Should a Startup Build Their Website/App In-House or Outsource it?

Dave’s answer to this question:

There is no rule. Software outsourcing is only ‘better’ if makes sense for your startup.

If we’re honest about why you want to outsource in the first place and your own capabilities and needs, the answer will be clear.

Keep in mind that software outsourcing work doesn’t make that work any easier – you still have to manage the outsourced team and pay to get it done. So, there has to be an ROI on the outsourcing or a clear reason not to bring it in-house.

Consider some typical scenarios:

  • Your company has the skills and time to create the website and apps in-house.  You know your needs best and will probably get the best outcome by doing it yourself, plus you don’t have to invest tons of time and money working with an outsourced team. You might want to consider keeping it in-house.
  • Your company has the skills to create the website, but not the time. Founders can be busy, and building apps and websites are a huge time investment. If your founders decided that they will have more positive impact on the company by doing sales, product management, marketing, or some other valuable thing with their time, you might decide that there will be on ROI on the investment into outsourcing.
  • You don’t have in-house skills in building your website or apps. In this case, you should consider outsourcing, but you also might want to look for co-founders, interns, freelancers, employees, or other options.

Outsourcing has overhead, too.

startups outsource

We see all sorts of clients at SourceSeek and many of them are startups who are trying to decide if outsourcing is the way to go.  One thing we see frequently is that startups are mostly considering the cost of outsourcing (which is always high, if you want quality) but they frequently underestimate the time and energy required to collaborate and manage an outsourced project.

Even if you outsource the whole thing and spend good money doing it, you can expect to spend a lot of time making it work. A company that has great project management will still need you to help create specifications, approve and test work, and help clarify requirements along the way.

To outsource successfully, you have to be a good client.

It’s important to keep in mind how effective you will be as a client. No matter how good your vendor is, a project will be a train wreck if you don’t have the time and energy to make it work. See: How to Be The Best Client, Every Time.

A similar question was answered recently: For a very-early-stage start-up that centers its business model around an app, should I outsource the development from an agency, hire a freelancer or two or hire a full-time developer? There is some good information there.

startups outsource

Would you enjoy learning how to do it yourself?

To make this decision even more personal and difficult, there is also the possibility of learning to do some things yourself and outsourcing the rest. For example, many startups outsource their app development but invest tons of time learning to do UI/UX, copywriting, and building simple WordPress sites on their own. This saves money, but more importantly you can be learning skills that will be incredibly useful if you were to outsource in the future. The better you understand how website and app development works, the easier it is going to be to outsource it.

A great example of this is the classic first step of documenting your needs. This involves creating some kind of specification, and depending on the methodology or style you choose (i.e. agile, scrum, etc.) it will vary in format but have the same types of content – it can be a detailed product description, a comprehensive spec, a vision document, or a series of use cases.

Always write your own specifications.

At the very least, do this initial documentation yourself. Never outsource this part until you’ve tried to capture your needs as documents, diagrams, wireframes, etc. as much as possible. I’m certainly not suggesting that you try to write a 100% complete specification before starting development – the lean/agile approach is the way to go. But, creating a 10-page document that clearly describes what your company and your app is about and how it will work will be incredibly valuable regardless of whether you outsource it.

If you hire an outsourcing company to write your specs for you, you might wind up spending more time explaining to them then it would take writing it yourself. Even a rough draft is a better start than nothing.

It’s easier that you think, check out this video if you need help getting started:

It’s a lot to consider, and you know your startup’s capabilities best. Feel free to get in touch if you need help, and best of luck to your startup!

Dave Hecker

Co-Founder at SourceSeek at SourceSeek
Dave is a seasoned technology executive focused software delivery, quality, process, and helping clients succeed at international software outsourcing.