Since I joined OfferZen just over a year ago, the OfferZen Make team and I have been exploring ways to help developers level up - not only by advancing their technical skills, but by increasing their self-determination, autonomy, and ability to make an impact.
“Make’s mission is to help software developers make more of an impact in the world and in their own lives.”
As our first foray into this mission, we launched OfferZen Make Days - full day learning events where we hosted 750 makers over 66 different Make Days in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. While we received really good feedback from people that attended the Make Days, we weren’t entirely sure if it was just the end-of-day snacks and drinks talking, or if the days were actually valuable to them. Then developers started to come back, bringing friends and colleagues with them - something we consider a pretty solid indicator of value.
Confident that we were delivering value to developers, we tested a monetisation model of asking companies to pay for their developers to attend Make Days. While some companies like the Takealot Group and Jumo had the drive and means to invest heavily in their developers, the Make Day offering didn’t seem to be solving a big enough problem for other companies. Without solid evidence of problem-solution fit for companies, we set out to rethink our approach to sustainably building a community that helps developers make an impact.
Looking at our learnings
After spending full days with hundreds of developers and having meetings with many companies, we came away with some key (generalised) learnings:
- Companies want more developer capacity to ship software.
This seems to be their number one problem.
- Developers see the ROI in investing in themselves. For companies on the other hand, the return is not as obvious.
Most companies don’t see a clear return on investment in helping their developers become generally more autonomous, confident and motivated - especially when the cost of this investment is developer time. Super interestingly, the freelance developers that came to Make Days were happy to give up their billable time to invest in themselves.
- Developers want to be part of a network of other developers, constantly up-skill, and increase their self-determination but find it hard to do this.
If they work at a company, the company is generally not incentivised to help developers do this. If they are freelancers, finding a real network to be a part of is difficult, and they need to spend a lot of time doing admin, sales and other things that make investing in themselves a low priority.
- Developers learn super fast when they’re doing things they’re interested in.
That’s why Make Days tend to work really well - we don’t force anyone to do anything. The self-determination creates motivation and seems to have an exponential effect on the rate of developer growth.
From here we set out to leverage these learnings in a way that places ‘making developers lives better’ at the core.
Our revised hypothesis
Given our mission, we revised our active hypothesis to the following:
“If we can monetise matching freelance developers in our community with meaningful projects, we can sustainably invest in levelling up and empowering our community to make more of an impact.”
The Make freelancing platform
To test this hypothesis, we created the Make freelancing platform where companies can hire freelance developers for software projects.
We’ve already completed a couple of missions, but for the moment are focused on getting a large number of freelance developers onto the platform by the end of the year. We’ll then focus on matching them with great freelance jobs in the new year.
Here’s how the platform works:
- Companies can create a “mission” specifying the project they need help with, online in a couple of minutes. Because the spec is quite technical, we only work with clients that are already building software and know what they want. We’re trying to avoid the “How much for an app?” type spec.
- Our team have a call with the company to ensure that their mission is scoped accurately. We also help the company manage what they can expect to pay for the type of developers they’re after.
- We find a single match for the project from our screened freelancers, and offer them the mission. There’s no bidding war for the freelancers, and no need to sort through profile after profile for the company.
- We set up the meeting between the developer and company, and handle the contracts, billing and admin. Because we assume that both the developer and company are competent, we don’t get involved in the project itself. We’re there to support the company and freelancer on the mission but leave the actual project work to the professionals.
We’re setting out to create a platform where freelancers can grow and find great jobs, while minimising the other hard things that come with freelance life.
Update (5 September 2019):
After running standalone Freelancing and Contracting services since the beginning of the year, we are going to be focusing on integrating our learnings into the core OfferZen platform. For now, we’re not taking on any new freelancers/contractors or company freelance missions.