In this week’s “From the Ground Up” interview, we sit down with Vishal Bhatia, founder and CEO of Dedicated Developers, an UpCity Certified Premium Partner and one of the top software development companies in the United States. Below we discuss Vishal’s reasoning for starting the company, how their hybrid development model enables them to provide top quality service, and more!
Q: So Vishal, let’s start by having you tell us a bit about your background and your company, Dedicated Developers’, history.
A: I’ve been in the industry for many years, having worked as a developer in India for a couple of years for a multinational company. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer engineering and then eventually moved to the U.S.
I worked for one of the world’s largest disc drive manufacturing companies as a software developer. After five years in that kind of corporate America environment, I had gone from a basic engineer to a senior position in the company leading most of the technical projects. That experience gave me very deep knowledge and expertise in software development; I understand the entire process from requirement gathering to wireframing to final product.
I always knew I wanted to start my own company, though. I learned about online marketing by following some of the industry’s top experts, and although I was still working my full-time corporate job, I started to consult with other companies on a part-time basis. In a few shorts years, I was able to help several companies grow their bottom line by selling their products online and got a solid handle on how to develop for lead generation.
In 2009, I stepped away from the corporate world, and that was really the beginning of my journey as a full-time entrepreneur. It’s been more than ten and a half years now, and I haven’t looked back!
Q: So you were offering digital marketing, but were you also offering development services in those early days?
A: Absolutely. While I was still working part-time as a consultant, what kept coming up time and time again was this need for quality software and app development. I noticed that most businesses, especially startups and mid-size enterprises, really struggle to find good developers, and even when they can find a good developer, they struggle to train them and maintain them. Large companies often outsource, but those contracts can run millions of dollars. For smaller enterprises, that’s not an option. Out of a few of those first client interviews, it became very clear to me that there was—and still is—a need in the market for developers catering to startups and mid-size companies.
Q: Interesting. What are some of the unique problems you noticed that startups and mid-size companies were having when it came to software development? Was it simply a matter of finding the right talent? Or was it more than that?
A: There were a few distinct problems that jumped out to me.
Many companies try to hire local developers, but then they have to limit the number of devs they can hire or limit the scope of their project as a result. The cost is astronomically high when you’re looking to hire someone domestically, and beyond that, you still need a backup plan for if that person leaves mid-project.
On the opposite end, other companies decided to go offshore to India or the Philippines or Eastern Europe. That option presents its own unique challenges: language, time zone, quality of work, risk to your intellectual property.
Both options still leave open the possibility of scope creep, which inevitably leads to a higher cost for the client.
Essentially, I heard dozens and dozens of failure stories where clients started a project and in the middle of the project, something went wrong. With my strong background in software development and my network of talented developers in the U.S. and India, I saw an opportunity to fix that problem.
So from our beginnings with literally two developers, we’ve grown now to multiple cities across the United States and India and have a staff of more than 200 developers and designers worldwide.
Q: What an incredible story! I think the way you’ve built your company is a testament to the fact that truly understanding your audience’s needs is one of the most crucial aspects of starting and running a business. If you understand your customer and you provide a solution to their pain points, your business will almost always be successful.
I’d love to discuss outsourcing a bit more. In the digital marketing industry, outsourcing has gotten somewhat of a bad wrap. What has been your experience with outsourcing? Do you often encounter clients that are hesitant to allow offshore developers in on a project?
A: I’ve worked with plenty of clients that have had really bad experiences, each with their own horror story to tell. I’ve seen clients spend over $150,000 and more than three years to get a product off the ground, only to see it fail midway due to development issues offshore.
There are certainly plenty of great developers working outside of the U.S. in places like India and the Philippines, but the most common problem is poor company structure. You have to have the right processes and policies in place; you have to have the right management to guide the team; you have to have the right experience and vision to be able to provide the kind of service that American businesses expect.
We offer a hybrid model that includes domestic developers and offshore teams. The first thing we do with any new client is what we call blueprinting. We take every client through a two to four-week discovery process where we connect them with a chief technical architect (usually someone with more than 20 years of experience) to create a detailed blueprint of the project’s scope.
We also connect them with a senior business analyst with over a decade of experience to look at the other side of the project. Software development isn’t just about building software, it’s about helping someone build and improve their business. The technical architect handles the development side of things, while the business analyst ensures that the project makes sense in the long-run; they understand the market, the competition, etc.
At the end of the blueprinting phase, we have a full outline, including the flow of the app, what different technologies will be needed to build the software, the business case for the software, positioning, you name it. We also research a few different options so that the client has options and isn’t forced into one decision. This gives clients a very clear and detailed idea of the exact time, cost, and resources necessary to build a minimum viable product, as well as what future releases would look like beyond the MVP.
This blueprinting phase eliminates a lot of the gray areas when it comes to budgeting for software development projects and helps the client understand how their money will be spent. It also shows the client that we take a holistic approach to their needs and are truly looking to be a partner, rather than just another contract.
Q: Interesting. And you find that that helps smooth the conversation about outsourcing a bit?
A: Absolutely. With our hybrid mode, the senior architect, project manager, and the real brains behind the operation are based in our U.S. offices. They are local, experienced, and well-versed in taking a high-level picture and condensing it into something that our developers can build.
After the blueprint is done, we work on user experience, so we’ll do additional market analysis, competitive research, create user personas, etc. This allows us to move forward and create a visual prototype: these are high-definition wireframes that allow the client to navigate through their software or app in real-time and experience what their users will experience. At this point, it’s not fully functional on the backend, but visually it gives an idea of how the app will flow.
Once that’s done, our development team in India goes to work actually creating the final functional product. This type of model gives you the best of both worlds: you get a very high-quality level of communication with highly-experienced domestic technical architects, project managers, business analysts, and UX experts while benefiting from the reduced costs of offshore development.
Q: I’d love to hear a bit more about your experience growing a company simultaneously on two continents. What has been the biggest challenge for you as you’ve tried to grow not only your U.S.-based team but also your development team halfway around the world in India?
A: The biggest challenge has been to find good developers, in my experience. Once you find good developers, it becomes a matter of retaining them and keeping them motivated. There’s no shortage of positions out there for good developers, so it’s important to provide the best possible experience to keep them around.
The second biggest challenge is maintaining quality control. To be honest, Dedicated Developers could be a much larger company had I not made the decision early on to focus on providing only the highest-quality work with very tight, proactive communication.
Q: Intentional growth is better than growth without aim, that’s for sure.
A: Exactly. I’m quite proud of where we’re at today. I feel grateful to be able to say that 80% of our business comes from repeat customers or referrals from past customers. As a business owner, that shows me that we’re doing a great job because clients want to continue to work with us.
Q: That’s incredible! Then your reputation has played a critical role in growing your business to where it’s at today?
A: It not only helped us with our initial growth, but it also continues to help us and drive more traffic and new clients online. Because we focus so heavily on communication and quality, our clients are generally happy and excited to leave us a review after receiving their final product. We’ve been an A+ rated business according to the Better Business Bureau since 2007, we have high-ratings on unbiased review sites like UpCity and Google, and that reputation goes a long way. Clients see those reviews and it makes the conversations I have much easier.
Q: Absolutely. Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Thanks again, Vishal, for sitting down with us to chat about your company, Dedicated Developers.
A: My pleasure!
Over the past 20+ years, Vishal Bhatia has learned the ins and outs of software development. An expert in avoiding price creep, miscommunication and bottlenecks that bog down other developers, Vishal’s talented team at Dedicated Developers utilizes a consultative approach to create state-of-the-art Android/iOS apps, complex web design implementations and strategic software solutions for their clients.