Why There Is No Such Thing As A Cheap Developer – A Case Study

When people ask me what I do, I say that we build technology as Tech Partners to Corporates and Startups. I’m increasingly saying we build businesses, not just tech – because that’s really the focus: making a successful business.

But at the core we provide development, this means we need developers, and a lot of them. Quantity of devs and quality of devs are not closely related sadly.

When we started 5 years ago, we were building a portfolio of apps for ourselves – niching down in diet apps and trying to find tricks to be top of app store! Minimising costs was very important. So like a lot of people, we went to the far east, hiring cheap developers at <£100 a day.

Heaven we thought…

I used to have a lot more hair 5 years ago and I can honestly say “cheap developers” has had a lot to do with it.

Before I get accused of not being PC, this is not specifically a far east issue. What I should write is “hiring cheap overseas developers that promise the earth, that you have never met and will never meet” is the issue. Cultural differences do play an often unrealised but massive part in this problem.


This is the best way to explain the cultural issue you face when you go after cheap development is the Ham Sandwich analogy:

Ask a cheap developer for a Ham Sandwich and 90% of the time, what you’ll get is 2 pieces of bread with a slice of ham in the middle. Because that’s exactly what you asked for. A ham sandwich.

And that’s the point, unless you know exactly what you want, specify exactly what you need them to do and explain yourself in exactly the right way – you are unlikely to get the right thing. Which means you need to become an expert at Product Design, Technology architecture, Project Management, Testing and Process to have a chance to succeed in your project.

Going back to the Ham Sandwhich, this is what you should have asked for:

  1. 1 piece of wholemeal medium sliced bread from XYZ brand (product code is XYZ and link to product is here: www.XYZ.com), picked out at random from the packet
  2. Spread evenly semi salted butter of XYZ brand (product code is XYZ and link to product is here: www.XYZ.com) – here are 3 image examples of what it should look like and 1 video on the technique to use (video link www.XYZ.com)

… you get the picture.

We’ve had the experience and the learning over the last 5 years and 250 foreign freelancers we’ve hired. To succeed, what we’ve had to do is really optimise our Product and Project Management functions. This means we are experts at scoping projects and explaining exactly what/ how/ when things need to be done. This means we can work with a wide range of devs and get good results.

Crucially though, after all that searching, we’ve found 2 near-shore teams we trust, that work in the way we need, that we can communicate with in the right way, and that have delivered 10+ projects each for us.

We also deal with the UX, UI, strategy around conversion rate optimisation, push notifications and customer acquisition… because they are equally important to the success of your app/ website/ business and cheap developers will not provide that for you.

Basically, Appy has become a Business as a Service partner company (BaaS? This acronym might not catch on!) to ensure you get best value for money, technology that meets your requirements and crucially let’s you focus on growing the business.

Dirty sales pitch done – but it’s the truth so wanted to write it down for you!


And that’s the thing, we speak to a lot of startups and businesses wanting tech. We often see this decision “I’ll go cheap and manage myself”.

Step in TINDER KILLER APP (name has been changed to protect their identity, ego and from their investors).

2 years ago I started mentoring this startup. The founder had no experience on creating an app, product management, UX, etc. They were passionate, full of ideas and able to get people to buy into them.

Initially I strongly advised them on creating a prototype and coached them through how to create a prototype. We had discussions on UX, monetisation, vitality, etc.

Then one day one of their investors had gotten them a great deal with cheap dev house with their own PM, 2 dedicated devs and all that for only £5k pm.

Wow. Now that’s cheap. Is that too good to be true?

Well, yes.

Fast forward 2 years (24 months of £5k per month) and an inordinate amount of money has been spent over a number of iterations to create technology that is full of bugs, with over 60,000 lines of code, most of which dead code…and an infrastructure not built to scale in line with business aims. 2 years for an unusable app that has never launched.

So long story short: we’re rebuilding it. With a strategy and with the right foundations from the start.

The result? More expensive per month for sure, BUT it will be done in 2 months and ready to go live, ready to scale and ready to succeed.

What saddens me most about that (true) story is that technology is only 1 facet of a business – often the foundation admittedly but it’s not what most founders want to focus on.

When I get involved with startups it’s because I believe in the vision, in the dream and technology is the enabler to create that business. So when 2 years are wasted on technology and the business has not been able to move forward, it genuinely saddens me. An entrepreneurs dream shattered and a lot of money wasted.

Let’s get it right from the start, let’s work together on creating a great business. I love talking to people about taking their ideas and making them into businesses so get in touch now for a chat.

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