Finding the Right Developer Partner for your app or software project can be tricky. In my experience, there is one key attribute that most new founders miss. And it can potentially cost you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But first, I have a confession…
When I ran an App Development Agency in Melbourne, Australia (2012-2017), knowing what I know now, there were several clients that we should not have agreed to develop their software product!
I’ll explain, hopefully without getting too technical:
If we assume the basic goal of any software project is to build:
‘A robust bug free software product, with features valuable to potential users’
Then, the old saying that goes, “There is more than one way to bake a cake” holds true for software development.
There are many programming languages, development frameworks and conventions for building software products… both frontend and backend… (called the ‘Technology Stack’ or ‘Tech Stack’).
This includes many ‘pre-made’ modules that will simplify the development process and connections (Application Programming Interface or API) that will tie everything together.
And, because of this, a similar looking software product can be built in many ways.
Unfortunately, far too often, the choice of ‘Tech Stack’ will be decided solely by the experience and preference of your developer. That is, they’ll use one of their favorite tech stacks.
You see, just because you CAN develop using a specific ‘Tech Stack’, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Just like building a house
Let me use an analogy from a different industry… Construction.
Imagine you were planning to build a house in Tulsa, Oklahoma (one of the highest tornado-prone areas in the US). Would you hire a builder from California where they have only experienced two severe tropical storms in the last 120 years…
Even if you really like the builder?
The long term requirements for each of these builds are entirely different… Experience using the right materials and methodology could be the difference between life and death in this case.
Similarly, you wouldn’t engage a builder from Jakarta, Indonesia to build your house in highly regulated Melbourne Australia, just because the price is better?
Imagine the issues from WorkSafe? (Australia’s building safety body).
Your Specific Requirements are Critical
Yearly weather conditions, environment, local services connections, building code, best practise, facade styling, your plan to add a future second story, etc. These all impact the building materials, construction method, foundations and framework.
When building a custom house, the first stop is always an Architect.
Their critical role is not only to design the house to the style you want. It is to develop the construction specifications to optimise the house, considering the very specific requirements, conditions and regulations.
Only then, should you decide on a builder. A builder with experience using your specific architecturally specified materials and construction method.
Now, let’s go back to Software Development
Many first time tech founders, with little or no software experience, head straight to a software development agency, describe their idea and ask for a cost estimation.
After this, if the estimation is doable, and they like the dev agency people, they’ll pay a deposit and it’s all go, go, go with the project!
Here’s the trouble with that strategy…
The development agency will probably architect the software using the framework and ‘Tech Stack’ that their team has the most expertise and confidence with.
And not necessarily the stack that is best suited to your project.
Don’t get me wrong, this may be a great product and a good solution. However, if you haven’t thought through some of the longer-term critical business requirements, your product may need to be completely re-built much sooner than you planned… And so, add a huge additional cost.
This is what I was confessing to at the top of this article.
In retrospect, a few of the software products we built, could have been better developed in a different way for reasons that were not clearly defined at the start.
A Different Strategy
So, a smarter strategy, and the one we strongly recommend addopting, is this:
First, conduct some due diligence and complete a sufficient level of product/market validation to ensure your idea has potential.
If you haven’t yet determined a basic level of validation for your product idea and market, see the article: ‘Validate Before You Build’
Then, like with construction, ‘find an Architect for your project’.
Yes, a Software Architect
Discuss your project with an independent ‘Software Architect’. One with at least 10 years suitable experience designing systems and working with a diverse range of Tech Stacks.
You’ll find a senior software architect will be far less concerned with screen design and user experience than they are with the key aspects of the backend structure.
First and foremost, they will want to understand the data flow and data operations. Their questions will probably include info such as:
- How will users interact with each other?
- Will there be times or events that most users will access your system at once?
- Will your users need to interact in real-time across different regions?
- What level of security is needed?
- Do you have a requirement for data to be housed in specific locations?
- What 3rd-party systems may your product need to interact with?
- What level of Analytics and Reporting do you anticipate requiring?
The information here will have a huge influence on the design of your backend and database infrastructure, and tech stack.
An independent Software Architect can provide you with a ‘system level definition’ of your project, which will represent the best solution to achieve your medium/long term system requirements – your Project’s System Architecture.
Additionally, your Architect should also specify the preferred Tech Stack and other key elements to support the overall needs for security, flexibility, scale and robustness.
Consulting a Software Architect before a developer is the key step that most new tech founders miss in their process for finding the Right Developer Partner for their project.
Here is an essential FREE Download for founders searching for a developer parter: ‘Find the Right Developer Partner’ Framework – A step-by-step guide to help find the right developer partner.
Find the ‘RIGHT DEVELOPER PARTNER’ for your Project
Now, armed with this core System Architecture Information, you can begin a search for your perfect developer partner in a more professional and focused way.
Ideally, they will have deep experience in the recommended Tech Stack and frameworks, as well as have successfully developed other software products of similar complexity.
You can include the specific System Architecture attributes as essential elements in your ‘Developer Partner Qualification Checklist’ to help with your search.
Of course, all the regular elements of a new partnership arrangement still apply, like price, development timeline, collaborative agile approach etc… And you also need to like and trust the key project manager and engineers working on your product.
Here’s another handy resource: ‘Key Attributes for your Ideal Dev Partner’
With this approach, you’ll increase your confidence that the product you’re about to invest your time and money into will be most suited to your entire business and market requirement.
It’s all about Minimising Your RISK
There are several tasks you should tackle early in your journey to reduce your project risk. Unfortunately, I have seen hundreds of first time tech founders ignore many of these, only to wonder later why their product failed.
Some of the most critical items you should prioritise include:
- Validate the problem is worth solving,
- Confirm your Value Proposition is Commercial,
- Identify the ideal tech stack & system architecture,
- Partner with the most suited Developer,
- Build an Engaged Community,
- Establish basic Product Development and Marketing Strategies early,
- And, get guidance and help with each of these to maximise success.
If you have a great idea for an app or other software product, I hope this article will help give you some direction.
And if you’re in development or at early release, let me know how you went with the process of engaging your dev partner in the comments.
I love hearing your insights.
Validate Before You Build
Find the Right Developer Partner Framework – A step-by-step guide to help you find your perfect development partner
Key Dev Partner Attributes Checklist