As a startup founder scouting for new business in software development, I was in Chicago last month. It is very intriguing to find the kind of challenges entrepreneurs have and how they are deadlocked working in their business. Here’s a particularly interesting meeting with a startup founder that I would like to share.
A 15-year-old company, run by a single owner — let’s call the owner Joe.
Interestingly, I met with Joe two years back. We were almost going to sign up a project when we lost the deal for reasons beyond our control. Joe was candid enough to give us the reasons, I saw his point and wished him luck.
The Good – High-Performance Team
So Joe decided to build an internal team. Now, Joe was a seasoned businessman and not a technologist. He took a leap of faith with a highly competent 6 member team and gave them a go ahead. As it turned out, the team found it challenging to meet the promised deliverables and features got backlogged each week. With a weekly sprint burn of $25K, Joe is certainly frustrated as the project is still work in progress.
The Bad – High Burn Rate
I further probed on why this is the case and what I found was amusing, to say the least. Their lead developer is an extremely competent engineer. I have in fact worked with him in my past life. But it seems to be a case of over-engineering now. The team has made it important to maintain 98% test coverage rather than realizing that the launch date needs to be taken into consideration as well. I am not saying that the tests are not important. But you know what I mean when I say over testing is waste of time and money.
The Ugly – No End Date
The project manager is pulled in all directions and has left much to be desired in terms of guiding the team in the right direction. So Joe is stuck with a decent team which is heading aimlessly and satiating their coding fantasies more than building a business. Though the team would have a different take, I am sure. But building everything in Ruby and just one other piece in Clojure without having the right reasons makes me think it is moving south.
It is a classic case. The development team saying that software development is an evolving process and that they cannot estimate. Right now this project has no end date. The business, however always has cash and time constraints.
I was wondering if Joe would be willing to use our services for course correction on this project or on a new project. His concern is the big time zone difference as we are almost on the other side of the world. My take would be we work while you sleep well and we are awake when you need us the most!
Joe, in my mind, needs a mix of teams — onshore and offshore and fix the team that he has in place and set a tighter process. The constraint should be time and money and everything needs to revolve around that instead of 100% test coverage.
Let us know what would you do if you were in Joe’s shoes. How would you go about solving this catch 22 situation where the team cannot be let go as the product is two years in the making now, but also there is no way to find out how much longer it will take and the burn rate is huge.
Should he hire a CTO or bring in a consulting firm from outside to manage the existing team? None seems very plausible without a long discussion and debate at the moment. Stay tuned for more such intriguing startup stories…
Founder CEO, Idyllic.
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