Ways is an Oslo-based tech company that designs and develops Android and iOS applications for businesses from a wide range of different industries.
Last week, we had the opportunity to chat with Eivind Lindbråten, the Co-Founder of Ways. In just two short years, Eivind has gone from being a computer science graduate and freelance web developer to a business owner and manager. We couldn’t resist the chance to ask him about the things he’s learned on this journey.
Eivind also talked about the advantages of the remote model over working with freelancers, and his experience with Vladimir, a Ukrainian Android developer he hired through Grid Dynamics. You’ll find out more about these and other topics over the course of the interview.
Grid Dynamics: Eivind, could you start by telling us about what Ways does?
Ways is a small company that Knut Haugland and I started about a year and a half ago. Our primary focus is Android and iOS application development, but we do some web-related stuff as well. Our clients come to us with ideas for applications they want to see, and we take care of the rest — from research and design to the actual development.
Grid Dynamics: How did your company get started?
I met Knut about two years ago. At that time he was running an agency that did design, branding, and website development, while I’d been studying computer science at university for 6 years and doing some freelance web development as well. We started talking, and in the end decided that we wanted to start a business together. At first we tried to run both his old company and our new business at the same time, but quickly realized we wanted to pool all our efforts into the latter.
Grid Dynamics: Which tools do you use to manage your work and your employees?
We use GitHub for code sharing, collaboration, and version control, and Slack for communication. Slack is very convenient because it allows you to create dedicated channels and groups for different projects. It integrates beautifully with the other tools we use. For instance, whenever someone changes code on GitHub, we get a notification in one of our channels. Random talks and silly videos also have their place in Slack. Essentially, this tool is the central hub for all of our activities.
When it comes to project management tools, we use Trello. We’ve tried more complex tools, JIRA for one, but I feel like it has way more features than we actually need.
Grid Dynamics: What are your go-to online resources when you want to learn about the new tools on the market?
My favorite website is Product Hunt. They publish new apps or new versions of apps every day, so whenever I see a new tool, I try to estimate whether it could help us deal with some of our pain points or improve our workflow. If a certain tool looks promising, I always take a look at it.
Grid Dynamics: Do you follow any software development or project management methodologies?
I like the Agile methodology, but we can’t use it to its full capacity as we work with fixed costs and deadlines. I do try to introduce certain elements of Agile and Scrum into our work process. For example, we have an internal 2-week sprint setup.
We also use story points for estimation, which helps us train the entire team to get better at calculating how long their tasks will take and how much work they’ll actually be able to do within any given sprint.
Grid Dynamics: On average, how long does it take you to build an app?
That depends on the app, of course. One of the apps we’re working on has already taken 6 months, while another only took around 8 weeks. On the whole, I’d say that 3–4 months is the average for Android and iOS application development.
Grid Dynamics: Eivind, you’re a developer turned manager. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since you started leading and managing other people?
The single most important thing is finding the right people.
We’ve worked with some people who weren’t a good fit for our company in the past, and learned the hard way that outstanding development skills aren’t the most significant factor to look for in a potential employee. Far more important are an applicant’s people skills.
Grid Dynamics: Now that you have more experience in recruitment, how do you make sure the people you hire will be a good fit?
You need to spend quite a lot of time with a candidate you’re considering. It’s difficult to judge whether someone is going to be right for you based on just one interview.
When we just started out, we didn’t have the time to experiment. We’d simply take a look through the candidate's past work, interview them, and hire who we thought was best according to their skills.
Nowadays, I like to ask the people I’m interviewing to talk about the projects they’ve been especially proud of or particularly enjoyed working on. I want to see exactly what they’re passionate about, because I believe that you can only deliver good results if you work on something with genuine excitement. And, of course, we have a technical discussion as well.
Grid Dynamics: You obviously put a lot of emphasis on people, so you must invest plenty of time in team building activities, right?
Yes, that’s true. We have video conferences at least once a week, during which everybody can see each other and talk about their projects. This way, even though you’re only working on a small part of a given project, you still have a sense of what everybody else is doing, and where the company stands as a whole. We also organize parties after work for those who work with us in Oslo. Unfortunately, it’s hard to include remote workers in the same way.
Grid Dynamics: What prompted the decision to hire a developer remotely?
We landed a really big project and had to get to work fast. We knew we didn’t have enough people, so we started searching for candidates locally. We didn’t manage to find the requisite high-quality talent in such a tight timeframe. This was when Robin from Grid Dynamics contacted us. We arranged a meeting to discuss our needs, and everything sounded great from his side, so we decided to give the remote model a shot.
Grid Dynamics: Could you tell us more about this big project?
It’s the biggest project we’ve had to date. In Norway, and probably the rest of the world, food delivery is a huge thing, and there are now multiple companies doing it. Specifically, the company we’re working with wants to deliver lunches to large companies. What we’re doing is building three applications: one for customers, which will be used to select the desired lunch and order, one for restaurants, which they’ll use to process the orders, and one for drivers, which will show them the addresses and the amounts of food they need to pick up.
Grid Dynamics: Have you noticed any cultural differences while working with Vladimir, your remote Ukrainian engineer?
No, not really. We used to work with a lot of freelancers from different parts of the world, and we saw a lot of different working practices. However, I haven’t noticed any cultural differences to speak of while working with Vladimir.
Grid Dynamics: What would you say are the advantages of the remote model compared to working with freelancers?
On balance, I’d say that working with remote employees definitely has plenty of advantages over the freelance model.
Every company has its own ways of doing things, and whenever you engage a freelancer, you have to spend quite a lot of time explaining how things work. You also need to follow freelancers very closely to get the results you need, and their work schedules are almost always wobbly.
However, because a remote developer works fixed hours, you know exactly how much time they can put in and exactly when you can contact them. Furthermore, the onboarding process only happens once. The remote model is a lot more predictable.
Grid Dynamics: Many business owners, especially startup entrepreneurs, consider outsourcing to be too risky. What is the general view on outsourcing among Norway’s tech businesses?
I think there are a lot of companies in Norway that are anti-outsourcing, simply because they’ve outsourced to India and experienced a lot of difficulties in communication. The cultural aspect can also get in the way, because different cultures have different views and standards on how things should look and work.
What I like about Vladimir is that I don’t need to go into every detail when I give him a task. He always produces excellent results, and we never have to change anything. Vladimir and I think in a similar way.
Grid Dynamics: Did you have any concerns before you hired Vladimir through Grid Dynamics?
My concerns had more to do with whether I was qualified enough to do this. I started the company right after university, and there was certainly a lack of experience on my part, so I was worried about how Vladimir would perceive me. However, we seem to have figured everything out along the way.
Grid Dynamics: Can you share a few of the things you’ve been able to achieve thanks to your partnership with Grid Dynamics?
Vladimir has helped us with Android application development for two large projects. Thanks to him, we also professionalized the way that we work, because you can’t allow yourself to have a sloppy workflow when you have a remote developer.
Grid Dynamics: How has Grid Dynamics been performing from a project management standpoint?
We know how difficult it is to find high quality tech talent, so we really appreciate the fact that all the candidates Grid Dynamics found for us were top-shelf engineers, so that we only needed to choose the best from the best. The company has also been very fast to respond to us each time we got in contact, which is great as well.
Grid Dynamics: Finally, what are your plans concerning Ways? How would you like your business to evolve?
I don’t have any plans for the company to become huge. I’d like to work with more startups, and help them create cool new products. A lot of people approach us with fascinating ideas, but unfortunately we can’t take the risk of partnering with a startup at this point in time.
Ultimately, my goal is to only work on the projects I enjoy and to be able to say no to those that don’t interest me.
I want to build our reputation to the point that one day we have the luxury to turn down projects that don’t excite us.