Vetting a software agency, as a non-technical client

Choosing the firm that will build your app is an expensive, consequential critical decision and you need to do whatever you can to get it right.

In this video I'm going to give you a bunch of quick strategies that you can take to vet a technical firm as a non-technical founder.

Collect meaningful references

Find unsolicited references for the work contact these companies that built apps with the firm you're looking at, by just looking up the company details and reaching out independently asking for a reference as you might expect this is more reliable than asking the firm for references and when you're deciding who to reach out to bias yourself towards the older projects.

These are companies that have had the longest time to get a feel for the quality of the work – if they have had to rebuild, then be concerned.

Look at the apps

Spend time with the apps that they've built and pay attention to the reviews on the app store. Are the reviews good, and if they're not, are the reviewers complaining about the general product concept or about technical problems with the app?

If you see a lot of technical complaints especially across multiple apps, then be concerned.

Observe how they communicate about past projects. Look at how the firm communicates about what they've built. Less experienced shops often talk about what they've built but not the impact that they had.

What you're looking for here is hard numbers on how the app grew the business. So user growth, revenue numbers etc. You want a team that is putting the business goals first, they can see things through your eyes, not just their own technical perspective. And that informs how the team thinks about the trade-offs over the course of the project and makes you more efficient.

Look for leadership

Look for any thought leadership the company does in its space – are they known in their professional circles?

What's the background of the founders? If they have respect for their peers that's also a good sign.

This isn't an absolutely required thing especially if the company's new but it's a positive sign.

Don't just talk to sales

Make sure when you're vetting firms that you're talking to people who will be directly responsible for your project, not just sales people.

And when you're talking to those people listen for how they set expectations. Are they just telling you what you want to hear, or are they pushing back sometimes? Would you trust them to tell you something that's hard to hear?

Building an app is complicated work, and there's often wide gaps between the people doing the actual building and the engineering, and the client, the founders of the company. And you need somebody who's in the middle of that who can speak the truth to all sides.

Have an exit plan if things go wrong

You need to understand before you sign anything what your exit clause is.

If things aren't feeling good, make sure that you own everything that you've paid for regardless of its completeness, and make sure that you have access to the code and the design work from day one.

Don't lock yourself into long-term contracts early on if you can help it, and if you're working on a fixed bid contract, make sure there's early milestones where you can get out if it's going bad.

My last tip is just to go slow, take your time and be methodical. This is a massive decision, it's utterly critical to the success of the project, so don't rush it. Take the time to get it right.

And if you think I can be of any help feel free to reach out.