A week ago, I decided I wanted an app that helped me with a certain something. I searched for existing iPhone apps that could do this thing but I couldn’t find anything suitable.
So what does a girl do?
I basically spent the whole of last weekend designing my own app. I sat on my computer from 7.30 a.m. on a Saturday until 2 p.m. without so much as a break. My brain was toast. I couldn’t do anymore work so I went to enjoy the day and came back for more work that evening and well into the Sunday!
By the close of play on Sunday I had an excellent proposal for an app; highly detailed with diagrams and everything. One problem: I hadn’t even thought about how I would develop it;pretty dumb, huh?!
Well I didn’t want to get discouraged by the development quotes so I thought it best to get the ground work out of the way and worry about costs later.
I had read that there are now companies and websites that allowyou to develop an app yourself for $500. That’s a really good price but I don’t have time to do this without some serious moonlighting In the latest edition of Entrepreneur magazine they talk about AppBackr. It’s a website where you post apps and get equity funding for the idea.
It’s a great company but I didn’t want to give away any equity, especially since this application is more a labor of love than purely an enterprising venture. Whilst the equity investor would be focused on how they might recoup their money I was entirely focused on how many people this app could benefit.
Also, I thought the suggested costs of development on AppBackr sounded too high.
I know that India is a technology powerhouse so I found a couple of developers online but before I gave them the commissions I told them that I was scared of my idea leaking out. I was impressed by their professionalismbecause both of the developers sent me their Non Disclosure Agreement forms within one day. They were pretty good but I was still worried about things like paying and not getting the app developed on time.
I needed reviews and a proven track record to get comfort but I thought that I couldn’t get any of that stuff in a reliable manner from an independent developer on another continent.
My world changed when I found an article on OSX Daily that referred me to Elance and oDesk.
I read the OSX Daily article in bed on my iPhone on the Sunday night after I had completed developing my app on paper.
On Monday morning, I could still remember the word Elance due to its derivation from Freelance so I went online, liked what I saw, created an account and wrote a short paragraph about what sort of app I wanted.
If you want a fixed price for your job Elance requires you to state your budget range and so I chose to go for $1,000 to $5,000. I had been holding out for a $500 app but my reading had suggested this was not going to happen if I wanted a quality app hence my choice of budget range. You can also get quotes for hourly rates but I was focused on the total cost of my project.
Posting a job is free, however, Elance allows you to distinguish your level of seriousness by paying $5. This $5 means your job will get more attention from developers than those that don’t pay the extra $5.
I was astounded by the response. Within two hours, I had 14 people showing interest in developing the app. By the time I got home on Monday there were 22 offers, by mid-week there were 27 and by the end of the week there was an astounding total of 33! I sent an NDA which I had crafted up myself using the independent Indian developers’ as a base and firm offers to develop my app started rolling in. Given my experience, I would highly recommend Elance.
Given such a wide range of offers, how does one choose a single developer? I used the following criteria:
The initial offer. Some of the app developers in their initial offer to do my job referred specifically to the things I mentioned and gave me relevant reasons for why I should choose them. Others just copied and pasted a generic blurb on what their company does and why they were so good. That seemed like really low effort to me so I rejected those offers quite quickly.
English. You need to be able to communicate. If the developer’s English was of a very low standard relative to what I needed, I rejected the offer.
Track record on Elance. For some developers, the work stream on Elance has become a very significant source of revenue and they do not want to lose this stream of work so they are less likely to mess you about for fear that they will get lower Elance points if you report them or review them negatively or worse still, if they get kicked off Elance
Negative Reviews. People that have used a developer can rate them. Developers do not want to get negative reviews because that will reduce business volumes so they will try their best to be helpful. I rejected one serious contender based on a review that suggested they upped their price for minor changes and were very bad with deadlines. It was just one bad review but it still gave me cause for concern and I wasn’t going to take that risk when I had such a pool to choose from. Competition is fierce!
Depth of experience. Some of the offers you get will be from people who have a very long track record, however, this track record may be website development rather than app development. When you are down to your last three or so ‘contestants’ filter the reviews for words like iPhone or android to see exactly what proportion of these reviews are relevant to the app you want developed. The results may surprise you or help to sway you from one developer to another.
Visual quality of apps. I had two contenders that both appeared great and both had sent me links to all the apps that they had created, however, when I looked at each link carefully one produced far better looking apps than the other.
Size of the company. I wanted my app to be taken seriously and my feeling was that the larger companies would give it less priority than other bigger projects so I rejected the proposal of the largest company;well, their final quote to do the project was outside of my affordability range so that wasn’t even an option for me in the end.
Skills. Elance breaks down the skills a company has into very specific categories and although self rated to begin with, over time, as those skills are tested through various jobs, those skills are rated and given a ranking relative to every other Elance company with those skill., tThis is very useful because you can see whether the Developer is in the top “x”% in the category of skills that you need.
Percentage of repeat customers. This is an interesting stat but I didn’t give too much weight because many people might not require a second job done.
Completion. If you have a strict deadline look carefully at how long the developer says they need to complete the work.
Contactability: all the developers were available to chat on Skype so you could ask more questions. Definitely go for a developer that you won’t have trouble getting hold of.
Other things. In my final Skype interview, I asked the prospective developer a bunch of operational and technical queries like: will I have a dedicated project manager? How often will I get progress reports? Will they upload the product to the app stores for me? Has Elance’s fee been included in their quote? (The developer should really be accounting for this in their quote, or explicitly state that they have not) Has the fee for app stores been included? After the app is live do I get free project support for a limited time to fix any bugs? Will the app be developed in its own native language rather than a hybrid that can read across platforms? Apparently apps made this way are of lower quality.
What happens once you assign the job to a single company? The company breaks up the job into small milestones with expected dates for reaching the milestones and you only pay when a milestone has been completed. You fund the milestone just before it is done so that the Developer knows you have the money but that money is held in escrow by Elance and you hit a release button for the funds to be released once the milestone has been reached. In this way, Elance protects you from unscrupulous businesses.
So, if you have an idea, especially in the technology space on your mind, don’t sit on it – get on Elance or oDesk and post it. I haven’t tried oDesk myself but I can definitely recommend Elance.
By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
I'm always thinking, debating, considering and revising my views - some of those deliberations will be shared right here.