(The best way obviously is to talk to ContractIQ.)
So you are a startup! You are looking to hire a dev agency. You find one which is a good technological fit and a good cultural fit. Now, you want to vet them by asking for references. “Let us talk to two happy clients and we will hire you” is the known way.
Stop! There is a better way, and it’s still a secret. The “Let me talk to one unhappy client, who you parted ways with” way!
Why is it any better than talking to a happy client?
1. You get to see how the agency deals with things when they aren’t going according to the plan. (Your project too, will not go according to plan!)
2. You get to see how honest the company is. If they say “we have no unhappy clients who we parted ways with” they are probably lying. If they have been in the business for any length of time it would have happened. It’s the law of averages!
3. You get to ask the agency some insightful questions, on how they institutionalized their learnings, so that mistakes and risks do not re-surface.
1. The reference might not talk to you as they may not want to burn bridges. Don’t take this as a huge negative.
2. The reference might have bad experiences to recount. Keep that in perspective, you have this reference as a “Unhappy Client”.
3. The company may be wary of providing this kind of reference. In that case ask for a past happy client, but who is not a current client.
4. If there are no unhappy clients, at least ask for references from ‘less satisfied’ clients
Do remember that “satisfaction” depends on expectations and there are clients that carry untenable expectations. This reference exercise is not to find why your vendor is bad, but how they’ve continuously improved with every experience. You’re going to be in the business with them for a long time. It just makes sense to be sure that you vendor only gets better with the days, like maturing wine!
If you don’t know what to ask in a reference conversation, leave it to the pro’s like ContractIQ. We have been vetted by them, and I saw the rigour of the vetting process firsthand. I learnt a number of things which our clients were more comfortable telling to a third party like ContractIQ rather than me!
This is an article by Shabda Raaj of Agiliq. They build amazing apps for Mobile and Web and have a blog where they write about Django, Android and iOS development. Their reference customers gave 4 or 5 out of 5 on 20 aspects of external product development, which is the best as you can aspire for!