Finding a Great Partner For Outsourcing Your MVP

This is a post in our series about outsourcing a digital Minimum Viable Product to test the viability of your idea with real customers. This could be a good read if you're looking to build an MVP for your startup or enterprise.

In the previous post, we looked into what a comprehensive RFP should contain. Today, we'll be discussing how to find, vet and choose your future partner.

Finding the right partner for your MVP outsourcing is perhaps the most critical part of the process. This is going to be a long one, so let's get to it!

Process

A thorough process could look like this:

  • Come up with a list of potential candidates
  • Do a preliminary round of vetting
  • Send out the RFP to the vendors who passed 
  • Vet the received proposals and select the final candidates
  • Do further vetting on those
  • If you have the budget, run a proof of concept project with your favorite 2-5 candidates
  • Trust your instincts above all else. If something doesn't feel right, do not proceed :)

But first, let's take a quick detour to right a common misconception people have about outsourcing development...

Cheap, good & fast

One of the major fallacies people have about outsourcing software is that all software is built equal. You cannot get something that is cheap, good quality and delivered fast - having all three qualities in one vendor is just a bit more likely than winning the lottery. You will have to be prepared to compromise on at least one of the qualities. Let's look at it through an analogy of building a house.

You can spend a little money on a cheap labor contractor to build your house. You'll have to probably describe your house in great detail to get what you want. If you do not specifically request you'd like a roof and a door - you might be missing both! And still it will have problems like leaky pipes (you forgot to specifically say they should not be leaky), toilets not flushing and lights working only half of the time. The project ran late as well as you might have guessed... In the next year when you decide to build that second floor, the new contractor says that the foundings are not strong enough and the whole house needs to be rebuilt. It was cheap to start with, but in the end, you ended up paying more.

Alternatively, you reach out to a well-known, and yes expensive as well, contractor and let them know your wishes. They understand your demands and execute your vision with speed. You will have a beautiful house, where everything works. And the project is on time. They even went beyond expectations and included a beautiful hand-carved nameplate on your door. Next year, the second-floor project will be done at ease as the foundings are rock-solid.

This is how it is with software as well. You will VERY likely be getting what you pay for. There are exceptions to this, but that is leaving things to luck and guesswork.

The takeaway from this detour is - if you are looking to outsource to the cheaper developers, you really have to put in the effort beforehand to ensure there will be a door and a roof to your house. :)

Types of vendors

Generally, there are three types of vendors to choose from when outsourcing your MVP. Any of the choices can work for your project, but I'll give you some pros and cons of each below to make it easier to pick the best for you.

Freelancers:

  • [+] can be lower price
  • [+] work with one person, easy to build a relationship
  • [+] fast moving
  • [-] riskier, can disappear / no support going forward
  • [-] lack of resources building something larger

Small agencies (~2-15)

  • [+] move fast still
  • [+] work with a team, still able to build a relationship
  • [+] more resources
  • [-] can be more costly than a freelancer

Large agencies/companies (15+)

  • [+] lots of resources
  • [-] harder to have a good relationship, people change
  • [-] quality changes depending on team (previous reference not worth much)
  • [-] more overhead, costly
  • [-] move slow

Finding vendors

The best way to find great candidates is by a recommendation from somebody you know and trust. Especially if they have actually worked with the vendor before and are basing the recommendation on that experience. If it's just a word-of-mouth recommendation, then you might want to take the recommendation with a grain of salt - particularly if it's a larger company. As you might just get unlucky and have a bad team work on your product.

Another option is to use communities you're a part of to ask for recommendations. Think Facebook groups you're a member of, your housing association meeting or the folks at your yoga club for example.

If recommendations don't bring up anything, then you'll have to trust the internet. If you're looking to find a freelancer you'll have many, many sites available (Upwork, Elance, Craigslist, etc.). For finding agencies or companies, you can turn to google. You can find quite a few agencies focusing on building MVPs with a proven track record. Search terms could be "startup agency"  or "mvp startup agency" for example.

Vetting vendors before sending RFP

The first round of vetting should be a quick check to see if they have a decent website and some previous work shown. You should find links to actual live products you can play with. It's a definite red-flag if you cannot find any projects to play with. If you have a technical friend available, you could ask them to take a look at the technology side of the reference projects.

Vetting after receiving proposals

When you start receiving proposals, you should carefully go over them and see how well they match your requirements. Then you'll pick the ones that seem to be the best fit for your project and proceed to vet them further. Further vetting would include contacting previous clients for comments and in-person meetings with the person/team you'd be working with.

Next step would depend on your budget. Nothing really beats actually trying out each candidate for a small proof of concept project to see how they fare. If you have the budget, you should hire your top 2-5 candidates and have them all complete the same, small piece of your product. Then you can assess the work and the experience of working with each vendor.

With these steps completed, you should have a good chance of having found a great partner!

PS. If you're looking to outsource your MVP, you should take a look at our Flightplan: MVP Outsourcing Course.