Who should build your app?

A lot of companies I speak to that are just getting started with their first app want to build an in house team. They don’t want to go with an agency, they don’t want to go with contractors, they want people who are in it for the long haul.

This is common, normal, and totally appropriate for a lot of companies, and not without risk. Let’s talk through some of the things to consider when deciding how to hire.

1. Commitment levels

Of all groups, full timers make the biggest commitment to your company, they often have equity which acts as an incentive to stay longer. There’s also a greater sense that you’re all in it together, especially if everyone is making a financial sacrifice for the sake of the company’s success. Full time wins here, contractors are less likely to be loyal, less likely to take equity, and an agency’s interests are typically scattered across projects beyond your own.

The flip side of all this is that because full time is a bigger commitment, it can be harder to persuade really top talent to join you early on, these people have offers coming in all the time and it’s hard to stand out. A lower commitment level, like contract work, is sometimes easier for these people to agree to.

2. Cost over time

On the surface, full timers cost less than contractors, cost less than agencies. That’s probably broadly the case. But don’t overestimate how many of your team members are actually needed on a full time basis. I break this down in part 2 of Keeping Costs Down, which talks about controlling labor expenses, but the gist of it is that you mostly need design at the beginning, QA towards the end of the initial build, and project managers come in and out. Some of these roles can be good contractor hires early on, and an agency should naturally move people around to the places they’re needed.

One of the problems with full time hires is that when work slows down, or you need to tighten your belt until the next funding round, your costs there are fixed, unlike an agency where it’s more like a tap that can be turned on and off as needed. And in crunch times, when you need all hands on deck, an agency is more likely to have the people to help move faster.

3. Timing

Hiring good employees takes time. If you have a window of opportunity for what you’re building, the longer it takes to find your full time hires the narrower that window becomes. This puts you under pressure to hire fast rather than well, which can mean the people making the earliest, most consequential product and technical decisions might not have sufficient experience to do that. And that’s dangerous because those decisions really matter. You may also get cornered into hiring someone who is just not a great fit culturally, and that can suck for everyone.

One solution I’m an advocate for here is finding an agency that can help you hire your full time team. Not only by giving you the breathing room to do it, but by conducting technical interviews, training new hires, and easing that transition to an in house team. This gives you those tap turning abilities, strong talent - hopefully - in the room for your early decisions, and the space to make the right hires.

Hopefully that’s given you some ideas about what’s right for your company.