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Ask HN: Has anyone hired a freelance developer for a MVP?
22 points by seawra 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 28 comments
If so, what was your experience? Which service did you use? Would you do it again? Any advice/learnings?

I've been on the opposite side of this, as either a firm working with early-stage companies or as a freelance developer. Biggest issues I saw were "entrepreneurs" with really unrealistic expectations. They had a very "build-it-and-they-will-come" viewpoint, and seldom had the budget or the marketing abilities to make anything happen. And of course they want a five-year product roadmap all built by a single developer and done tomorrow. They are generally taken in by whomever has the lowest cost and will promise them the most. They reneg on every agreement, delay payments, treat the developers like they are disposable, and then act surprised when they get ghosted.

So to answer your question: Actually, there's lots of good talent out there in the world, often affordably. But you have to do your upfront due-diligence not in the form of endless reference checks and technical quiz BS, but in the "can I work with this person?" type checks. Because you need to be able to work together and communicate, and stick to a plan together. And, you need to be realistic about how much you are asking them to do, wrt to time and budget. Remote absolutely can work, but chances are there are also people local to you who have the talent needed. You don't need to be ex-FAANG to be good / good enough to get the job done. And, given that you are going to be reliant on this person, find someone you respect and treat them with respect.

This is spot on.

I had a similar experience. Especially first time entrepreneurs are not great at making choices. You ask A vs B and they say I want both.

Given the constraints of a startup, one has to learn to let go. In corporate world, with unlimited resources you can buy all candies and not pay for it. But startup is a different game

The hard thing is an mvp is less about product management and more about wading through the chaos of feedback from early customers to find the product patterns to manage.

To that extent, finding someone who can build an mvp to be a flexible learning engine for finding product market fit in a particular industry is really important.

It's not good enough to build something once, but to be able to update it over and over again easily to maintain your speed of learning.

Yes, but only for small parts of the project, not the entire MVP. It's common to engage freelancers to fill in the gaps and accelerate schedules.

However, it's usually not a good idea to outsource your entire core technology development to freelancers. Building, launching, running, and maintaining a technology product is far more expensive than most non-tech people estimate. You would need very deep pockets to commit to outsourcing the entire development.

If you're trying to raise investment money, the process will likely grind to a halt when your investors realize you don't have any in-house technology people.

I've hired a number through upwork, and once from someone who advertised on here.

Through upwork it can be hit and miss, I found the best method was to set a couple of questions in the description of the task for people to answer ie "start you response with the phrase gosling was off his rocker" & something like "explain the tech you would use to build mvp and why". That tended to weed out the people who were mass bidding on tasks without reading, you want someone who's read your task and thought about it a little.

For bigger tasks, I've had success with posting the full job details but then setting a small task, like wireframes or some design work for say $50 to a couple of upworkers, then picking one to carry on the rest of the work. That worked really well, and spending $200 on selecting a freelancer when spending $5000 felt like a good payoff.

The person on here I hired after he posted an offer to make an mvp for a fixed price, and it worked out really well, delightful Chap, good work.

I've tried fiverr, but that seems better for smaller tasks.

Watch out with that strategy on Upwork. I recently got stung by someone who did a great job with a small task and billed a reasonable amount of time. Once I gave them the real work, they subcontracted it (without approval) to someone who didn’t know what they were doing and billed 40 hours per week until I realized what was going on. The code was useless and Upwork basically told me to go fuck myself when I complained.

Fiverr is good for logo concepts if you filter out all but the top rated sellers.

I got a guy who subcontracted a small task right away (drawing a basic login screen). Even then, they failed at that.

I'd say the way to use it is to keep subcontracting small tasks that are not time dependent, and charge a fixed rate.

I have the same question.

I've tried working with UpWork, but their developers seem more geared towards "known"-type of projects, involving specific tech, or specific type of jobs, or fix it jobs.

I presented a project of some advanced JS, nothing too serious, and almost every developer declined or couldn't understand the requirements, likely because they didn't read any of my material about the project.

The job is pretty simple: add support for https://play.Presenta.cc .json files to https://github.com/pseudosavant/player.html#playerhtml. I want to be able to have a Presenta File player, so I can play the Presenta slideshow files and video files from my local folder using the html page. That's generally it. Upwork couldn't deliver.

This job was step one, in a very few number towards an MVP.

Nobody on Upwork seems to be able to do this.

I'm pretty disappointed with UpWork. I have a call with TopTal next week I have a call with Iron Forge next week, as well

If anyone here has reviewed this, is able to do this, and want to get paid doing it, leave me a message.


Personally, I wouldn't take on a project like this through Upwork. I have no familiarity with either libraries, and it's hard to tell from here whether it's an easy thing to do or something that requires massive hacking or an architectural rewrite. Hourly pay offsets the risk, but I don't want to take something that I'm not at least 70% confident of completing.

The problem with many freelance jobs is that they're a form of, "My team are too dumb and slow to do this, so I'll outsource it and see if I can get it done cheaper." When it's often an impossible job. Ironically, I would take the same job through Toptal, because they're known for at least vetting the clients.

On the other extreme, I once commission some pixel art on Upwork. A logo designer applied, with no experience. I asked her for a sample of any pixel work she's done, and she got offended, saying that she had no experience and I should pay her to try. I have a few months of experience here and I suck, but I doubt this random stranger would do better with 5 hours of experience.

So Upwork has this mismatch on both sides, with expectations and experience. It was probably better when anyone could just apply for a job, which meant that you were likely to just come across someone who is experienced with some niche library, the same way you would on Stack Overflow. Maybe another option would be asking someone who has contributed to the library to work on it - consulting is a common business model for open source.

I think your option of soliciting from one of the developers themselves is the best option, in hind-sight. Both of them have the skills and direct domain knowledge of their own code.

If that fails, contacting another developer who has forked he code and is also supporting the libraries also might work.

I appreciate your advice and comments. Thanks

For design work, especially logos I can recommend designcrowd.com

The structure of UpWork means that most people are inexperienced or scammers.

Developers start out doing freelance work with no history, so they bid low to compete. Once they do a few projects, they start to get direct referrals at higher rates without the UpWork percentage, so they leave.

Other people make bids at say 80% of the real cost of doing a project properly, planning to fight with customers to get more money later, e.g. claiming that things are not in scope. Once the customer is hooked, then there is more room to make money.

The platform incentivizes developers to respond fast with low bids, without thinking. If the requirements are not clear, then it's too risky for them, unless they are prepared to fight or play bait and switch games.

Customers can also play games, e.g. threatening to give a bad rating unless developers do more work. So it's hard for developers build a good reputation on the platform.

So the end result is that UpWork is primarily low-end, well-understood work like WordPress done by people in super-low-cost countries like Bangladesh. Everyone good leaves the platform for higher paying work elsewhere. But UpWork makes customers think that there is some magical source of great people at a low price, setting unrealistic expectations.

The biggest problem with new product development is that the requirements are inherently unclear, requiring insight and iteration to get right. You are doing something that hasn't been done before, by definition. Just translating the business opportunity into a detailed product spec that can be implemented can be very challenging. Until you have that spec, you can't use low end outsourcers. And then you will probably need to change direction based on customer feedback. So anything fixed price is going to be a problem, but you still need to keep things under control.

If you are a non-technical founder, then this is really hard, and you need to find someone who can bridge the gap between requirements and solution. There are product-oriented consulting companies (like mine) which focus on this problem. It's quite different from traditional outsourcing and freelancing, though.

"UpWork is primarily low-end, well-understood work like WordPress" - This is what I was alluding to. Most of the Upwork devs only operate in "well-understood" work. Anything custom seems to be beyond them.

Also, Upwork devs never seem to ask questions. I'm flabbergasted tbh. Even the most detailed designs, stories and wireframes require questions to be asked. In my experience, the devs from upwork just plow ahead into the work without asking really any clarifying questions. weird.

"Other people make bids at say 80% of the real cost of doing a project properly, planning to fight with customers to get more money later, e.g. claiming that things are not in scope. Once the customer is hooked, then there is more room to make money."

This seems to be much of the consulting industry, not just Upwork. One of the companies I worked with paid managers bonuses based on the number of change requests paid for.

It's a bit nuts to try to estimate software development. People want certainty that they can't actually get. Some will even overpay 2-3x just to have it be a fixed number. Having a good process for managing change and accountability is key.

In the case of UpWork, a friend in California was not particularly price sensitive, he just didn't like the bullshit. Every project would involve Skype calls in the middle of the night. He would ask for something for his website and someone would bid $500, then come back and try to fight for another $100. But if they bid $600, they would probably lose. You post a job and there are 100 similar bids. So you just choose the cheapest from the first page or two. Anyone who put any thought into the bid is on page five. And the cycle repeats.

I can complete this task for you, my email is on my github profile (and my github username is the same as HN's)

Legend goes that NoRedInk (https://www.noredink.com/) was originally built by freelance RoR developers from CraigsList. Now they employ Evan Czaplicki, the creator of Elm and have a staff of dozens of software engineers.

Kind of, i built a lot myself but since I’m not a developer I needed to outsource building an actual application (I had ported a sort of MVP to a platform but the limitations were too great). I hired through upwork and it’s approaching completion, a few weeks behind but with relatively few tradeoffs and I understand, in hindsight, why it became more complex than me and the developer had anticipated. He showed me some code and a few behind the scenes stuff so I think it’s likely going OK and I’ve erred on the side of good faith by releasing milestones payments but I guess within 10 days or so will be the final verdict.

The project is a multiplayer card-based games with complex rules and custom assets.(intrapreneurs-game.com)

Ha, very interesting. I am on the boat of offering my services for MVP building.

As previous entrepreneur with some failed startups and heavy software experience, I've realised my skills are well needed in the market.

I think hardest part here is that clients for MVP has very high expectations and very little money for it. And the whole balance part falls apart.

Besides that - I really enjoy it. It's amazing to work on different ideas constantly.

I’ve hooked a dear friend of mine up with several build folks an mvp gigs. All the ones that actually could pay him properly later went on to have some pretty great exits or larger than expected fund raising rounds. Do wish he benefited more from their later success though.

Where do you find the gigs?

I've been reflecting on that lately, and honestly the good matches were largely me playing "matchmaker" with folks i've already built decent relationships with where I thought i wasn't the best near term fit, and my friend was!

I've considered hiring a front-end designer / programmer. To be frank, hiring a designer and then applying my halfwit front-end skills seems like a waste of $3-4k - if anyone has a better way to go about solving this with reputable freelancers I'm all ears!

I would look for freelancers who have built a product alone.

They are likely to do both design and programming.

I would advise looking for free lancers who have build their own products either a side project or a startup that failed/succeded. This will make your life easier.

And when you hire them, try to treat them as partners and involve them in decision making.

I would like to ask where to find those MVP gigs? I've built a few MVPs in the past for my old clients but I find it very difficult to find MVP gigs repeatedly.

To OP: feel free to drop me a message if you need my help (email in profile)

I see them posted on UpWork. I usually take the time to read them as they are quite entertaining

My firm provides these services. Feel free to get in touch.

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