Six Strategies for Choosing a Web Development Company for a Startup

Tips on how to choose a web development company for your startup typically include conducting research, visiting Clutch, and checking a company’s portfolio alongside client reviews.

What’s wrong? Clutch lists around 40,550 verified companies that all have ratings close to five stars reinforced by positive client reviews. Even if you open the Leaders Matrix or apply all filters, there will be tens if not hundreds of companies with similar attributes. How are you going to find the right one?

What to do? Bust the myths and learn reliable methods. In this article, we’ll question accepted criteria for choosing a web development agency and explain why relying only on those criteria will likely lead you nowhere. We’ll also share six potent strategies for choosing the best web development company based on our interview with Stan Hanks, an investor and entrepreneur with 30+ years of offshoring experience.

Three common myths on how to choose a web design and development company

Let’s take a look at the three main criteria Clutch uses to filter third-party software development companies and answer these controversial questions:

  • Reviews: Can positive testimonials be a guarantee of successful project implementation?
  • Industry: Can expertise in projects similar to yours be a guarantee of meeting your startup’s specific requirements (budget, time, tech stack, etc.)?
  • Location: Is it true that the closer your team is to your office, the easier it is to control the development process?

Challenge accepted

Myth #1. Positive client reviews show that a web development company can handle your project

Forbes Contributor Christopher Elliot suggests that up to 70% of the reviews on Amazon are fake. With this in mind, should you trust reviews left on platforms like Upwork, GoodFirms, and Clutch that are supposed to help you choose website development companies?

Not always. What you definitely should do is be skeptical, especially if a website development company has only five-star ratings and only appreciative reviews written in a similar manner. For example, it took me only ten minutes to find a web development company on GoodFirms with two reviews written by clients who, after looking at their LinkedIn profiles, turned out to be current employees.

To eliminate fabrications, analysts at Clutch verify each review over the phone. That gives Clutch a head start over other B2B research platforms. However, it doesn’t matter how trustworthy reviews on Clutch are. Someone else’s successful experience always remains someone else’s, not yours.

In terms of a startup, your business, user, and system requirements most likely will differ from the requirements of any other software development project. A startup idea often implies creating something unique with competitive, advanced features, but preferably fast and with a lean budget. Are you sure the reviewers on Clutch and its ilk have the same starting points (terms, budget, tech stack, scope of features, limitations, etc.) as you do? No?

Then how can clients’ reviews — even verified and highly favorable, but related to projects with different requirements — be solid criteria for choosing the right web development company?

Myth #2. Projects similar to yours in a company’s portfolio are valid indicators to hire a web development company

Apart from testimonials, when looking for a web development company, you’ll likely search for solid proof — that is, for projects in a company’s portfolio that are related to your niche. For example, if you want to create an online consultation platform for physicians, it makes sense to hire a web development company that specializes in building telemedicine platforms and can boast their high KPIs.

By exploring case studies of a web development company, you can get a clear picture of its:

A web development company's case studies can tell you about

But the most valuable insight you’ll get while analyzing third-party web development team’s case studies is an understanding of how your development process will likely to go if you hire that team.

Then what’s wrong with the portfolio? The keyword here is “likely.”

With over a half million new websites appearing every day worldwide, there’s a high chance that within six to ten months of web development, you’ll decide to change something. For example, you can decide to add a blockchain to secure medical records, integrate an AI chatbot to predict patient diagnoses, or develop a healthcare mobile app in addition to your medical consultation website.

What if the specialists you hired aren’t tech-savvy enough to handle your modified requirements? What if their portfolio reveals not so much their experience as their limits that they won’t be able to overcome? By only drawing on a company’s portfolio, can you predict how web developers will cope with your project if the team stumbles upon tasks unknown to them?

Myth #3. A local team definitely makes the web development process go more smoothly than an offshore company

The last point in time when this may have been true was before the pandemic. Covid-19 made companies that used in-house models invent a new way of operating remotely on short terms. For web development outsourcers with well-tuned remote work procedures, lockdowns were less stressful. Now, with full-time developers working from home, can you really say that it’s easier and faster to manage a local team than an offshore team?

All that matters is how the development process is established. Moreover, if you have no in-house developers, hiring a team from scratch and setting up all procedures on your own can kick your startup idea into the tall grass. In this case, outsourcing to an experienced web development team should be your go-to option.

Read more: In-house vs Outsourcing: What to Choose for Software Development

As you can see, neither glowing reviews nor stunning case studies nor a convenient location can accurately point at a web development service provider that will bring your project to market at the desired quality, on time, and on budget. But what can?

Six proven strategies to choose the best web development company for your startup

Six strategiest

To give you the clearest instructions on how to choose the right web design company, I talked to Stan Hanks, a CTO at Stealth in Vancouver, Washington. Stan’s offshoring experience started way back in the 1980s, and by now he has worked with companies in the UK, Vietnam, India, China, Southeast Asia, Ukraine, Israel, and South America as well as on both coasts in the US. After decades of searching for offshore software teams and managing project allocations, choosing a reliable web development company is no longer difficult for him.

We’ve distilled all the secrets that helped Stan succeed in finding the right web development company into six potent strategies.

Strategy #1. Define your requirements and take the most valuable of a web development company’s Clutch profile

As a startup owner, you need to compress the development time, reduce the risk of getting a low-quality website or not getting a website at all, and cut development costs. The more criteria you include when looking for the right web development company for your startup, the higher your chances of achieving all those goals at once. Your list of criteria might include:

  • Company’s age
  • Length of senior specialists’ experience (project managers, product managers, business development consultants, architects, etc.)
  • Number of specialists required (frontend developers, backend developers, quality assurance specialists, UI/UX designers, project managers, etc.)
  • Software development model (fixed price, time and materials, dedicated team)
  • Acceptable time zone difference
  • Preferable hard skills (mastered tech stack) and soft skills (communication, flexibility, transparency)
  • Accuracy of estimates
  • Deadlines for your website development

For Stan Hanks, an average of 10+ years of experience for key employees is a requirement when working with a third-party software development company. What can also impact Stan’s hiring decision is feedback from customers obtained on his own rather than from online platforms like Clutch.

“Usually, I talk to customers that have brought repeat work and that did only one project and never came back”, Stan explains. “Whatever a good deliverable is, it absolutely means that an outsourcing team perfectly met customers’ expectations for those who brought repeat work. And those who did one project and never came back, I ask why. Did it happen because of a deficit by the team or a deficit by the project plan?”

After applying Clutch filters and your own criteria for selecting potential web development agencies, don’t hesitate to personally contact clients, both with positive and negative experiences. The value of the information you’ll get from these one-on-one conversations will undoubtedly outweigh the time you’ll spend on them.

Strategy #2. Prioritize companies with a well-established development process

When personally talking to customers instead of relying on online reviews, you should also look at a web development company’s portfolio from a different angle. Stan suggests looking at case studies not so much for specific data regarding design, algorithms, programming languages, and technologies but for the way a company thinks about the development process.

“For me, it’s more important to figure out how they describe the process they do and communication with a client. The most important thing is when something goes wrong — what do they do?”

The ability of an outsourcing web development company to effectively deal with setbacks, be flexible in managing challenges, and sidestep constraints can be a good signal that you won’t have to micromanage them. It means you can keep your project on track with a minimum amount of participation while being satisfied with the end product.

“I don’t work with as detailed of project specifications as many people do. I don’t specify how exactly the work should be done. I just describe what they should do. If you really want to take advantage of working with a professional software development company, allow people to show you what they can do.”

One more indicator that can highlight web development professionals is their ability to reasonably defend their product vision instead of saying “yes” to everything a customer is asking.

Strategy #3. Look first at a company’s DNA, not location

Corporate DNA

Have you ever found that a stranger could understand you better than a relative? The same can happen when hiring a third-party web development company. It’s possible that a team from Eastern Europe may understand you better than a team from California, where your headquarters are located. In most cases, misunderstanding occurs not because of differences in location but because of differences in company DNA, including:

  • Culture and mentality
  • Intelligence
  • Decision-making capabilities
  • Attitude to work
  • Communication skills
  • Ability to work together

Misunderstandings that Stan has met while relying on offshoring have been predominantly connected with cultural differences. “India has a huge English speaking population, [and] they teach English to their children at schools,” says Stan, “but the reality is that the culture is very different. I was used to the fact that if we have a deal, we have a deal. And I was surprised when some teams I was going to hire in India just didn’t show up.”

Speaking with previous and current customers, exploring case studies, and calling selected companies on your own can help you find out which approach to web development most resonates with you.

To mitigate the risks of miscommunication and cultural differences, you can also use Stan’s method of having a trusted local manager who will control the offshore web development team on the ground.

Strategy #4. Pick a development team with aptitude rather than a particular technology set

Picture this: you spent a few weeks examining GoodFirms, Clutch, and Upwork, found five potential web development companies, conducted twenty interviews with their satisfied and dissatisfied clients, read fifty case studies, and finally chose a team. While discussing with this team what technologies you’re going to use in your product, you suddenly hear: “Well, we’ve never done that before.” What should you do? Start your search from the get-go?

In this case, Stan takes a look not at the fact that the team has never done something before but at what they might do to overcome the gaps.

“That works like ‘Well, I teach you and you’ll give me some consideration on prices and burden on people’”, he adds, “and sometimes it works pretty well.”

Again, when exploring a web development company’s portfolio and talking to senior executives, prioritize teams where members have a love for learning new things rather than teams who have mastered specific technologies but may not adapt to new ones.

The easiest way to detect a web development company’s attitude to learning is to go through its social media accounts and its employees’ LinkedIn profiles, or to simply ask them:

  • What technical conferences have your developers recently attended?
  • What are your developers’ favorite sources for learning new tech tips and tricks?
  • What educational events do your developers plan to take part in this year?

Strategy #5. Choose billing clarity and reasonableness over an hourly rate

Good, Fast, or Cheap

The primary driver of looking for an outsourcing development company is cost savings. According to Glassdoor, in 2021, the average annual salary of a software developer in the US was around $109K, while it was $8K in India, $38K in China, $15K in Argentina, and $60K in the UK.

Finding a web development outsourcing company with affordable hourly rates for your startup is easy. Why not do it, especially with investors breathing down your neck?

“If you strive to reduce costs to zero — actually, that’s what we all try to do, give or take — you’ll lose quality,” Stan says.

In pursuit of cost-cutting, you ultimately can pay ten times as much. In Stan’s experience, most of the time when people have a bad custom web development experience it’s because they were looking for a significantly less expensive project. They found an outsourcing company that estimated their project, let’s say, at $1,000 at the sale stage, which turned into $10,000 at the development stage, and finally swelled up to $50,000 at the launch stage.

Instead of searching for the cheapest hourly rate, consider more sensible criteria that can point at a web development company that will commit to deadlines, budget, and quality:

  • How clearly your project specification is compiled
  • How reasonably each figure in your project estimate is explained
  • What ways are offered to control your project development progress
Read also: How to change app developers at the middle of a project

Strategy #6. Opt for a company that is open to a small initial task before embarking on the entire web development process

No matter how thoroughly you use all these tips when hiring a web development company, the correctness of your choice still remains a theory. The best way to check that you’ve made the right choice is to observe a web development company in action.

Stan usually starts with a midsize project with three to four specialists for four to five months.

“I look at what questions they come back with and ask, what solutions they generate to beat the project’s constraints, and whether they go above and beyond to meet my expectations with the end product.”

Before paying tens of thousands of dollars for your entire project development, define a small, non-critical task to test a potential web development company for relatively little money.

The theory is over; time for some practice

Fitr fitness website design case study

After figuring out these six powerful strategies on how to choose a web development company, you might want to practice them. Why not start with our company?

Check out our Clutch profile, look at our Dribbble and Behance portfolios, explore our case studies, and match your requirements with some of Mind Studios’ key characteristics:

  • The company has been working since 2013
  • Average length of our developers’ experience — 8+ years
  • Agile software development methodology
  • Jira to control project progress and Slack for communication

To get to know each other better, request a free 45-minute consultation during which we’ll discuss your startup idea and share how we can bring it to life.