solve with your phone camera, and they can help you there and then, that’s a completely different level.
And that’s how we got to the idea of Ovvio.
Do you have a brilliant idea that you want to bring to life?
From the product and business reasoning to streamlining your MVP to the most important features, our team of product experts and ex-startup founders can help you bring your vision to life.
The Decision to Work with a Software Development Company
Let me start by stating that the decision of whether or not we should work with a software development company did not come easily. We had a lot of back-and-forth discussions between me and my co-founder who happens to be my brother.
The advantage of having your brother as your co-founder is you can be absolutely honest, brutal and frank.
While we both come from a tech background, he was someone who hadn’t really been focusing on tech for the last 20 years.
I’ve spent a bit more time doing tech but I also understood that I was a hobbyist coder.
Part of me thought that all I needed to do was hire three developers, sit down in an office with them and keep brainstorming until we found a way to translate the vision into technology.
This train of thought was partly influenced by the stories you read about these big tech entrepreneurs building this amazing idea out of their garage or college dorm. The classic Zuckerberg, Bezos, and Gates stories. The romanticised version of how products get created.
In reality, it’s a little more complex than that. When you need to apply a business mind to it, you need multiple people looking at it.
More than that, from a technology perspective, new software development practices, tech frameworks and software architectures appear every day. Your tech can sometimes even become outdated before a project is finished.
We concluded that we needed a professional who does this day in, day out. Someone who’s always building software – has their finger on the pulse of the development world.
Parallel to that, we realised that oftentimes, if you hire someone for your company they learn to do the job for your company – whereas someone who works for an agency gets a much wider industry view.
They understand how to solve problems in multiple verticals, and have probably built something in the vertical you’re building in and faced some of the hurdles already.
So we decided to go out and look for an agency. We’re based in India, so the initial idea was to just go and find a nice local vendor who could help us. Easy enough right?
Well, we went out and spoke to a few vendors, and quickly realised that the majority were just body shop folks. As in, you give them a list of requirements and they build what you asked for.
And even the ones that weren’t like that didn’t have the depth of talent we felt we needed.
We couldn’t find a team who could help us take a business idea and transform it into a fully-fledged product.
This caused us to actually revisit the idea of building in-house. And we’d planned out the people we would hire, and the roles they would fill.
Which is when we found Altar. We saw that not only did they have a depth of knowledge in product, UX/UI and software development, but they also get completely invested in the projects they work on.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, the team at Altar really became an extended team of co-founders for us.
How to Conduct Due Diligence and Find the Right Fit
One of the biggest hurdles you’ll come across once you decide to hire a software development company is doing your due diligence right, and ensuring you bring in the right people for the job.
For us, this boiled down to a few core aspects that we needed to focus on. That started with reviews on platforms like Clutch.
This is a good first step in getting to know your potential partner. For example, the reviews made us realise that Altar would invest real time and effort into making the process a business partnership, as opposed to a siloed relationship with us on one side and them on the other.
Which was a critical factor for us. People are one of the common denominators of what can make or break a startup.
This brings me to my second factor, which is gut feeling.
It’s important in any business relationship that you have a good feeling about the stakeholder you’re talking to right away – that said, it’s not something that should clinch the decision.
After all, no one’s gut is always right all the time.
The clincher for us came in the form of a POC (Proof of Concept). We took on a smaller commitment with Altar to build a small POC of our vision.
And I would recommend every startup to try it. It allows you to truly test the product and development expertise of an agency.
Moreover, it gives you an insight into how interactions will be with the agency if you decide to move forward. You get to experience firsthand their communication, how regularly scheduled touchpoints are, the model of the feedback loop, etc.
It gives you much more information on which to make the final decision.
Onboarding an Agency & Kicking the Project Off
Once you’ve chosen a software agency to work with it’s time to kick off the project. And it’s important to be aware the initial cost, both in terms of time and money, may be scary.
When you conceive a product you don’t think about how complex it can be to build. Initial progress when you start the process can take several weeks to show light.
This is completely normal, but it’s important that if you decide to work with a software development company you set up protocols to track the progress so you can see where your time and money is going.
This will help you avoid getting frustrated and feeling like progress isn’t being made, even though it most likely is. This becomes especially important when you’re a non-technical founder.
It comes down to open communication & transparency on both sides and having clear check-ins planned at regular intervals throughout the engagement.
A good example of when it doesn’t work is an engagement we recently took up with a social media agency to help us manage marketing.
The communication simply wasn’t there and we couldn’t work out a mechanism to get visibility from them. And because of that, it simply didn’t work and we ended the business relationship.
The Pitfalls of Working with a Software Development Company
As with any business relationship with an external partner, there are certain pitfalls.
The main one for us was lack of control. It doesn’t matter how much communication you have with a software partner, and how much visibility they give you, the fact is they’re not in-house means you’re not spending all day with them.
You’ll meet them on a structured basis but that will be two to three hours a week. In terms of brainstorming and talking through ideas and processes, that’s a very different thing.
The other pitfall that you may face is complacency. When you’re working with a high-quality software agency, it’s easy to not build those strengths in-house.
The goal of building your MVP with an agency is to validate your assumptions with an experienced team of product and tech people.
But the end goal (if your MVP is successful) is to bring those elements in-house. So, in parallel to working with an agency, I recommend building your network and speaking with potential hires you’re interested in so that you can onboard them quickly when the time is right.
The Benefits of Working with a Software Development Company
There are also many plenty of benefits that come with working with a software development company.
Chief among them is that they take away a lot of the headaches that come with managing a tech team.
It also gives you a lot of flexibility in that respect. You’re able to make shorter-term contracts based on your development need, meaning you’re not paying for development when you don’t need it.
Looking Back on The Collaboration
Our original idea when it came to bringing on a software development company was to have an external team simply help us build the product.
What we got was a much deeper business relationship in which we had full alignment with a group of product and technical experts who were capable of fully understanding our vision. Moreover, they were able to help us scope it in such a way that I feel like we even overachieved in the collaboration.
Final Advice to Entrepreneurs Considering Building Their Product with an Agency
My one piece of advice, if you’re considering working with an agency, is to ensure you really stick to an MVP.
Be aware of feature creep, especially considering you won’t be directly managing the tech resource you’re working with.
This will give you a lot of time to think about cool new features that you’d like to see, which can quickly result in overloading your product with features to the point where it’s no longer an MVP.
Building the first version of your product with an agency can be a very smart move.
And while it’s not the romantic “two founders in their garage” startup story that we’ve seen, it is a much more realistic way to set yourself up for success.
Just make sure you don’t get complacent, and remember that your long-term goal should be to bring in an in-house team when the time is right.
And, most importantly, make sure you find the right people for the job. Check reviews, and talk to former clients of the agency you’re thinking of hiring.
Remember that to be successful you need clear communication, transparency, and a good process in place.
Good luck and thanks for reading.
Sachin is a Tech Founder with over a decade of experience in the technology sector. He’s one of the founders behind Ovvio, a startup that’s revolutionising how people find advice online.