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John Petersen

Two People with Turbo Boosters

One of the most delightful perks of my job is that I get to talk to many people about their startup ideas. People ask if their app idea is feasible, how much it will cost, how long will it take to develop it, is this a terrible idea, and so on. I love it. I don't have all the answers, but after doing this for the last four years, you start to see patterns.

This post is about the opportunity to avoid a terrible pattern that I've witnessed more times than I would like to admit. I've seen people choose the wrong development partner and have it totally destroy their startup before it even got started. I can't tell you how painful this is for me knowing that it doesn't have to be that way.

Which is why I want to tell you about my favorite question ever. It brings me tremendous joy to answer it, because it's the result of all the hard work we've put in over the years. It gives me a chance to show the true vision and power of Firehawk, and why we wake up every day excited to be doing what we're doing. It's a story about finding the right development partner.

So what is this question that I love so much?

"How is it possible that a team of two people can build my app faster than a team of six people?"

Oh baby! This is going to be fun.

Understanding the Question

First let's properly set up the question. Within a few minutes of someone telling me what they want to build, they ask me for an estimate of how much it will cost and long it will take. I simply refuse to answer. How could I even begin to give any sort of accurate estimate with so little information? I want a house with a kitchen, bathroom and a couple of bedrooms -- how much will that cost?

Here's what I say in this situation. Our typical project takes about 6 to 10 weeks. Based on what you've told me, it sounds reasonable that your project will fit into that window (if I actually believe that's the case).

And now we have properly set up my favorite question...

"Hey John. I know you said 6 to 10 weeks might be reasonable, but how is that possible? All the other companies I've talked to have told me 3 to 4 months and they have a much larger team."

Where the Fun Begins

I get so excited to respond that I hardly let them finish the question before I jump into my response:

"I can't speak to the estimates and capabilities of other firms, but I can tell you what I've seen. Most development agencies are built upon a model that handles multiple projects at at time. They put several people on your project based upon resource availability who may or may not be working on several projects at once. You will normally have an account executive and/or project manager, a UX designer, a UI designer, a front end developer, a back end developer, and a mobile developer (if you're building an app) and perhaps a few other roles. Anytime something needs to be discussed, it happens through the project manager (typically working on several projects at a time). It severely slows down the decision making process (and that's assuming they all work in the same office and part of the team isn't remote or offshore). Our model works a bit differently. We are two people. We've been working together for 4 years and have built over 35 startups for our clients. We don't outsource anything and do all of the design and development ourselves. There are tremendous efficiencies that are gained by fully immersing ourselves in one project at time for 6 to 10 weeks sitting and 3.5' away from each other. The decision process is instant."

You can see why I get so excited. I believe we have a better model for building apps and websites. Two people. Fully immersed on your project. Operating with incredible efficiency.

That doesn't fully answer the question though, so I continue:

"These larger agencies and dev shops have a much different structure. They have high overhead costs and their job is to keep their employees working on billable projects as much as possible. So they say 3 to 4 months (or whatever they quote you), because that is the model that works for them and those are the projects they are looking for. Again, we're a bit different. In a given year, we can only take on about 6 projects. We're fortunate to be in a position where we will always have our next project lined up, so it's in everyone's best interest to finish your project as expeditiously as possible. Time is our most precious resource, and we have no interest in wasting yours or ours."

I'm able to confidently communicate this to people because I started and ran one of those larger dev shops. We had 5 developers and we were constantly working to ensure that they always had billable work. It's what I learned running that shop that allowed us to create Firehawk into what it is today.

And to be clear. There are certainly projects out there that are a better fit for the agency model. Many projects in fact. I'm talking about specific projects where very early stage startups and entrepreneurs are looking for help to build their idea.

Tom Brady for the Win

If this is my first conversation with someone, it's perfectly understandable that there is some natural skepticism. I'm perfectly happy to make an introduction to any of our previous clients who will vouch for any of this, but I continue on:

"If you were creating a new football team today with the purpose of winning the Superbowl this year, you want Tom Brady as your quarterback. You would take him over all the quarterbacks on the Cleveland Browns combined any day of the week. The problem is that these dev shops can't hire the Tom Brady types. This isn't a knock against them. It's just that Tom is off building his own startup or working at Facebook or Google. I get to work with Tom Brady every day. That's the difference."

What does that mean in the programming world? I've seen David fix a bug in 20 minutes that another developer had been stumped by for days. I've seen it happen multiple times with multiple developers. Is David a cyborg? Maybe. I haven't actually seen him bleed yet, so I'm not sure. Joking aside, it's because of experience. Of knowing exactly where to look, when to look, where to find the answer, and how to come up with new solutions on the fly. This happens from coding since you've been in diapers. (To be clear and because David is uncomfortable with me saying all of this, these are generalizations from what I've seen. Yes, some firms have some incredibly talented programmers. Whether or not they are working directly on your project is another story).

It was difficult for me to come to the point of being comfortable explaining this to clients. I realize how this post may come across. The reason I'm writing this now is because I've heard too many horror stories; too many situations where people have spent way too much money, have missed their deadlines by months or just ended up with an inferior quality product. It kills me every time. It doesn't have to be that way.

I'm extremely thankful for all the people we've been able to work with; all the people who believe in the vision and values of Firehwak; all the people who the understand the power of two people with turbo boosters.

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