Hiring a Developer
“There are no shortcuts to victory.” – Richard Lugar
I’m going to start this section with a cliché – you get what you pay for. The truth to this statement continues to manifest itself not only in my business but in my life. Quality costs money. It’s as simple as that.
When you’re hiring a developer, you’ve got a lot of options – a firm, an individual, a small team, domestic, overseas, etc. The hardest part can be figuring out where to start and who to trust. Let’s break this down.
Finding a Developer
When you’re beginning your search, you’re essentially starting at zero. It’s even harder when you don’t have a clue what exactly you’re looking to buy other than “an app.” Here are a few great ways to start your developer search:
1. Ask around – This can be from friends, family, or co-workers OR it can be on discussion boards, websites, and review sites. Ask people for referrals and explain what you’re looking for. About 4-5 people a day call me just asking for a good developer to contact. Please don’t call me though, I don’t have the time 😛
2. Google – Doing the old search engine scour is another way to do it. You’ll be able to see a lot of different firms and their portfolio/service offerings. Be specific – type in your state (if you’re in the USA) and iPhone app developer and go through a few pages before making any calls. Ask about their process, pricing, and overall workflow. If they are willing, ask them to send you a proposal.
3. Freelancing Sites (oDesk, eLance) – This is a good way to get a sense of pricing right off the bat and also to get into the world of outsourcing. You can browse posted jobs and find ones that are similar to yours (“I need a simple word game”) and see what people write as their job request. You can then research these firm on their profile pages or their main web pages, and maybe even follow up with their contact form. This is going to be a bit more impersonal, so treat it as though you’ve got a very
bright idea and the set of deliverables that you want built for you. Unless you know what you’re doing with software, you will want to make sure they have some project manager dedicated to your project so that you’re not stuck answering questions like “Which Xcode framework would you like this to run on – Cocos2d?” You get the drift.
No matter which path you decide to take, you should definitely take your time and find the firm that works best for you. You’ll know when you find them, and then you just have to go for it. Be honest about who you are and what you’re looking for and they will respect that – no one is going to take advantage of you, especially in a market as competitive and global as this one.
Choosing a Developer
Now that you’ve got ten proposals in front of you, what should you be looking for? How do you know which is going to deliver you what you want and which won’t? Here’s a side by side:
Individual Developers vs. Firms
• Personal and collaborative – if it’s the right fit they may act more like a partner than a hired gun
• Specific skill sets – every developer has their own strengths. If you get one that matches exactly what you’re doing, you’re going to get an excellent product
• Cheaper – for better or for worse, you’re not paying for project management and overhead.
• Highly deliverable and time-oriented – firms thrive on project plans and
timelines. You’ll have reports sent to you all the time telling you where things stand.
• Project management – you’ll have one person who can take the lead on everything. You’ll never have to speak to a programmer about what you want and will always have someone to talk to.
- Hit By A Bus – this means that if something comes up with any of the developers, there’s a backup plan. Your project is not going to suffer.
• Testing/QA – in my experience, the more people working on the app, the better. This helps get the bugs out and get multiple perspectives on the project. You can be rest assured that ten people cleaning up an app are going to comb through things better than one person.
Domestic vs. Off-shore (this is mostly for the USA, but can be applied to most countries)
• Language – this can actually be very detrimental to a project. Not only is it annoying (sorry) but details get lost in translation. Nuances that you are used to expressing in your native language may be perceived as something completely different. Example – “I want this home screen to integrate nicely with the about screen.” —translated to— “We need to put a button on the home screen that links to the about screen [with no regard to design or user flow]. Domestic firms are easy to communicate with.
• Talent – I don’t mean this in the sense that the talent is better by any means, but I do find that the domestic firms’ products are more technically sound and robust. Consistency may be the best word for this.
• Accountability – working with a firm that’s in the States allows you to rest easy that you are protected by the governing body of the USA, along with the mighty power of online reviews. If something goes awry, you can visit the firm and play on the same level as them in terms of legal action (RARELY necessary). Because this is unspoken, the quality is much higher and is basically baked into the price.
• Good for the Country – yeah, I’ll say it. It’s awesome to be able to re-invest money back into the USA if you can. I’m definitely a proponent of outsourcing overseas, but I think there is a lot to be said for developing something in your own backyard.
• Cheap – God is it cheap. The reasons for this are many, but the biggest being is that the labor supply is enormous. This point is not necessary a plus, but it’s a fact. Another reason is true is because a lot of offshore firms will not do all the bells and whistles of a domestic firm in terms of proposals and timelines. They’ll say “what do you want, we will do that for X dollars.” It’s not warm and fuzzy, often doesn’t look great out of the gate, but you can save some serious coin.
• Fast – I had a company build me a copy of a complicated content display app (see
Martha Stewart’s Cocktail app, will show you video later on) just to see how the process worked. I figured this would be a 4-5 month job. Wrong – I got the full Xcode project, entirely populated with dummy content, in 5 weeks (including a six day national holiday). If you’ve got a simple, clear idea of what you need done, this can be a lifesaver.
• Very little BS – Believe it or not, the professionalism I have seen with overseas firms is far and away better than most domestic firms. These guys are HUNGRY for business and will be knocking down your door once the project begins to get feedback and move onto next steps. You’ll never have them tell you “Oh, well we’ve got to whiteboard this for a while” or any of that. They get things done.
Making sure you understand how the payment process works will save you a lot of headaches and will also make you look like you know what you’re doing. Most development firms work in phases, or milestones, which represent points where deliverables are completed, and payment is sent. A typical project would be broken out like this:
a. 25% – Initial Deposit/Kickoff
b. 25% – Approval of Graphics/Wireframes/Lite Prototype (assuming they are designing it)
c. 25% – Approval of Beta Version (on iPhone simulator or iPhone device if you can get to the firm’s office)
d. 25% – Approval and release into Apple Store
This can all change depending on the type of app, the size of the project, and use of outside graphics. Usually, this is a pretty easy negotiation, and the developer will be happy to make arrangements however you’d like.
One piece that you may want to discuss with your developer is what’s called a “Discovery” phase. This is typically only a realistic option if your project is going to cost more than $50,000 because otherwise it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense for the firm. What this does it pays for the firm to write you a blueprint for the entire project – all the way from conceptual to tactical to marketing – and then present it to you as a way to see the entire scope of the project before investing fully. You can roll this into you final project cost, or you can take the blueprint to another firm – it’s totally up to you.
Developer Wrap Up
If there are a few golden rules to leave you with, here they are:
1. Get a lot of proposals from different firms and just assume that the price spread is roughly proportional to the quality that you’re going to get.
2.Expect to be engaged in the project if you want it to turn out the way you want it to. 3.No developer should be able to give you a firm price until they’ve gotten you on the
phone or been able to ask you a lot of questions. I’ve heard of people asking for a quote and saying “I’ve got a $15K budget and here’s my idea” and then the developer says “Oh wow, that’s amazing. That project is exactly $13,800, which fits perfectly in your budget.” Code red.
4.Go with your gut. At the end of the day, all these guys can code and provide you with an app – it’s the one that makes you feel like they’re going to do a good job that should be getting your money.