How to use external product teams to speed time to market

We assume that all startups should build everything in-house.

But as the competition for technical talent increases, more and more founders are hiring external development teams to bring their products to market faster. In fact, many of these startups continue to work with an external development team even as they grow their internal team.

I was lucky enough to see both sides of this dynamic. At Google, and during my time in startups, I often worked with external development teams to create new products. And today, my team has been hired to create products for both fast-growing start-ups and large tech companies. These experiences have taught me to identify the right time to bring in an external team and choose the right partner for your business.

Below are some of the most common reasons for choosing to build your product with an out-of-the-box team and how to improve the relationship.

WHEN YOU WANT TO GO FAST, BUT DON’T HAVE A TEAM READY TO GO

Founders who fundraise early on can often find themselves on a timeline to develop a product – without having a team in place. Once their funding goal is reached, they focus on the real milestone: converting those funds into a successful product launch.

One way to do this is to build an internal team. This process typically starts with the founding team, which is one of the hardest roles to hire. They are highly sought after people, who work well in ambiguity and are willing to take a big risk. It’s not uncommon for this process to take six months or more to find the right people. And since these are key hires, they are often a trigger to hire the rest of the team. Therefore, hiring an in-house team can add significant time to launching an MVP.

For most startups, long lead times are a significant hurdle and slow down the process of establishing product-market fit. Hiring an external team shortens this process. With a trusted network, the right external team can be found within weeks and deliver a fully functional product within months. While building the product, you can work to build your own team.

WHEN THE PROJECT IS OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMPANY’S CORE PRODUCT

In a former job, we tended to build everything ourselves. With tens of thousands of engineers, we thought if it was code we could do better. Soon after, we started building contract management software and shuttle scheduling systems, training software, and menu building systems. These systems and tools helped support the entire company, but were outside of its products. For this reason, they were rarely adequately staffed, and engineers were frequently fired to work on commodity products, leaving many projects unfinished. We quickly realized that it was in the company’s interest to work with an external team to build solutions outside of the core products.

We see this pattern a lot with platform companies. While their engineers focus on building the platform, external teams are often brought in to build applications or integrations that build on their platform or manage deployment for customers. As your business scales, it’s essential to focus on your core product. For everything else, consider buying an existing product or hiring an external team.

WHEN THE SKILLS YOU NEED TO HIRE ARE NOT THE SKILLS YOU CAN ASSESS

Not all startups have a technical co-founder. Many founders are brilliant in consumer goods or marketing, but have no experience hiring and building engineering teams. This can lead to hiring people with the wrong skills and significantly delaying the product. A startup I worked with needed someone to design mockups of their product. With no previous experience hiring designers, the founder hired a UX researcher. They ended up with a great research paper, but no UI design for the engineering team to execute.

Product development teams often have years of experience working with each other and a disciplined process that results in rapid speed to market. Their work across sectors and industries means they can see common patterns, quickly create an early version, and switch experts as the project develops.

WHEN NOT TO CALL ON AN OUTSIDE TEAM

These are some of the most common situations where I have observed companies find benefits in hiring an external development team. There are also times when bringing in an outside team may not be ideal. Do you have a clear vision of your product? What problem does your product solve? What market are you targeting? Fundamental questions like these should be addressed before hiring a development team. Similarly, for start-ups, is hiring one of your company’s core areas of expertise? Or is your recruitment ahead of your product? If you have in-house engineers and product managers who are available and have the skills to lead the next project, it would be more efficient to recruit staff internally.

While these are some of the more common examples, it’s important to remember that these are not hard and fast rules, as each business will have its own unique needs and circumstances.


Co-founder and CEO of Fluxon, a global product development company that helps startups create and launch their product to market.

About Miley Sawngett

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