Is Outsourcing App Development Useful?

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So you want to develop the next big app and you think about outsourcing to save your costs? In the end, it might cost you more than you think!

Should you really outsource app development? Well, when we entered an accelerator program with our startup @nauapp in September 2014  in Helsinki, the first three things we heard were: 9 out of 10 won’t survive the first year! Your idea will be most likely changed three times before you are done with the program! AND If you consider one thing, and only one thing, then never outsource your core-competences! In the same afternoon we signed a contract for an outsourcing project with Pakistan for our iOS App while programing Android ourselfs. – At least we laughed a lot.

“We have great capacities in IT project management – outsourcing will be fine”
@KevinLinser, 15.9.2014

As a “classical” startup we had more founders with business backgrounds than with technical know-how. So, having worked in large corporations and consulting businesses, going for the outsourcing solution was the only legit thing we could do 😉  And costs for outsourcing to Pakistan were rather low, so the risk seemed to be worth taking. But even having two people managing the project, planning the unplannable and managing a handful of guys on the other side of the world turned out to be a challenge. Particularly as we used ‘Jira’, a pretty heavy project management tool, providing way too much functionality and possibilities for our own needs. In total we had more than 400 issues in 4 sprints. This made tracking and managing the project a full time job.

“Did you hear that?! – Is there a dog or a chicken in the background?”

The weakly skype calls with Abdul, Bashir and Co. were my personal highlights. While my blood pressure grew each time I had to explain some changes in design, functionality or screenflow for the 5th time, we got a bit distracted by some odd background noise. Instantly questions popped up: “What is this chicken doing there?” and “What does our technical department in Pakistan really look like?”


Happy “Eid-al-Adha”! – See you on Wednesday.

Having started our business, I would have never thought that the Muslim holidays would actually affect my daily business so soon. We were already struggling when the Christian holidays came our way, but those we could at least estimate beforehand. So it hit us hard on October 4th 2014, when we learnt that our Pakistani headquarters were shut down for the next 5 days, because of “Eid-al-Adha”. Being in the middle of a sprint, which should be finished within the next week, this, once again, sent my blood pressure through the roof. Getting this info as a simple side note from one of the developers at the end of the day, caused a little shitstorm in the inbox of the project lead. But nothing could be done. Product development was shut down and we had to wait. In the mean time we would be celebrating “Eid-al-Adha” in Northern Europe as well.

“Our hardware is from stone age, but our software is up to date.”

Being equipped with two developers and a tester, exclusively dedicated to the project, provided some optimism at the beginning of the project.  After testing the first build we definitely started to question the role of the tester. This scepticism about the tester peaked after we asked for a detailed list of devices the app was thoroughly tested on, which was ultimately replied to with “Our hardware is from stone age, but our software is up to date.”

Cyclone ‘Nilofar’ hits Pakistan. And a startup in northern Europe stays still.  

On October 27th 2014, Cyclone ‘Nilofar’ hit Pakistan and caused some troubles in public transportation and the electricity systems. Just as suddenly as we heard the information, our Pakistan H.Q. was evacuated and secured for the arriving cyclone. This meant another unforeseen shutdown of our project for more than three days. This was finally the day I integrated Karachi into my weather app and started following forecasts for the middle east. Now having Muslim holidays marked into my calendar and real time updates of the weather situations including a 10 day forecast; I thought that nothing would surprise us in the future.

“What the hell are you guys doing there”
worried Mother

In order to make the mysteries of our daily work a bit less mystic to our parents, we provided them early access to the test versions. We did that as long as we got a sent some screenshots followed by a call from one of our teammates’ mother: “What the hell are you doing, who are those guys in that app? And what is your @nauapp actually aiming for?”  – Obviously some profile pictures of our team appeared on our mothers testing devices and caused some confusion packed with cultural misunderstandings. OK, I agree the profile pictures could have been chosen more carefully. And finally, the situation also raised some questions within our team: “What the hell are we doing here?”

“I’m not Peter Parker. I’m not Spiderman”
Do Dinh Duc, – iOS Developer


After going through these times of excitement – the often cited “startup rollercoaster” –  we decided to cancel some of the Hollywood action from our daily routines and started in-house iOS development. After a couple of weeks searching for a suitable team member we finally found our future head of client development. Downloading the code from ‘bitbucket’ and checking the libraries for the first time caused some irritation and a little fear in the eyes of our new technical expert. The screen board equaled a giant spidernet – causing the comment “I am not spiderman – We got to rebuild stuff”.

Lessons learned.

  • Testing. Validating. Iterating. – Does not work with an external DevTeam, regardless how flexible you define the contract.
  • Outsourcing makes only sense in case you can clearly define your project beforehand.
  • Do constant code controlling by an expert.
  • In a startup you have never enough project management resources. There are other things to do.
  • Even if external development is cheap, you will pay your bill later.

We learned our lesson and made our experience in outsourcing development. Today we develop every platform inhouse  and released our latest app successfully. If you are curious how it looks like check it out here.


If you laughed, or your think this might be of help it would mean the world to me if you try out our app and spread the word.

Something to add or don’t agree? I would be happy to hear from you.



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