How To Manage Your Remote Developers if You Are a Startup: An Interview with Merijn Horck from SoLocal

Oct 30, 2013

We're having Merijn Horck on from SoLocal talking about why and when startups should hire nearshore developers. He shares tips on how to manage remote programmers and the main mistakes startups make.

How to manage remote team, startups tips, SoLocal

Merijn, thank you for you agreed to share your experience on how to manage remote developers. Can you tell us about your business? What do you actually do?

SoLocal is a startup. First we decided to become a platform for online shops and act as an affiliate partner. As of 2011 we decided to work with local fashion stores and help them reach their customers online. So, our site is a platform for people to search where they can buy clothes or jewelry locally.

Why do you think people will like this service?

We make it easy to find a local shop where you e.g. can buy a jacket or boots. Some people don’t want to wait for a day or more before goods you bought online will be delivered. You just want to find the right place and go there to buy these things without waiting. SoLocal simplifies this process and saves you time. So you don’t need to visit hundreds of shops to find your ideal boots. Or, perhaps, you are not sure what exactly do you need so you are not ready to buy it in the Internet, but you don’t want to waste your time searching the shop where you can find such goods.

SoLocal is now in Dutch only. Can we expect to have such service in Ukraine and the rest of the world too?

SoLocal is now available for Amsterdam only. We have 200+ local shops (fashion, beauty) as our partners. First of all we plan to cover all the Netherlands. After that I think we will move to Belgium, Germany, UK. I don’t know a lot about Ukraine. Are you ready for such service?

Now we are looking for investor to expand our business. We plan to develop application for smartphones and tablets that simplifies the choice of local shops. It will help our users easily find information where to buy a sweater for example. This app will help local businesses communicate easily with their customers.

Why did you decide to hire a developer in Ukraine?

I knew about nearshoring and was in contact with Justus Beek (Managing Partner at Daxx) for a while. Daxx is a reliable company and we've never regretted since we started our partnership with Daxx. We chose remote developers to cut our costs and hire the right people fast. Ukraine has a big pool of skilled developers with good command of English.  So, with nearshoring you can access highly skilled developers easily and without efforts. It is only one hour difference in comparison to 4-5 hours difference with India. And for sure, you reduce your costs. Thanks to nearshoring we pay three times less salary for our developer than that would be in Holland.

How do you manage your remote team?

We have one near-shore developer, so it is one to one communication via Skype, e-mail. We have frequent meetings and state clear goals. Sometimes it is needed more time than expected to fulfill the task, sometimes they are done faster. We don’t use special tools for remote management.

Cultural differences may influence a lot the results of team work. Are there any difference between Dutch and Ukrainian developers and their approach to work?

I think we are pretty similar thanks to European mentality. What I noticed is that Ukrainian developers need some time to get to know you better before they will tell you what they really think. Dutch people always tell everything directly, sometimes this may sound rude, but this works for us. Unlike Indian developers or developers from Asia, developers from Ukraine have their own opinion and can disagree with you and explain why it is better not to do this or that (for example it will take too much time to implement some features). I like this.  But I am not sure whether it is the same for all Ukrainians. At least it was this way with my developers.

SoLocal is a startup. What can you recommend for startups without experience in development with distributed teams? What is the best way to start? When is it reasonable to use remote developers?

It may be difficult at the beginning. You should have enough knowledge. If you don’t have knowledge it may be very difficult for you to manage your remote programmer via nearshoring. You’ll spend too much time and money before you get the idea of how it works.

If you have a startup, not all the things, you are thinking to implement, are reasonable to do. Leave the room for other people to give their input. Sure they need to have the proper level of education and knowledge, but you should be ready to listen to others.

Again, guys who are working remotely depend very much on you and your tasks. You should know what is to be done and you should be ready to provide your feedback to your remote team.

Dedicate one person in your startup who will communicate with the developers and whom they can always reach. Usually startups don’t have such person as everyone is involved in multiple tasks. This is wrong. If you don’t have a person to answer quickly the questions of your team you’ll waste their time.

Work with very thorough briefings, not only oral, but well documented in a written way.

Companies like Daxx play a big role here. They connect you with a couple of possible candidates, so it is easy to hire developers you need and you don’t need to waste your time on supervision of your developers.

Many startups prefer to work with freelancers to cut their software development costs. What is your attitude to this?

I worked with freelancers as well.  I prefer to work with the company like Daxx who facilitates the supervision and does all things that are not related to actual work.  I am more comfortable with partner who helps me with this.

And the last question. Is it really worth having a distributed team? What benefits does SoLocal.nl get thanks to nearshore team?

If you are able to manage it in a good way, the benefits are the following:  you have quick and easy access to good people and it can take you less money. You will find skilled people easily. If you need other people to add to your team, for example you need Android or iOS developer, it doesn’t take you much time and efforts. In Holland it would take quite a lot of time to find the right developer and it will cost you more. With Daxx we hired our developer within 2 weeks.

 

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