The Way We Work
July 30, 2012 by Joshua Warren

Editor’s Note: Joshua Warren, the founder and president of Creatuity Corp, is oDesk's newest guest columnist. He has had tremendous success with online work, first starting as an independent contractor on oDesk. He then grew his reputation—and his rate—so significantly that he turned it into a full-time business (Creatuity Corp), which is now booming. His story exemplifies the opportunities online work presents, and he's decided to give back by sharing learnings from his own business and from his daily experiences working online. His column will discuss topics such as running a thriving small business using oDesk and best practices for technical projects. Welcome, Joshua!

What do Dropbox, Intuit and HP have in common? Aside from being tremendously successful tech firms, they have all employed the Lean Startup methodology—a new approach to starting and building companies, services and products that focuses on shortening product development cycles, launching with the simplest possible product and then extensively testing and improving it. Created by Eric Ries and described in his book, The Lean Startup, this methodology is a great way to launch your new business idea as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The Lean Startup movement has also spawned the Lean Software Development concept, which focuses on developing software in a lean manner—primarily by eliminating all forms of waste in the development process. Most companies are focused on building the simplest product possible, eliminating unnecessary meetings and other small steps to eliminate waste. However, the truly cutting-edge lean startups are taking it to a new level by using teams of contract developers to develop not only their web presence but also their product itself.

By using an online work platform such as oDesk, a lean startup can hire exactly the number and type of experts they need, for exactly as long as they need them. Need an expert Magento developer for 2 months while you build and launch your ecommerce website? In the past, you were forced to hire from a local talent pool that might only contain average developers—now you can use the web to find and hire the best Magento developers around the world who can build your site faster and get you to market sooner, and who can work with you for exactly how long you need—no more, no less. Hiring online contractors gives you an edge other companies don't have—you can hire the best developers, writers, marketers and more, and work with them for exactly as long as you need to.

For an example of when this comes in particularly handy, let’s look at the ‘pivot,’ a key concept to a Lean Startup. This structured 'course correction' is designed to help a Lean Startup explore a new product or strategy that testing shows may be more successful than the company's current strategy. If you've hired a number of employees with a specific skillset, and suddenly discover that your business needs to pivot into a completely different direction that requires different skills, you're faced with either attempting to retrain every employee or the grim decision to replace them all. If instead you're using an online work platform to find the best contractors for your needs at that given moment, you simply shift your online team to one with the skills you need in order to execute the pivot.

Hiring contract developers and other experts online means that you can reduce waste and make the process of pivoting to a new business model as painless as possible. If you’re looking to become more of a Lean Startup through online contractors, here are a few tips we have found helpful:

  • Do your homework to ensure that the individual or firm you will be working with is successful and reputable enough to be in business when you need them. Nothing is worse than going to launch your new product, only to discover your developer has gone out of business and can no longer assist you.
  • If you don’t have a project manager on your team already, find a developer that has a project manager or hire a contract project manager. Nothing slows down a Lean Software Development project more than when your developer has a question and you are unable to answer in a timely manner. You have a business to run, so find a project manager you can rely on!
  • Check the credentials and certifications of each contractor you hire, and make sure they plan to do the work themselves, not subcontract it out. You want to build a team of experts.

Do you have advice about practicing lean development, especially by leveraging online contractors? Share your tips in the comments section below!

Joshua Warren

Founder and President of Creatuity Corp

Joshua Warren is the founder and president of Creatuity Corp, specializing in Magento and WordPress development, search engine optimization, web development and marketing. He has had tremendous success with online work, first starting as an independent contractor on oDesk and then growing his reputation—and his rate—so significantly that he turned it into a full-time business (Creatuity Corp), which is now booming. Previously, he was the… read more

  • http://www.ruplay.com Steve Schofield

    I have been using Odesk for more than 3 years now and value it most highly in my professional life, as a way to earn a living, explore new ideas, develop new products and keep learning and evolving with new technologies, techniques and protocols.

    My biggest tip is to TAKE ACTION. Even with Odesk's reputation tools, ratings, feedback, tests etc. it's really impossible to know if you and your contractor are compatible until you start working, start actually creating something.

    Here's what I do, when hiring a new contractor.

    - The initial requirements -

    Be explicit enough about the project, without trying to pre-empt any solutions in the specification. Pose a question that only someone who has read your requirements properly would know to weed out the auto-responses.

    Be prepared to hire 3 or 4 shortlisted candidates for a trial task, not to test technical ability, but more attitude, responsiveness and communication.

    - The Project -

    Even if it's a brand new project, with a limited MVP (minimum Viable Product) type specification, break it down further into very manageable milestones and deliverables for the new contractor.

    As a buyer, you need to mitigate the risk of employing someone new by being prepared at each stage that you may need to part company.

    Ensure that anything done that is useable is in your control, so if it's coding, ensure you are using an SVN or GIT repository held in your name.

    Obviously, as you get further into those milestones, the trust and relationship builds and you can soften this approach, as trust and relationship is 90% of what makes a successful Odesk experience.

    And a successful Odesk experience means you can happily take the Lean approach to any project with flexibility, cost effectiveness and assurance.

    I have just moved into mobile development, a personal project and passion of mine, of Music Apps for Children and Parents, away from more traditional web software development I have been used to. Our MVP iOS app is due to launch very soon, followed by our Android app, designed by me, built by Odesk providers in Nepal and Pakistan (I'm in the UK). I used these tactics, and am having a great experience!!!

    If you're interested, check out http://www.ruplay.me

    • http://joshuawarren.com Joshua Warren

      Brilliant feedback, Steve - we really encourage people just to try us out, and it's the same approach we use when hiring contractors on oDesk; even if someone has the most amazing set of technical skills, if something about the way they work just doesn't mesh well with the way you work, or if there's some sort of grating personality conflict, things may not work out. And the only way to find out those sort of things is to just give it a shot. We approach every engagement we have as an 'on-demand', 'on-request' service - we only do as much work and as many hours as the client wants us to. So if they want to give us, say, a 2 hour task to start with, see how it goes and then go from there, there's no hard feelings. It's also a great way for us to make sure that the way the client works matches up with what we've found are best practices - sometimes even if it's a great paying contract, if it's not a good fit all around it's not worth pursuing.

      I love your comments about risk mitigation - this is something that we see all the time - we've developed a bit of a niche for ourselves in fixing problems that other developers can't fix (or sometimes that other developers cause!) with the Magento platform. So, we find ourselves stepping in just after a sometimes contentious break with the client's previous developer. And so many times, we discover that clients:

      1) Pay developers for extensions or plugins (instead of buying them directly themselves)
      2) Pay developers for hosting
      3) Let their developers register their hosting accounts, domain names, etc., in the developer's name instead of the client's

      Never, ever, ever do any of these things! We flat out tell our clients that we don't purchase extensions for them - we ask that they purchase the extension and provide it to us. Because while there is a markup to be made in reselling extensions, what happens when the client and developer part ways? And now the client needs to have that extension updated, but the extension author has no record that they ever purchased it, so they have to purchase it again.

      Make sure that everything concerning your online presence is in the name of your business, and not your developer. Even if you think everything is perfect with your developer and you'll never have to part ways, what happens if your developer passes away, loses Internet access for an extended period of time or a number of other issues - if they own the rights and accounts involved with your domain, hosting, software, etc., then you may be faced with starting over, which is never a fun experience.

      If any of the readers are looking for a Magento developer, drop by my oDesk listing or our website at http://creatuity.com and learn more about how we work - we've even put together a YouTube video of how we work with our clients that you can view at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkNDEw5FSbk

      -Josh