A good idea for a technical innovation is easily born. But actually bringing that technical innovation to life often takes more work. John Sportel of Beeproger has been speaking with start-ups, scale-ups, as well as established companies and organizations about their innovation ambitions on a daily basis for years. He shares his tips for a successful development journey.
1. A good idea brings money
'A lot of start-ups report to us, and in most cases they have a really good idea. But not in all cases they also have money. I believe that a good idea should be able to raise money, so then we first refer them to investment parties such as NOM or we put them in touch with Flinc so that they can be guided to suitable funding. 'We don't always see them again afterwards,' Sportel explains. 'Having an app or software developed costs money, but also marketing is a costly affair that is often underestimated. I always recommend setting aside at least double the development budget for marketing and sales.'
2. Think big, start small
"Too often we see enormously complicated applications being built in a complex development process and then failing to connect with customer needs. That's why we always advise starting small with a so-called minimal viable product, an MVP. In other words: the essence of the application. This is manageable in terms of budget and allows testing with the end user. This is an incredibly important step that is often skipped. Enthusiastic entrepreneurs are ambitious and want a lot at once, but the real trick is to first get the bare minimum up and running and then build on it. Think big, start small.
3. Pay for research, it pays for itself
'With us, no project starts without a paid preliminary study. In it, without writing a line of code, we clarify how the application is going to work, which screens need to be there, what interaction is important where, and we map out what technical challenges we see. This outline forms the basis for the rest of the development process and ultimately saves money, time and surprises. We also provide a final quote only after we have completed this preliminary research, because then we can better estimate the time investment. This is clear and transparent for us, but also for the client. So I certainly wouldn't skip this step. Even better: a sketch like this gives you, as the client, the opportunity to talk directly to end users. The sooner you do that, the better the product will eventually become. And any modifications to the initial sketch are a lot easier to implement than if the code is already there.'
4. Avoid delay through mandate
'Make sure that a quick switch can be made by having one person liaise with the agency. This person must have a mandate. Too long periods of standstill, too many captains on one ship and too many consultation moments are very often the cause of costly delays. A project then grinds to a halt and that is a shame.'
5. Secure technical knowledge
'Having an application developed without technical knowledge is difficult. And most entrepreneurs logically have little insight into this. That is why it is smart to hire someone who does know the ins and outs and can look on during the process. This protects you from the cowboys who, unfortunately, are still around and still sometimes take advantage of a lack of knowledge. But it is also nice for the agency to be able to communicate with someone who speaks the same language. So make budget for this. The moment the company grows, I always recommend hiring a CTO. If technology is a business-critical factor, it absolutely deserves undivided and expert attention.'
6. Embrace the agency that asks critical questions
'You have a great idea, got the confidence of an investor, the right people are in the right place and you're all set to go. Just need to choose an agency to build the application. Then it is important to be sharp, because this choice can determine success. First ask in your network or your investor's network, for example, for references and experiences. Then always engage in discussions with at least two parties. It still amazes me how working methods, but also offers can differ so incredibly. But my most important tip is to embrace critical questions from an agency. After all, this is the most important signal that you are dealing with a professional partner. There are plenty of parties who will just build anything if enough money is transferred. What you should want, I think, is a true partnership: choose people who are healthily critical of what assignments they take on and only build what they truly believe in. In the end, a partnership with those principles really makes a difference to the final product.'
7. Agency versus in-house development
'Software, of course, does not necessarily have to be developed by an agency; it can be done 'in-house' just fine. However, there are a number of important issues to consider. For example, there is no control over the development. Especially if you are not technically savvy, it is impossible to assess whether the code works properly. Let alone whether the code can be transferred properly, should the programmer drop out. It really all depends on a person in this construction. Someone may get sick or decide to do something else. Is the code then properly transferable by another programmer? How do you guarantee that? In itself, it's a great option, but I usually recommend it in the somewhat longer term. For initial development, an agency is often a safer option.'
8. Who owns the source code?
'As a final piece of advice, I would like to advise you to be very keen on the developer's conditions. For example, what does their after-care structure look like? How do they deal with bugs, maintenance or questions after the software has been delivered? Checking that out, or agreeing well in advance, can prevent setbacks. But absolutely also discuss intellectual property. Most agencies have it standard in their terms and conditions that the source code remains their property. That means you can't easily switch developers. But there are absolutely agencies that are willing to make exceptions to this. I would always start this conversation before the assignment is final. By the way, the same applies when you decide to hire a freelancer or when you hire someone. Even then, pay close attention to what terms and conditions apply. Source code becomes essential to your business. You have to be careful with that.'
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