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Overcoming challenges

At, we never had it easy! I have changed teams many times over the last 4 yrs. At the beginning, I had a great team, but due to various issues, the team under performed. Then there was a period of about 15 months where no real development took place. In 2008, I outsourced complete development to an Indian company. This relationship also came to an end in 2010. Since then I courted with two individuals. These relationships ended well before they got going.

Not ready to give up, once again, outsourcing looked promising. But having to work through project managers and detailed specifications continued to put me off. So I have decided to try a new tact, employment, but with a twist!

So what is the twist? I want to make sure this falls inline with our long term strategy, which is to build a strong in-house team. I also want to ensure this strategy does not result in hire and fire if our finances dry up. With this in mind, I have started to seek a developer from abroad, starting from Sri Lanka.

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Having thought about this in great depth, I cannot wonder why it took me this long to try this out. So how do you proceed with recruiting an overseas developer as your first employee? I was planning to try a job board recommended by a friend, which would have been a long drawn out process. In the meantime, another friend suggested an ex-employee, whom he put me in touch with. But how do you make sure s/he is the right fit for your startup?

This is the process I have devised:

  1. Email interview – questions and answers
  2. Skype interview – strengthen the email discussions
  3. In person interview with a friend who happens to lead a software development company
  4. Develop a mini module and test it for quality of coding and speed of delivery

Then a three months probation period on full salary. What I am not sure at this stage is about the international labour laws. I was not going to blog about this, but my friend, Joel Gascoigne of Buffer twisted my arm, so here I am sharing my current challenges, once again!

I love to hear your experience of hiring overseas developers as employees, to work from their country of residence.


  • Not worked in this way as generally use freelancers, but I guess a lot depends on where the employee is based. If they are from Sri Lanka and come to work in the UK, I expect you’ll need work permits at a minimum. If they stay in Sri Lanka but work for you, then I’m not sure – but may be worth asking why companies generally set up an offshore company rather than employing directly from the UK?

    Do you know a friendly corporate or employment lawyer you could get a free 30 minutes with?

    A quick Google search for “employing foreign developers” pulled up these interesting sites:

    Hope this helps!


    • Anonymous

      Whilst I mentioned the legal concerns, to be frank with you, its not a major concern for me at present. If we build the team to a sizeable number, then it ought to be something we need to take into consideration.

      The Sri Lankan developer will work from his home in Sri Lanka, nor difference to a freelancer, except he is employed by us. The recent we cannot employ locally is that we do not have sufficient revenues to offset the costs. Secondly, there are a number of other tech companies who operate this way. Ultimately, this could prove to be a strategic competitive advantage. Time will tell…

      • I agree that lower costs can be a significant competitive advantage. So what are your concerns over this? Quality of work, adherence to timescales, etc.?

        • Anonymous

          The test (item 4) will hopefully iron out quality of work concerns. The main concern is the level of knowledge. Ideally, I like a hacker rather than a traditional developer. Sri Lanka produces the latter, as a BPO destination. However, the chap I am interviewing has hacked a facebook app and keen to develop his skills. And he has been frank up front above his experience. Just need to run through the process to ensure a sensible level of due dilligence on my part. No one wins by hiring and firing, so extra time spent at this stage is vital for the long term success.

      • its a great idea.

        I have done this with – with a distributed team in Minsk, Thailand and India with me as Project Manager. It worked very well. It would have been improved if they were my employees (i.e. i bought all their available time) but instead I had their services as independents through

        All of this only works if you can work with the person daily. On my startup, we paired daily and met at a convenient time daily (as a Scrum).

        As I say the main issue was mental fatigue because they had other projects competing for their brain cells and sleep!

        Also a few years ago I hired 2 developers in India as my own employees and that worked less well, because the tech (this was 2000 – 2001) was not reliable enough to telework and they needed alot of collaboration. The dotCom bubble ended that adventure.

        You need a self starter and someone who you can infect with your enthusiasm for your vision. Someone who can build it when you’re not there. Otherwise you end up managing them all the time.

        Good luck Manoj and we should talk sometime (I’m a mate of Joel’s).

        • Anonymous

          Hi Mike, thanks for sharing your experience. Interesting business proposition you have with – I suppose it could be expanded to include anything, not just iPads.

          I am keen to employ this time rather than outsource or buy certain hours a day. Plus who knows, I might be able to squeeze few holidays to Sri Lanka on business.

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