Friday, September 30, 2011

Set Your Developers Free

Even products have awkward adolescent phases.

Picture yourself in this scenario: You are the VP of engineering at a hot startup. Your development team has spent the last year building a product. They have poured blood, sweat, tears, and more than a few beers into building something to ship out the door and sell to a million customers. And the product is out the door.

But you're not to the million customer mark yet. So far, you've only sold to 13. Those 13 customers are calling your developers for support… a lot. And you're wishing your developers could be spending their time building snazzy new features for v2 instead of taking support calls.

But what can you do? You don't have enough customers or money to warrant hiring a support engineer in house - and the idea of outsourcing the support work for a product that only has 13 customers isn't rational. Right? Wrong. The support of your product is just as critical as the way it was built. Support is the easiest way to interact with your customers, and get valuable feedback that can enable the iterative improvement of your product. And there are options for a successful support model, even when cost is an issue, your product hasn't fully matured, and your customer base is small.

  • Take it offshore. Establishing a small team of specialized support resources offshore can significantly lower your costs – whether the team is comprised of one part-time support engineer or a full-time team of 5. It is definitely more cost-effective than having your lead developer answer the phone. But make sure to partner with a firm that can interface with you locally. That way, you won't need to be on a conference call at 1am.
  • Look for flexibility. Find an agile partner that can easily ramp-up or ramp-down the size of your support team as your support demands change, even if it fluctuates month to month.

By freeing up your developers and building a small, yet tailored support system, you empower maturity in both your product and your support infrastructure. And that is something that is scalable to a million customers.

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