Question: I am a non-technical founder hiring a development firm. What is one thing I can do to ensure they are the right fit for me before I write a check?
Use an Incentivized Payment Structure
"More often than not, development firms deliver the product later than promised. Structure the payment in the service agreement so they are incentivized to deliver the product on time as promised, if not earlier."
Look Them in the Eye
"When you're embarking on a any new major initiative, take the time to meet a potential hire or team in person and gauge their energy. If that means getting on a plane, get on that plane. In person, you can better determine how they are going to serve you, if they are passionate about your relationship, and if they have space in their world to treat you like more than a job."
Provide a Clear Scope of Work
"I've always said that development projects live or die by the scope of work. Take every effort to clearly define the project, the features and performance requirements so your firm can be very clear on your expectations. Show them similar examples or elements that you wish to include. Lastly, ask them what experience they have that relates directly to this scope of work."
Get a Technical Founder First
"If you are about to dive into a startup with heavy tech needs and you don't have a technical co-founder, then you need to slow your roll and partner up with one. There are too many issues that are going to come up that someone with an ownership stake needs to be responsible for. There is a reason why VCs typically don't fund companies that don't have a technical co-founder."
Learn About Their Accomplishments
"My advice would be to ask them to show you a sample of a recent sprint or milestone of one of their most recent projects and to explain it. By going through the process of what that company has done on a recent project similar to yours, you are able to see if you are comfortable with the way they work."
"You should test them on something small to get a sense of how they operate, how they keep you updated, and how efficient they are. You have to keep in mind that any firm will have its best foot forward on a test like this, but it can still be eye-opening."