Why you shouldn’t use Software Developers

If you are a Start Up, don’t use an outside agency to build your software.

In fact whatever stage your business is at, be very careful. They just don’t get it. Maybe get an outsourced team if you don’t have the skills in house, but make sure you are in control and call the shots.

Having an idea of what you want software to do and then getting a company to build it for you is not as simple as it may appear. Especially for Software as a Service (SaaS).

Our experience with this has not been good at all. We took our ideas and work to a Software Developer and it has not turned out well.

Let me set the scene. We are leaders in a rather obscure field. I say obscure because not many people know about it, but it is a vital component of major sports events.

It is Accreditation- the security clearance and issuing of access passes (credentials) to all those that work at sports events that do not buy a ticket. Competitors, media, security, cleaners, sponsors, grounds men, caterers, you get the picture.

This has become an ever more crucial undertaking for major events with increased security imperatives making it necessary to ‘vet’ applicants and to restrict access in some instances.

Anyway the software for this process seems straightforward but is surprisingly complex for anything but the very simplest of events.

After years of working in this field and with a keen interest in the new breed of ‘Exponential Growth’ businesses spawned by the wonders of the Internet and the possibilities of the Cloud, we decided it was time to apply all those ‘Lean Startup’ principles to our industry — disrupt our own business model before some other clever operator did and make the new technologies and capabilities available to the world of accreditation at sports events.

So we knew what was needed but we didn’t have the technical skills to create the software. We set about finding people that did. Where to start but Google right? We narrowed it down to six companies against criteria such as skills, their own presentation, their stated experience and accessibility.

We visited six companies, immediately discounted one (they lived in the last century), ignored the irritating salesman at another that kept showing us his website (we had already looked), one more was extremely swish but they told us that they were out of our price range and they were! We boiled it down to two. One kept ramming Microsoft at us like it was a positive — I loathe Microsoft. But they did seem competent. But finally we made our choice. It was a hard choice but we felt these guys really understood us and ‘got’ what we were trying to achieve.

We agreed that we were bootstrapping our way to an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) as the first iteration to test. We were speaking the same language. Or so we thought.

Now I know that was a mistake and an expensive one. For us, this software is a passion, our customers are our passion, providing them with this fantastic service is our dream. For the software development company it is a job, a route to profit. Of course it is and it was very dumb of me to think otherwise and that they would share our passion.

After the initial ‘love in’ with the boss of the company — a very bright, enthusiastic and knowledgeable individual that we really liked (still do!) we were passed to the inevitable ‘account handler’. She hadn’t been in the initial meetings. She definitely wasn’t listening to us. She was new in the firm. She was driving us to a process, a very laborious old fashioned process around word documents and spreadsheets. Not a sniff of a wireframe or indeed progress. Not for months.

That’s our Darnelle on the right — who saved me from madness and the project from total collapse . Backs of heads are the ones that should be hung in shame!

They were right and we were wrong, all the time. Of course the design wasn’t included, of course the website wasn’t included. They had to have an exact layout of each page of the software. Only problem was we hadn’t been told any of this in advance. In fact we felt misled. But we dug deep and carried on.

We lead them along in baby steps and all was interpreted by the ‘account handler’ and passed to the people doing the work. Wrongly most of the time. Every little step took an age. We are talking months of delay and we had stopped supporting our existing software as we had been told we would be up and running in three months. It took 18 and didn’t work.

Every single test of a function we did it didn’t work or worked very poorly. Most importantly it wouldn’t print passes.

By now we had no accreditation services income as all our systems were down. The account handler left and then another and we were left to deal with engineers and then an abrasive COO who clearly had had enough of our complaining.

It wasn’t working and we all knew it. We wanted to test it fully loaded on the web, we suspected when it went live further faults would show. The COO insisted that they would not put it live until we signed to say it was in full working order and paid in full. We suspected it wouldn’t but we had no choice so we paid — and it didn’t.

They gave us 30 days warranty but at the pace they worked it was almost worthless as there were so many faults and with their work rate we would have needed another 6 months.

The whole system went down on their hosted servers frequently. It was totally unstable. An MVP has to be ‘Viable’, ergo it has to work. In our case print passes. You would think that was obvious?

As it turned out it was frequently down due to errors in the software blocking the servers.

They were prepared to work on it for us but on an hourly charge basis. They wanted to charge us to repair their inefficiency. They were so slow and expensive, real 9 to 5 types. We didn’t have the time or money to continue with them. We had to find a solution.

As luck would have it I had met someone on another project that I thought may be able to get us out of a hole. And wow was I right. Our new man Josh was worth ten of theirs and he joined us straight away.

But they wouldn’t give us access to the software we owned or at the least were extremely difficult about it.

We had no choice but to completely sever ties with them and find another hosting solution and migrate the mess of software they had built for us so that we could fix it ourselves.

They told us that we were making huge mistakes, how we didn’t understand, our new man was not competent and he didn’t understand, that our hosting cost would double or treble (they halved).

They withheld information and dragged it all out for weeks. When they realised we wouldn’t relent they grudgingly sent the bare bones of what we needed whilst disingenuously feigning cooperation and goodwill. In fact they couldn’t have been less cooperative. The new hosting company were aghast at the sheer incompetence and poor client treatment.

When we finally wrestled the software away and started work to fix it, it was clear it was a mess. It had been worked on by different engineers who hadn’t resolved problems but just done quick patches and left it to the next guys to come along. Notes were left in indicating that they knew bits weren’t working or stable. Whole functions and links were omitted. It was just totally shabby and unprofessional work. We had been forced to pay and waited nearly a year too long for a load of crap.

Working with our own team couldn’t have been a more different experience. The hosting company were amazing and super cooperative and the software was getting fixes overnight — literally.

Constantly we found errors in the code and sloppy work and Josh has more or less rebuilt and created from scratch some of the functionality. Some things could have been done in ten minutes if the developers had given us proper notes or spent 5 mins on the phone but they point blank refused without more payment. So our team did it without them.

I am immensely thankful and proud of Josh and my two colleagues Peter Henstock and Darnelle Price. They have watched me driven to distraction and the poor house by the total incompetence of the people we selected to build our new baby. They have spent hours and hours and hours unravelling the mess that these people created.

And now? Well now we have the very very best Cloud based Accreditation software anywhere. iAccredit.me is truly amazing and has been rebuilt bottom up and top down. It is slick and professional and we make it better every day. We love it and our clients love it.

We won’t be letting any Software Development companies anywhere near it — ever. And the only Christmas card going to the developers will be from our lawyers.