Entrepreneurs who may lack tech backgrounds can underestimate what they need out of a technical partner. Often, they presume that as long as they have a great idea with a verified market, the software-building process is as simple as hiring a smart engineer and motivating them to “figure it out.” They see the tech component of their venture as a “silo” instead of taking the time to question how the product development process should be integrated into the overall business strategy.
Building a product involves many different specialties and can rarely be accomplished by one seasoned developer (or navigated with the help of a tech expert or consultant). Choosing the right partner at the onset is not just about getting the project done; it’s about setting your company up for future growth by balancing current technical needs with future business goals.
Over the years, while being an active investor and building VentureDevs, I have worked with all types of companies — from early stage startups to large-scale enterprises — and I have spoken to, vetted, audited, invested in and advised countless others. During this time, I have seen many of the same mistakes repeated time and time again. In order to set your company up for future growth and success, here are the key considerations I encourage you to make when choosing the right tech partner — and what to look for in the people you work with:
1) A great tech partner should be heavily invested in the planning stage
Be wary of tech partners who encourage you to rush into development without first stress-testing the idea, the market and how the product is intended to fit within your business. Sometimes the incentives of a new tech partner are aligned with rushing through this initial exploration phase to accomplish the first milestone as quickly as possible, when their priority should be helping you confirm that what you are looking to build is viable in the first place.
Taking this one step further, great tech partners should also point out where in your development plans you may be overspending. In many cases, companies will have an idea of the product they want to build, but because they lack the technical expertise, they assume they need to invest in everything at once. Instead, a mutually invested tech partner will help you slow down in the beginning so that you can prioritize what is most important and move much faster down the line.
2) A great tech partner will make recommendations that fit your business and your stage
For example, the architecture that Netflix is built on, which handles millions of people concurrently streaming videos for hours at a time, probably shouldn’t be the same as your startup with 1,000 users using your app for 20 minutes per week. In fact, I would say that most applications, even the ones behind incredibly successful companies, will never require the same complexities that Netflix has because their applications will never have the same demands as Netflix.
Obviously, it’s important to plan for future growth, but, far too often, I have seen startups that have spent tons of time, money and energy building overly complex technology that won’t be required for years to come (even with the most aggressive growth expectations). It’s important to find someone who can balance your needs today with your needs tomorrow and help identify an easy path to get you there.
Be very cautious with “dreamers” who want to implement the same technologies as massive companies when you are an early stage startup. It can be difficult to detect people like this because they may be smart, hold impressive resumes and have a great explanation as to why you need to build what they are pitching (i.e., “because Netflix uses it, so it must be great!”). It’s always best to ask, “Do we need to add such unnecessary complexities at our stage or in the foreseeable future?”
3) A great tech partner should consider the business side of technical decisions
For example, if you are an early stage startup that needs to build a lean MVP to get your first users onboard, your tech partner should be well aware of current needs and constraints. I would argue that they should not be considering building native iOS and Android apps to create a pixel-perfect experience. Here’s why:
Scenario 1: Building native iOS and Android apps
Building two apps in two different technologies will require two teams (therefore, twice the cost!), and it will take twice as long to debug (and twice the burden on your QAs). There will also be twice as many problems to handle, which will limit your ability to launch new features once you collect feedback from your users — and the cycle repeats itself again when new features are launched.
Scenario 2: Building a React Native app
So, which one is the better option? Is creating a pixel-perfect experience worth all of those extra costs and headaches in No. 1? In my opinion, it is not, and therefore, my recommendation is scenario No. 2.
With so much riding on your product launch, you need a tech partner who can think practically about your business realities. So, make sure to ask them their opinion and the trade-offs between various options. If they can’t clearly define and present arguments for all options, I’d vet additional tech partners until your needs are met.