Techcrunch gave a rave review of oDesk yesterday, which is prompting me to share some of our recent experiences with outsourcing. I started subcontracting some projects through Rent-A-Coder in November of last year and most of the experiences have been positive. I also tried out oDesk earlier this year, with less than stellar results.

Rent-A-Coder

Rent-a-Coder works on a per project basis – you throw out the project requirements, different people bid, and then you choose the combination of best price and reputation. Choosing coders is rather subjective – each coder or team has a profile, ratings, the number of previous projects, their prices, etc. – so it’s up to you to decide who you’re most comfortable with. The money is escrowed until the project is complete.

I started with small projects – little bits and pieces. Found a few coders who were pretty proficient and gave us top notch work. 23 projects (of various scopes) later, I’m still pretty satisfied. The most recent project, which was the biggest we submitted, we actually had to arbitrate. The work was of poor quality, the deadline was not met, and the whole thing was a waste of everyone’s time. Since the contract was not met, though, we got our money back from escrow. This is why I would recommend keep the projects small or breaking them up into smaller pieces.

oDesk

oDesk, on the other hand, is a system that lets you “rent” a coder at an hourly rate. They have software in place that lets you keep track of progress via screenshots, progress reports, and webcams. It’s a good idea in theory and I think the oDesk team has the best intentions in mind with their system.

However, our project, which was estimated to take X amount of time, ended up being a huge money pit. After bleeding a good chunk of money (they withdraw every week), we had to end and close out the project when it was only about 75% done due to the slow progress. We were only able to gauge this after several weeks had passed, though – after we had already paid the coder for work. We ended up finishing the project through Rent-A-Coder at a much lower price. To be fair – it was only 1 project so my experiences are limited, but I will never try them again – the experiment proved to be way too costly.

Techcrunch said of oDesk:

“oDesk is also unique in that it doesn’t fix the cost of a project, instead charging an hourly rate, which allows the project manager to use the providers as required”

Yeah, it’s unique, but not optimal. Paying per project is FAR better in my opinion. There’s no point in outsourcing if you have to babysit your coders on the progress every step of the way (which would be how you would prevent bleeding too much money via oDesk). I’d much rather pay per project. When the coders encounter technical issues (which ALWAYS happens), you’re not charged for the overtime of fixing them. oDesk is probably good for coders, but not for buyers. Another thing that left me a bit wary of oDesk is that coder reviews were almost all very low – it should probably have raised a flag for me.

If anyone else has outsourcing experiences they want to share, please feel free.