Developing mobile apps may have just gotten a step easier for small firms.
Many small businesses think that offering a mobile app is only for big companies. Even for a tech-savvy business like mine, finding the right developer, building a digital property, updating it, maintaining it and digging out a real return -- is more expensive, time consuming and frustrating than I expected.At least one entrepreneur feels our pain -- and is creating a business to help alleviate it. Kayvon Olomi, a 25-year-old in Tulsa, Okla., wanted to develop a mobile app of his own -- and ran up against the same development wall many small businesses face.Yes, he found large referral services, such as the software-engineer listings on Craigslist and matchmakers like oDesk. These services can offer access to a large number of software developers, but listings can be confusing. What's more, contacting remote workers can be difficult, since many are overseas. Olomi couldn't figure out an efficient way to identify a quality app developer amid the avalanche that pop up from these mega sites.
So Olomi developed his own mobile-app development service, and AppTank was born.AppTank, which launched late last year, has about 500 app developers from around the world who meet his standards. These include development experience in apps, a solid resume of completed jobs, and references. He charges a referral fee for each job lead he brings to the developer. So far, he has delivered nearly 250 clients to app developers. He does not charge users looking to connect to app developers.I have app plans of my own, so I posted a job to AppTank to give it a test spin. Here's what I found.What it is: AppTank is like many online referral services. I signed on, created an account, described my project, set basic budget parameters and sent the form along through the Website. In a few hours, an AppTank representative developer -- in this case, Olomi himself -- contacted me by e-mail with notes and questions and thoughts about my job. (Full disclosure: We had an interview before this test, so he knew I was coming.) Right away, he felt my budget was too low and my spec was not specific enough. We massaged my pitch and developed a more accurate budget, and then my project was posted to his network so developers could bid on the job. The service is free. I spent a half hour at most on the process.Why you might like it: AppTank offers access to high-quality developers in a streamlined easy-to-use website. Within about a week I got four responses -- two from the U.S., the others from India and Australia. All offered excellent e-mail presentations, including solid references and examples of previous work. All of which checked out. They had some questions, and so began a low-pressure e-mail chat to define my job. The discussions were frank in some cases, confused in others, but overall the process for brokering a relationship with a new developer was fast, efficient and certainly came with less hassle than dealing with larger services like oDesk. Developers knew and understood my job before we began communicating. I did not have to explain the task from scratch each time. I'm considering hiring one developer, and one wasn't interested. The others didn't seem able to do the job.Why you might not like it: As well-designed and easy to use as the AppTank Website is, there are issues. You are putting intimate business plans on a large open marketplace that anybody in AppTank can see. Posting your project begets an uncomfortable process of disclosure. Vendors often have the same two questions: Can you spend more money and can you tell us more about what you need? It’s tough to keep a secret that way. Also, it's wise to be cautious about hiring overseas suppliers. While AppTank can build a sense of confidence that the developers you deal with are legitimate, small firms must remember that they may be working with a firm outside the U.S. Small shops have a much lower margin of error when working with a developer they have never met or can take legal action against in case of a dispute.Bottom line: Overall, AppTank is option worth considering. It is a fast, easy, high-quality route to a legitimate app-development solution. If you are developing an app, it’s worth a try. But you could be entering into a critical business relationship via the web with a vendor outside the U.S. One you may likely never see or can sue. Yet you must trust them, not only with your money, but your customers. And that can quickly get cold, bumpy and lonely. A better option may be to find developers by direct referral or test apps and hire the firm that made your favorite.