To Hire or Not to Hire:
How to find the team you need
to build a successful product

In our line of work, we talk to a lot of people with great ideas who are trying to formulate a plan of action. They often ask, “Should we bring in an agency or build our own team?” You may have noticed—we are an agency. But we don’t always answer like one and we don’t take every project that comes our way. Years in the business have taught us which projects thrive with a hired gun like us, and which projects are better off with an in-house approach. And which ones call for something somewhere in between.

What role does the product play in your business?

To hire or not to hire? Well, that depends on what you’re building. Is your app your core business or is it part of a larger portfolio of services? For example, a men’s fashion retailer might be better off focusing on what they do best and, when it comes to reaching customers on mobile, hire an agency to help build a companion app.

Why? Because building apps is a very different business from selling retail goods. It requires a separate type of experience and a new track of planning: Developing a strategic roadmap that dictates which features to focus on and prioritizing development to maximize the chances of customer adoption. We often meet entrepreneurs who know their market and understand their vision very well. And yet, often, they profoundly underestimate what it takes to build a great app and a great user experience that actually serves the purpose of their business. Building software is more than just coding and design. It requires connecting the dots all the way back to your core business.

What does the right team look like?

Let’s say your eye is on the prize—launching a new app in a few months. With so much attention put toward the immediate goal, most teams don’t have the time to evaluate what they’re really looking for.In the short term, can you realign a team you already have and augment it with the help of an agency while you staff up?

Identify the skills you are missing and find a partner that complements your weaknesses. That way, you buy yourself some time and put your needs and assumptions to the test. For example, say that you have a server engineer and a junior designer on staff. These individuals know your existing services well. But your server engineer isn’t trained to build a mobile app, and your junior designer’s visual skills may be limited when it comes to mobile user experience.

In this case, you may want to consider agencies that bring mobile expertise and senior design skills to the team. Not only are you better positioned to hit your deadline—you also have the space to properly evaluate your long-term team-building goals. And you’ve gained valuable experience on what the right person for the job might look like.

Looking for long-term autonomy?

Teams take time to build. Hiring an outside team gets you to market quickly. But are you stuck going through your agency any time you want to make changes in the future? Not necessarily. Agencies can help you bridge the gap between short-term needs and long-term goals. If you’d like to be more autonomous in the future, start thinking about building out in-house expertise at the same time that you’re working with the agency, so your external team can pass the baton to your internal one as your first push reaches market.

If your product is a central part of your business but you’re still having trouble getting started, you can use an agency in a similar way. Perhaps you’re a startup and have a great product manager, but you need a developer and a designer to get you to market quickly. Start with an external team to get things done while you begin building deep in-house expertise. Just make sure that the agency you choose knows the plan and is committed to helping you build, launch and staff up.

For more on hiring the right team for the job, see our perspective on
How to Hire Rockstar Developers. And to help you evaluate your options, we’ve created a table that summarizes key considerations when choosing the best development path for you.
BUILDING HIRING

APP AS A STANDALONE
BUSINESS

APP AS AN ADDED PLATFORM
OF AN EXISTING BUSINESS

  • Agency

    • Pros

      • Complete team available immediately

      • Start building - get to market quickly

      • Deep expertise

      • Flexibility to scale up fast

    • Cons

      • Eventually, you need an in-house team to run your business, need to hire in parallel

    • Pros

      • Complete team available immediately

      • Get to market quickly

      • Stay focused on your business while building new capabilities that are outside of core competence

      • Predictability

    • Cons

      • Need to educate agency about your existing business

      • Hiring a high-quality agency team is critical and can take time

  • In-house team

    • Pros

      • Your team owns the product features and delivery success from the beginning

    • Cons

      • Hiring a high-quality team takes time.

      • High opportunity cost if you are late to market.

      • New hires typically arrive one at a time causing further delays in shipping a product

      • Need to manage skills gap.

    • Pros

      • Develop new internal skills and expertise: this is only meaningful if there is a long term strategic commitment to the new app or platform.

      • Can handle long term app support and product evolution

    • Cons

      • Expensive to staff up.

      • Hard to hire the right people because your core business may be outside of their strongest area of professional interest

  • Hybrid (agency and in-house)

    • Pros

      • Flexibility: you can begin work and get your team to participate from the beginning

      • Get to market quickly.

      • Develop internal capabilities while aided by mobile experts.

      • Easier on boarding of new internal hire

    • Cons

      • You need to hire the “right” agency that can function in this hybrid model

      • Need a strong team leader: coordination of the effort can be challenging

      • More rotation of people as you staff up internally.

    • Pros

      • Accelerate internal effort

      • Build internal capabilities while aided by mobile experts

      • Easier on boarding of new internal hires

    • Cons

      • Company’s internal culture needs to be open to accommodating an external team to avoid suffocating the effort

      • Need strong team leader: coordination may be challenging

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