Outsourcing Web Development – Learning the hard way

There is nothing more stressful than getting frustrated at someone for not doing their job, have a row with them and then realising that there are half a dozen simple things that could have been done to insure that the project is completed on time and as required. I realise now why good project managers are so well paid.

I am now glad I studied economics for 3 years because it has helped me to understand that so many things in life are about punishment and incentives – the carrot that keeps the donkey going and the boot that kicks it when it goes astray. Let me explain…

Several months of paying 50% for the development of our site, we still do not have a finished working copy. I recently spent some time on a website called VWorker and while I have yet to use their services and see if they are any good, the infrastructure that the guys have set up on this community makes it so much easier to get work done.

The community has over 250,00 registered free-lancers and companies which bid on the projects people post. Within 24 hours of posting we have had over 20 bids to do our work with the cost ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. We see everyone’s reviews (something you can not easily do with companies you find when googling), and most importantly people are ACCOUNTABLE. If they agree to do the work within a month and they fail to complete the project within that time frame,  then you have the option to not pay a cent or give them an extension.

They let you know from the get go that only 25% of development/software projects in the entire industry finish on schedule (25% are never completed and 50% are delayed) and they reckon if we think a project will take 2 weeks it is more likely that it will take 2-to-5 times that amount of time.

All of our 20+ bids agreed to pay only a 10% deposit (and not the 50% we have currently paid) and there are requirements such as weekly feedback which make it easy to gauge how far along the developers are.

Incetives and punishment – a community that has both.

Overall, I can not wait to try out this service as we were really happy with a similar service (only it was for design and not development) from 99Designs. We got 19 designers to submit 59 designs for our new logo. After choosing the winning one we were also able to ask the winning designer to tweek the design to our heart’s conent. Check out our new DiamondsInAfrica logo below:

Global from Day One

What a crazy few months it has been, and all because we boldly decided that we would launch this business into the global market from day one – selling our products in any currency, any time and to any location in the world (with a few small exceptions).

When we first committed to our global approach I was certain that our flight and travel expenses would break the bank but the internet truly has made global commerce not only possible, but unbelievably easy as well. From incorporating a limited US business and opening a bank account there, to registering toll-free numbers in all our major markets – all of this was done from the comfort of my office.

I have also been calling customers from around the world using Skype and our very first client found us online from Serbia and made a detour on his way to a hunting trip in Namibia just to make a purchase in South Africa.

I have not been in the same room as our other two co-founders since April and yet we are all on the same page with regards to developments on a daily basis. Conference calls from our mobiles and bitesize e-mails seems to be all it takes.

There is only one last challenge I have to overcome with regards to the “think global” approach – that being reaching out to all our suppliers (spread across 5 countries around the world) and agreeing upon our terms of trade. This challenge begins today.

Apologies to any regular readers for the post drought of late, it seems the more I have to blog about the less time I have to blog.

Dabs (verb) – “To Touch Lightly and Quickly”

This is how the dictionary defines the terms “Dabs”. In many ways, my three months here will have this effect on the company, however the effect this experience has had on me will be far more pronounced.

My third placement began with all the usual excitement and possibilities to impose a positive change in the 11 weeks we have to do so. The only difference this time was that Dabs was the one placement I was really excited to be going to – an e-commerce company for someone (me) who is passionate about Internet marketing – what a match!

The first few weeks flew by and despite the fact that my commute took up to two hours of my day, I was enjoying my job.

Towards the end of February, something happened at Dabs which changed everything. I refer to this event as the fortunately-unfortunate incident. It was unfortunate because together with the other lovely people at Dabs, during the next few months we all had to enter a “crisis management” mode; but fortunate because I experienced, first-hand, the issues and difficulties which come about when a company has to upgrade to a new system. To cut a long story short – the company decided it was time to implement a new system, but once they migrated everything on to the new one, there were more problems than they had at first anticipated and unfortunately many of these affected their customers.

The lessons I learned over the next few weeks showed me that e-commerce is not only an amazing disruptive innovation, but also an economic system where agents operate in a manner far quicker than the traditional business world. Problems (and opportunities) are noticed instantly and people expect these problems to be corrected within days, hours, and sometimes even minutes. Things are almost back to normal now, and I feel like in the long term Dabs will be better off with the new system.

Of course I also got to ask literally thousands of questions, cornering various people in their offices or at their desks and extracting vital information from them. When starting up your own e-commerce business (as I hope to soon be doing) you never really know what you don’t know, but once you start digging deeper you find certain questions taking form; questions about shipping, protecting the company from fraud, the various systems being used and dozens of others. The more questions I asked the more questions I seemed to have and at Dabs I also managed to get many answers (Thanks to Neil, Helen, Michelle, Mat and Jag).

All-in-all, it was a very interesting placement. To cheer everyone up (and because its my birthday), I’ve made pancakes on my last day and leave the cool gang at Dabs with a few lessons I have learned:

  1. Good customer service is a far more difficult job than I had at first thought. When we hire people to do this, make sure they can handle angry or difficult customers. Take them out once a month to paintball (or some other activity where they can de-stress and let go of all the anger customers impose upon them).
  2. Always, and I mean ALWAYS have a contingency plan – not just for the good times but also for the bad. Plan for unlikely events using the “if…then…else” type of logic.
  3. Don’t pay for expensive software unless you have a dedicated person who will be trained and have the time to use it. Even then, regularly re-evaluate its usefulness to the company.
  4. Customers are morons. They will cry and bitch and moan and threaten. Do everything you can to please them.
  5. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. If it is breaking and you choose to get a new one, make sure you’re not getting one that is even more broken than the original because anything that can go wrong will go wrong, so make sure you plan for the worst case scenario.
  6. Be very careful when deciding that the job two employees are doing can be done by one. Overworking people suppresses creativity and innovation – especially if you doubled their workload but not their salary.
  7. Finally, after the system migration there were some serious problems on days when it looked like the world would end. While some people could have just gone mental from all the stress, everyone stayed cool. So the last lesson I take away from Dabs is – DON’T PANIC, everything works out in the end if you’ve got a cool head.

Thanks to Dabs for a very important 3 months, now to put it all into practice in my own business.

Placement four is at Rare Pink. A new chapter begins.