Alli McKee
Mar 30, 2018 · 3 min read

On Thursday, March 29th, I gave a talk to the JS.LA community on the “Outsourcing Rollercoaster.”

The full talk recording is available above, and here are the visuals:

With the caveat that this is an n of 1, I wanted to share what I learned about (1) hiring contracted development teams, (2) managing contractors as well as provide some (3) entertainment and get a little free (4) therapy by sharing my experience with a group of like-minded builders.
Starting off with context on my background, not a typical JS.LA speaker, but an oil painter/designer, turned management consultant and business person, turned software engineer and product builder
The origins of Stick, an idea to turn ideas (structured text) into images (visual slides) with NLP, Image library APIs, and a layout recommendation engine. This is the “Architecture” I drew out in 2015 for the idea.
The first prototype, presented at my final demo for Hackbright Academy thanks to help from Anthony Maina — a Javascript Slackbot with a bunch of if/else statements suggesting visuals for different use cases. Didn’t exactly take off, but empowering to build a working program.
To turn this Slackbot into a functional tool, I had two options: Continue searching for a CTO and keep waiting (after interviewing dozens and dozens unsuccessful applicants) and risk burning out completely, or just raise a little friends and family money to get going with an outsourced team.
First, know your goals. Which mindset are you in? Prototype mode, where you just need hackers to take risks and move as fast as possible, MVP mode where you need enough QA for it to be usable but don’t want to over-invest or slow it down, or a Sales Ready Product where you need true ownership and detail orientation.
The story of Stick’s earliest teams: (1) hiring a contracted development team via referral and failed, (2) bringing on a CTO with extensive management experience and too much distance from the details, and (3) finding a contractor with whom I could build up trust, who bridged Ukraine + US and I could meet face to face.
The mindset shift: it’s not about coding ability as much as it is about communication ability. Don’t underestimate the importance of clear, concise communication. It’s the only way to stay on the same page. “Bad code still runs. Bad communication stops everything.” -Erin McKean
Key learnings on the management side: (1) Face to face communication whenever possible, at least twice a week, (2) Momentum is needed, especially when incentives (compensation — hourly vs. project based) aren’t naturally aligned, (3) Tighten the user feedback loop to bring everyone closer to the “why” of the product
What’s been hard: (1) Estimations, esp. ramping up, are off by 2.2x on average, (2) Even when the product is humming along, it’s tough to carry the burden yourself unless you build ownership, (3) Protecting the DNA of your company to build up a company while shifting the contracted team to support in long-term (TBD).
What Stick is: A text to visual tool that helps you arrange visual stories — like this one!- and share files in a new dynamic format.


“I’ve seen live coding, but I’ve never seen live slides!” — Erin McKean

Why outsourcing development was a win for us, overall: it helped us (1) Innovate at a lower cost and take risks that we wouldn’t have otherwise, (2) By building a product good enough to get traction, it helped me attract a stronger founding technical team than I could have with a drawing, (3) It forced clarity in product vision because you can’t just “figure it out as you go along.”

See the presentation here in Stick:

Source text:

The crowd going wild 😆:

About the Author: Alli McKee is the CEO and Founder of, a visual communication platform enabling you to make better slides more quickly, built for Sales teams at fast-growing SaaS companies.

Show and Sell

Storytelling is the new Selling. Show and Sell brings together the best of strategy, storytelling, and design to show companies how to sell more, faster with stories that stick. Brought to you by

Alli McKee

Written by

CEO and Founder, - Illustrating Ideas in real time with NLP + ML. Painting and Improv on the side. TEDx Stanford.

Show and Sell

Storytelling is the new Selling. Show and Sell brings together the best of strategy, storytelling, and design to show companies how to sell more, faster with stories that stick. Brought to you by

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade