by Nicolas Jacobeus, on 14 March 2019
Developing your minimum viable product is a crucial first step on your startup journey.
One of the most common challenges faced by non-technical founders is how to handle the development work, when they lack the technical skills themselves. One option is to outsource development of your MVP - but is this a good option for your startup?
One of the main benefits of outsourcing MVP development to an agency is that you get access to a cross-functional team. As a startup, hiring the five different people you need to develop different pieces of your MVP will be much more expensive than partnering with an agency.
Outsourcing MVP development can accelerate your project as it's easier and faster to get started compared with hiring in-house development resource: you don't need to allow time for sourcing applicants, reviewing applications, interviewing, or waiting out notice periods.
This means you benefit from faster time to market, so there's less risk of you being beaten by your competitors.
The agency team you're outsourcing to will have much more experience than if you were to hire a team of developers in-house for a similar cost.
This is the same across both development experience, and startup experience: if you select an agency with a track record of developing MVPs for startups, they will have a wealth of relevant knowledge and experience to bring to your project that you wouldn't necessarily get from hiring a developer (or team of developers).
Agencies will have a pretty good idea of how long a project will take them, and how much it will cost. This is thanks to them doing similar types of project over and over again, so they know what to expect. In contrast, it's less easy for employees to accurately estimate how long a project will take - and therefore for you to estimate how much it will cost.
The relationship you have with an agency is very different to the relationship with an employee. With an agency it's more of a partnership; you're both invested in working together, and you can share responsibility for the project (even if something goes wrong). In contrast, with an employee, they report to you, meaning you are ultimately responsible.
If you directly compare the cost per hour of a single employee vs an agency, it will appear more expensive to work with an agency. However, this isn't an accurate reflection of the total cost of developing your MVP: you may need to work with multiple employees, which will increase the cost, and it's likely to take an employee much longer to complete your MVP compared with an agency - so the cost per hour of each isn't directly comparable.
If you outsource MVP development, you lose a degree of visibility into the progress being made on the project. When you're doing the development work in-house, it's relatively easy to see when your dev team are working on your MVP. But when it's outsourced, you don't have the same immediate visibility, and there's a degree of trust required to feel confident that the agency are putting in the time and effort to complete your MVP to the agreed timeline.
Outsourcing MVP development feels much riskier than if you handle it in-house. It's not uncommon to feel like you've relinquished some control over the project when you outsource to an external team, and you may even worry that your intellectual property is at-risk. With that said, these (usually unfounded!) concerns tend be the same for first-time founders - whether they're working with an agency, or sharing their startup idea with a potential employee for the first time.
At some point, it's going to make more sense to bring your startup's development work in-house. Outsourcing development won't work for your startup forever: it's not a scaleable solution. However, if you avoid outsourcing development in the beginning, for fear of it not working later, you run the risk of wasting time and energy worrying about premature scaling, and trying to do too much, too soon.
The differences between your relationship with an agency or an employee can be a positive - or it can seem like a drawback. You can't expect the same working practices from an agency as you would an employee - you can't ask them to work 16-hour days building your MVP, or expect regular weekend working - at least, not without paying extra for it.
Non-technical founders can take several different approaches to MVP development - including outsourcing to an agency. To learn more about the six different MVP development strategies used by cutting-edge startups, download our free eGuide.
Everything You Need to Know About Moving to a SaaS Model.
Get the guide now >