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The good, the bad, and the ugly- my experience as a non-techie managing my first two tech…


The good, the bad, and the ugly- my experience as a non-techie managing my first two tech outsourcings

I had two very different experiences working with external tech providers to my startup.

The Good

When I won the startup weekend with my current business idea, I was awarded a three-day design sprint with a tech team to build the MVP I had designed and mocked up. I wrote about the abuse of power by the weekend organisers’ old boys’ club that stole almost two-thirds of that team’s capacity allocated to me for their own benefit.

Luckily, I had a much better experience with what was left of the donated tech team. The developer in that team had been ‘volunteered’ by his agency, who had sponsored the startup weekend, to be a part of the sprint. He had to travel up from London and stay two nights away from his partner and infant daughter to fulfil this job. He had every reason to be grumpy and resentful in this situation.

He was anything but. He listened carefully as I talked him through my premise and the resulting design. I was clear where my lack of tech knowledge meant I had no idea as to a ‘how’, I was just certain about the ‘what’. He was patient and respectful, and very willing to educate me as we went along.

He was totally supporting me to build what I had envisioned, as he realised I was very knowledgeable about the problem I was trying to solve, and did not try to take over or over-engineer and dazzle me with tech jargon or persuade me I was wrong. When he did see fit to offer some advice or a suggestion, he did so respectfully and helpfully. He was sympathetic to me having most of the team resource taken away and stepped up his input to try and make up as best he could for the shortfall in capacity. We got along and communicated well, and really motored through what needed doing.

What he built is the MVP that kept me going all through that Spring and following Summer and into the accelerator in the Autumn that I wrote about before. The whole business since has been built on the excellent work he did in a three-day design sprint practically single-handedly. Not only was he a nice guy, he was an awesome developer.

The bad

The second experience couldn’t have been more different. As I also wrote about, my short-lived business partner introduced me to a tech team he had been working with before he had to put his startup on ice. He felt bad about having to put his work with them on hold, and wanted to get them some new work in.

The tech agency was made up of two very nice guys. My startup partner really rated them.

Things started off pretty well. I drew up my spec, did some mockups, and we scheduled a half day to go through it all on the whiteboard to be sure we were clear what was to be done.

So far so good.

But quickly things started to deteriorate as the work came in. It was sloppy and the execution was riddled with tiny careless mistakes. To say their attention to detail was lacking was an understatement. Also, one of my biggest concerns had been the design, as it is an area I feel least able to contribute to, and they assured me that they would have that under control.

The work was shoddy, and felt clunky and amateurish in its functionality.

I kept a snagging log and fed back through the processes they had set out. But they seemed shocked and annoyed that I would dare point these mistakes out, especially typos and ‘small things’ and where things simply didn’t make sense from a user experience point of view- things I thought were pretty fundamental.

What they really seemed to detest was me asking questions about how something worked or why they chose a certain solution to getting things done. This was my product they were building that was the core of my service, and I wanted to understand its functionality at least. I felt like they had expected me to just be grateful they were working with me at all, and to settle for whatever I got.

This encounter brought on the self-doubt. I knew stuff wasn’t good enough- but when I pressed, I was sidelined and ignored or spoken to like a nuisance child. It made me question whether my expectations were realistic, or if this was just the way these arrangements worked.

I did want to be sure I was acting reasonably, and not demanding something beyond the spec or the working relationship. There was another of those wonderfully generous time-and-support givers in my community I could call on. This guy gave his time for years to helping organise the community’s startup weekend, is MD of a whizzy tech company, and a lecturer in computer science.

He took one look at the work the guys had been doing for me and confirmed my instincts. He looked “under the hood” and tested some functionality. He supported me in the follow up and sign off meeting with the team.

The Ugly

It bothers me that so much depends on the disposition of the men with whom I find myself working as to not only the experience I will have personally, but the impact on my business as well.

It bothers me even more when I feel as though I have to go find another man to back me up or be on my side to get me out of negative and costly situations. It seems as though to poorly behaved men only another male has the authority to pull them up, call them out, and command attention. A woman is just bossy and nagging, and for instance trying to hold a supplier accountable just gets you push back and resentment.

I had more than my fair share of run-ins with sexism when I was working at executive director level in the public sector. But I was the leading expert in my field in those organisations, and felt confident and assertive in doing my work.

Managing tech development is new to me, so I was questioning myself, and hesitant to get too arsy in case I was being ignorant or unreasonable in my expectations.

I would be interested in hearing from you if you have experience in managing tech teams to deliver the work you have set out. Is my experience common? Do you think gender has anything to do with it, or is this sort of thing par for the course? Do you have any tips for handling work done in future?

What I have learned from both of these situations is that I must apply the same confidence and assertiveness here, because I do know my business, what makes my solution right for my target markets, and how I want it to look and operate. Maybe I can’t build it myself, but I can lead the way to getting it right for my customers, and I don’t have to settle for sloppy second-rate work.

This is the latest story in my series on how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience. You can see more here: If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share by clicking the green heart.

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