You can find a lot of online resources that help you on your way to make a successful app. Once you reach that point, you’re looking to retain or even expand on that success.
This is the moment that you, a single person who has built an app, grows into something bigger, a team that continues building and improving your app. When is the right time and what steps should you take?
When Should You Grow?
You grow your team to accomplish certain objectives. Typically, you hire other people when:
- product development is moving (too) slow
- other skills are required to improve the business
- soft skills and objectives (such as business development and marketing) require more effort to make your app a bigger success
Growing a team can be expensive, especially if you hire multiple people for full-time roles. The first question you should ask is whether the pain has become so apparent that you truly need more people. If that is the case, then, in general, there are two scenarios:
- the app is financially successful
- … or both
When your app is self-sustaining, it means that it generates revenue for you to be able to grow your team. If it isn’t, but you consider your app to be a success because it has become popular, you typically rely on outside investment to grow and pay the bills.
There are several ways to get investment. The typical scenario is to persuade investors to invest in your business. This isn’t a simple decision to make and you should carefully research this option before making the jump. Luckily, most investors are also happy to give their advice and opinion on your product, which you can use as feedback and to make a decision.
Hiring full-time employees is not a necessity. You can decide to collaborate with freelancers or work with a profit-sharing model. This is a much cheaper route to obtain the skills you need to work on your product.
In fact, in many cases, it makes more sense to take this route before building a team, especially if the app is still in its early stages.
Who Do You Need?
Building your team begins with understanding the type of profiles you need. In the beginning, your focus is horizontal expansion. What does this mean? You hire people with expertise in areas you don’t have.
For example, if you’re an engineer, you typically end up working with designers and marketers. Perhaps you’re a strong backend person, but you’re missing someone who can take over frontend development.
Your next focus is vertical expansion , which means you expand the existing teams to increase the work output. For most products, this means hiring engineers.
Figure out what your product is lacking the most. Is it design, marketing for growth, or quality code?
Don’t forget complimentary expertise that might not directly relate to the development of the product, such as marketing or business development. These are important to guarantee that your product continues to grow.
Where Do You Find Them?
There’s always a battle for talent. Whether it’s for startups or agencies, there is a struggle to find the right people. The market is very competitive right now.
Before you position yourself to potential people who could come work on your app, ask yourself “What is your vision? What makes you different? Why should people care?”
A big difference is that, as the team grows, you’re no longer positioning yourself as an individual. You now have a company culture, a way of working and values you care about as a group.
A great example of such a company is Buffer, a company that prides itself on transparency and embraces remote working. Doing a similar exercise by reflecting what is important for your company helps to clearly position your company.
Depending on whether you’re looking for freelancers or full-time employees, there are plenty of job sites available and hiring a recruiter at this stage is rarely worth it. Check out Authentic Jobs, Dribbble , and Crew for example.
Collaboration in Small Teams
The first action item after hiring new people is figuring out what the right workflow looks like. If you did everything by yourself, then people now have specific roles and responsibilities.
For example, how does design and development smoothly interact with one another?
The solution is a combination of the right process and the right tools.
It is a big challenge to keep process and tools in balance. Too much process and you slow down your production speed, too many tools and you become inefficient as an organization.
Fortunately, you can figure this out as you go while also taking the right steps listed below.
Start With Responsibilities
The starting point is to identify the responsibilities of each team member. You’ve hired people to do a particular job for you. A great exercise to do is to list responsibilities together. This way, everyone involved has a clear picture who is responsible for what.
In the beginning, this will be straightforward. Design and engineering are very different. But what happens when you hire a visual designer or a user experience designer, and you have a head of design? Then this exercise will be more difficult, but also more fruitful.
Implementing the Right Process
It is important to discuss what the ideal process should look like. Typically there is always a hand-off process, whether it is design assets going to development or marketing data going to the founder.
Ideally, you describe how this process can go flawlessly and how communication errors can be avoided. Based on that, you should have some form of process down.
Product companies, both large and small, typically work with agile sprints (whether it is design or development) and in marketing there’s the process of measuring and improving.
Selecting the Right Tools
Once you have defined what the ideal process looks like, the next step is defining what the right tools are to accomplish this. For example, for an ideal design workflow, you could use invision. To manage development sprints, you may want to collaborate using Pivotal Tracker. For task management across the board, Trello could be an option and to smoothen communication Slack is certainly worth considering.
Based on who is responsible for what and how you ideally collaborate, it will be easier to select the tools that fit the workflow of your team. Also, the people you work with often have their own preferences in terms of tools. It doesn’t hurt to ask what they would prefer to use.
As great products are a constant process of iteration, so are great processes the result of iteration. Better processes = a better product.
In the teams I’ve worked, I noticed a big difference in the happiness and productivity of employees. One factor is crucial, are the people in the company open for change (in the widest sense).
Typically, if your app grows, then so does your team and the corresponding processes in the company. What’s important is that how you collaborate as a team is constantly changing , for the better.
Based on feedback of the people you work with, you will learn better ways to work and communicate. Perhaps a process you thought would be useful is actually a big frustration for the team.
Keep an eye out. Improve how you work together with your team and the results will be fruitful.
Making Product Decisions
One of the more complicated challenges as your team grows is the ability to make the right product decisions.
While previously you were able to make product decisions by yourself, now there are multiple voices in the room and each might have a different opinion of what the right approach is for the future of the product.
This is why the role of product owner exists in many companies. The product owner is the person responsible for listening to everyone. Each individual looks at a problem from their own perspective, whether it’s business, user experience, or technology. With the combined information, the product owner tries to make the correct decision. The underlying idea is that the decision made by the product owner is also the course the company takes.
When it comes to taking product decisions, it is important to be transparent and communicating clearly why a particular decision might be the better one.
Growing Even Bigger
When you have a team and you’re working on improving the product, it seems that there’s always more work than you can handle. This is something that won’t ever change, whether you’re working with five people or 500.
During the hiring process, there’s a constant process of optimisation, in an effort to try and retain output and productivity as the team scales. It’s the biggest challenge any growing organisation faces and there’s no secret formula. Every company struggles with problems as they grow.
Finding the financial means to expand your team is one of the biggest hurdles to take. Once that is completed, the next challenge is to figure out what you need, who to hire, and how to collaborate.
Getting all of the above right is a continuous journey, but the results are very worthwhile and significant improvements for the growth of your product.
How would you approach building your team? Do you have insight in processes or any questions? Feel free to share them in the comments or say hello on Twitter.