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How to Build a Web Development Services Business (Episode 84)

Ryan Vice is the co-founder and CEO of Vice Software, which provides cost-effective web development services. He has 20 years of shipping software experience, six years of experience building high-velocity development teams, and has published two books.

He’s been awarded Microsoft’s MVP award three times, and decided to transfer his skills to the entrepreneurial space. 

Working for a successful entrepreneur in the 70’s meant that Ryan was able to experience all kinds of cool things – including (at the time), personal computers.

They were fairly new, and when he was introduced to the idea of coding, which would control the computer, he thought, “I should study this.”

Ryan ended up taking programming classes – just really basic stuff – but that was his first taste, and realized it was something he really enjoyed. From there, it became a hobby.

Meanwhile, when his parents separated, his life experience started to change. He saw two very different sides of the social spectrum. He was living in extremely poor circumstances in Louisiana with his mother, but a comfortable life with his father overseas in multiple different countries.

Because of this, when he was in the states, he didn’t have access to computers very often. It wasn’t until he was accepted to college a year later that he continued his programming journey. He was motivated by Pixar. He thought Pixar movies were really cool, and wanted to get into computer graphics.

After school, he went on the business route rather than the design route. He recognized he wasn’t going to get paid very much if he was programming video games, and decided that if he was working with code, it wouldn’t matter either way.

This led to a 10 year phase of fighting to keep a job and master his craft, after which Ryan moved to Austin and his career exploded.

He got his first MVP award, and started getting book deals.

It solidified his desire to be a consultant.

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Starting Your “Side-Hustle”

As stated above, Ryan had exposure to entrepreneurs at a young age. He still remembers his dad explaining to him what entrepreneurship was, so he always knew about it and thought it was cool.

His father would come home and have night league dinner table pitches:

“What about a company that does [this]?”

His father had some success in the entrepreneurial space, but his company in Singapore  ended up fizzling out. He moved on and had a lot of success in the corporate side using the skills he had built. 

This was the seed that would eventually lead to Ryan taking the reins and setting off himself to start his own company.

From his experience, Ryan believes you can summarize the different ways to start a business in two categories.

1) Fake it till you make it

With this approach, you’re working your day job, you’ve got your LLC and your business partner website, and you’re just going around telling people about what you do in an informal way. 

2) All or nothing

Usually this tactic involves saving up a bunch of money, and then going all-out. You quit your day job, get out your “roadmap”, and you hire some people straight out of the gate. 

For Ryan, who had a wife, children, and a lifestyle to maintain, the first route was his only option. He and a partner he had been working with for some time, decided to take the chance and see if they could turn their experience and unique skills into a fully-functioning, highly-efficient team.

Transitioning a Side Hustle Into Your Day Job

Ryan always had a main contract that didn’t involve an offshore team, so he chose to negotiate those contracts part-time, 35 hours a week.

Finally, his side hustle got enough business where he could essentially quit his day job and focus his attention on his new project.

He was able to switch from survival to sustainable in about three to four years. Initially, Ryan thought it would only take two years, but reality is often different than our expectations.

At this point, they got on a growth path, and what really allowed them to be successful was a value he was inspired by from a podcast he listened to: making sure clients were happy. 

He decided to quantify that into some of their core values, and in turn their company has a completely different culture and growth pattern. This podcast principle turned into two specific points:

  1. Customers should be comfortable with their invoices. 
  2. Never give anything away for free.

Vice Software Web Development Services

Vice Software doesn’t operate like most development companies – instead they utilize modern toolkits and global distributed teams. 

Over the past three years, Ryan and his company has achieved 50% year on year growth, as the team grew from 15 to 45. 

Their overall mission is to make software affordable and predictable, which is a more difficult mission than they first imagined. 

The opportunity they noticed was that, in reference to software, people care about the quality, and they care about the budget. Most of the time, the timeline isn’t that critical.

They decided to add that to the mission.

During the first phase, when they have an offer for a project, the first thing the team does is get on the phone, or a zoom call, and talk through the basics. They estimate, depending on the specific project, what the timeline would be.

The next phase takes 20 to 40 hours: development specification. So if you’re building a custom home, once you finish the first phase, you have the architectural diagrams, and that makes the next steps much easier. That’s when they start to work on the infrastructure: creating a line-by-line estimate.

Once this is finished, they finally have an estimate that they can commit to. When you’re building a custom home, you’re not going to walk in afterwards and, seeing the kitchen, decide it needs a bit more tweaking. With software, that always happens.

That’s what Vice Software web development services are all about. They choose to put a padding of about 30% on their estimates, which accounts for the usual difference of 15%, with another 15% of wiggle room.

Until clients start using the software, they won’t know exactly what needs to be done.

The 4 Keys to Success

Originally, Ryan and his team had five keys to success, but they’ve distilled it down into four key factors.

They believe that if you’re smart about your: Team, Tools, Process, and Features, you’ll be able to accomplish an affordable, predictable goal.

The Team

Ryan very strategically and intentionally distributes his team. They use economies of scale and keep track of their most expensive resources. They always look for the best that they can find high quality, affordable developers, to manage in the U.S., so they have access to high-end architecture and design when they need it, but only when they need it.

The Tools

First, Ryan and his team do a lot with Facebook’s framework called React. Ryan’s second book was actually all about React. It’s a toolkit that allows you, using only one programming language, to write apps, web applications, mobile applications, backend systems, and nearly anything else you could need.

You can even store data using Json, which is a Java script format. This allowed them to hire strategically, depending on the engineers that are needed. 

As your team gets bigger, you need to have quality assurance and project management across all those teams. Using the React framework, they were able to take a small team of five developers and meet the needs of their clients without having to pay a lot of specialized engineers that, when not needed, must have something to keep them busy.

The Process

The most important thing when it comes to the process is making sure that you’re updating consistently.

Whenever something goes wrong, use it as an opportunity to make it better. Stay informed on the newest movements in your industry.

The Features

For those who enjoy watching HGTV, and real estate shows, this example is for you. 

Someone will work with an agent and give them their list of “must-haves.” The real estate agent then shows them a house that checks all the boxes: $2 million. The buyer usually gets flustered or confused, because their budget is half a million. This allows the realtor the chance to reset their expectations for their budget and context.

You need to be ready to help people ask themselves what they really need. What can they really afford? Software can be incredibly expensive, so you need to make sure that you build the absolute simplest thing you can, and get it in front of your customers as early as possible.

Wrapping up

To find out more about Ryan and his web development services, you can connect with him quickly through his website, Vice Software. For more content like this, explore podcasts, blogs, and other free resources here.