Interview: Our Experience Of Work With Elance And oDesk
• What are the main areas of MobiDev's activities?
MobiDev focuses on custom software: mobile and desktop apps, websites, web services, and complex systems that consist of these components. For example, ERP systems for small and middle retail chains, which comprise warehouses, points of sale, accounting and management tools, statistics, and integrated eCommerce solutions for convenient online purchasing.
We usually handle entire projects, and thus we are responsible for delivery of turn-key products. Design, development, testing, and management can be performed on our side. The Client is the product owner who forms requirements, while we provide a remote project team that the Client can rely on. This team delivers the product on an ongoing basis. We treasure mutual trust, long-term relationships, the success of the Client, and the value that we give to the Client by providing a high-quality software product.
We make the Client's life easier, so that they can focus on their core business: sales, marketing, relations with their own Clients. Meanwhile we take over the implementation of their product and save the Client's time and efforts.
• Could you briefly tell the story of your company?
MobiDev started in 2009 as a small group of software engineers and managers, there were just 10 of us. I remember that we started building software for Windows Mobile and Palm, yet as new technologies were emerging, we quickly mastered them, handled more and more project, and invited the most talented people we could find to join the team. Gradually we divided into departments (e.g. iOS team or .NET team) for sharing experience within specific spheres.
Since then we've been keeping this layered structure: on one hand, we have teams headed by Team Leaders, on the other hand we have project teams led by Project Managers. We formed not only as a team of professionals, we formed our own approaches to management, our atmosphere that we value, that our employees value. This atmosphere works as well for the client, it allows to motivate ourselves for hard work and great results.
• How long have you been working with Elance/oDesk? What do you think are their advantages? Are they convenient for you?
We found our first clients on oDesk from the beginning. About 2 years later, in 2011, we started working with Elance which we found more interesting and functional as the company grew. For instance, we could promote the company profile and ranking on Elance (in comparison, on oDesk there were individual contractors, which wasn't quite a project-oriented feature). Thus we concentrated on Elance and even started moving our direct contracts there. Elance fee was smaller than the one on oDesk, but we were alright with both of them anyway – and since then we've been working with both platforms.
This was our strategy, and it fit well with all the little useful things provided by these platforms, including automated billing, tracking software, best practices, and so on. We can keep our online reputation and make it a powerful marketing tool for attracting new clients. The great benefit brought by work on Elance is hardly visible on a separate level, but if taken together, it's huge.
• Could you briefly tell us more facts and numbers about your experience with Elance/oDesk?
First and foremost, for more than a year we've been #1 on Elance among software contractors. We have over 247,000 hours worked on Elance, over 133,000 hours on oDesk, 263 jobs on Elance, and 317 jobs on oDesk. Some of these jobs are done for the same clients – we treasure long-term collaborations and consider them very fruitful and effective for both sides.
• Have you had any negative experiences and problems with Elance/oDesk?
The support has always been polite and responded fast, so we could tackle any minor problem easily. There was a problem when our company account was blocked, and we rushed to figure out why. However, it was really for our sake – there was a suspicion that someone unauthorized broke into our account.
There can be a more serious issue when the Elance tracker or website falls off, you have to log the worked time as offline and make screenshots manually. Then you have to prove it all to the Client – that the website was unstable or that the tracking software worked badly on Windows 8 (while on Mac, Ubuntu, and Windows 7 it worked just fine). If the Client shows understanding, it's not a major problem, but it's still a problem.
• Did you introduce clients to Elance/oDesk? Did they have any troubles starting their work?
We brought over 20 new customers to Elance, and 12 of them spent more than 1 million dollars on their projects. There were newcomers that found us through the website, recommendations, conferences, and some of them have never heard of it. It's quite easy to explain the concept and the benefits, and just start working.
• Have you worked with any other freelance marketplaces? How would you compare Elance/oDesk to them?
We tried other freelance marketplaces carefully but didn't see any success with them, they were not as well suited for us. Elance and oDesk were the biggest players and it was convenient for us to push our efforts in one direction.
• What are your keys to becoming one of the leading companies on Elance/Upwork?
Key #1: as we said above, have your own Elance strategy and use it as a tool of building your online reputation.
Key #2: be a perfect contractor for Elance. Understand the rules and regulations of Elance and follow them. Get acquainted with best practices. In fact, Elance gives so much useful info that it shouldn't be a problem.
Key #3: give value to the Client. On Elance and Upwork we are rather 'vulnerable' if we can say so. Everything is open and transparent. We must work hard to receive great feedback from our Clients and a five-star rating, which means exceeding all expectations. Basically this is how we got to #1 in rankings.
• Is there anything you'd recommend to businesses who use Elance/Upwork to find freelancers & companies for their projects?
Probably we could share a couple of ideas with people who are not that experienced with these platforms. First, don't run after cheaper contractors, be reasonable, very cheap never does any good. Don't trust estimates that are given by your potential contractors quickly without even knowing the project well. If you can't see the breakdown of the estimate, if you plunge into development without preparations, careful elaboration of architecture and design, without quality assurance, the product will eventually suffer.
What's extremely important is that you must be acquainted with the basics of software development. You must have at least basic knowledge of the processes, you must take time to understand it. It pays off – you get the real picture of how it's done. There are many useful articles with all the required insights to know right candidates from wrong ones. The blog on our website also has such materials. If you see that the company is transparent and honest with you, it's a great sign. Otherwise, what's the point of working with a team you can't rely on?
And of course, I'd recommend to start with checking the companies that top the Elance rankings. It's not a self-advertisement, it's just to say that you must work really hard to climb up there and retain the position. But that's what any good software company must be constantly doing.