Knowledge Crowdsourcing

I get a lot of spam on my email account I publicize in this blog and yet I prefer to keep it since once in a while something interesting comes in. Earlier this morning I deleted a couple dozens of emails suggesting link exchange and other “wonderful” ideas on improving my blog, for some reason one email caught my eye, and boy I’m glad I did. It was an advertizing of service that I have not heard of. Clearly spam yet unusually so it was worth looking at. The company Mancx turned out to be an outsourcing marketplace with a very interesting model – it offers knowledge crowdsourcing. Think about LinkedIn answers but with a price tag attached to it. Ask your question, put a $$ amount you are prepared to pay for it, and maybe someone in a crowd will answer it. Of course you can be one of many who answer the questions at the same time.

I browsed through the site and instantly found a few things that were wrong with it. I guess the team needs a good product manager and usability expert. Yet I loved the idea. How many times I found myself desperately looking for the answers to questions to no avail? I am sure that many of you did as well. And at the same time the chances are the answers are out there, someone knows exactly what I am looking for, it’s on the tip of their tongue, on the top of their mind… You can do ad hoc knowledge outsourcing. I think it’s one more step towards making the world flat since the person who answers your question could be sitting in a cubicle near you or just about 15,000 miles away.

One thing is interesting though, the business model and software behind the site seems to be so easy to replicate. In particular it could be implemented almost instantly by LinkedIn or Facebook, so hopefully guys Mancx have some tools to protect themselves.

i need a team

I guess I have to start with a profound apology. It’s been incredibly busy few months for me. I left my job with PDR in May and has been consulting to several startups and looking for new opportunities since. At some point I found myself being a part-time CTO for three companies, while still working on my book, running regular home chores and trying to invest time in personal health/fitness at the same time… Needless to say my blog had to take a backseat to high priority tasks and activities. While I am still as busy as I’ve been for months things are stabilizing and once in a while I can now put a few hours to share my thoughts on new challenges and ideas related to IT outsourcing – something that many of us see on daily basis.

Today I’d like to touch upon a topic which is dear and close to many of us working for small companies. An ability to attract resources. And I am not talking about challenges akin to finding RoR developers to work in Palo Alto. That’s a generic problem that everyone in the Silicon Valley, even big guys like Groupon is facing today. Economy may not be showing it but the market for good developers is hot, habanero chili hot. What I’d like to do it to talk about finding decent offshore developers, and apparently market for them is hot as well…

Let me clarify my point – I am looking for decent developers – not “mediocrity in bulk” that large offshore providers would be happy to ship my way. Just a few weeks ago I was looking for a team of 5 Java developers for one of my startups. The team had to come with one senior-, 2 mid-, and 2 junior-level developers. No special, hard-to-find skills required, plain server side Java. I went to three of my long-time offshore connections just to learn that lead time to build such a team is 2 to 3 months! Well, these were very small boutique companies who offer reasonable rates and good contract terms.

So I had to amp up the intensity and go for 2nd / 3rd tier vendors. High price, more restrictive, but surely they can put the team I need in a couple weeks. Nope… Well, they told me they can, and after two rounds on interviews with proposed teams I realized that finding my Java team would be almost as difficult as with my smaller providers. Isn’t it amazing that tons of good people can’t find a decent job and at the same so many companies can’t find decent resources, and offshore takes it to the whole new perspective.

So what can we do? What is the path towards building your team in today’s hot market? Here are just a few ideas that I am testing as we speak –

  • Settle for less. Wow, you may say – that’s a loser’s talk! We only recruit the best of the best!… in this case good luck to you, and you will need it, and even more so you will need a lot of patience, as cream of the crop is hard to find. In meanwhile I will be looking for bright and not necessarily so experience guys. I will put more emphasis on personality match and not necessarily on tech skills as I am prepared to help them grow.
  • Be swift. Hold your horses, you might say. We put every developer, offshore or hire, through 10 rounds of interviews, before we bring them on board. Of course that’s great, and by the end of 10th interview you could be still wrong (happens to the best of us) and so many months behind… Carpe Diem… You snooze you lose. That’s particular true with offshore, and what makes this strategy very forgiving in offshore world that if the hire doesn’t work out it’s easy to let them go, no HR to deal with.
  • Trust your vendor. Well, Nick now it’s way too much, what a nonsense! Well, if you do not trust your vendor why are you still doing business with them? Of course trust mean to delegate not abdicate your responsibilities. It’s the team you putting for yourself, and nobody can help you better with your task, your vendor just need to be managed so they can help you in a meaningful way. Ask your vendor to help, trust them, and help your vendor to help you…

OK, it’s high time to run to the airport, back to San Francisco, I miss it so much.