As a former nontechnical founder, I understand how hard it is to build a company that relies on technology. One popular route to building technology is to use technical talent based outside the United States. We used a hybrid approach at CCAW comprising both US and non-US technical talent. Here are some of the things I learned:
- Fit is key – Finding the right person for the role is hard. Spend time making sure the person is a good fit before you pull the trigger. I’ve used Toptal, Upwork, and other services. Regardless of the service, I’ve always had to spend time evaluating the person or firm for fit. It’s one of the most important parts of the process, and you can’t outsource it. Spend time on the front end.
- Nearshore versus offshore – There’s a difference. Offshore refers to another country that has a different time zone and isn’t close to your country. At CCAW, we had offshore team members in Greece, Poland, and the Philippines. Nearshore usually refers to a country in close proximity with yours and the same (or almost the same) time zone. Nearshore can be easier because it’s more likely they’ll understand your culture and have similar work hours. We had nearshore team members in Nicaragua at CCAW. Both nearshore and offshore worked for us at CCAW.
- Communication – This is more important than technical abilities. You need to be able to easily communicate with someone. If they can’t communicate clearly in your language, orally or in writing, it will become a huge problem.
- Individuals versus firms – There is a difference here, too. A good dev shop will have the processes, systems, and management layers in place that will increase the chances of success. We had success working with individuals early on at CCAW. As we began scaling and needed more structure, we had success with firms that already had management structures. I enjoyed have one point of contact to manage the relationship.
- Product vision – Someone domestic on your team needs to own the vision for the product and they need to work closely with technical talents to make sure their work meets expectations. This may be the founder early on and someone else as the company grows. I originally had this role at CCAW, but transitioned it as we grew. If you can’t articulate what you want built, the end result will be poor, and it won’t be the technical talent’s fault.
- Expense item versus team member – If technology is key to your strategy, treat the people building it accordingly. Don’t treat them like a line item on the budget. Don’t try to get something for nothing. Don’t just give them a bunch of tasks with no context. Treat them like team members and value the technical insights they bring. Include them in conversations and ask for their perspective. Good technical talents can tell whether you value what they contribute. If you don’t, they’ll decline to work with you and you’ll be left working with people of lesser talent.
- Expectations – Know what you expect and communicate it clearly from the very beginning.
I learned a great deal working with a hybrid team at CCAW. Our team members based outside the United States were strong, and I’m happy I had the opportunity to work with them. Without these people, we would not have been able to achieve eight figures in revenue.
I know a number of wildly successful founders of technology companies who have loved using non-US technical talent. Conversely, I’ve known others who’ve had bad experiences. I personally think there are amazing technical talents outside the United States and that working with them is a huge opportunity for founders. And I think the founder’s perspective and approach determine the likelihood of success.