How Accelerance Goes to Market

Accelerance_Partner_LogoIn this short video, I interview Steve Mezak Founder and CEO of Accelerance, which helps companies offshore their software development.

About Accelerance

ISVs and IT departments have trouble hiring small teams of competent, cost effective programmers. Their need is too small for large, well-known outsourcing companies and they don’t have the expertise or months to spend, assess and select, best-fit software development partner somewhere else in the world.  Accelerance helps companies looking for an extended team of just a few, to a hundred developers. The company has assessed over 1,000’s of global software service companies which have between 50-1000 resources and today we have over 40 ACE (Accelerance Certified Expert) Software Development Partners in more than 20 countries.

About Steve Mezak

Steve fell in love with programming in High School using FORTRAN on punched cards back in 1972. A lot has changed in the world of software since then. After getting a degree in Computer Science in 1978 from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts, studying at City University in London in the process, he came to California to attend graduate school at UC Berkeley. He dropped out of graduate school to live the entrepreneurial dream in Silicon Valley.

In fact, after a few years his very first software startup was acquired and overnight his stock options made him a thousandaire. Happily this meager success was followed by larger ones including Aspect Development (sold to i2 for $9 Billion) and Digital Market (sold to Agile Software for $75 Million).

In his next startup in 1998 Steve used an outsourced team of Russian programmers in St. Petersburg. They were good.  So good that after his dot-com folded Steve started Accelerance in 2001, to represent this Russian software development company in the U.S.

Although Accelerance completed several successful projects, it encountered a more fundamental client problem. Around 2002 it became “easy” to find outsourced software development firms –it seemed like anyone with a brother in Bangalore or a cousin in Kiev was offering software development services.  The problem clients had was how to pick a service firm that could really deliver. In other words how to separate the companies with only a sales guy who could talk a good game from the companies who were really expert at software development (and coincidentally, usually had limited sales and marketing experience).

That’s when the Accelerance network of certified outsourcing partners was born. With Steve’s technical background he was able to separate the wheat from the chaff, the technically excellent firms with the right corporate culture from the posers who don’t deliver.  Along the way he wrote the book Software without Borders: A Step-By-Step Guide to Outsourcing Your Software Development, about what is important in selecting a global software development firm.

How Accelerance Goes to Market

Transcript

Hugh: Hi Steve, good to have you with us. I’ve got Steve Mezak, founder and COO of Accelerance with us. Steve, glad that you could join us.

Steve: Sure.

Hugh: Hey, let’s start out; I’d like to have you tell folks what Accelerance does, who you sell to, and what the value is. What do you bring to your customers?

Steve: OK. Sure. We have a network of companies around the world that provide software development services. So the problem we solve really, for clients here in North America is finding a company that’s good, that knows what they’re doing, that knows how to develop software. The challenges that our clients are facing is that they need to ramp up a software developing team.

They have trouble hiring programmers. They can’t even get enough candidates locally, so they have to outsource. That’s a huge jump. It’s a big, scary thing for them, because you know, for us in the United States, we know there’s Canada in the north and Mexico in the south and after that it’s kind of all a blur.

But seriously, to do it right, we take months of time to go around the world, find these companies, evaluate them in some way, and maybe even visit if it’s critical enough for you. Well we’ve done all of that ahead of time, so we cut that process down to just a few days with our referral service. On top of that, the referral service is free. This year, we’re also introducing consulting services because although we are ready to go with a solution, often clients don’t even know what the problem is.

If they’re looking to hire a programming team, sure, then that’s obviously what we’re doing and we’re helping in that sourcing process. But often times they also just have a number of different business initiatives. Maybe they have new products they’re trying to introduce; they’re not sure how to write the specs, or what specs are needed.

So now we have consulting services to help with that process on-site. Expert consultants, North American guys and gals that know what they’re doing and have years and decades of experience. Then we can bring in offshore resources if necessary from one of our certified software development partners.

Hugh: Well, that’s great. Tell us how you go to market. How do you get to your customers? How do you present what you have to offer?

Steve: Well, you know, it’s a number of things. I’m a technical guy, so I’m always thinking ‘build a better mousetrap’ and people will beat a path to your door, and these days that means they’ll find you on the internet. We put a lot of effort into having a great website, having a blog with relevant content that isn’t just about us, but about the problems and challenges that our clients face. So that’s one thing.

The second thing is we’re very active on LinkedIn. Of course everybody knows in the business to business world, LinkedIn is the place to go to network. So we’re active in making connections and with sending out messages periodically to our network to see if we can help, to see if they know people that need the help, the kind of help that we provide.

Then, thirdly, we do some speaking engagements and things like that around the world. It’s kind of interesting because we’re approaching two audiences. I’ve already mentioned the clients here in North America that need software development services, need to hire programmers, need to solve business problems with IT and technology.

But there’s also the companies offshore that offer these services. They’re in this hugely crowded market, this global market. It’s hard to get above the noise. So we’re also offering, in a sense, a service to them, to help them understand how to market and position themselves better. Often they’re really great technically, sales and marketing, not so much. So they need our help with that as well.

Hugh: Yep, that makes sense. So you’ve got two major audiences, a number of ways of approaching them. Tell me, of those sort of modes of communication, what’s working really well for you? What needs some tweaking? What’s been your experience with things like LinkedIn?

Steve: I think without us, most clients try to work their own personal networks, both clients who need programming services and also the companies that are providing software development services. They try to access their network, their friends, their relatives. They ask questions, ask for personal referrals. We’re trying to really energize that, to leverage that.

We use technology; use the internet to leverage that same kind of relationship building. But it takes time, it takes a consistent effort. We do email campaigns as well as messaging on LinkedIn, and the people aren’t always ready, but we try to provide entertaining, useful content so that we remain top of the mind.

I think that’s what works. We have people contact us after years, like four or five years, of being on our email list. Like, “Now I have a need, now I can need your services.” We’re happy to, let’s say entertain them, in the meantime until they have that need.

Hugh: Now you’ve been working in this offshoring space for a number of years and through a couple of cycles. I’ve known you for a long time. What’s your biggest takeaway? What have you learned that maybe surprised you or still amazes you, day to day, about the world that you’re in?

Steve: I’d say it’s that there’s smart people everywhere. I’m always amazed when I travel. I have another trip coming up to Asia in another month or two. I’ve been to Eastern Europe last time. I went to Bolivia a year and a half ago and they asked me to speak at a university. I’m thinking “OK, I’m going to be speaking in English,” because, like many Americans, I’m unilingual. I have a whole theory as to why that is, why Americans are that way. But everybody there spoke perfect English, and I couldn’t get over it.

The students, the young people, their English was excellent, and they understood, not only that but they were really into the whole entrepreneurial scene and startups, and the whole online services and software as a service kind of stuff that’s going on. So that always amazes me.

Similarly, I was in Minsk, in Belarus, I mean both Bolivia and Belarus. I mean, are they even countries? Most Americans couldn’t find them on the map, but these guys are smart. English skills, entrepreneurial spirit, it’s everywhere.

Hugh: That is a great takeaway. Well, Steve thanks so much for taking time with us. I really appreciate it.

Steve: Sure. You’re welcome.

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