ODesk – my not so great experience, how has yours been?

So after doing my small viability survey and taking my 50 page spec document. single spaced with everything I would want to see in this service listed out. I then weeded it down to about 13 pages, based on the survey (see my post on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk).

I decided I needed to get a product to launch as quickly as possible that has the basic functionality of my idea, but let’s users help dictate the next features I add vs. me making these kind of spendy assumptions (i.e. it will cost me money to add any features, so they are spendy).

I posted the project on ODesk and narrowed it down to about 5 companies after several weeks of bidding and back and forth emails.

I had the companies sign a developer NDA. and then had them review the spec document, interview over Skype and then send me their final project timeline, and bid.

I felt confident in the company I selected, they said they could complete the project by August 1st (this was mid June when I selected the company). They said they didn’t have any issues with the customization (drupal framework), they had passed all my interviews etc. and I was stoked! My site would be launched in 1.5 months.

….Fast forward to the end of July. They hadn’t even hit the first milestone. My project scope was insanely detailed, they even said they didn’t have many questions as it was all laid out in the spec document.

The problem was, the development of even some of the basic functions was beyond their skill set, or at least that’s what it appeared to be, when they were 1 month behind schedule on a first milestone.

Frankly, I have no patience for missed milestones with out logical reason and 1 month was way to much, it just wasn’t working well and I didn’t get that good instinctual feeling that they were the right team, so I let them go.

I paid them what I thought as a fair amount for work they had done, knowing that I would probably have to scrap it. I decided that ODesk would be great for simple, easy to setup sites, but for some custom work/coding I won’t be using the service again. In addition, the company I used actually asked me to give them a 5 star rating because it helps them get business… ? Are you kidding me?

I found another outsourcing company Beyondsoft and they are AMAZING! In the month of working on my website, I am truly impressed. They are working with me as a team, suggesting ideas and tweaks to my existing specs and helping to make the site even better. They “get it” and I am so relieved to have the right team on board. BTW if you want to contact Beyondsoft, reach out to Michael Aday –  mike.aday (at) beyondsoftconsulting.com.

Bottom line, tread carefully when outsourcing. Trust your instinct, if it’s not working, get out now and find the right team, even if it takes a bit of searching, it’s worth the wait.

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5 responses to “ODesk – my not so great experience, how has yours been?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention ODesk – my not so great experience, how has yours been? | Ramblings of a Web Startup in Progress . . . -- Topsy.com

  2. Lindsey,

    I found your blog today as it was mentioned in Read/Write Web’s article, Using a Virtual Personal Assistant for Your Startup.

    I’ve already subscribed to your RSS feed and added it to my favorites list because even after only three articles, I think that you’re writing about some really great topics that the larger blogs aren’t diving deep enough into to sustain their readers’ interest.

    As for ODesk, I’ve forced myself to use it consistantly throughout 2010, so I’ve developed a few best practices (but not many).

    I love ODesk’s worker quality control features (screenshots of their work!), but in all, I think that it’s a tough service to navigate for a typical hiring manager. Most of the inadequacies of the site are directly related to the complete lack of outsourcing education most of us web workers/entrepreneurs possess, though.

    If I had to give one really good suggestion to better hire freelancers (ODesk or otherwise), it would be to use the Mechanical Turk model and break down your assignment in the smallest task possible.

    Truth be told, complicated projects need teams of workers to succeed and freelancing sites are more suited for hiring individuals. But…if you can find a great hire who completes a small task well, then you can give him a slightly larger task, and then another, etc. If you’re really lucky, that person will begin to understand your wants and needs and would then make a great manager for a larger project, maybe even helping you hire additional team members and break down all your tasks.

    I’d also like to say that when you do find a great freelancer, don’t lose him. Give him bonuses and small raises and above all else, keep the work coming (even if only five hours a week). In the long term, it’s much better to pay $50/week to staff an A+ programmer (i.e. quick, smart and communicative) than to spend dozens of hours of your time to find new freelancers for each little task.

    My advice comes from a lot of fails on ODesk (and a lot of wasted time), but no matter what, don’t give up trying to outsource repetitive tasks. If you’re going to launch a company and make it sustainable, eventually, you’re going to have to relinquish responsibility for doing everything in the organization. It’s better to learn this lesson now on a small scale than to learn it the hard way later on.

    • Thank you for the Great feedback Jason! I had a light bulb moment after reading your comment. I have had great success with several outsourcing projects through Elance, Rentacoder, Freelancer, etc. those were all very small, specific projects with small/simple tasks. This was the first one I tried to hire a “team” vs. an individual (by team, I mean a company that has multiple resources vs. just an independent). I was also hoping to do the full development as a 1 stop shop. The lesson here then is, don’t try to hire for too large of a task 🙂 I may just have to try ODesk again with a simpler task and see if I have better luck. – thanks for the great feedback!

  3. Hey Lindsey,

    I’ve heard you can recruit project managers and recruiters on ODesk who will slice up your spec into many tasks and spread it across different workers with the relevant skills (i.e. small/focused tasks, as Jason mentioned) instead of getting one company to do the whole lot.

    Godspeed with your venture!

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