How Not to Get Hosed When Building a Tech Site

In today's technological age, every entrepreneur is required to have some kind of online presence. It could be as simple as a blog or as complex as the next industry disruptor. Regardless of the vertical, it is simply unavoidable - no matter the scale of the project, an entrepreneur will come across having to hire a computer programmer. Unfortunately, a lot of individuals get taken advantage of by computer programmers due to a lack of knowledge of programming code. With this knowledge void, it becomes difficult to manage them, and inevitably the costs of the project skyrocket while the functionality always never seems to meet expectations.

I have never seen an industry where it is fairly standard to have so many convoluted excuses on why the functionality does not work and the deadlines are practically never met. Such excuses as "it's complicated" just does not fly in ANY other industry except tech. Can you imagine if you pay someone $X to build you something, and the price ends up being a multiple of X and delayed by months? I laugh trying to visualize this with other trade professions. To compound issues, programmers are in high demand today. Just as Wall Street bankers thought in the 1980s that they were the finest human specimens ever created by G-d, computer programmers today think that they are top of the food chain. With standard computer programmer salaries being in the 6 figures, it is no wonder why so many have this self-worth entitlement attitude.

With all of that said, I am dear friends with numerous programmers. They are very analytical and intelligent individuals that provide a tremendous amount of tangible value to society. What I dislike though, are the ethics behind the opaqueness of predatory pricing and the never ending excuses given to an uneducated client. All of this normally equates to project budgets that get blown out of proportion. Computer programmers are an inevitability in today's age, and you will eventually interact with them to build your product. Thus, I made a simple top 5 list on how to limit your financial damage:

5. Design & Spec out your creation BEFORE approaching the programmer

If you go to a computer programmer without any specifications, wireframes, designs, or comps on how your site should look or function, then you might as well have SUCKER written across your forehead.

A programmer's job is not to originate your idea. They are simply implementers of your designs. You need to visualize your creation and to the best of your ability list everything out. This pertains to the front end and the back end. When you are cranking away, if you think you are overkilling the specificity of your site are wrong. There is no such thing as too much detail when it comes to dealing with tech. You have to spell it out or else the programmers will normally misinterpret the project, build you something different, or build you a product that costs higher than anticipated.

While there are numerous phenomenal programs that can help you wireframe a site such as Balsamiq, don't be discouraged if you are 100% tech illiterate. You can still "old school" manually draw out the designs on a piece of paper or worst case document a collection of comparable sites that look and operate like how you imagine your grand design.

The bottom line is that this is your responsibility to transport your idea from your head to a piece of paper for the programmer to build. You understand your business industry and the market demands the best - not the programmer. It is not fair to blame a programmer for not building something that you imagined when you didn't take the initiative on the creation elements.

Photo Source: Wikia

4. Wisely choose what language you want your system to be built on

An entrepreneur has numerous language options when building an online website. Such examples are: PHP, Ruby, Python, etc. While some codes may be slightly better for certain things, I think it is tech kool-aid to build systems in newer languages that cost significantly more (easily over $100/ hr) vs an older language (PHP) that has plenty of programmers and is much cheaper (the supply of PHP programmers compresses the $/hr).

When interviewing a programmer, he is going to tell you that a certain kind of code is "more pure", "more robust", "easier to build with"- but at the end of the day it is your investor's capital here. If you are resource constrained, would you rather have 10 lines of the "purest" code or a fully functioning working Beta. My advice is just don't drink the programmer kool-aid. It is advantageous for them to build your project out of gold, and they are going to be clearly biased towards implementing that... on your dime.

3. Don't be intimidated by the technological jargon

While it might feel like out of the Matrix with all of this new terminology being thrown at you while you have to make a plethora of never-ending decisions, you need to just accept that this will be a learning process. Mistakes will be made, but you need to make sure that you are always double checking the information that is coming out of programmer's update reports. You cannot simply sit back and take everything that the programmer says for granted. You need to be double checking everything to make sure that it makes sense by:

  • Conducting your own research
  • Getting numerous quote estimates on the project
  • Asking tech friends as favors to double check the robustness of the backend and the progress reports that the programmer is conveying to you
  • Digging deeper into the weekly or monthly status updates

What makes building a web based product daunting for some is the reliance on others to build the product that you have no idea how to assess. It is your responsibility to educate yourself to the best of your ability along the way. I am not referring to learning the code, but the key terminology. If you are disconnected from this, the programmer will not build the optimal product for you.

2. If you don't manage the programmer, then the programmer will manage you

If you were building a house would you tell the developer, "Yeah, just build whatever you want, whenever you want, and just send me the bill" - I think not. It is very important that you take a hands on approach with managing programmers. Such suggestions are below:

  • Negotiate a fixed contract (not hourly as it is the worst) for a definitive outcome
  • Have a specifications sheet with all of the functionality listed - If not a misalignment can occur on responsibilities and product quality
  • Will the developer warranty his work? - A lot of times sections of the site will break unexpectedly. If the site is constantly breaking, why should the entrepreneur keep paying for poor quality work?
  • Request Weekly status reports
  • Push back (within reason) when programmers want to increase the hours for the project
  • Hold accountable programmers who overshoot timetables

1. Become friends with a LOT of programmers

I am completely serious with this recommendation. I have the utmost respect for programmers, and I personally have tons of programmer friends. Just as if you were friends with several doctors for medical advice or lawyers for legal... you need to become friends with programmers. Having a tech friend will allow you to double check your hired tech professional's work. Furthermore, it helps prevent you from getting taken advantage of with pricing, build-out time, and functionality. One of the biggest fundraising costs for a tech website is the tech team. If you partner with a qualified CTO, you just immediately reduced a significant cost-line-item. Those savings could be allocated toward other areas such as marketing etc to increase the chances of survival for the business.

Thus, having the proper tech team can make or break a business. It is unfortunate today that a lot of times entrepreneurs get taken advantage of by tech development companies. However, just remember that as an entrepreneur, you have a fiduciary responsibility to educate yourself and to take an active role in the tech development process - otherwise, if left unchecked, this lack of oversight could fester and cripple an entity's trajectory.


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