Boycott Software Sweatshops - 8 Ways Startups and Small Businesses Can Avoid an Outsourcing Disaster

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Chicago blogger launches 'Boycott Software Sweatshop' campaign sharing sobering advice on offshore outsourcing.

There's a severe shortage of competent outsourcing vendors to serve the needs of the burgeoning SMB market.

Chicago blogger launches 'Boycott Software Sweatshop' campaign sharing sobering advice on offshore outsourcing.

"We hear from more and more startups and small businesses that are disgruntled with their offshore vendors," says Raza Imam, Managing Partner of Chicago software engineering firm Adaptive Solutions, Inc. and author of the satirical outsourcing blog Many software startups and SMB's are jumping on the outsourcing bandwagon, seeking the cost savings and speed to market enjoyed by their Fortune 500 counterparts. Small firms seeking an offshore partner are increasingly disillusioned with the process as recent statistics reveal 30 percent of offshore engagements end in failure.

"In a Web 2.0 world, where speed is the name of the game, finding a reliable partner can literally make or break you," says Imam. "There's a severe shortage of competent outsourcing vendors to serve the needs of the burgeoning SMB market."

To solve this problem, Imam launched his 'Boycott Software Sweatshops' campaign identifying 8 traits SMB's and software startups should look for in an offshore vendor:

  • High value, not low cost -- Sounds simple, but you get what you pay for. Avoid vendors promising high level technical skills at 'bargain basement' rates. Look for a team that loves what they do and that compensates their employees generously. Low price does not provide value, proficient programmers who work for a company they love does.
  • Do you see what I see? -- If your development team doesn't see the vision, you're doomed; doubly so if they're half way around the world. If you're building a product that you plan on taking to market, you need to find a team that has a vested interest in your success. The real value in offshore development is in nurturing a team that matches your corporate culture and who understands the subtleties of your business.
  • Culture Shock -- Are you focused on immediate results, organic growth and impeccable quality? Find a vendor who feels the same way. A cultural mismatch will definitely end the relationship. Ask lots of questions to unearth the underlying culture that governs how they do business.
  • Most vendors are the same -- Outsourcing is more about trust and reliability than cheap technical skills. Companies that flaunt their technical competency are no different than their competitors. Look for business acumen and not tech skills. Throw them a project and see how well they meet incremental milestones, the types of questions they ask, and how responsive they are.
  • 'But does he make you laugh?' -- One of the fastest and most effective ways to see if someone truly 'gets you' is their sense of humor. A good sense of humor shows that the other person understands what makes you tick. Humor builds relationships and is a sign of creativity and intelligence. When you're dealing with someone 10,000 miles away, anything that breaks down barriers and facilitates more open communication is a huge asset.
  • Fanatical commitment -- Technical skills are easy to find, reliable people are not. Most offshore vendors don't understand the concept of a deadline. As a business, you can work around technical limitations, but you can't work around people who aren't committed. Find someone who does what they say. Unexpected problems are bound to occur, but at the moment of truth your vendor should be mature enough to roll with the punches and get the job done.
  • Ask you tough questions -- People who are good at what they do aren't afraid to ask tough questions. Questions show that they know who they are and what kinds of problems they can solve. In an industry saturated with 'yes men', an inquisitive partner forces you to re-think how you do business.
  • Maturity to say "No" -- Finally, it's extremely rare to find a vendor that will tell you like it is. We've heard countless stories of offshore firms over-promising and under-delivering. You need to look for a partner that can be honest with you from day one, even if it means that they lose your business. A company that sets up realistic expectations is a company you can rely on, even if it's not the answer you wanted to hear.

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Raza Imam
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