A marketer with focus on growth and passionate about products, Gabriel worked as Digital Marketing Strategist in London until 2015, where he also launched Startcelerate, an investment platform for startups and IT companies. Since 2016, he is CEO @Tapptitude, the Full-stack Mobile Product Agency.
Whether you’re a startup taking your first steps into the business world or a brand expanding your product portfolio, picking the right mobile development agency or product studio to help you do so will define the outcome of your journey.
1. Understand what the agency (or product studio) stands for
Getting to know a future partner as good as possible is always a smart business move, regardless of domain. Picking out the right product studio to help you develop a mobile app is no exception.
Do the usual first: jump on a video call early in the process, as that will tell you more than a series of email exchanges. Chat with the people from the agencies you’ve selected and allow them to challenge you. More, visit their office if it’s feasible for you.
In this way, you’ll see the environment the team are working in. Is it nice? is it comfy? Is there the right vibe? Would you be happy working there yourself? You can tell a lot about people by the way they maintain their surroundings.
Meet the people that will be working on your mobile product. The greatest danger in this stage is that you are charmed by some salespeople who sell you the Moon and then you’re thrown into a team that you can hardly communicate with and who struggle to deliver.
The solution for this is that you spend a bit more time understanding those people and having real conversations with their delivery teams. Have a chat with them and see what they’re like. Pay close attention to what they’re saying verbally, as well as non-verbally. Would you hire them? Would you enjoy working with them?
We really believe that communication and having the right people on the team are as important as them being able to code and design well. A lot of the custom products we build require work and decisions that are taken together with you as a client. That’s why the right vibe and a team you get along with are essential.
Understand how that team is unique and how well they tell their story.
- Are they friendly or formal?
- Are they product executors or product strategists?
- Can they really understand your business model or only your technical specs?
- Can they make you see your business’ blind spots or they are only focused on saying ‘yes, that’s possible’?
The answers to these questions will give you very very different perspectives on your potential product partners.
Do everything in your power to get a good sense of what their agency character is like and match that to what you expect in terms of style and communication. Because sometimes, even though the product team is really good, you cannot really find the right fit.
Who is Tapptitude?
We are a product studio working with funded startups and international brands looking to build mobile-first products. Let me break that down into its components:
+ the ‘product’ piece means that we’re more than a development team; we’re actually a full-stack product team, with product managers, UX and UI designers, testers and product strategists, around a very solid front-end and back-end development team;
+ the ‘studio’ piece refers to the type of approach we have when building products: we are committed to helping founders and product innovators build products that will become sustainable businesses. That means that we step in a lot in advising our partners on how to validate their ideas before investing in development, how to build less and test faster and how to think scalability before we write any line of code. Being design-driven and with a lean startup approach, we look at the digital products we build not from a development perspective but from a performance perspective.
We partner up with the people we’re working with, giving them both advice and a solid focus on delivering great design and code. We’re a product team passionate about working with smart entrepreneurs who want to tackle real problems out there and who understand that a great product is a lot more than nice designs and a code that works. We’re the type of product team who steps in as partners and makes everything possible to build the right thing at the right time sustainably. That means that we do a lot of consultancy gigs and workshops with our partners and they’ve voted us the best mobile studio in Romania for years in a row.
2. Reputation and work done
Do your homework. The agency you’re looking into surely has a portfolio available on their website. You could even kindly ask for some past clients you can chat with, to understand how they worked together and how the team delivered. Any serious product company would gladly share references and show you some products they’ve worked on.
What other projects did they work on and how did they handle them? It’s both a way of knowing what capabilities the agency has, as well as how they implement those capabilities. Past clients will either confirm or “re-assess” the agency’s pitch, it’s that simple.
How other people talk about them can be pretty telling on how they deliver. You can look for them in platforms like Clutch (to see how their past clients described their experiences together) or Glassdoor (to see how their past team rated them as an employer).
Products with attitude by Tapptitude
We have worked on a variety of digital products, most of them scalable, full-stack mobile products. Our typical clients launch their first product with us, like a quick-to-launch MVP, then we accompany them as product partners as they build their full products and scale them into sustainable businesses, typically longer than 3 years. Our product portfolio shares only a small part of the stories we have around what we’ve built in the last 6 years, but we’d love to tell you more.
3. Product capabilities
Do they offer what you need? As you’re checking out the website and their portfolio, take a good look at the core product capabilities they promote. What do they feel they’re best at? If they’re smart, they’ll stick to the capabilities they actually have.
Make a list of what you need and look at what the studio is offering. If the two align, then you might have found a good match. Have a sit-down or more in order to establish that both you and the product studio are going into this wholeheartedly and that neither of you has puzzling expectations.
As we’ve already mentioned, you should check their past projects. It’s important to assess if the agency is capable of understanding the precise challenges you and your business have. If they don’t, working together would be a waste of time for both parties.
Tapptitude builds end-to-end digital products
Tapptitude started in 2013 as a product-focused mobile development team, specialised in building high-quality native mobile apps on iOS and Android. During the last 6 years, we’ve evolved quite a bit, into a full-stack product team, covering the entire spectrum of expertise needed to define, build and scale a product, from product strategy, UX & UI design, mobile, web and back-end development, testing and product management. We’ve had the great chance of working with amazing founders during these years and being at the hearts of many products enjoyed by millions of users every month. We’ve learned a lot from these experiences and now we’re in the position to share our product knowledge in every new project we bring onboard.
4. Look for consistent processes that work
Remember us advising you to visit the agency and get to know the people that will do the work? We still stand by that.
Not only will you see that the office actually exists, but you could learn something about the developers level of expertise, for example. Do they have senior people who really understand your challenges? A senior team will always cost more but that will usually bring a lot more ROI at the end of the day. So, be mindful of what you actually count of success.
The product development process is pretty important when working with a remote team, as that will give you an understanding of how things will happen and when. But people are the core of all this. An experienced product studio should be able to guide you in taking the right decisions regarding product roadmap, priorities and guide your focus on being effective in your product planning. Their product managers should feel like your internal team, bringing you everyday clarity, transparency and peace of mind that things are in control.
Working with Tapptitude
We are a full-stack mobile development studio. We are equipped to deliver to our clients an integrated set of mobile development solutions – product scoping sessions, mobile product development, UI/UX design, strategic business setup and marketing activities. We don’t subcontract our work, but do it ourselves, in house.
Working with us entails a very first product discovery workshop, where we’ll discuss the client’s idea in the smallest details: product specifications, the needs it’s supposed to resolve for the target audience and how it’s supposed to evolve on the market.
5. Transparency and flexibility
Transparency is key, especially when working remotely. Both you and the product studio should communicate openly and consistently. It is important for the agency to understand what your plans are and you think you need. Because only from those elements they will be able to provide value to you.
You will need to share designs, product documents or pieces code, in order for them to start understanding your vision and how they could help. Signing NDAs is business as usual in this space if you feel the need to get that protection, but the more important element is to actually treat the product studio you chose as a partner.
Communicating product plans with Tapptitude
We do a lot of calls with people who reach to us with their product plans. That is an investment we saw necessary to make early on, as it brings us in a very clear communication space and allows both sides to understand what it would take to work together. Lately, if someone doesn’t commit to such conversations, we chose to not move on with the process at all.
In these calls, we discuss problem vision and product vision, the context and constraints our possible partners have got, expectations on delivery, budgets, working style etc. We’re very transparent and sometimes can sound harsh on what is possible and what’s not, but doing this for almost 7 years has given us the confidence that we know our product game pretty well.
Typically, if your product is not fully defined with at least final wireframes, the next step after these initial conversations is a product workshop. We tend to those sessions face to face, but lately doing them online in smaller video session has become a standard. People who go through these sessions are totally transformed on how they think about their products, how they design their validation strategies and about their overall understanding on what it means to create a product that can boost a business model.
6. Real experts give insights and propose solutions
At the end of the day, you’re hiring a product studio for their expertise in defining, building and scaling products. Do your due diligence and filtering well, but after you chose them, trust their advice. Most likely, they’ve seen many products that got similar challenges and they’ve seen countless mistakes done by founders like yourself. The best value you can get from them is them openly and honestly sharing their thoughts about your biases, even though that can be very uncomfortably sometimes.
The people working on your app have its best interest at heart: they want to see the product succeeding just as much as you do since it is a clear statement of their capabilities and professionalism.
Speak up with Tapptitude
We’ve been told that we’re a very straightforward team, with people who speak their minds and constantly share their views on the product choices you’ve made. We expect the same from you as a partner: tell us your expectations, your concerns, feedback us fast when needed and always explain your product choices. We’re here to help your product grow, at the end of the day and that is a result of smart people working well together on an ongoing basis.
And ask questions, of course.
7. You’ll get what you put in – including money
We all want more for less and faster. But when building products, you can hardly cut corners when it comes to ‘building cheap’. ‘Cheap’ is always too good to be true and will bite your fingers later. 🙂
You know how it goes: you pay less and you believe you made a bargain, but that comes back with lower or slower delivery and hurts you. You still paid your money but didn’t receive your good. And you need to find another solution, from a position where you have (even) less money, more paranoia and higher expectations. That’s a difficult game to play successfully.
When you choose a better product studio, you know you will pay more, but also the chances that you will receive solid solutions increase exponentially. Choosing an experienced product company, whose a leader in its vertical, with years of business under its belt, dozens of happy clients and a great team doesn’t come cheap, but it brings predictability and reliability. When our clients ask us about these areas, I always tell them that the risk (to not be around in the next 3-5 years) is always on them, as it’s more difficult to grow a product business than it is to grow a solid services business that delivers consistent work.
Money-wise, you should do your research beforehand and be very clear on what your limits are, as no one has the time to waste on ‘negotiating’ something unclear. You need to understand what you can afford and therefore what you’re asking for. At times, even though we have a great fit, your timeline or budget constraints would not allow us to work together.
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