Technology outsourcing firms might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about where the next major tech innovation might come from.
But increasingly, firms like Egen Solutions are helping companies — from the Fortune 500 to smaller startups — navigate the path to business growth.
Raghu Potini, Egen’s CEO, came on the podcast to shed light on how the Chicago-headquartered company works with businesses on application development, IT modernization and other digital services.
With more than 200 engineers and dedicated R&D teams, Egen has the room and the manpower to experiment, while ensuring the user experience is always improving.
An abridged version of the interview follows.
Iterate ‘as fast as you can’
Scott: Sometimes people worry that outsourcing work can lead to poorer quality because it’s cheaper. But a lot of times, it’s the fact that companies don’t fully understand what they’re building. You understand what you want to build, but you don’t actually know what you’re building. How does a company engage with you?
Raghu: Some of the entrepreneurs don’t have any tech background. They’re working in a bank or an insurance company, and they have this new idea they think is the next Airbnb. They come to us and, before even the technology, we will really help them define the problem clearly. What does it take to really take this product to the market? How fast can we get there? That’s where we really bring value.
Some of these companies have to figure out how to do everything themselves, things like product-market fit, sales, revenue models and technology or talent. We have traveled the path in the past and can really reduce the time. And that’s so critical.
Scott: That ability to be building in perpetuity, as opposed to build, stop, wait, start over is key. It’s one of the key differentiators between those that make it and those who don’t.
Raghu: Sometimes, a small startup company can’t afford to have a dedicated R&D team testing things and figuring it out, so we do it for them. If someone like Amazon Web Services or Azure launches a new service, we jump on it in less than 24 hours, to see what it means for our customers.
Another thing that we found out was, in the initial building of a product, you have to go A to Z in one iteration. You can’t just get stuck on at a B level for three months. Just go on with one iteration as fast as you can. So we understand the complexity, all the nuances early on. Some of the product companies and technology entrepreneurs know they have this big vision, and they’re stuck at stage B. They don’t even know what C is. C brings the complexity. Z brings the clarity. I always tell our engineers and product teams — go with the entire vision, one iteration end-to-end.
What do you need?
Scott: Walk me through the actual business. If I’m going to hire you, what does it look like?
Raghu: We have three different types of customers come to us. One is an entrepreneur who just has this idea. We can do everything for them. We have a product team who can really strategize the product and see the design analysis and all that stuff. And then we have a UX team, a development team, I mean end to end.
Some customers have a legacy, I mean on-premises software, and they want really modernizing. We’ll go in and use the latest architectures and tools in a way that really transforms their business.
The third type already has a product, but need help scaling up. They need a lot more helping hands to get some other work done. They know that in the next year they need a few more engineers and architects to be on the ground and just get the stuff done.
Scott: For some reason, some founders want to personally hire those first 50 people. They don’t want to bring in outside help. Do you try to convince those people to use your services?
Raghu: For most of these companies, this product is their baby, and they don’t want to give it to anyone that won’t protect it. We have some customers who have approached other groups, and they can tell they don’t feel like part of the team. When they talk to us, they feel that our teams are part of their team. From day one, our engineers sit next to their engineers.
When we hire an engineer, we hire them with that mindset. This is not your typical, “I’m an order taker” kind of job. It’s more of a startup. A lot of unknowns, a lot of complexities. How do you navigate these complexities and really make a difference to the customer? Those are the skills we bring from day one.
Buy it, don’t build it
Scott: What advice would you give an early-stage founder as to how to approach their tech build and future scaling?
Raghu: So one thing is build versus buy. What do you really want to spend money to build, and what are some things you can rent or buy from cloud providers? That is the first decision that we make. A lot of companies are worried about security. They think they can’t put things in the cloud and have to build it. But we’ve seen enough data points where it doesn’t make sense to build.
We have entrepreneurs who have built businesses, and they just wanted to do everything themselves. And then they lost a lot of time and money. Eventually they came to a point where they didn’t see the next step.
At the end of the day, you really want to focus on the end customer experience. You can get the product to market much faster if you don’t build every service and every component yourself. If you want to build everything on your own, it’s a trade-off.
Sometimes internal people second-guess their role when CEOs bring in outside help, and that’s where we always try to bring a balance. The next six months we will work with you to try to bring some of your talent to upscale and work together with our teams. I mean we really focus on making the product successful. That is the ultimate goal.
Check the backlog before you start product development
Scott: If you’re hiring only people you need, you have no ability to insource. But you’re augmenting a company’s team. You have this gigantic opportunity to build things in parallel and to test in real time, and I think that’s the advantage that the biggest, most powerful companies in the world have and sometimes don’t use. Startups don’t quite realize that one of the biggest benefits of working with you guys is going to be that they can actually test and build new stuff in real time. That to me is the biggest value of what you guys do.
Raghu: Right, we have our dedicated research and strategy team. Their job is to continuously look for new opportunities. We continuously scan all the signals, and if there is any idea that we think could really make a difference for our customers, we proactively build it.
And sometimes, when we go into organizations, the founders have all these ideas but don’t really know how to bring them to life. And that’s where we have these R&D teams continuously taking those ideas and showing them the possibilities. Another thing we do in any new relationship is look at the backlog. Let’s get some clarity on the product backlog, and then we will start the product development.
I’ve pushed back many times on some of our customers. They say, okay, I need a team. And I’ll say, not yet. That’s where people always say partner versus vendor mindset. We are all about outcomes. In the service space, there’s a lot of hype and effort, but no one gets paid for effort. It’s all about results. So let’s agree on some outcomes and results that we’re expecting. And then the teams should be on the same page. I tell some of our customers to pay us by outcomes, not by number of teams or resources.