How does a micro-ISV outfit manage the outsourcing of small tasks? By using micro-Outsourcing of course!
Regular readers will know that Component Factory is just a one man and his dog sized outfit (actually I don’t even have a dog). We are the canonical example of a micro-ISV, the term coined by Eric Sink a couple of years ago to describe a single person company that develops Microsoft based software.
In fact since he invented the term there has been a whole community of developers emerge under this tag. Many reside on the The Business of Software forum run by Joel Spolsky. You can even get a book that explains the process of going from regular developer to micro-ISV company called Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. So if you’re thinking of making the jump yourself I would highly recommend you get the book and hang around with others in the same situation on the forum.
Of course, being a one man outfit is just a stepping towards the megacorp status and NASDAQ listing that is our destiny. But until that day arrives I need to find an effective way of outsourcing tasks that are outside my expertise. In fact not just for tasks that need alternative skills but also for tasks that would otherwise take up a great deal of my time. The most valuable commodity a micro-ISV has is time. I only have a limited number of hours available per week and I need to get maximum value from them. So if I need a new website design I want a professional graphic designer to work on it, or if I need a Unix server setup then I want someone with those skills. Trying to do it myself is either beyond my ability or will take too long to get up to speed.
So how do you outsource small tasks? If you want to outsource a major chunk of work you can hire a contractor to work with you, but this only works if you have several months of work to offer. Not many full time contractors want to take on a 2 day or 2 week project. So you need micro-Outsourcing and I found a great service recently called oDesk that offers such a service.
Like many such sites you can specify a project and wait for providers to put themselves forward and quote for the work. But unlike most sites they are not bidding a fixed price for the work but instead they are quoting their hourly rate. This is much more realistic in my opinion. Once you have interviewed and accepted a provider you then work with them on the task and they get paid according to the number of hours they work on the project.
But for me the killer feature with oDesk is that the provider has to run some software that periodically takes a snapshot of their screen. So when your account says they have spent five hours on the project you can see screen shots of the work they were doing for that entire time. So you can be assured they really did the work they say they did. As my provider is designing a new website for me it means I can see all the different ideas they work on as they go through the design process. I can email the provider and say I loved the idea they did initially but am less keen on the one later that they actually emailed to me. This combination of being able to contract small tasks and be assured on the work performed is ideal.
They seem to have a wide range of providers ranging from web designers to PHP programmers. I can imagine over time assembling a useful set of providers used for a few hours work from time to time. Ideal for a micro-ISV.