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For the last 3 weeks, I’ve been working with a firm out of India to help me with the design of my financial planning site. So far, things are going relatively well, but there have been some bumps along the way. For those of you interested, here’s what to look out for.
Elance, for those who don’t know, is a site that connects freelancers with people in need of professional work. I was able to post some basic specs, and a whole host of firms were able to bid on this work.
Choosing a Contractor
This really is going to be highly dependent on what you are looking for (and will seem a little discriminatory). Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, so the better developers are going to cost you more than $20/hr. As per some basic discrimination, avoid all developers in the US who charge $20/hr or less -cost of living alone in the US is phenomenally high compared to developing countries such that a similarly priced US and foreign firm will tell you something about what you will get back. And if you are looking for something extremely high quality, avoid India and Pakistan. Developers from this region are looking to cut corners and put something out as quickly as possible, regardless of quality. Something you also need to consider will be your own technical and product management skills. If you haven’t overseen a developer before, you might want to consider shelling out some more moolah.
Elance also provides samples of work from each firm, customer reviews, and a skill-set testing system so you can get a basic idea of what each firm can do. Before choosing a firm, make sure that the firm has taken Elance’s tests (instead of self rating which obviously is going to lead to arbitrarily high scores), and has received high marks from previous customers.
So why did I choose India?
Because the developer had ton a TON of work previously completed via Elance and had received mostly positive reviews. Also, per my own advice, I am getting a very alpha version out as quickly as possible so that I can test before I spend too much money. I’ve spec’d out what I consider a minimum viable product for initial feedback, and only once I feel we’ve developed a sustainable idea will I find a higher quality firm (or co-founder). Moreover there’s something to be said about having worked with Indian firms before, and having worked extremely closely with a wide variety of highly skilled developers here in the States.
My dream firm was this studly Ukrainian team that unfortunately would have cost me about 3 times as much. They were responsive, technically savvy, and honest about their qualifications and time needs. Sadly, for now I need something cheap and dirty, and am willing to sacrifice quality for cost effectiveness.
So far, communication has been the largest issue so far. After I first selected the firm, when my project was being handed over from the marketing team to the developers, the firm stopped responding. Flat, cold stopped responding. I basically had to threaten to take my work elsewhere before someone got back to me and a flurry of activity began. Luckily, the initial mockups of the homepage were of high enough quality to justify sticking with them.
My other issue with communication is around dialogue. I’m used to asking developers a question and getting an answer with a few options as well as a recommendation. This doesn’t occur with the Indians – instead, I ask “would this navigation work better horizontally instead of vertically?” and a day later they just respond “we have changed the navigation tabs”.
My last issue is one of quality. You can tell that some of the aesthetics are rushed, and often I have to ask for 4 or 5 iterations before something looks like it should’ve the first time. The code looks clean enough so far, mostly because I think they are using 3rd party open sourced plugins. I’ll see how the custom code ends up looking, and hopefully that will be clean as well.
I’ll definitely follow up on this after the project is done, but so far so good. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Micromanage, micromanage, micromanage: you have to be on top of these guys day in and day out. Every week begins with me asking what the plan for the week is, and then for every iteration I critique and immediately send back my feedback. Typically, I hate to micromanage as I think it is hugely inefficient, but this is one of the exceptions to the rule.
2) Everything takes twice as long as you plan for: the typical adage is that it should cost twice as much as well, but this is a fixed bid. We’ll see about how much follow on work costs.
3) Know EXACTLY what you want: You can’t assume that the firm will go above and beyond to wow you, so you must have your project perfectly specified and planned.