Tech Team Switch Helps Startup
Go from Stalled to Launched
In app development, process matters
as much a great idea.
Early last year, Dan Laux, founder of Phoenix-based Driver Alliance, found himself in an uncomfortable position.
He had a great concept: an app that helps drivers with DUI arrests navigate the legal system to regain their driving privileges as soon as possible.
He’d attracted first-round funding, and hired a friend who runs a digital marketing firm to develop the app.
But months after project kickoff, the app wasn’t finished. Laux began to doubt it ever would be, because the app kept expanding.
“Scope creep,” Laux says now, in the relaxed but confident tone that comes with having worked his way through a problem. “Rookie mistake. We wanted it to be a ‘boil the ocean’ app so good it would prevent imitation. We didn’t follow the rules of agile software development.
“Net result, we’d spent time and money building an app that was not functioning properly, and were unsure about the need for a lot of what we were building. Worse yet, our initial funding round was running out.”
Laux posed his problem to a business roundtable organized by veteran Phoenix business leader, Jim Wichterman. Troy Anderson, CEO of Scottsdale-based software development firm Allied Code, attended the meeting.
“Troy asked a few questions, offered a few comments,” Laux said. “I knew I needed to buy this guy lunch.”
On a hot spring day outside a burger place, Laux and Driver Alliance co-founder, Bill Greene, asked Anderson if he would assume technical leadership of the app project. Anderson agreed, but raised a delicate topic: the development team.
“I respect relationships and want to keep existing teams whenever possible,” Anderson says. “Especially in this case, because Dan had hired a friend. But whereas his friend excelled at digital marketing, software development projects of this scope were outside his wheelhouse.”
The next question was what the new development team would work with. Was the existing code salvageable?
“The problem with a non-agile approach to app development is that you spend too long getting to your MVP – your minimally viable product,” Anderson explains. “The purpose of an MVP is to field an app early in the process, so we can learn what the market will accept and reject.”
“After four months,” Laux added, “Bill and I no longer wanted our initial concept, because we’d learned it wasn’t what the market wants. So we sucked it up and said, ‘OK, we can rewrite this.’”
Both Laux and Anderson shopped for new developers, and invited a total of five candidates to interview. Notably, four of the developers were Phoenix locals. “Our original development team was Eastern European,” Laux says. “Offshoring to save costs hurt us. Troy told us he’d make us better consumers of technology, and that proved true right away.”
Meanwhile, Laux and Greene went back to their initial investors to raise a second round of capital. This could have been a tough sell – after all, the result of the first round of funding ended up in the digital trashcan. But the investors retained belief in Driver Alliance’s mission, and Anderson’s agile approach added to their confidence.
Under Anderson’s direction, the new development team produced an MVP for Driver Alliance in just nine weeks. Next came market testing, which garnered strong interest.
Laux is happy. “We launched our MVP on time and to spec,” he says. “We’ve proved the Driver Alliance concept in Arizona and are launching it across America. We will continue to evolve the product as we gather more customer feedback. Our most recent capital round enables us to develop additional features as the marketplace demands.
“Troy was critical to this turnaround,” Laux adds. “He acted as translator. He understood business, understood project and program management, as well as the technical side. Through the discovery process, the design process, we had an intermediary who made us all work better.
“Troy is now our outsourced CTO. He’s helping with our corporate technology, in addition to the Driver Alliance product. He just led our software development and sales teams through agile methodology training, to help make their work more efficient and collaborative.
“It’s been great to benefit from Troy’s vast knowledge of IT and software, and also his business experience to understand how these tools are best utilized.”
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