The hardest part of any business is rarely deciding how something gets built, but rather defining what is being built. That said, there can be a bit of stigma surrounding using an outsourced development team when launching a digital product. And although we are an outsourced development studio, having built products both as part of an internal team and an external agency, I have seen success and failures with both approaches. Of course, there are 100 ways to skin a cat, but here are some things to consider when assessing if outsourcing is right for you.
Building your own team takes time, which, along with money, is usually scarce when starting a business. Interviewing candidates, negotiating salaries, and onboarding staff all eat into that time. On the other hand, agencies have a team ready to hit the ground running with refined workflows, tight processes, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities. So, instead of spending the first weeks deciding between Jira, Trello and post-it notes, an agency can help you skip those stages and get down to the fun stuff of building your product.
No matter how innovative your business is, chances are some of the pieces will have been solved before. Agencies work across businesses and products and can bring a wealth of experience and diversity to the table. They have seen the problems you will not know to look for and made the mistakes that you don’t need to.
Hiring an agency allows you to focus on marketing, fundraising, selling, networking, and everything else it takes to run a business while the experts deliver your product. Having one point of contact with scheduled meetings and deliverables will free up much-needed capacity on your side.
Generally, you will have an agreed deadline for the project. If things start to slip, an agency has the extra resource to get it back on track.
When working with an agency, you tap into all the designers, developers and knowledge across their whole team, not just those on your project. Access to more thinking power and perspective is invaluable and hard to put a price on.
Building a great product takes a mixture of skills. You need someone who obsesses over the customer, makes it look and feel incredible, and a team to build it so that it delivers on the design and is scalable when you grow. Having access to specialists in each facet of product development will always deliver better quality than relying on one person to be a jack of all trades.
The best designers and developers are hard to find, expensive, and the allure of equity in ‘the next Uber’ is becoming a lot harder to sell. Agencies, however, offer secure paychecks, regular hours, and variety of work, which makes them relatively attractive employers to talent.
In the early stages of a business, you need to spend more time watching and listening to customers than you do building features. Working with an agency helps focus your attention on what will actually add value, and once the value is delivered, you don’t need to keep them occupied as you do with full-timers.
Now for the unbiased bit. I don’t think that the agency approach is the best option for everyone. If you have a technical co-founder, have built products before, or have a network to lean on, then you are in a different place to most. For those not in that position, here are a few truths to be aware of:
While you will own the IP of your product, all of the learning and knowledge is not inside your company. The innate understanding of the nitty-gritty elements will be in the heads of people somewhere else, which could prove hard to get out down the line.
There are no two ways about it; hiring an agency will cost more than any other avenue. No matter which agency and where in the world they are, they have rent to pay, salaries to cover, and margins to maintain, all of which you will be footing the bill for. There is something to be said for getting what you pay for in some respects to this (🥜s & 🐒s), but that's a conversation for another time.
They will have other concerns that will sometimes be at odds with yours; other clients and planned days off are just a couple of things outside your control that may impact you directly. While you can develop mutually committed agency relationships, at the end of the day, their success is not as reliant on this as yours at the end of the day.
Ultimately the decision will come down to a balance of factors, including cost, quality, access to talent, deadlines, your experience, and so on. In some cases, a freelancer may cut it, while in others, a specialised team may be what it takes. Regardless of the route, you go down, you will be shedding a lot of blood, sweat, and tears together so, it's important you trust each other and leverage the knowledge and expertise to deliver a product greater than the sum of its parts.