Founder & President of www.PrivateEquityInfo.com
We’ve been working with Andy for almost 4 years. Andy is one of our best clients, and this is not just kind words. We had critical moments and unpredictable challenges that we managed to overcome together, thanks to the attentiveness and patience of our client.
Because of that shared experience and, as Andy likes to say – “chemistry”, we have built our relationship far beyond simple business cooperation. Andy Jones is one of our key partners and simply a good friend of the GBKSOFT team.
Below is a (slightly edited) transcript of a recent interview we did with Andy to learn more about his experience with GBK.
Please, give a short introduction of your business and yourself.
My business provides a corporate finance research database, primarily for investment bankers. We own a number of websites, but our flagship website is PrivateEquityInfo.com. This site is typically used by investment bankers as well as business owners, attorneys, and CPAs in the M&A space. Our customers use our service to find buyers or raise capital for their client’s businesses.
Why did you decide to outsource the development of your website?
I founded the company in 2005 and at that time, I didn’t really have a choice. In my particular circumstances, it wasn’t about going out and hiring a team. I was growing a company and I needed someone who could do the work instantaneously, without me having to hire and pay full-time salaries. So, to be honest, I outsourced because I didn’t really have another option. (laughs)
Later on, my first web developer decided to move on and do other things. That is when I had an option to hire internal developers or switch outsourced partners. This was the inflection point when I came to GBKSOFT 3 or 4 years ago.
How did you approach the selection of the company for development? For sure you had a couple of options.
You go through the options and do the typical things. You interview people. Sometimes it comes down to personal chemistry. Sometimes it comes down to whether you believe or not that they can do the job.
You talk to a lot of people and choose three or four who can do the job equally well and have the resources to do your tasks. And at the end of the day, I think, to a certain extent, it comes down to personal chemistry. Because you need to like the people you’re working with.
And this is why you chose GBKSOFT? The chemistry?
Yeah. That was you (Alexandra, first project manager of Andy’s project and co-founder of GBKSOFT), the project manager. You have a great demeanor and it permeates through GBK because you’re one of the owners. Therefore, you tend to hire people with the same nice personalities – people who are extremely competent and easy to work with. So, for me, you originally set the tone that I found to be consistent throughout the other people at GBKSOFT.
What made your choice in favor of outsourcing team like GBKSOFT instead of local one?
It comes down to two main factors. The first one is speed market. When you outsource, you get this incredible speed to mark that you don’t get with an internal team, because there’s very little ramp-up time, hiring process, learning everything you need to learn about the company. You don’t have to contend with all the management issues. You just hire and describe what you need to be done and it starts.
Outsourcing gives you expertise instantaneously so you can scale up and down fairly quickly.
As you launch things, you can put a little bit more resources into it and when you have slower times, you can pull back. So you don’t have a constantly high, residual cost basis.
The second factor is that it can be cost effective. Frankly speaking, it’s less expensive to hire great talent in countries outside the U.S.
And of course, you had some concerns…
Yeah, there were concerns, and this is something people who are considering outsourcing should think about, but I don’t know if they think about it enough.
The obvious concern is the time-zone difference. Am I going to be able to communicate with the team effectively? What happens when something goes wrong and it’s in the middle of the night, your time? But it comes with the benefit that you guys are launching stuff in the middle of the night in my time, which is actually a good time to do it.
But there is another concern that some people don’t think about ahead of time. You’re actually trusting the outsource partner with all of your code, data, and passwords to the website. It’s a significant amount of trust, particularly, when your entire business is a website.
From a risk point of view, there is a concern that if you give someone the keys to your website and you let them in, and they are in the different country, maybe they will steal everything, leaving you with very little legal recourse.
That is why it’s so important in choosing your outsource partners, to check references thoroughly to ensure there is sufficient trust… because you have very little legal options if something goes wrong.
How did GBKSOFT resolve the challenges you just mentioned?
You always assign a project manager to me. There are two different things… a web developer and a project manager, which is a little bit more than just someone coding.
Here’s the key difference… Sometimes, the web developer can get so busy coding, that he loses the forest for the trees. The PM is able to step back and see the bigger picture. And in the case with you and Anastasia (current PM), you take the time to learn my business.
That is super important. Because if you understand the company and what we’re trying to accomplish strategically, then you can make better decisions on how to implement certain things without all the detailed inputs from me.
Certainly, I take the time upfront to make sure you understand my business. It’s smart for me and makes the PM’s job more interesting and grows them as well. Once that has been communicated, the PM can really make a lot of smart decisions and maybe without me even knowing that these decisions were made.
From this point of view, the PM becomes not an English translator for developers, but a person who can pull the right resources within GBKSOFT for a particular task. So, the PM is a key focal point to ensure that everything happens.
Time zone difference has its pros and cons. The con is that we have a small overlap of time in which we are both working at the same time, but we connect and that’s fine, it works. If something happens in my evening, ok I have to wait for the next day, but that’s late in the U.S. anyway.
The advantage is that I also need to think more carefully about how to describe the work I need to be done. The bottom line is, it forces me to think more thoroughly about my requirements and by describing things well, you get a better outcome. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like I spend time more productively thinking about exactly what I want rather than just having someone sitting in my room when I can point on the screen randomly to change things.
Sometimes it forces you to write things down. This is one of the problems with communications: you can just talk to someone in front of you and think you’ve communicated, but really you have not. (laugh)
Outsourcing forces you to think critically. As soon as you start to write down the instructions, you realize there’s more to it.
If you look back when you just started working with GBKSOFT, would you make this decision again, or you’d go another way?
I have this decision every day. And for however long we’ve been working together, I keep answering: “It is worth it”. I guess this is one of the benefits of outsourcing, that at any moment, you can decide whether it’s the right solution for you or not. If not, change it.
What advice would you give to your past-self?
Don’t treat your outsourced partners like outsource partners, treat them like your team. The more you can incorporate them and make them feel like they are team members, the better the outcomes for your business and for them. Because, frankly, they all are individual people with their own careers and aspirations, not just in-and-out workers.
Of course, when you first start a company, you’re not sure how long you are going to work together and how it will work out. I wish I’d spent more time upfront for orientation and talking about what we’re trying to accomplish. Assuming your business survives a number of years, you begin to realize that, in part, you are not just working with these people, but to a certain extent, you are doing life with them.
Here’s the deal. This is my plug for GBKSOFT. You guys have been a fantastic outsource partner for me. I think you are a strong team and have good technical expertise.
There has never been a time when I felt that something happened and you covered it up, or something happened and you didn’t want to tell me. You’ve communicated straightforward. What more can you ask for?
In business, things can go wrong, especially when the technical requirements are complicated as with my project, but your team has been excellent at communicating bad news. That’s not fun to do. (And, to be clear, bad things haven’t happened often). I never came into a situation where you have not communicated to me honestly and have no plan of action.
In addition, I’ve never come up with a situation where you said you don’t know how to do something. I’ve never asked for something where you said: “That’s not possible”.
Because of that, I’m not only getting coding expertise but a business partner. Someone to voice their creative thoughts and to provide me with intellectual capital. This is much more important than just coding. You can get coding from a lot of places, but the real value is coupling smart, efficient coding with a team that thinks strategically and logically about how to help you solve problems in the best possible ways. To this end, GBKSOFT acts as a technical business consultant for me as well. That’s where the real value is.