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Feb 10 2015

Should you hire an agency to build your app, or do it in-house?

There are two recurring questions about internal teams that come up a lot when we talk with potential clients. They boil down to this:

“We’ve got our own engineering team, why couldn’t we do it ourselves?”

or, for companies who lack a strong engineering team:

"Can't we just hire and develop our own internal team?"

They're both good questions, so I'd thought I share my thoughts here.

Many companies have talented, experienced technical teams, and it may seem unnecessary to hire an agency for a development project.

And for some of them, it is unnecessary. But there are times when hiring an agency could mean the difference between success and failure.

Here’s how I answer...

When and Why You Should Hire An Agency

Here are the three biggest reasons why a great agency can produce a better outcome than your in-house team:

1. Amplified Expertise and Experience

For every product that your in-house team builds, a medium-sized agency might build 50.

That means that a busy agency is learning exponentially more about product development, customer behavior and trends than your team is, every single day. And the next day, they apply those learnings in real-time to every project across every industry.

An agency’s ongoing portfolio of projects acts as a rapid knowledge multiplier.

When you hire a good agency, you’re paying not just for the work they’re doing, but for the value of every bit of knowledge and understanding they’ve picked up from every project they’ve ever done.

They’ll be able to use that knowledge to:

  • Give you feedback on your product idea
  • See potential challenges and failures that you might have seen
  • Suggest creative solutions that you might not have considered
  • Pare down your product by helping you focus on only the features you need
  • Choose the best platforms and technologies to build your product, without being limited by any one person or team’s particular skill set

Because of that, development and testing becomes quicker, iterations become fewer and more frequent, and your time to market becomes much, much shorter.

2. An Outside Voice

In any company, almost everyone has a boss who heavily influences decision-making. In many of those companies, decisions are made more to appease the boss in the short-term than help the bottom line in the long-term.

There’s usually an aversion to suggesting things that the boss might not like, in the interest of self-preservation.

This leads to stagnation.

A good agency will help you evaluate your best path forward without the influence of corporate politics or fear of speaking out.

They’ll tell you, without fear of retribution, that your idea has severe shortcomings or is likely to fail.

(Not all agencies will do this. That’s why it’s so important to choose a development agency that you trust to give you honest, critical feedback.)

This sort of shakeup is often necessary to stir a company out of an innovation funk.

3. Team Augmentation

Want your in-house team to get better or learn new skills?

You could pay for training for them.

Or you could hire an agency that will work alongside your team, educating them on new skills and technologies that you’ll benefit from for years to come.

For some companies, this is the highest level of value that they get from working with an agency: not only is the agency building your product, but they’re improving your team at the same time.

The training aspect of this isn’t just something that an agency throws in as a value-add. It’s in the agency’s best interest for your team to be able to maintain and work with the product your agency has built for a very long time, so a good agency will want to help augment your in-house team.

It’s like paying for training for your team, but you don’t have to wait for the results of that training to culminate in a product months down the line, because that product is being built while the training takes place.

When and Why You Shouldn’t Hire An Agency

Not every project calls for an agency. If you have more time -- and team -- than cash, it’s probably not a good idea.

If you have enough time to build a product, get user feedback, iterate on it and complete that loop dozens of times before your product is “market ready,” and if you’re okay with waiting that long, then you should probably do it yourself.

If you’re strapped for cash and hiring an agency would put you in the red or cause you to risk missing payroll, you shouldn’t hire an agency as a hail-mary.

If you can’t make a good business case for the benefits that a product will bring to your bottom line (for example, if you’re just building something to meet regulatory standards or a simple tool that very few people will use), then investing in working with an agency is not a good idea.

But if speed, quality and results now matter, then an agency might be your best choice.

Nick Kishfy