We talk with Jim Reynolds who is Chief Technology Officer of Envalo, a Magento Development agency to discuss various aspects about hiring a Magento Developer or a Magento agency.
We explore the steps to hiring, where to look, and what criteria are involved. Tim draws upon his many years of experience in the Magento agency industry. How to scale out from that first hire, retain and build an in-house development team versus hiring an agency are topics that are also explored in detail in this podcast.
(1:36) Introduction of Tim Reynolds
(5:17) Hiring a Magento developer: the first step
(11:05) Where to look for developers
(13:04) What kind of support and eco system to provide around a developer to prevent burnout
(15:39) Criteria for narrowing the candidates down
(17:45) The level of expertise for a developer to take on the reins
(20:20) How to scale out from that first hire
(21:57) Advice on hiring Magento freelancers
(26:28) Advice on hiring a Magento agency
(39:39) One-time projects versus on-going work
(41:23) What an agency team should look like
(43:37) In-house development versus hiring an agency
(45:22) Building an agency: what Envalo looks like
(46:45) Parting words
We have our milestones and we meet them. And as a merchant that’s what you want to make sure you have, to protect yourself.
I’d actually recommend some pretty nonstandard techniques and that would be to go on to various Magento developers support sites and see who’s going on there and helping people.
If you’re first building a team, you’re going to want to look for someone who is both technology capable and experienced, but also good at working with a team.
If I find the Magento developers don’t have high-end laptops or desktops with solid-state hard drives, that’s the first thing I go to the management about.
When we go into pitch we don’t send a swanky sales guy with an expensive suit and a terribly expensive haircut. I go, our project manager goes, the person they’re going to be working with. Our CEO goes.
Audio Length: 47 minutes and 57 seconds
Kunle: How do you find not just a good magento developer, but a great one? In this episode, I am going to be talking with the Chief Technology Officer of a Magento development agency Envalo, who is Magento Certified as well as a co-author of a book titled, ‘Magento for Developers’. He will flesh out what it takes to hire and retain in-house or freelance Magento developers and Magento development agencies. Do stay tuned!
[Intro clip] Welcome to the 2x eCommerce podcast show where we interview founders of fast growing seven and eight figure eCommerce businesses and eCommerce experts. They’ll tell their stories, share how they 2x’d their businesses and inspire you to take action in your own online retail business today. And now, here he is, the man in the mix, Kunle Campbell.
Kunle: Hi 2Xers, welcome to the 2X eCommerce podcast show. I’m your host Kunle and this is a podcast where I interview eCommerce entrepreneurs and online retail marketing experts who help uncover new commerce marketing tactics and strategies to help you my fellow 2Xers grow metrics that matter in your online stores. So conversions, average order value, repeat customers, traffic, and ultimately sales. If you’re looking to grow those metrics you are in the right place. On today’s show for all you store owners or eCommerce managers that run Magento sites, this is going to be exciting.
I have with me a gentleman by the name of Tim Reynolds. He is the Cofounder and Chief Technology Officer of Envalo, an eCommerce consultancy with Magento expertise. Tim says he’s going to talk about how to hire Magento developers, freelancers, and agency, eventually. I’ll just give you a bit of background about Tim before I introduce him to the show. Tim has been into software engineering and programing for close to a decade now. He majored in Computer Science at the University of Akron. He’s a Certified Magento Developer. He’ spoken at Magento’s Imagine Conference back in 2012 and has contributed to a Magento book called Magento Developers: Product Configuration and Composite Product. So we are talking to an expert here. Welcome to the show Tim.
Tim: Thanks for having me
Kunle: Fantastic. Okay. Could you take a minute or less to tell our listeners about yourselves and Envalo, please?
Tim: Sure, yeah. Well, for myself I’m an unabashed nerd. You mentioned about 10 years, but really I’ve been doing programming of some kind for over 20 years now.
Kunle: Okay. [laughs]
Tim: It’s really my passion. And I’m very passionate about Open Source technologies, which led me to Magento. Envalo, we’re an agency. We pride ourselves on having some of the best expertise in Magento in the world. We really focus on working with retailers on a long-term relationship. We really don’t care for the churn and burn, you know, let’s get new contracts in and then get them done quick. We want to help people develop their businesses and become as successful as possible and we’ve been running for a couple of years now and it’s been a blast. And we’ve been pretty successful.
Kunle: Fantastic. Okay, so it was founded in 2012. Prior to 2012 what was your journey and build up to Envalo?
Tim: Well a lot of my background is not actually in consulting and in services. It’s in product software companies who are making one piece of software that they sell and it’s an entirely different kind of game you know, where it’s all about building for the long-term, making sure your code is maintainable, testable and reliable. Because you can’t just disappear onto another contract. You’re there and you have to answer to your customers who buy your products. A few years before founding Envalo, I was hired on at a consulting company in Cleveland area to do IBM WebSphere Commerce work. And I’ve always really enjoyed Open S ource and I struggled a little bit working with such a massive and closed system. At the time, I decided to research Magento or other alternatives that were Open Source so we could bring more offerings to our clientele. Came across Magento, really enjoyed it and so we started a Magento team at that company…
Kunle: Stop. Sorry to cut you short. You said ‘we’, you and…?
Tim: Sorry. Myself and my cofounders at Envalo were employers at this other company and we decided to start a Magento practice there. So we had another offering and we eventually decided to leave and start our own company, which is what led me to Envalo.
Kunle: Amazing. Amazing. Okay. All right. Let’s move swiftly into the core part of this interview which is hiring a Magento developer. So I believe for those who are still listening into the show, they have a keen interest in Magento because they use Magento. So, I believe there will be two kinds of listeners on this show. One will be store owners with a fully-fledged team of in-house developers and designers, are used to getting people on board, probably have developers who have been there from the start, or a big team. And then the other batch of store owners hire freelancers and they typically will be technically oriented themselves, people who have actually built out a Magento site themselves, but they’re having to manage a business, manage logistics and it the same time the website. So what they do is they outsource batches of work to freelancers, to developers, and agencies sometimes. And you know in both situations at some point they will want to hire a Magento developer. What should be their first step to looking for the Magento developer?
Tim: Well, that’s tricky because it’s actually very hard to find Magento developers.
Kunle: [laughs] We’re in high demand.
Kunle: So these are not mockup designs you’re talking about. This is coding HTML at at the temporary level, front-end stuff?
Tim: Yes. If but what you need is someone to do things on your back-end, to create custom code integrations, even something that may seem as simple as installing a third-party module from the Magento Connect Ecosystem, you really want to look for someone with solid Magento background experience. Preferably someone with Magento Certification, a Certified Magento Developer. And the reason being is, it’s such a complex system that a developer can find ways to make things work but it may not be the right thing, and in the end, in the future you may find yourself having problems with your site. And that’s affecting your money, that’s affecting your cash flow, and it’s going to cost you more to find someone in a pinch to figure out what is wrong and fix it.
Kunle: Okay Tim, I’m going to come in to ask you, to probe. I have two questions, actually. One is, you’re certified and I….
Tim: Yes, one of the first 200 certified developers in the world.
Kunle: Awesome. Good to have you here. I remember back in the days, I’ve taken certification exams and many of them in Java, Microsoft, actually more recently Google. I don’t do certifications again anymore for other reasons. Right. My question has to do with the fact that most of those were kind of like open tests, or you could find cheat sheets online and you memorize the cheat seats and you pass the exams, right?
Kunle: How does the Magento Certification exam actually differ, and is that a good enough filter to prequalify a potential developer?
Tim: It’s no different. Cheating is rampant. You’ll see companies, agencies out there that will list that they have 70 – 80 certified developers and it’s ludicrous.
Tim: That’s a challenge really in Java and any technology you can find and see. One thing that I have done for other companies and I recommend people to do is, there’s many well-known established Magento Developers in the community, I could list the names all day. And those people are likely not available to be hired because they’re well-known and they’re popular. But you may be able to approach one of them and offer to pay them to help you interview someone. To help you verify if what they’re saying is true.
Kunle: Okay. That makes a lot of sense.
Tim: Yeah. I’ve done that a number of times and we’ve found issues with that, but sadly, Magento Certification is a good indicator but it cannot be relied on alone.
Kunle: So it is a first of several steps in the process?
Kunle: Okay, right. And then you actually answered my second question which had to do with, ‘Where?’ I mean, right now there’s so many places to pick up developers. First of all, you go in to the Magento community, the people chatting all day there. There’s ODIS, there’s Elance, there are recruitment agencies that call me every day…
Tim: Every day.
Kunle: You know, and I’m quite sure there are a lot more areas and avenues to pick developers and hire developers. Without wasting too much of your time and trying to get the best bank for the amount of time you put into the selection process, or the hunting process, what are your choice platforms to look for developers?
Tim: I’d actually recommend some pretty nonstandard techniques and that would be to go on to various Magento developers support sites and see who’s going on there and helping people. Those are really good candidates to reach out to ask if they’re interested in some work. Magento’s coming out with their big to 2.0 release, it’s a whole re-architecting of their platform. And they keep their code on a public source code site called GitHub. If you go on to GitHub you can see a listing of all the developers from the community who have contributed bug fixes and helped in ushering in of this new era of Magento. Those are all great names to pick from. Look for people who are blogging on Magento, and legitimately blogging. There’s a lot of, you know pay for blog type material out there doesn’t have much depth to it. But, people who are blogging. And a lot of great developers will release modules for free. And that’s always the best. By the way, the best tip I can give to the store owner is, ‘If a module costs money, you’ll need another developer to look over it and fix it. But if a module is free it’s probably going to be excellent.’
Kunle: [laughs] Well, how counterintuitive. Okay. What kind of support and eco system should business owners provide around a developer to prevent burnout? So I’m assuming the listeners have carried out all the instructions or the tips that you’ve given, and they’ve found a developer and you know they have this developer in-house. How do you just provide that environment to nurture them and prevent them from burnout? We hear a lot of stories from people in the software and tech industry who talk about burnout. From your experience managing a team, and your prior experience, how would you recommend creating that system, that environment, as a business owner?
Tim: Well, you know, I mean you’re absolutely spot on. This a challenge that everyone in technology faces you know, how to keep your employees happy and keep them productive and keep them around. Because it’s very costly to bring someone on. Supporting your developers and being willing to support what they need to do a good job. Any company that I go in to give advice to or training, if I find the Magento developers don’t have high-end laptops or desktops with solid-state hard drives drives, that’s the first thing I go to the management about. Because you’re wasting time and money waiting for pages to load for your developers. And that can be very frustrating for a developer, to know you don’t have quality material to do your job.
Be willing and ready and not reluctant to send your developers to user groups or to local conferences and things. You know, they’re really not very expensive and they’re great way to show your developer that you appreciate them and that you value continual education. If you do one thing forever you know, anyone’s eventually going to get bored of it. In Cleveland area we have some great local technology conferences that aren’t focused on Magento or PHP. And the great opportunity is for us to get out, meet other people, learn new things and technologies so that we can potentially bring back to improve things at the company. You know, having realistic goals for your developers, understanding what they’re capable of achieving. If they have realistic goals it’s going to be a positive reinforcement to be meeting those goals. Versus giving them you know an unrealistic goal, they’re bound to fail and they’re not going to feel great about what they’re doing.
Kunle: Okay. I want us to take a step back to the recruitment process, I think I jumped a step there. So we go to these platforms, we get experts to interview them on our behalf. How do you go about shortlisting and picking and choosing the right developer? So, say you’ve closed into five choices. What’s your criteria for narrowing the candidates down to that one choice that you think would be with you on the long haul?
Tim: Well, I gotta say I’d be really excited when we’re in a hiring process if I found myself with five candidates that were qualified.
Tim: But in such situations, usually… You know, I’m a pretty outgoing person for a technology guy. I feel like I can get a good feel for someone, after meeting with them only a couple of times, if I’m going to get along with them. And, because we have an established team with certified developers, with people who enjoy training you know… we kind of just go on gut. But if you don’t have that, what you’re probably going to want to look for is, you know if you’re first building a team, you’re going to want to look for someone who is both technology capable and experienced but also good at working with a team. Because your subsequent hires don’t necessarily have to be these A-list Magento certified developers. We openly hire Ruby or Python developers who show initiative, that we know we can train. So having a good, you know I like to think of it as like a good ‘seed’ to the crystal that’s the team. Something to grow on. So you want to look at that person who’s not just necessarily be the best at technology, but the best at being with a team of people and helping them grow.
Kunle: That’s a great point there in terms of that cultural fit for the business and building up that team player to come in and put in to the business. Right, my next question has to do with, this is a scenario-based question. And I’ve come across this live with a client. They built up their website or they upgraded their website, they used an agency just to be rest assured. They got a reliable agency and their agency handed over their website to them. Now, just out of the concerns due to the fact that the agencies were going to cost, they were not affordable basically on an ongoing supportive basis, what they did was they were looking to hire someone to take on the maintenance of their website, of their store, of the Magento store. In that scenario where an agency hands a website, a fully built website to you, hopefully bug-free if there’s anything like that, what basically? Manage the site and then in very rare occasions where they have serious issues, they escalate it to an agency. What level of expertise would you, this is from a back-end management standpoint… would you want a very senior person or would you want someone who is versatile both on the front-end and the back-end?
Tim: Well for maintenance and for security you know, often times although an agency maybe costs more, but you did that and upfront, we often recommend having an ongoing support contract with the agency to handle those types of things. Because, this is how we did our first contracts, it doesn’t cost you anything, but when something goes wrong we’re there for you. But if you want to hire someone to fill that role, you’re going to want someone who is I would say modestly skilled at development, but more of your maintenance is going to come in with systems maintenance. You know in this last year we’ve had a number of security patches from Magento, and knowing that those are happening and you’re getting them installed quickly so your site’s secure is important. And it’s less of a developer task so much as a systems task. So if you’re fortunate and can find that rare breed, someone who is both programmer and is experienced with Linux systems and keeping them up to date, then that’s the person you want to look for.
Kunle: Okay. And how do you scale out from that first hire?
Kim: From your first, just general developer hire?
Tim: You probably at that point, you know I would say each subsequent hire would, you can go kind of, how woud you say, further back in the qualifications necessary for that. So if your first developer, you want to get a rock star, you want to get someone who is experienced and is going to be able to hit the ground running. Scaling from there, you may want to get a very competent developer who doesn’t have to be at the same level. But you don’t want someone who’s going to draw all of the expert’s time away to keep focused on them. Once you have that second person then you can build them up to be closer to that first. You know, from there you can get more junior developers. At a certain point obviously, you’re going to need a project manager. Someone that is going to be able to oversee this for you. Whether that person is a full-time hire or part-time hire, once you get enough developers together, you have to have someone who chorals them. [laughs]
Kunle: There’s that redundancy the top. So those first two hires are almost at par from a skill-set standpoint. And they have the junior developers, as big as a team may grow, to support them. So if one person is out of the picture, there’s that fall over other.
Kunle: All right, okay, that makes a lot of sense. So yeah, those are my core Magento developer questions. Now for the cheapskate or should I say the butch-draft rather, better word, for store owners who are looking for freelancers, basically and just down to the fact that they can’t afford the full-time developer or the developer has a need for extra hands on a project. What advice would you generally give about hiring Magento freelancers? First of all I’d like to know your opinion if it’s a no-go area or an area where you tread carefully? You can still go there but you know with caveats and…?
Tim: Well so, and I’m going into this saying I know some exceedingly talented and very well-known Magento freelancers who anyone would be very fortunate to have, but in the general sense I don’t usually recommend going with freelancers because when you’re freelancing your typically going from job to job. And your incentives to get the job done, because it’s not necessarily about the ongoing long-term relationship with the client, you may be cutting corners and you may not do all the things that Magento recommends to properly develop and extend the system. If you can find freelancers who have extensive Magento experience, I would go for that and that would be great. But it’s very easy for someone to do a quick job on templating on a Magento site and then put on the resume that ‘I am a Magento developer,’ right? And again I don’t mean to say that freelancers are deceitful. It’s harder to validate that, whereas with an agency, you know us as an agency, our name is everything. We want to know at any time that we can recommend any potential client call any of our previous clients and they will give us a rave review because we’ve stuck with them.
With a freelancer or really with any external developers, you always have to concern yourselves with PCI compliance and security, you know. Are you going to have yourself manage deploying their code, or are you going to give them the keys to the castle and give them server access? Is that something you want to be doing with a freelancer here and a freelancer there? Are you going to be able to keep up with changing your passwords and making sure nothing else has been installed? Again, not that all freelancers or the majority of freelancers would do that, but it’s harder to track those things. In the past we ourselves have supplemented our development with freelancers but we have only used freelancers that we have personal relationships with. These are people that I know in our community and we give them a slice of work that’s well detailed and documented and give them a deadline and a budget. And they produce some code and we take that, take it from there for client and validate it and install it.
Kunle: All right. I think it’s trickier for non-technical leads to give freelancers work because of the lack of control and I think this is more an option for more technically-minded leads or managers or owners. What are your thoughts on that in regards to freelancing, hiring freelancers in general as an e-commerce store or e-commerce manager?
Tim: If that’s what fits your budget best and if the work that you’re having done makes sense to have done by a freelancer, go ahead with it. Just make sure you have planned out and thought out how you’re going to get that freelancer a copy of your database and your site so they can do the work that doesn’t contain any client information, things like that. You know, how you are you going to get them the assets so they can do the work while keeping all your important data private for your customers. There’s extra steps that people may not think about ahead of time and that are going to, you know they need someone to get in there and do something, maybe distracting them from the work they need to be doing that necessitated the hiring of a freelancer at the time, but.
Kunle: Okay, that about wraps up my questions about with in regards to hiring Magento freelancers. Let’s move on to hiring a Magento agency.
Kunle: Which is your territory.
Kunle: Have you hired agencies in the past in your previous roles prior to founding Envalo?
Tim: I personally have not hired, at least for Magento work, in any previous time because I’ve always been the agency getting hired I have a different perspective than the merchants are likely to have.
Kunle: Well, what’s your criteria in the selection of agencies? So, I like to sort of spin this on its head a bit. So from your developers standpoint you’ve had brilliant clients and if you were to reverse engineer their experience and how they prequalified you to the process and made that perfect match. How did their selection process look like when they hired you? Because I think it’s a win-win relationship where, you know if you’re happy with that client then they’re very likely to be happy with you as an agency. So what criteria? If you could think back to the criteria they used for their selection process to hiring you as an agency as compared to other agencies, that would be brilliant.
Tim: Absolutely. Well the thing we hear over and over again is that when we come and we present, you know we’re bidding against other agencies, we’re very infrequently not chosen. And what they tell us is that we really thought through their problems. We didn’t just listen and say, ‘Oh, you need a site okay well here’s what a site costs’. We really take the time to learn the struggles that they’re having, why they’re having that, and what’s keeping them from able to solve that they need us. We also like to do a lot of in-depth research into their business and their marketplace. It’s one of the great things about being an agency is that every six months I get to learn about a completely new industry that I never thought I’d get a chance to learn about. And so often we are told, because we ask that question ‘Why did you choose us?’, it’s that. It’s that we came to them saying, ‘We want to know what your problem is. Now we understand it and we can make a very specific solution to that, and we learned about your industry so we can understand where you’re coming from.’ So that has been what has done very well for us.
Kunle: Okay, so two core things. Problem: an agency that provides unique and in-depth, actually, approach to your problem. So they dig out and know exactly what your problem is and actually reveal parts of your problem you didn’t even realize. And the second, is really understanding their business. So they demonstrate that they’ve made an effort to understand your business and your competitors, perhaps, better. And then that almost brings them apart, more like partners at the start of the relationship or the potential relationship, I guess.
Kunle: Okay, so I guess going deep into the questions in terms of on picking or the problems, how do you as an agency for projects that you’ve won or competitive bids you’ve won, how did you sort of split out the problem, the client’s problem? If you could come up with a use case where the clients had a unique problem and you guys dug deep into it and laid it out to them and also gave them potential problems, that would be brilliant. And then we’ll talk about how you demonstrated good understanding of their business.
Tim: Sure. Well, we had one client who is really one of my absolute favorites. Their low-holed with us in Cleveland: ‘Mr. Heater’. And they do portable heaters that are primarily marketed at people and shops, or hunting, or if you just need some heat in your house, they make really high quality heaters. And they had a real problem with dealing with parts breaking. So, you know anything over time, a little thing on the device might break, a button might break. And it was very difficult under existing sites for customers to get in and get replacement parts. So instead they were spending a great deal of money having a very large staff of people running the phones and taking parts orders over the phones. And so they came to us saying, ‘Is there some way that you can solve this?’ So we looked up what information they had and we looked out on the market at what other people were doing. And what we ended up proposing to them was the building of a interactive touch-based schematics ordering system. So we built for them something that works without Flash on mobile and desktop. Where you can go in and punch in your serial number on your product and it will bring you a exploded view of that product and you can go in and zoom and pan and click on the exact thing that broke and have it added right to your cart. As part of that, we really focused on not just making things fun and nice, but as I like to say, ‘I designed the backend so that it’s good enough that my mother would use it without yelling at me.’ So we built an entire backend system for them, built right into Magento, for managing these schematics; that works almost like a paint tool, like a drawing tool, where they can load up vector art and they’re able to draw right onto it and say, circle this or bosh on this, that’s this part and that’s that part, and keep it all catalog for them. And so they have been pretty ecstatic about this. We’ve been pretty excited about it because it demos really well, it looks really good.
Kunle: So how did you get them to hire you as an agency? Because they might have got proposals from a few other agencies and their selection process or their selection criteria… there’s certain things you demonstrated when you pitched to them, basically. So let’s go to the specifics as to what you pitch to them and as a result why they hired you.
Tim: Well, when we go in to pitch we don’t sends a swanky sales guy with a expensive suit and a terribly expensive haircut. I go, our project manager goes, the person they’re going to be working with. Our CEO goes. We go and we meet with them and we let them know that we are the ones, we’re during this work for them. We never outsource. We let them know the team members, they get introduced to our developers that are specifically on the project. They know that we’re here to be a part of their team, effectively. And with anything you know, in their minds they could think this is just lip service, you know I’ll say anything to get the job. But then we follow through with it. You know in a lot of cases it’s nice to start with an agency with, maybe not necessarily the full shebang, but start with a moderate or smaller project, a proof of concept.
Kunle: Okay, so they said with we have a problem with returns and with defaults, to actually recall defaults. Did you have to prototype anything or did you go there and demonstrate with your portfolio and… How did you demonstrate an understanding of the problem and demonstrate the fact that you could solve the problem?
Tim: Well, for us you know we have a really great collection of work experiences, right? And so when we came in with the proposal for this parts ordering system, you know we understood that they’re going to going to be getting from manufacturers files in various formats and we could speak to that. We could say, ‘Look we know it’s very likely that all your schematics are in Illustrator format and we understand that and we can take that and work with that.’ So we think of the problems that were going to face ahead of time and we don’t come in with just a problem, we come with a solution for everything.
Kunle: Okay, okay. So I’m going to draw a conclusion here for listeners who are retailers. So the agencies that demonstrate the most in-depth understanding of your problem, plus also demonstrate or give a solution upfront to your problem, and also demonstrate the fact that they have a team, you actually meet team members who you’re likely to be going to work with… Are likely to be shortlisted as agencies. Is that a good picture, or?
Tim: If I was a merchant that’s what I would be looking for. I would be looking for someone who’s going to have excellent communication, who’s not afraid to show, you know let me meet a developer from their team. Make sure if you’re going with an agency that you have a contract that they are not allowed to subcontract this work. You want to make sure that the people that have sold you on that have made you, you know it’s a risk and it’s an investment emotionally and monetarily…
Kunle: I’ll just chip in there. There’re lots here in the UK, so London’s is obviously the most vibrant city in the country so what tends to happen is that a lot of work is picked up from London. Lots of work, huge projects, enterprise projects. And then [laughs] the agencies that win, the so-called ‘codes and quality agencies’ that win could be one-man bands or max two – three people, just salespeople and then they take it up north, to agencies up north to implement, like in Manchester and Liverpool.
Tim: That’s hilarious because the same thing happens in the United States. There’s big names over in New York who sell these outrageously expensive projects. And then they come looking to the Midwest, to Chicago, to Cleveland, in those areas to actually get the work done. So we’re more than happy when they come to us but we make it clear that we don’t let them rebrand us. We say, ‘You’re going to introduce us as who we are, because we’re going to have the ongoing relationship.’ And more and more we’re actually finding that those businesses in New York are struggling to do this, the old shell game, on customers because the customers themselves are just looking to the Midwest to fill their technology needs.
Kunle: Direct to source, exactly. Direct to source. Okay. How should a store owner approach hiring slowly and, well, firing fast from an agency standpoint? And how did they structure the agreement to enable them to fire fast and higher slowly?
Tim: Well, for us the way we empower our clients, you know because we’re an agency, is we set very, very in depth before we get any final ink, on exactly what the project is going to be and what our timelines are. And we make very clear deadlines and we meet those deadlines. It’s important that you don’t go to an agency that’s just going to say, ‘Give us the money, will do the work and in three months we’re just going to hand you everything.’ So we are continually demoing things as were developing them to our client. We have our milestones and we meet them. And as a merchant that’s what you want to make sure you have, to protect yourself. Because if you set a milestone that you know, this feature’s going to be developed by the 1st of July and they’re not ready for, it’s July and the middle of July it’s still not ready, well that’s a good time to say they’re violating the contract and you can walk away. And you are in a position where you can do that because you’ve built it into the contract that you have these milestones. If a company is not willing to do that, if they’re resistant to putting milestones that allow you to break the contract, then that could be something of a red flag. Now, you know at times our clients have asked us to set milestones that were completely unrealistic and we told them, ‘We’re not going to not agree to that that milestone because we don’t do that; we’re not going to agree to that because you’ve waited way too long,’ [laughs] ‘and you may have a tradeshow and that’s great but but no one can get can realistically get this work done on time. And were not going to lie to you and say that we can.’
Kunle: Okay. And that transparency is really important. So even if you can’t hit it you give a more realistic new deadline and you hit it and then you just try and work something together with something else. Okay, in your current portfolio, looking at your current portfolio obviously you don’t need to look at it directly but [laughs] how much of your work is one time, like a one-time project like a redesign or a brand-new website, versus ongoing work?
Tim: Very, very little ends up being one time. We get a lot of leads that are just one time things with very smaller shops that don’t have much of a budget. It something could be as simple as, ‘Our SSL certificate for security is expiring and we help with that.’ And we say, ‘Okay, we like an ongoing relationship, we’ll come and do this work for you and keep our card on hand because if anything goes wrong or you have something else, come right back to us.’ And by leaving them satisfied, they always come back and it always gets becomes ongoing work. It may not be a tremendous amount of work, we may not be talking you know six figures of work but it’s ongoing work and it’s always better to have an established client you already know. You know their temperament, you know how to work with them, versus finding new clients. We enjoy that and we enjoy watching companies grow. So it’s a lot of smaller leads come in as one time things and they very rarely stay that way.
Kunle: Okay, so I get I guess another way of actually hiring a Magento agency going forward might be to give them you know one off work, see how you guys get along, see how they adhere to timelines and see how you guys just, you know work well together as a team and if that works out you could give them some more work.
Tim: Absolutely, if you are able to do that, if you don’t need an entire site built, it’s highly recommended. We don’t mind it and most agencies shouldn’t mind it. There’s nothing small potatoes to us, you know. Work is work and we’re happy to have it.
Kunle: Okay. Another question I have is for the newbie online listeners listening to this show, perhaps they’re on a platform and they want to move to Magento and they want to hire Magento agency. What should a team look like at the minimum?
Tim: So if you’re looking for a complete implementation, you’re definitely going to want to see a team with… If it’s just a regular store and it doesn’t require a great deal of customization or integrations in the back-end systems, it doesn’t need that big of a team. You know, you don’t want to look at someone who is an expert at Magento, at least one person that’s going to be on the project the whole time. The question always arises, ‘Will the agency be in charge of coordinating and handling the information technology aspects?’ but you want someone who’s going to help you qualify hosting providers. It’s always great to have an agency that has some in-house design. It’s not necessary. Maybe you have a little knack for design yourself. But it’s good to have people who are able to realize your vision and how the store should look.
And when migrating from any system one of the most critical and important things is to getting the data around. So, look for an agency that can show you that they have in the past successfully migrated from some other system into Magento. Very recently we assisted a company, an online retailer, in only a small way but using our expertise they needed to migrate several hundred thousand customer records with passwords that were hashed in a completely different algorithm then Magento uses. They didn’t want to burden their customers with all having to reset their password. And so we built them a customization to Magento security that allowed them to import their customers without having to reset the passwords. That kind of experience is really critical because, again if you’re moving platforms it should be transparent for your customers. We don’t want to make it a burden on them, we don’t want to make things difficult because then they’re not going to buy. So those are the kinds of things you want to look for.
Kunle: Okay, okay. And with regards to builds, actual site builds, say upgrades and brand-new websites or redesigns or redevelopments or overhauls, they’re quite big projects, they’re expensive they’re big they’re time-consuming. Should the eventual plan be to move the development in-house or to retain the services of the agency, or a bit of both depending on your circumstances as a retailer?
Tim: It all depends on if you can afford to have in-house development. If you can, that’s great. We actually support a very large retailer that’s both in-store retailer and an online retailer, who have their own development team. And we supplement things for them and we’ve worked as a training partner to teach their developers because, just like anyone else they can’t find Magento talent that specific. If a company’s large enough to consider having their own in-house developers, it’s always good to maintain a relationship, I believe, with an agency. Because although you can get your developers up to like 80 – 90% of understanding there may always be that 10% critical issue that could come up that you would only get by a broad experience in Magento, by having been on many, many sites that you would know, ‘Oh, I can recognize and solve this pretty quickly.’ So you know, even if you have the ability to have an in-house staff there’s really very little risk or harm in maintaining your relationship with an agency that will be able to help you in your times of crisis.
Kunle: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. Final question around Magento agencies, I’m going to just loop back to Envalo. How have you managed to build your team? What does your team look like at the moment and how have you managed to build your team over the years?
Tim: You know, our team is actually still rather small compared to probably some other agencies. We’ve trying not to overgrow; we don’t want to ever be in a position where we can’t support the people who have who have invested their time in being our employees. But we’ve been really fortunate by networking in the local Cleveland area. And by knowing many people, we’re exposed to more people that are potential employees and that has been really successful for us. We’ve actually had, we’ve turned our first intern from an intern into a full employee and he is amazing. And every time he checks in code, I’m so thankful that we managed to get him to choose us over another company for his internship. But you know, we look for people that are good at learning, people that are good at working with open source that we can teach. And that’s the kind of people that we’ve been successful in hiring at thus far.
Kunle: Okay, okay. Sounds like steady, smooth, well-calculated growth going forward. Okay. Are there any tools, books, and resources you’d recommend online retailers or retailers in general looking to hire developers, looking to hire technology talent that you’d recommend? It could be anything, it could be a website, it could be tools, it could be books, anything really, any resource.
Tim: Well as far as hiring goes, sadly I don’t know if I have any great recommendations on books or sites as far as the general process of hiring. I always just kind of go by a ‘from the gut’ feeling on it, but again I’m not in the same position as a merchant. So I don’t know I have a great recommendation on that.
Kunle: Okay. So finally, just before you say your goodbye, could you give our listeners one parting piece of advice? One. And let us know how we can reach you and find you.
Tim: Yeah, so I guess one parting piece of advice is, you know if you’re looking to hire people, look to hire people as though you’re getting into a relationship. Because retaining talent is difficult this day and age. And you have to really be on a personal relationship, whether it’s with your agency or with your employees, to keep great people around. And if anyone’s looking to get in contact with me you can find me on our website in envalo.com E-N-V-A-L-O, blogging all the time I have a blog post coming up this week on The Five Stages of Grief as a Magento Developer.
Kunle: Wow. We’ll link up to the blog post and your blog, for sure.
Team: Excellent. And I’m on Twitter, my twitter handle is linked on our website. I won’t say it because it’s not very easily spoken.
Kunle: We will link to your twitter handle too.
Tim: Wonderful. And yeah, you can see me on Magento Stack Exchange answering questions or on GitHub contributing to other people’s code, helping out.
Kunle: Good stuff. Good stuff, Tim. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you and thank you for sharing your insights into hiring Magento talent in general.
Tim: Will thanks for having me. This has been a lot of fun.
Kunle: Cheers, thanks. So guys if you’re still listening in, remember to leave us a review on iTunes because it helps us get out there and less I forget, there’s also a LinkedIn group called 2XE commerce. Just go into LinkedIn, go in to ‘groups’ and search ‘e-commerce’ and let’s get chatting! I l like to know more about the people who listen to the show, my audience, you my listeners. Tim, thank you so much and we’ll catch you next time guys.
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