Outsourcing · Apps

How can you vet a software developer when you have no tech knowledge?


May 5th, 2015

I am considering outsourcing my app Closer Than (www.closerthanapp.com) but I worry that I won't be able to adequately vet software developers to find the right one for the job. 

I do not have any tech knowledge so will not know the exact requirements and skill set needed to code certain features of my app. 

Has anyone had any experience in outsourcing development before? How did you go about choosing the right developer?

I understand dev shops have various skilled people to carry out certain projects, though other than a portfolio is there any way I could find out whether they would be good for creating my app?

Narjeet Soni Mobile Apps and eCommerce expert, Lean Startup and Agile evangelist , Entrepreneur, EU resident

May 5th, 2015

Many entrepreneurs have this question - specially when they are not from tech background. This is the exact problem we wanted to solve.

I was getting lot of such requests from my friends and network when I was working with bigger enterprise company. Due to my 10 years of experience of managing web and mobile products, I had access to really awesome tech talent. This was how The Lean Apps (theleanapps.com) was born in Berlin :)

Please do let me know if I could be of any assistance. I can help you answer questions around mobile and web product development and mobile marketing.

Some additional points I would like to add:
  1. Define your MVP (Minimum viable Product) and do development in Sprints of 2-3 weeks
  2. Ask your vendor for code after every Sprint - if possible get it reviewed
  3. Define each user story very clearly and define proper acceptance criterion
  4. Do daily standups to closely monitor the progress
  5. Take demos every 2 Sprint of finished stories and also do retrospectives
  6. Integrate yourself as part of team, and act as a Product Owner
  7. Use tools such as JIRA, Rally to do Project management and Issue management
  8. Use GitHub to manage the source code
  9. See for clues on how well they understand your idea, and your target customer. See if you get some logical suggestions from the team
  10. How well do they communicate...very important skill
  11. Of-course check existing products and customer references

Karen Leventhal

May 5th, 2015

I'm in similar position. I  can't say I've solved the problem yet, but I can give you some tips from my pitfalls. 

1) First if have friends or family who know software, ask them to be advisors or "vetters"
2) Learn enough to know about the big picture questions: how will this scale?  What programming language are you using and why? How are you programming in way that other developers can easily step in later? At the very least  you can see if they can explain their choices in a coherent way.
3) Talk to a bunch of firms. They will add different dimensions that you hadn't probably thought of before. You can add those to your list of questions. 
4) I hate to say this, but you kind of have to throw trust out the window and make sure you understand every fine point of any contract you sign.  Will you own the code or the product? Is there any ongoing licensing fee they will charge you?  Is there some kind of quality guarantee? 
5) I would hire advise against an hourly, unbounded rate. Get a fixed bid. 
6) Get a delivery schedule. Also if it's a lot of work consider, chunking the process down into chunks and pay per chunk.  
7) Ask to talk to previous customers. 
8) Google them. I hate to say it but sometimes you can find unflattering anonymous reviews by employees-- for whatever that's worth.
9) Think about whether you are going to need them to manage the MVP and how long (before you bring anyone in house) and ask what their maintenance rates are.
9) Talk to enough people that you get a sense of the median rates/timelines are.  So if someone is way over or way under, you might think twice. 

That's all I can think of. Hope it helps!

David Schwartz Multi-Platform (Desktop+Mobile) Rapid Prototyping + Dev, Tool Dev

May 5th, 2015

See these threads:


In particular, what do you think of this?


Narjeet Soni Mobile Apps and eCommerce expert, Lean Startup and Agile evangelist , Entrepreneur, EU resident

May 5th, 2015

Personally, I would not care for scalability, security and handful of limitations for an MVP. The idea of an MVP is to reduce GTM time and launch as soon as possible to your early adopters. This will start the process of validated learning from your customers.

Keep it Simple:
Decide on MVP Features --> Write user stories/use-cases --> Decide the flow --> find a decent dev team (not has to be awesome) --> get the product out in market --> learn from customer - what they like, what they don't like --> build again (keep doing this forever)

Also note, in app business visibility on app store is a big challenge. So whatever money you decide to invest, keep 60% of it for marketing and use 40% for development.  Never blow everything on development


May 5th, 2015

There are tons of discussions on outsourcing already here http://members.founderdating.com/discuss/topic/Outsourcing - really helpful to do a search first.

Steve Owens Startup Expert

May 5th, 2015

Outsourcing any activity:

1. Make sure the fit it right.  If you're a startup, do not outsource to companies that specialize in working with large established businesses.

2. Make sure they follow some kind of processes.

3. Check there references.

4. Do not pick the lowest bidder.

5. Can you communicate with them?  Do they really understand who you are and what you are trying to do.

6. Do they have real employees and a real building.  Avoid the "temporary unemployed freelancer".

7. How well do they operate a team - teams outperform individuals.

David Schwartz Multi-Platform (Desktop+Mobile) Rapid Prototyping + Dev, Tool Dev

May 5th, 2015

What everyone is talking AROUND is you need to become skilled as a software project manager rather than a developer. You may be better off hiring an experienced PM with PMI certification instead. 

Narjeet Soni Mobile Apps and eCommerce expert, Lean Startup and Agile evangelist , Entrepreneur, EU resident

May 5th, 2015

That's what being an entrepreneur means, you have to wear lot of hats, specially when you are bootstrapping your way

Chris Carruth VP/Director. Strategy | Business Development | Operations | Product | Solutions

May 5th, 2015

All great comments, but I think the issue is really lack of technical knowledge. For initial vetting the real answer is to have the outsourced shop develop a high level software architecture that can be shared with a tech consultant. Have a review call with the programmers so the consultant can really get down to the key issues, including scalability, security, footprint, cross-platform limitations, and much more.

The reality is that if you are not a programmer/engineer it will be literally impossible for you to not only  know which questions to ask but to know if the answers you are getting are valid. And unless your project is somewhat similar to others, that you have talked to as a reference, it is not at all guaranteed that YOUR technical solution is similar. Could be, could not be.

Development houses come in all shapes..the ones you want to avoid are those that are constantly turning over freelancers. Not only will there be no consistency in coding conventions (structure) but there will be countless code threads that lead nowhere, with the result that the code base is bloated and performance is poor. End result being a frustrating user experience. Not that I would personally know of such a situation LOL. 

The only other comment is..I would suggest you have the code base checked/examined at key points by a veteran programmer as a consultant. They will be able to spot programming"BS" and other technical terms that point to problems down the road.

Hugo Messer

May 6th, 2015

HI Malia,

I think there are a lot of good answers already here. I do concur with the notion that it helps if you have someone on board who can (project) manage the programmer(s) you hire. Somehow you need to translate your functional ideas to a person who makes code out of it. And you don't always talk the same language. 

I have recently launched a platform that actually answers most of your answers (i think): you can find vetted software teams, including reviews (in progress), from all over the world. So no freelancers, but whole teams (including architects and project managers) who can support a full project beginning to end. have a look: http://www.ekipa.co 

I've also written some books about the topic, maybe interesting for you: http://bridge-staffing.com/ebooks 

If you want, we could have a skype call (hugomesser), so I can help you in structuring your thoughts.