I’ve been hoping to “offload” some of my daily work for some time. I know (I may appear) that I’m doing 180 from what I was so strongly advocating only a few days ago :) http://blog.harrywye.com/post/20639399062/do-it-yourself-startup, but this is not really an about face. I like to do “everything” myself. But the truth is you cannot do “everything” yourself.
There can be many reasons. For some tasks, other people can do better job than you can, in terms of quality and/or efficiency, etc. In some cases, you just don’t have time to do certain tasks yourself. In some other cases, just don’t want to do the tasks (which still need to be done) because they are too boring or they are just hard or you are sick and tired of them because you have done similar tasks too many times, etc.
Outsourcing is difficult. And, it requires your upfront investment.
Earlier this year, I wanted to find frontend engineers and/or UI designers. (BTW, I’m a “backend engineer”.) It was not exactly “outsourcing” that I was trying to do. I was rather looking for “partners”, who could take the ownership of certain parts of my projects. There were a few reasons. First of all, “outsourcing” seemed difficult for me for these types of tasks that needed to be delegated. I could have spent some time to “package” certain tasks from my projects so that I could easily outsource them. (And, I might try that at some point in the future.) But, in general, the development does not work that way. It’s typically an iterative process requiring constant collaboration among the developers. This is especially so in the early development phase. There is no “DONE”, and you cannot outsource a task that is constantly changing/evolving or that has no end goal. Second, and more importantly, I thought this was a good opportunity to recruit a “co-founder”. I’ve been meaning to (and, I will some day) find cofounders. If I had a choice, and certain I do, my first choice for my cofounders would be a frontend engineer or a UI/UX designer. So, why outsource something that can be done in house? Finding cofounders first I can do away with outsourcing UI or frontend work.
Anyways, whether you call it a cofounder or a partner, I was looking for a person who would “care” about the tasks. Many contractors would probably do what they were asked to do and they would probably do a good job for that. But, I needed somebody who would care and who could go extra miles just like the task was their own. I know. I have very high expectations. :)
In any case, it’s not an easy thing to do. After only a couple of weeks’ efforts, I “gave up”, or more like, I “suspended” the search for partner(s) for now. Being a solo entrepreneur, every time you are away from your main development work, your company suffers. No product, no company.
The next attempt for outsourcing for me was to find a “personal assistant”. Initially, I thought about posting an ad on Craigslist. But, I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t have enough work to delegate, at least initially. Then I heard about “virtual assistants”. This being a low priority task for me, I’d been again procrastinating this for a few months. But, a couple of weeks ago, I finally decided that I should do this. I knew it was going to be a “hard” work, and it was gonna be a time consuming task for me. But, I knew this had to be done. I decided that this should be worth more than my initial time investment in the long run.
I researched a little bit on the Web. There were many online VA services. Some were more specialized, that is, only in VA types of work. Some were more general freelancer services with “admin support” or “virtual assistant” categories. Most well known freelancer sites are https://www.elance.com/, https://www.odesk.com/, and http://www.vworker.com/, etc. (One thing to note is that there are many (US-based) contractors on these sites who do not appear entirely happy with this type of services. They think they have to work there because that is, sometimes, the only source of income for them but they are not very happy for many reasons, often, primarily due to the low wages, etc. See below)
I started outsourcing some “trial tasks”. The goal was not to have the “real work” done, but rather finding one or two assistants that I could trust. (Trust, in terms of their integrity and in terms of their ability to carry out the tasks.)
Being a boostrapper with no revenue at this point, keeping the cost down in the long run is very important for me. And, that is why I have chosen to use these online services in the first place. But, the quality is also very important. Otherwise, I would not do this. So, I decided to “invest”, in terms of time and money, at least initially. My goal was to find the “diamond in the rough”. I knew this was gonna be tough, but it was very important for me. I believed it was gonna be a worthwhile investment.
I’ll end up delegating a lot of what I do, and I cannot just delegate my work to anyone. I do care about my work and I like to do them myself (Cf. Do it yourself startup.) Delegating for me is like sharing. You share good things with your friends. You share fun things with your family. I know it may sound a bit childish, but even for small tasks, I cannot share them with anyone. People say you have to learn to “let go”. Maybe, some day. But, not now.
I’ve been on these services “interviewing” various candidates for the last week or so. It has been, and is continually, a big investment for me. None of my “real work” has been done (that is, by me) for this period. It has been really a full time job for me. My impression so far has been a bit mixed. Many people, or contractors, seem very professional, and the contractors I hired have done excellent job. Some contractors, however, do not seem very enthusiastic. For a lot of contractors, it appears, landing a job is just a numbers game with very low probability of winning. For one job post, if there are 20 applicants, what is your chance of getting that task? I can see why their morale seems a bit low. But, unfortunately, that is the way it is. Even in the “real world”, you are always just one of dozens and dozens of job applicants for any single position (that is, for any position which is worth applying for). Also, many contractors do not seem to know how to “close”. Getting a job (whether full time or part time) is a sales process. The sale is not final until it is closed. If you cannot close, then you have a problem as a freelancer. (BTW, I’ve never done contracting, and I think I’ll probably suck. This is just my opinion as a client/employer.) Even when I expressed an interest, some contractors responded very slowly. With the time zone difference and everything, I did not expect immediate responses, but in many cases, the delay seemed a bit longer than I reasonably expected. If a contractor is not very enthusiastic (saying that you are enthusiastic is one thing, but showing that is another, which is not that difficult), then why would the client hire him/her? How would the client know that you will do a good job?
Being new at this, I made a BIG mistake of posting the first job as “long term”. I actually made the same mistakes twice. I was just a bit too ambitious. Unfortunately, it was very clear to me that, at some point, I could not select one or two contractors for “long term” even after small trial projects. It was not how it was supposed to work. Especially for a person like me who would have trouble letting it go, there was no way I could find someone I could trust in a matter of days or even weeks and then delegate my “dear tasks” to them. (BTW, I’m saying this from my own perspective, and other people may think many of my tasks, what I currently do, may be just plain or not so exciting. ;)) BTW, it’s not that they are not doing a good job. All of the “candidates” have been, and are, doing superb job. But, the first task I chose for them was somewhat tedious/mundane job. It was intentional, because I thought being able to do repetitive tasks effectively and efficiently was a very important skill. I’m now having trouble selecting the next task for them. I’m even having some doubts as to whether I am really ready to do this, and as to whether I would feel really comfortable delegating my work to the contractors. It’s the classic moment of “it’s not you. It’s me” :). Then again, it’s maybe because I haven’t found the “right person” yet….
(Note: One thing I hate is “talking behind one’s back”. Many people do it even without realizing it. But, I believe that only dishonest people or cowards do that.)
Now, at this point, I cannot get into too much details. Although this is my “diary” (I don’t consider this really a blog, as you can see from the way I select topics), it is still public. I don’t want to include specifics that might be construed as talking behind their backs even though that is not my intention. Many of the contracts are currently ongoing, and I will likely have ongoing “relationships” with many of my contractors.
OK, having said that, I don’t have much else to say then. :)