As an expert in product building I've started to notice that everyone seems to think building products is "easy" and especially with mobile apps being all the latest rage--and with access to simple ways to prototype or early stage simulate a mobile app--almost anyone can build an app. Well, build an app in theory, however the expertise it takes to build and launch an app takes years, years of experience. Technology experience that can only be attained via two ways: bought or gained. With more building going on there is even more layers of industry experience than before, especially in mobile and technology. There are hundreds of thousands of development firms all with their own niches of expertise, books on software development agreements, full conferences on software building as a space and plenty of online guides on product building. One female founder who has paved a way in software development is Anastasia Hilinsky of BuildRX. Building online ecommerce and technology products since 2008, Ana sits down and shares her expertise in the product building space.
Q: Is it possible to build a business around a product you had built via outsourced teams?
A: Absolutely. Often, building a company and building a product require two different skillsets: comprehending a product or industry space versus the technology to execute are very different. Imagine a successful women's retail brand: they know their product and customer, but they may not know the differences between popular eCommerce platforms, payment solutions or fully understand the fulfillment challenges they may face. When you become an expert who has built a particular technology product several times, you can leverage this so clients can save time. By the same token, large or established companies can benefit from working with a shop, even if they are highly technically competent. Hiring development experts can free up mental space to focus on the business, which is great because there are still other things to do that can be underestimated like user acquisition, marketing, and sales, which are different skillsets than product building.
Q: Are there any struggles with outsourcing development? Can "anyone" hire a development firm?
For clients, I see two big struggles in working with a development shop. The first is just picking a partner that's a great fit. There are so many shops out there and they vary so much in expertise and quality. Companies looking for development support can't just go by portfolio or price alone, they also have to consider factors like expertise. Not every development shop will know every technology that may be necessary to support you. Once they've found a development partner, the second challenge is in having an internal culture that embraces "outsiders" as trusted partners and collaborators, not just "work for hire" developers. Sure, anyone can "hire a development firm" but the companies that thrive do their homework, truly understand what it takes to manage a product and know how to effectively collaborate with the development partner for the length of the project. You have to be in the right mindset before you pull the trigger.
Q: Are there any tips or things people or companies can do for hiring development firms?
It sounds simple but if you want to succeed in working with a development company or outsourcing product building you need to hone in on the business problem, fully. Companies that spend the time organizing their thoughts into product requirements (even if these are tentative) are going to find better suited partners and be able to create something great with less friction. Asking detailed questions at the beginning of a project can open up the logic behind using a specific technology. A common term in our space is "RFP" or Request for Proposals meaning a document that lists out all the things that a client might want in one place. Having an organized RFP is everything in product building.
Q: Is there a pet peeve or unrealistic expectation you see in the product building world? Is there any cultural nuances you would like to see changed?
I wish that everyone in the industry was passionate about building beautiful and scalable products, but that's not always everyone's motivation. There are also so many options to choose from when it comes to development services I think sometimes expectations on what can fit into a launch-ready scope or budget can become unrealistic and quickly sway clients from partners that would make a great fit otherwise.
Q: Where do you see the future of online product building? Where does BuildRX fit into that?
The tools available to developers are becoming markedly better and will continue to do so. Currently, there are many great tools out there such as Pivotal Tracker, InVision, Marvel, Framer that make it easier to focus on the actual business solution than time spent just getting a project going. This is a trend that will continue; companies will keep building tools that will advance and simplify the process of product building. While working with our development team at BuildRX and appreciating tools that make our jobs easier we also noticed that oftentimes we get very similar requests from one client to the next, especially in the eCommerce space. This lead us to build a scalable platform that allows customers to use the same features over and over again in a way that saves time and budget for them and requires a minimal amount of developer support from their end. The platform we built, Integrations.io, is an integrations platform that connects all of your eCommerce services. It allows you to connect your storefront with many popular integrations that may not always be available in a easy-to-use format elsewhere on the market but can be very pivotal to running your business efficiently.
Q: Anything else about product building you think will happen?
I see the future of development as being more "fully integrated". Over the years I feel like I've seen more and more shops offer a greater array of expertise such as UI/UX design, product development and industry-specific business consulting. I see the next generation of development shops take a more agency-like approach and look less like contract coders and more like one-stop-shops for all product needs, but I may be wrong. The industry is fluid and changes quickly.