A Software Development Agency Must Challenge A Startup Founder

Paolo Dotta

29 June 2019

As the founder of a Product & Software Development Agency, I learnt a long time ago that aligning with a startup founder’s vision is crucial. However, to truly deliver great results it’s important to challenge founders’ ideas so that the product being built can grow and improve. 

At Altar.io, we often challenge the assumptions of the founders we work with. Some think this is a risk. That it will intimidate or even threaten a potential client and stop them working with us. In our experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth and, in the long run, has a positive effect for both us and the client. 

In this article, I am going to outline why challenging ideas and assumptions can be beneficial for both Software Development Agencies and Startup Founders. 

Benefits For The Startup Founder

In a startup environment, the risk is that (most of the time) you may not have the resources to recover from partnering with the wrong agency. This makes choosing the right one vital for survival.

Often a more “salesy” agency will say yes to every request you make – greedy to increase its client base and quickly produce billables. Without taking a second to learn about your business vision or market fit they will start building your product. They don’t care if you get what you need at the end of the process because it’s not their business – therefore it’s not their problem.

Conversely, being challenged does not mean an Agency will override your decisions – and if that starts to happen they are a  bad fit. Rather these challenges will help you take a deeper look at your assumptions.

Having built numerous products, any good agency will have a “playbook” of great tips to make a great product. Whilst launching a business in a precise space means that you, the Founder, will know a lot about that industry and business.

Therefore the boomerang effect may occur – after many discussions, the product and vision go back to their initial stage. But the reasoning behind it will be stronger and the agency’s challenge will have enriched your product and increased your odds of a successful business.

In my experience most of the time founders come with Idea A, we suggest Idea B and in the end, we create Idea C together – a mashup of all the good parts of A & B. 

By not taking valuable advice when it’s given you are risking your business. In fact, this article from Inc. argues that startups don’t fail because they’re startups – they fail because of their founders:

Founders fail because they want to believe they have it all figured out, even when they don't.

Founders fail because they want to be seen as the smartest person in the room - and not seen as the student.

Founders fail because they can't admit when they're wrong.

By allowing yourself to be challenged you will become wiser throughout your business journey. You will have a clearer idea of where to invest your time & money – thanks, in part, to that outside eye. After all, if you are talking to an experienced agency they have probably faced many of the pitfalls and mistakes you are likely to encounter.

A Software Development Agency Must Challenge A Startup Founder - Benefits For The Startup Founder
Daniel, CEO of Altar, Product and Software development company specialising in building MVPs, full custom software development projects & creating UX/UI that is both functional and beautiful
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Benefits for the Software Development Agency (And Why You Should Know About Them)

An agency that says yes to every demand probably doesn’t care about the quality of what they are building. This is just as bad for the agency as it is for the startup. They will garner a reputation for producing sub-par work – and you will end up with an unusable product.

As I have already mentioned, there is a common thought that many startups fail because the founders won’t budge on their ideas. To save their ego they would rather try to make their original idea work rather than admitting they don’t have it all figured out.

This kind of founder is a nightmare for an agency – and challenging ideas and assumptions is an efficient way to identify them. They may even refuse to work with the founder because of it.

First impressions could lead you to think that the agency has just kissed goodbye to short-term money – they could just say yes, get on with it and cash the check. 

But let’s look at the long-term. Challenging a founder’s decisions, on the product, tech, and business allows  the agency to be recognised as a business partner. Not a mere executor. This trust builder can eventually be turned into more work in the future through referrals.

Through challenging a founder the agency will have a better opportunity to align themselves with a startup’s vision and learn why those decisions were made. It will excite the agency and they will be passionate when crafting the product. This increases the odds of delivering an exceptional product. 

If in the process of challenging the startup the discussion becomes counterproductive it tells the agency they may not be the right match. By walking away from the partnership they can better invest their time and energy into finding a founder that is a better fit. This has a positive impact on the agencies portfolio – as well as increasing the chances of lucrative cash flow. 

The process of challenging a founder demonstrates that you are dealing with an honest agency. An intelligent founder will appreciate this and is more likely to consider the agency for further work or referrals.

Final Thoughts

It takes time and hard work for both the founder and the agency to create positive collaboration and high-quality results. 

For founders, my advice is to partner with entities that put passion and professionalism in what they’re doing. Who use their expertise to challenge your decisions – in order to help to create a high-quality product that achieves your business goals.

For the agencies, my advice is to look for founders that are committed and open to criticism. Look for people that pursue their work with passion and have a clear vision for their venture. Who respect and value the time they spend working with you.

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Paolo Dotta
Paolo started working in banking in Milan and London. After the financial career, he created a startup and then joined Altar where he mainly deals with business development and fintech projects.

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