Development is a big investment for any company. As a product development agency, we often consult with customers looking for technical partners for their app idea for the first time. During the initial meetings, a lot of questions and concerns come up around finding the right team for the project. We get that hiring a technical partner can seem especially opaque and intimidating for non-technical folks, so we wanted to discuss a few things to keep to in mind as you begin a relationship with a development agency or contractor.

First, let’s talk about the development process

Think of product development like a home renovation project—the goals are similar. Everyone wants a good deal, but you’re looking for a contractor who shares your vision and has the necessary experience to do the work well. The more reputable and experienced a contractor is, the more precise the timeline and cost estimate.

Even then, we all know that there is an element of uncertainty in both time and cost in any construction project. Your contractor can’t know for sure exactly how long the project will take until they start tearing into your walls. Scary, right? That’s when you have to trust that you did your homework, and that the expert you’ve chosen will do what it takes to deliver on your vision.

Similarly, there are a lot of unknowns in product development. A reputable development team will perform a deep-dive or discovery of some kind to fully understand your vision, user base, and market. This discovery will help prioritize features for development and create an optimal user experience. The development team will work with the discovery data to begin planning the technical build. Despite the best estimates and planning, development is complex and multi-layered. There will always be unforeseen challenges and multiple ways to achieve the same outcomes. It is the job of the development team to problem solve quickly and creatively to build an application in the most efficient way possible.

Ok, you’ve braced yourself and you’re ready to make your vision a digital reality—what can you expect during those initial meetings?

Development is expensive

There’s no other way to slice it. While the scope of your project combined with the quality and reputation of the team you hire will affect the price radically, you can expect an initial build to start somewhere around $80,000. If you find a team that’s willing to build an app for substantially less, beware—you may end up with an unusable product. A good team or contractor will look beyond money and they’ll evaluate where you are in the product lifecycle to determine if more research, prototyping, or market validation is needed before development. Take that advice to heart. Make sure your key product assumptions have been thoroughly tested before you start development because it’s much easier to change course during planning, design, and user testing.

You won’t get an estimate at your first meeting

Let’s go back to that home renovation analogy. You wouldn’t say to a contractor, “I want to renovate my kitchen, give me an idea of how much that would cost.” If that contractor gave you an estimate right then and there, sight unseen, it would be a huge red flag. The cost would wildly vary depending on the features you want, the materials you’d like to use, and your timeline. The same goes for product development. Unless it’s a very small project, a design or development team will need time to really dive deep into your project to get a better sense of scope before they can give you a cost estimate or timeline.

We’re not doubting your expertise

Your technical team has a responsibility to question everything and test all assumptions. Yes, even if you’ve been doing this for 20 years. It’s not that we don’t think you know what you’re doing, not at all. In fact, that’s probably why we’re excited about your project in the first place. However, there’s a hidden danger in expertise—the expert blind spot. The more knowledgeable you are in a particular content area, the easier it is for you to gloss over steps or information that might be critical for a novice in the same field. You, the expert, might overvalue features or content that new customers will barely notice or won’t use the way you expect. That’s why user testing is so critical to application development—it’s objective and it gives you an often unprecedented understanding of user pain points. The learning that comes out of the research phase ultimately leads to the best use of your development dollars.

So how do you know if you’ve found “the one”?

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to a few reputable agencies or contractors, it’s really all about the dynamic. This technical team is about to become an extension of your team, even if you’re a solo founder. As with any relationship, it all boils down to chemistry and communication.

Do you enjoy the approach and communication style of the team? Do they answer your questions thoroughly and thoughtfully? A technical team that is interested in working with you should be very open to your questions. Moreover, they should help you understand what’s going on every step of the way. They should welcome your engagement in the process, not shy away from it.

Lastly, don’t hire a team of “yes people.” A responsible development team will work to manage your expectations while building the best product possible with your customers in mind. Expect pushback. Every feature and idea you have won’t be included. Big feature decisions should be a conversation, not a checklist of requirements that you push under the door. The benefit of a conscientious negotiation is, ultimately, you’ll collaboratively create the best product possible for your customers.

Let’s say you’ve found the right agency for your product and you’re ready to start development. What happens next? Stay tuned for part 2: What to expect when working with a development agency.