You have a brilliant app idea. But before you can even get funding for your new company, you need a minimum viable product—a prototype that will help investors get just as enthusiastic about the project as you are.
Here’s the hitch: unless you’re a master programmer yourself with oodles of time, you probably need to hire a mobile app development company to develop this first iteration. Preferably, it will be a company that can partner with you all along the way. However, you’ve heard horror stories about web dev agencies that sucked up all of an entrepreneur’s first-stage funding in exchange for a half-baked program that winds up completely dead in the water.
How do you avoid this grim fate? Here are three questions that can help you make a savvy decision when you’re looking for a mobile application development partner.
Question 1: Where Is Your Full Team Based?
Before we go any further, we want to be clear—this question is not intended as a way for you to instantly eliminate anyone who offshores their development work. On the contrary, if you’re a startup looking for budget-friendly dev services that still deliver high quality, you’d do well to find a company that outsources some of their dev work overseas. It’s not a shady strategy; it’s a smart scaling solution.
Consider this—the average software engineer in the U.S. makes $110k per year. Programming costs are more in the United States than anywhere else in the world. In the U.K., (still one of the top ten highest-paying countries, by the way,) comparable talent will cost $55k per year. You’re not using slave labor or opening yourself up to hackers by leveraging the talents of an international team; you’re just being smart.
Advantages of a Hybrid Team:
- Lower costs: The same talent in a different country just costs less.
- 24/7 maintenance and support: Differentiated work hours and time zones mean your team is ready for emergencies.
- Speed of delivery: Offshore teams help small companies draw from a large talent pool, which means someone is usually ready to jump on your request ASAP.
Mitigate the Challenges and Risks of Offshore Talent with a Local Presence
There’s a reason that a hybrid team is better than 100% offshoring. To create a final product that matches your vision and overcome any hurdles that come along the way, you need to work with someone who offers excellent communication. Translating tech speak into something the average Joe can understand is hard enough; doing the same thing across language barriers, culture gaps, and different timezones is a massive undertaking.
Having a local team that you can visit in person, who understands your point of view, and is 100% accountable for the work the rest of the team produces makes the difference between a smooth business interaction and weeks, months, or years of frustrating, circular miscommunications. Existing in the same time zone—preferably even the same geographical area—matters when giving reports, doing training and walk-throughs together, and communicating business goals. Numerous cities in the U.S. are growing into tech hubs, balancing a lower cost of living with accessibility to rising talent, among them Atlanta, Dallas, and Austin. Of course, you’ll also find an established presence of development firms in Boston, New York, and San Francisco.
You may also need to anticipate that even US-based teams will offer remote and hybrid work to their employees. Ask about the system of communication and collaboration you can expect.
Question 2: In Past Projects, What Has Been the Difference Between the MVP and the End Product?
One of the hallmarks of a professional development company (especially one that works well with startups) is the ability to deliver a minimum viable product (or MVP) despite hurdles that come up along the way. When funds get tight and all of the things you want to do with your app become impractical until you get another wave of capital, having a dev partner who knows how to prioritize and execute the most important tasks is invaluable.
This question allows you to get a glimpse behind the curtain of the company’s process, and see how they adapt when the going gets tough. It often opens up a conversation that uncovers some of the more messy aspects of collaboration, rather than the polished step-by-step process that they may share on their website.
Asking to see these two different versions of past projects can also be of great advantage to the mobile application development company—it can orient you, the client, with reasonable expectations. The first product that’s delivered to you is usually just the first draft. It takes many iterations to bring a finished app to market. Both parties should be prepared to face that process with their eyes wide open.
What to Watch For:
- Quality of the MVP: It won’t have every feature desired, but it should still be, by definition, a viable product.
- Timelines for delivery: It’s reasonable to expect the initial draft delivered within 6–12 weeks. Revisions should have quick turnarounds of 1–2 weeks.
- Communication checkpoints and feedback: If the initial draft was delivered without any communication, that’s a red flag. Design and wireframes should all be approved before the project goes into development.
- Ongoing development goals and prioritization: If the first draft matches the final one, it’s not necessarily a good thing. A good dev partner will help you winnow down the MVP to fit within a budget, as well as ideate for exciting and ambitious next steps.
Trust and Communication Are Essential to Overcome Hurdles
You should always know exactly what’s going on with your project at every step, including which features and tasks are approved for each sprint. You can reasonably expect consistent meetings where you’re shown the most recent version of the product, and you’re able to approve, ask questions, or provide feedback as things progress.
Question 3: How Do You Support the Unique Experiences of Startups and Deliver a Solid GTM Strategy?
Numerous digital development agencies are wonderful at helping improve and maintain established digital products. However, working with startups to develop a go-to-market strategy is a completely different skill set.
A company that does mobile app development for start-ups will know how to:
- Prioritize the most important features in an app
- Anticipate what matters most to investors and VCs
- Scale the project up or down according to the available budget of time and money
- Ensure a high-quality product no matter how big or small it is
- Push back when the client’s expectations are unreasonable
- Communicate effectively even with frazzled, overworked partners
These characteristics may necessitate some flexibility and humility on your part, as you realize that adjustments to your original vision may be necessary in order to create a polished MVP within your timeframe and budget. On the other hand, your dev company should also know how to plan ahead effectively and deliver on a goal having anticipated a few hiccups along the way.
In addition to being able to weather hurdles in order to create a polished MVP, a great development partner will have a clear roadmap for your GTM strategy. This means that they’re able to create a detailed wishlist and provide reliable estimates for each feature needed in order to make your product the best it can be. This equips you with the information needed to obtain appropriate funding and then embark on the final development phase of your project. It also gives you flexibility if your capital isn’t what you had anticipated: you’ll still be able to see what is possible within your budget.
In addition, an experienced agency’s GTM strategy should include:
- Design prototypes with opportunities for feedback
- API and tech stack advisory
- Incorporation of marketing plans
- Beta testing, A/B testing, and other user feedback methodology
- Soft and hard launch dates and contingency plans
Long-Term Relationships = Your Long-Term Success
Ideally, your mobile app development company will be a long-term partner for your business. One of the biggest ways startups sink unnecessary funds is by hiring the wrong development partner and taking too long to realize it’s time to cut and run. These unusual questions can cut through the noise and help you find an agency that nurtures the trust and communication necessary for a good working relationship and fuel your company’s growth for years to come.