It’s a part of the natural evolution of any tech startup: At some point, every team has to figure out how to take their lean MVP and turn it into a product that can scale.
Just like any other part of growing a startup, there are good patterns to follow and lots of pitfalls to avoid. For a team without a technical cofounder, this moment can be particularly tricky; founders need to make a whole new set of decisions about what technologies to use, who to hire and how to manage it all.
At custom web and mobile app development agency SmartLogic, the team has worked with dozens of startups (as well as larger organizations) on projects ranging from isolated projects to full-scale products, rebuilds and more. But over the past few years, SmartLogic has also engaged with a small number of startups at that crucial point of technology transition, providing limited consulting support and guidance to set startups on the path to technical success.
“We’ve seen a lot of startups move through this particular growth phase,” he said, “and we want to see local teams succeed, even when they don’t have a technical background.”
Many startups choose to either offshore or hire in-house to keep their development costs low, but there are a number of risks involved in either approach. By offering a small-scale engagement, startups are able to get the benefit of SmartLogic’s technical expertise and methodology without the cost of contracting development out entirely to SmartLogic.
How it all started
The first of these small scale engagements began with Pixilated in 2017. Pixilated is an events photo marketing company; its initial business model evolved from B2C to B2B with the rise of experiential marketing. As its new B2B customers started wanting to capture more data, initially the team used a variety of tools and manual processes, but eventually hit scale issues and realized it was time to build out a custom solution.
For Pixilated, the opportunity to work with SmartLogic held a number of benefits. SmartLogic Director of Development Operations Dan Ivovich served as a sort of consulting CTO, helping Pixilated’s in-house developer with technology decisions and strategies, such as how to leverage React Native to create the mobile app for Pixi Cloud. When a question fell outside Dan’s expertise, he’d pull in another SmartLogic team member, giving Pixilated access to a “library of brains behind the scenes.”
One of their concerns going into this development project was knowledge continuity: With only one developer on their team, the founders were concerned that if they ever lost their developer, all their product knowledge would be gone if and when that developer were to leave the company. Working with Dan and the team at SmartLogic gave them confidence that their product knowledge wasn’t all bound up in a single team member.
For Arbit, the consulting relationship with SmartLogic began as its product was transitioning from a social mobile app to a polling and survey building tool. Arbit is a marketing intelligence company that helps brands better understand their target audience; it began as a visual survey tool, and is now used to tap into targeted audiences to find insights. The Arbit team reached out to SmartLogic for support around leveraging Phoenix and Elixir as their software platform’s backend. They additionally came to SmartLogic for advice as they brought their first technical hire on, and Dan and Yair helped cofounder Alex Bullington to vet and interview applicants.
“As founders, you are good at being visionaries — but directing the technical implementation of that vision is a very different set of skills,” said Alex. Dan helped the cofounders at Arbit develop their technical roadmap, and also provided oversight and guidance for the newly hired developer.
For BSG, the engagement with SmartLogic began shortly after it was accepted into ETC’s AccelerateBaltimore 2019 cohort. BSG is an IoT hardware startup with a product offering automation for icy walkway treatment. The cofounders had a fully functional hardware prototype, but needed cloud infrastructure to support commercialization.
BSG was initially fully on board with going with a different vendor, but got a quote from SmartLogic just to better understand what it would provide. After speaking with the team at SmartLogic, BSG started to reconsider. In the end, SmartLogic was able to provide a flexible, scaled-down option to support what the company needed to get to a market-ready product.
More than feature development
In working with SmartLogic, each startup got more than just the delivery of features. Both the founders and their in-house developers benefited from the experience and advice from the team at SmartLogic, they said.
Nicolas China, CEO at Pixilated, said one of the most valuable and unexpected things he learned from working with SmartLogic is that “sometimes things that seem like they should be difficult are not; likewise, sometimes things that seem like they should be easy also are not.” Having someone available who knows where the likely pitfalls are helped Pixilated to have a more realistic production timeline and accelerated their technical decision-making process.
For Arbit, working with SmartLogic provided security and confidence that their product roadmap was sound, and would support the kind of growth and scale the team was aiming for. It also allowed them to make better use of the round of capital they had recently raised, while still knowing that they were building in a scalable way. As Alex put it, “Development is expensive — it’s even more expensive to build the wrong thing. It’s so helpful to get someone to guide you in the right way and help you take the right steps in product development.”
The team at SmartLogic took BSG from a sandbox prototype to a professional, scalable, marketable product in under two weeks. CTO and cofounder Mike Berilla continued to work on the device firmware while the SmartLogic team was building the cloud infrastructure, and reached out for feedback throughout the process.
“Dan and Eric provided an excellent sounding board, and reviewed my code a couple of times,” said Mike. “It was really helpful to be able to bounce technical ideas off of them.”
Working with a more experienced team also introduced additional best practices to BSG: A communications protocol that the SmartLogic team has perfected over the course of years provided a model for BSG, closing a potential security vulnerability before release.
A foundation for success
In the end, the relationships developed through these engagements go beyond a simple contract: The founders at these startups benefited from advice and mentorship from the team at SmartLogic on both technical and non-technical topics.
“It’s really helpful when you have somebody that’s in town, who you can talk to face-to-face and whose business and personal reputation is well known; it’s important for getting things done,” said Pixilated’s Nic.
Working with SmartLogic allowed these teams to effectively take a guided shortcut to solid technical best practices in terms of tech stack, roadmap, process and management. Alex has this advice to offer other teams who find themselves in a similar situation: “Explore what this option looks like. It can really help you avoid headaches down the line.”
Mike sees the relationship with SmartLogic as a lasting one.
“We’ve built friendships and partnerships that look to last over time,” he said. “I know the team at SmartLogic is available and helpful; they’re a great technical resource.”
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