Web Development · Contractors

Would you use a Web Development Company or Independent Contractor?

Jen Kokko District Manager at Insperity

March 19th, 2015

I'm a non technical tech entrepreneur looking to get a website and mobile app built that requires creative design and functionality as well as e-commerce.

Should I hire a web development company or should I consider an independent contractor? What are the pros/cons for both? Is it possible to negotiate a fixed rate contract or should I expect to pay an hourly rate?  Any advice on how to evaluate potential developers?

Nick Damiano Co-Founder & CEO at Zenflow

March 20th, 2015

If this website is in any way part of your core product offering, not having a technical co-founder is a huge mistake. You describe yourself as a "tech entrepreneur" and made it sound like you need some fairly advanced functionality, so I'm guessing this is the case. Nobody is likely to take you seriously if you're outsourcing your core competency. You need to build product expertise within your internal team, recruit and attract the best technical talent as you grow, and have someone who can oversee the technical roadmap throughout the lifespan of your company. You cannot do that and contractors cannot do that. Only a strong CTO can.

If the website is an afterthought, sure, follow others' advice on contracting it out to a dev shop or independent - doesn't matter much which one you use as long as they're good. But a tech company needs a solid in-house technical team, period. Not having this in place is a huge red flag for investors, and for good reason because it dramatically decreases your odds of success.

Aleksandra Czajka Freelance Senior Software Engineer, Developer, Web Developer, Programmer - Full Stack

March 20th, 2015


I'm an independent freelance senior software engineer. Have been in the industry for a decade and freelancing for most of it. Here's some of my thoughts on the subject...

Seems you're getting lots of opinions here that are sounding cut and dry. But, it's not that simple. Obviously, I'm going to say go with a single person because this is what I do with start-ups. I would also say that because for me, as a person that has done this for many years, it's very straight forward to implement a project like this. Other independent programmers, who knows. It all depends a 100% on who you get. 

The best advice I can give you on how to vet tech people is this: don't get swindled by the perception of knowledge by someone that makes you feel silly by asking technical questions about your product or anything else. I've seen many programmers try to make themselves seem smarter by hording information. Make sure you work with someone that can answer all your questions and wants to. 

Make sure you pick someone based on integrity as well. You will not know how your code is developed. You wont know how secure your data is. You won't know whether there's a lot of bugs. You won't know a lot of critical information about your project...unless your developer is a person that values integrity. 

Vetting a developer technically? I don't even know why you would need that. I mean, if they can't do your project....how will they do your project? You can definitely ask for their portfolio of stuff that they've done in the past, but, you can even get someone who is starting out and build your project/MVP as exercise. It all depends on what you want from your developer. And, getting another technical person to vet your developer? That's just silly. That's double work for you. You have to find two different people now.

I don't believe in giving developers a test. If you do give them a test, make sure it actually applies to what they will be doing. Whenever I get a test that has nothing to do with the work I will be doing, I get really pissed. Any time I need to vet a technical person, I talk about their experiences, ask them open ended questions about the projects they've done. When they advance to a face-to-face interview, I sit down with them and show them a project/code that is similar to what they will be working on and discuss the code and what it does. Someone could be very good at what they do and fail a silly programming test. Plus, it's kinda disrespectful to be tested, for one, and tested by someone who doesn't know the subject, for second. Do you give a test to your accountant?

Building a start-up, you will need access to your developer on and off on a as-needed basis after your MVP is completed. For this reason, an independent developer is much better. Companies have many projects going on. You will need a dedicated person to answer your questions and concerns, fix bugs, build new features requested by your clients, etc.

Definitely go fixed price. Get your wireframes down. You want to do this even if you're going hourly. Why would you ever want to start development without having complete plans down? Later on, after your MVP is completed, you might switch to hourly for new features, etc. However, even here you should get estimates for small pieces of work.

For the love of god, whom ever you work with, before you pay anything make sure you get the code you're paying for. Make sure the project runs on your hosting account as well. I hear a lot of horror stories where the developer was holding the client hostage and demanded more money. They were able to do this because all the code was on the developer's hosting account.

Lot's of scattered thoughts here, but hope they help. Feel free to reach out if you want to have more of a conversation on the subject. I'd love to give you more pointers and answer any further questions you might have.

My best,

George Lambert Interim CTO - CTO's for Hire

March 19th, 2015

1. Should I hire a web development company or should I consider an independent contractor? 

If you hire a contractor you will have to manage them, and most likely give them a spec to carefully follow.  I tell people the most important thing to know upfront is "The Definition of Complete."  Money invested in a plan and design before deciding on a shop or a contractor will save you money and make sure everyone has clear expectations. 

2: Is it possible to negotiate a fixed rate contract or should I expect to pay an hourly rate
Many contractors will work on a fixed rate if they clearly understand the problem, but they will be unfriendly to the idea of constant revisions without an increase in compensation.  Paying Hourly will increase your costs, and disincentivise them to complete your work faster.  Fixed Price often gives you a faster turn around. 

3: Any advice on how to evaluate potential developers? 

If you are NON-Technical - hire someone to help you plan. Remember - you need more than an initial app but you need management of the app from cradle to grave. Transition to a cheaper Network Operations Plan is critical to maintain costs.  If you are locked into a developer your updates will be subject to their availability. 

If you would like more detailed assistance, schedule a half hour to speak to me as I have used both extensively.  These are the products that I have overseen  http://flightlookup.com/gtt/   

Aleksandra Czajka Freelance Senior Software Engineer, Developer, Web Developer, Programmer - Full Stack

March 21st, 2015


A comment on a tech co-founder that people seem to be making here... At this moment, you are not starting a company. You are testing your idea. If you are at the very very beginning, you need to validate that the idea will work. What's the point of starting a company before you start making money. You will need a tech co-founder once you validate the idea has legs. And you should keep your eyes open for that person as you start to validate your idea. 

My best,

Amir Yasin Developer, Architect

March 20th, 2015

I'm honestly really surprised no one has yet suggested that you find a technical co-founder you trust. Even if they can't do the project they are in a much better position to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the actual dev team. Going the route of trying to hire a dev or team without at least some technical support on your side is just asking to be taken advantage of, especially if you decide to offshore your efforts.

Rob Mitchell Independent Software Contractor

March 20th, 2015

As a long time software engineer, I agree with Nick Damiano, if your tech product is central to your startup's offerings, then you're gonna need a someone to make the magic happen. 

You wouldn't start a doctor's health office without a decent supply of physicians, right? 

Jen Kokko District Manager at Insperity

March 20th, 2015

Thanks all for the advice and recommendations. Hope to connect with a lot of you outside this post.


March 22nd, 2015

Irrespective of who you hire, get somebody to advise you on technical requirements (the ones that you should put together) and how your contractor executes them. Have your checks and balances. 

Also, you might run across a firm that is willing to give you a discount in return for part of your revenue (don't do stock or options). That way their goals are aligned with yours.

Steve Simitzis Founder and CEO at Treat

March 19th, 2015

I've hired some great dev shops, but the overhead can get expensive, and you'll often end up working closely with a single dev anyway. 

Hiring an independent contractor gets you someone who you might be able to convert to full-time. With a dev shop, converting to full-time is next to impossible. Even if your contractor stays freelance, you could still have a long-term, multi-year relationship with a developer who knows your code inside and out. With dev shops, the turnover is fairly high, so even if you keep your relationship going with the shop, you'll have new developers approach the code for the first time.

If you're starting a company, you're not just thinking about getting the first version out the door. For a dev shop, build and release is where it ends, then it's up to you to figure out the rest. But as a company founder, "the rest" is where all the fun happens. 

Michal Stefanow

April 11th, 2015

My story. 

I've build a prototype for a client (as an independent contractor).

Now, as the more requirements are coming along I advise them: you need to find a dedicated team, it's no longer one-man operation.

I'd definitely go with the company from the start.

Company has different incentives than individual.

And company's incentives are more aligned with your success.

(individual will just find a better paying gig and move on, while it's in the interest of company to support you in the extended period of time)