In this blog post, I want to share my learnings as a non technical founder trying to get a state of the art internship portal built.
It’s incredibly hard – There are just too many variables and too few resources. The requirements keep changing as the business evolves, too many browsers, devices, resolutions and really really few good engineers wanting to work with a start up. Just remember that if it is hard for you; it is hard for everyone else (your competitors) too. Persist.
It always takes longer than expected – having seen even small scale IT projects fall flat on face in my previous organizations, I knew time overruns are common. However definitely not 12X. Yes, when Ankur and I first discussed developing a portal, we had estimated it to take 2 months (summer of 2011) and 1 intern. 2 years later, I know better. Be prepared for a long haul, especially if you are obsessed with every small detail as I am.
Corollary – It is always more expensive than you think it would be.
Launch light – I can count ‘n’ number of features I had originally asked for which the technical team spent at least 3 months working and finally we are launching without them. In hindsight, we should have started with a very basic version (delta improvement over already existing WordPress set up) but with a modular and scalable architecture which allows features to be built later on. In absence of that clarity, by the time technology team finished developing a set of features, the business requirements had changed. Be ruthless in trimming down the fat.
Variable (per hour) cost model works better than lump sum – Only if you could find a trustworthy IT partner to outsource the project to (in absence of an in-house team) which fortunately, we could. Since the requirements are so fluid, it just helps iterate without any hard feelings.
A non-technical founder MUST get his/her hands dirty with code – Otherwise neither you would be able to appreciate how much time what may seem small functionality to you actually takes nor would you be able to push back the technology team as and when required. Having a basic idea of coding is also a big help during testing phase.
In India, you can win basis good customer service alone – For last 2 years, Internshala had the most basic of the website among all the players in internship space and still we became the largest – thanks largely to the prompt service we deliver to employers and students.