Startups often have more needs beyond the skills available within the team. Just within engineering division, there are needs in engineering, infrastructure, design, and third party integrations. Some of these can be easily learned, but others, like infrastructure and design, often require special talent or extensive experience. Remote contractors are a great way to add these skills to your team. WideAngle (formerly Rivalry) would still be in development instead of out in production without these valuable people.
Contractors are great when the amount of work does not justify a full time person. They also work out well when the budget allocated for a full time person needs to be spread amongst more than one ability. I favor remote contractors over in-house because the arrangement allows for extra flexibility. The amount of specialty work that needs to be done varies from week to week and not having set hours allows the needs to ebb and flow. This also means that the business has to be a little flexible as well since the ebb and flow can go both ways.
I do not a set pattern of interaction with my group of contractors, it depends on which vital role they fill. The designer and SalesForce specialist are used more ad-hoc for small and specific needs (a screen needs to look better, there's a specific Salesforce integration bug, etc). Our more general developer has been on a more large project basis, where he implements a larger section of functionality. These are general rules, but it makes sense to adjust scope to the needs, instead of trying to shoehorn all interactions into a set pattern.
Before one can assign work to contractors, one has to find them. Like full-time hires I've found the best come from personal networks. Two of the three we have at WideAngle are people that I have worked with before, the third is someone that came through the network of our CEO. Work habits, personality and abilities are known commodities and foundation of trust has already been created. Unlike with full-time hires, I'm looking more for specialists instead of generalists. At this stage, I really need people that can do the specific job better than me.
I've been very happy using the remote workers we have on our product. We've been able to develop a new product and fix the foundation much faster than I could have alone. Having people on staff that could teach me what I needed to know about the new technologies has also been invaluable. If you're a startup, this is a great way to augment the core of your team.
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