If you’re looking for a service page on software development for startups, feel free to check ours here. If you’re interested in knowing more about how to successfully work with a software development company, keep reading. Below you’ll find our tried and tested process to successfully develop a startup product with an agency.
As a founder, you are a specialist in your industry. You’ve had your “lightbulb moment”, the idea that will disrupt your industry – or at least a part of it – with the use of technology.
You know all about the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Maybe you’ve already decided you are going to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
But, as marketing guru Neil Patel says “There is no such thing as a solo entrepreneur.”
So, as most founders do, you probably started looking for a technical co-founder with a view to building your dream team of product experts and best-in-class developers.
There’s just one problem: it’s hard to attract top talent with an idea on a napkin.
It’s a classic dilemma. Obtaining top talent, with a limited budget, to transform your idea into a successful product – all before your competitors beat you to the market.
It’s the reason why so many entrepreneurs are turning to software development companies to help them transform their business ideas into reality.
Which is exactly what we do here at Altar.io.
We have a tried and tested process for successful custom software development for startups.
Throughout this article, I will share our entire process in detail. Then I will share some secrets so you can extract the most value possible from any software development company.
- Custom Product & Software Development for Startups with Altar.io
- The Secrets of Working with a Software Development Company
- Above All, Focus On What Matters Most…
Custom Product & Software Development for Startups with Altar.io
We use a structured approach, based on the lean methodology, to take your project from a business idea to a meaningful product that can help you test the market, get some traction, and eventually raise money to scale.
The process begins with our product experts working with you to streamline the initial version of your product, the MVP, to its most important features.
Next, our UX/UI and custom software development teams work with you to design and build your MVP.
This process allows you to launch your product as quickly as possible, while still focusing on the user and the main assumptions behind your business.
Here is a rundown of how the process works step by step.
The Product Scope is an intensive process that gives you all the resources you need to prepare the initial version of your product for its development phase.
It’s proven to be valuable to the entrepreneurs we work with – as you can see from the feedback they give us.
Our Product Scope process begins with the scope preparation.
In this phase, we sit down with you to deep dive into your product vision.
It’s vital that we know your idea inside out so we can create a comprehensive brief for your project.
In the scope preparation, we gather all the research needed to move forward. This includes numbers on the market, competitor benchmarks and any other necessary information.
Once we have created the comprehensive brief for your product, we can move on to the immersive session.
During the immersive session, we take all the research and information from the comprehensive brief to create your:
- Unique Value Proposition – which defines the value your product will provide, who it’s for and why it’s better than current solutions
- List of Main Assumptions to Validate – a breakdown of each assumption that needs to be validated. This could be validated by research or by a feature built into your MVP.
Then, when we’ve fully agreed on the above points, our team will craft your initial user stories.
These stories will help us to evaluate your feature list in the next stage of the Product Scope, the product rationale.
With all the information from both the scope preparation and the immersive session, we’ll be ready to create your:
- MVP feature list
- Final user stories
These elements are vital for the development phase. Focusing on the users’ journey allows you to build a product that truly actually solves their problems.
Meanwhile, a set feature list allows you to keep your product lean, allowing you to avoid feature creep and only build features that validate your main assumptions.
Finally, we will design the key screens of your MVP – so you have a visual idea of what the final product should look like.
If needed, at this stage of the process, we can also craft a:
- Key BPMN (Business Process Model & Notation)
- Tech Scope
- Tech Spike
- Business Model
In our experience, not every project needs all of the above. Therefore, we evaluate this on a case-by-case basis depending on your specific needs.
Once the Product Scope has been defined we then move onto the development stage of the process.
Note: We have a non-binding contract with all of our clients. Meaning, at this stage, if you want to take the deliverables of the Product Scope to a different technical stakeholder (whether that’s an in-house team, freelancer, or another agency) you’re completely free to do so.
Step One: All Screens
Using the approved key screens from the product scope, our team designs the product in full.
They then deliver the full product UX/UI, enabling you to envision what your finished product will look like.
Step Two: Development
After you’ve approved the full design for your product, it’s time to move into the development phase.
In this phase, our team of top technical talent progressively delivers modules of your product.
This allows you to begin testing parts of your product during the process.
Our teams work in two-week sprints, with structured milestones both internally and with you.
These two-week sprints include:
- PM Sync: The team update the delivery plan when necessary, include changes and simply review progress
- Backlog Review: The team ensures requirements are ready for implementation and decide what to start next
- Sprint planning: The team define goals for the next weeks, clarify product questions, and prepare implementation
- Point of Situation with Client: A mandatory once-per-week meeting to show you the progress and planning for the next sprint
Step Three: Test & Launch
Once our custom software development team has built your product, we enter the testing phase.
During this phase, we’re in constant contact with you to fix any major bugs and issues to ensure your product is ready for launch.
Once we’ve ironed out any issues, you’re ready to launch your product and begin gathering feedback from your users.
Post MVP Development
Once you’ve launched, and begun gathering feedback from your users, you will undoubtedly wish to implement changes to the initial version of your product.
At this stage of our business relationship, you have two options.
Option One: Continuous Development with Altar
At this point, we can continue to work with you to improve and grow your product from a technical perspective.
This commitment can be set up in one of two ways:
- Time & Materials: Here there is a price per hour, per team member. You’re able to scale the team up or down depending on your product’s needs with a minimum of 10 days’ notice.
- Dedicated Team: We set up a dedicated team, on our premises and hired by Altar.io. The dedicated team has a minimum commitment of 6 months – however, it usually comes at a lower cost per hour vs. the Time & Materials model.
That being said, in our experience, at this point startups naturally begin to require an in-house technical team.
Therefore, we also offer a second option – a knowledge transfer.
Option Two: An In-House Team
With a working product out in the market, it will be a lot easier to onboard your own team of technical talent to help you grow your business.
If you decide at this stage to transfer responsibility to an in-house team, as we believe all founders should eventually, we can help you ensure that transition is as smooth as possible.
Firstly, we can help you find and hire the right technical stakeholders for you – including sourcing and pre-selected candidates that best fit your team’s needs.
Secondly, we can help get your technical team up to speed – regardless of if we have helped you find them or not.
Normally, when ending a business relationship with an agency, they hand over all technical documentation to you and your new technical team.
In our experience, this is not the most effective way to hand over the accumulated knowledge.
That’s why we developed our proprietary knowledge transfer process.
It’s designed to ensure that your new technical team has a full understanding of the product we built together
The way it works is our team works in partnership with your team for a pre-agreed amount of time.
During that time, our team will focus on passing on all the information needed to onboard your team and get them up to speed.
When you and your team are happy that they have everything they need, we will then phase our team out of the process.
The Secrets of Working with a Software Development Company
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, as well as sharing the entire framework we use at Altar.io, I would also share some tips on how you can get the most out of your relationship with a software development company.
Starting with the kind of agency you should be looking for.
Knowledge & Hunger
When bringing any professional into your business you need to find passionate and hungry people with the strengths that your company currently lacks. Whether it’s experience, UX/UI, tech, or product.
This is no different when you search for a Product & Software Development Company.
Good, reputable Software Development Companies only hire the best professionals.
They become specialists in the businesses they advise. From Fintech to Online Travel, Marketplaces, E-commerce, and so on.
The first step in a successful agency relationship is to do your due diligence and find a team that has a wealth of knowledge and a hunger to create disruptive products.
Learn From Those Who’ve Done It
Look for articles by successful entrepreneurs who built their companies with a software development company.
Reach out to entrepreneurs and founders who have experience working with a software development company.
If you’re already talking to an agency, ask them to put you in contact with some of their previous clients.
In other words, do your research.
This will give you an insight into how the agency works and will help you better navigate the working relationship.
Protect Your Assets
As with any business process you need to protect your intellectual property. Have lawyers look at any contracts between you and the potential software development company.
In many cases, they will be using a good percentage of code that belongs to them or to open source communities (imagine the code for a login window or social media share button). In these cases, the agency should lease a free perpetual license for you to use this code.
For everything that is unique to your product, you should negotiate shared or exclusive rights to its intellectual property.
Related: Explore The Products We Build
Use Their Knowledge & Benefit From It
A high-quality Software Development Company will have decades of combined experience – all of which is available to your startup. Therefore, don’t just ask them to execute your ideas. Share your ideas and ask for their opinions. Ask them strategic questions to impact your business positively regarding:
- Conversion improvements
- Knowing the customer better
- Gaining traffic
- Leaner tech strategies
- Solving the customers’ problems
- Creating certain features
- Which features are more important
- Building a roadmap to stay relevant and ahead of the curve.
On the other side of the coin, be wary if they say yes to all your ideas.
This may be a sign they are just looking to cash your cheque!
Great agencies give you an experienced Project Manager, and never leave you dealing with an uninformed Account Manager.
Your PM, along with your product experts and software developers, may challenge your ideas and see things differently from you.
Be ready for contrary ideas and candid advice on how your product can be more meaningful to your demographics. Take full advantage of this, it shows that the agency you are working with cares deeply about the success of their projects – an umbrella you now fall under.
Above All, Focus On What Matters Most…
…Building a successful business.
If you are able to find a highly-skilled, experienced technical co-founder & development team within your startup’s budget from day one then you should jump at the opportunity.
In my experience, however, few founders find themselves in this position. And it doesn’t take away from the fact that onboarding early is a financial risk, especially if you are yet to validate your product.
Agencies that offer software development for startups can help you get to market quicker, with a lower budget, and with reduced risk. You just have to ensure you do your due diligence and choose the right partner.
Andre has a wealth of experience in the Startup scene, having created Table & Friends, a social restaurant reservation system back in 2011. Since the start of Altar.io, he’s been involved in helping clients in a broad range of sectors such as Marketplaces, Travel and Education.