Do you know what Duolingo, Calgon and Velocity World Media have in common? These companies are all from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Over the last two decades, Pittsburgh has been investing heavily in its technology ecosystem and was named one of the tech hubs to watch in 2018. Giants like Uber, Facebook, Google and Amazon have already opened research centers in the city.
A growing number of accelerators, including Ascender, New Sun Rising, AlphaLab, and Idea Foundry, help startups take their first steps and are turning Pittsburgh into a tech heaven for young and evolving companies.
Nivo1, another rising startup from Pittsburgh, started working with iTechArt back in 2016. We recently asked David Busch ( Chief Executive Officer ) and Michael Christ ( Director of Software Development ) what it’s like to develop a SaaS solution from scratch.
The product: AP Express
AP Express is a cloud-based solution designed to automate accounts payable processing. By integrating with a client’s ERP system - be it Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, or Microsoft Dynamics AX - the app provides seamless invoice processing while reducing data entry time and errors. There is also a mobile app for workflow management.
Image credit: www.nivo1.com
Our conversation started with David Busch, CEO of Nivo1, and this is what we learned about working with our team.
How did you get the idea for AP Express?
Invoice automation is sort of a challenge for many companies that are dealing with many contractors. We did some research and found a few solutions for automation of account payable, but they were very expensive. Companies were paying anywhere from $100K - $500K.
Because of the resources we have, I knew we could build a cloud solution that would cost less. Now, two years after we’ve started to market our accounts payable solution (AP Express), companies pay only about $5,000 per month, so it saves a lot of money upfront. That’s one of our key differentiators.
How did you build your current team? What made you decide to contact iTechArt?
We had been using an outsourcing company from India and we were very unhappy. The quality of services was not good. Someone referred us to iTechArt, and we contacted you guys. It ended up being one of the best calls we’ve ever made.
We started with just one developer from iTechArt and now we have eight full-time team members. The results have been fantastic! The quality of the work is extremely high. We would much rather hire someone from iTechArt than look locally. That’s how much success we get from you guys.
What would you say to one of our prospective customers if they asked you what it was like working with iTechArt?
When you’re a startup, you have limited resources. However, you still need a highly-qualified development staff. That’s why iTechArt worked for us and why we think it would work for any startup. It’s just a smart decision. You eliminate all the excess costs associated with hiring full time in-house developers. And the truth is, you get better developers from iTechArt.
Working with iTechArt, we can just pick up the phone and say we need a Java developer with this specific skill set and Kate (our Account Manager) is able to find the right person for us much faster than if we tried to find them in Pittsburgh.
How much faster?
It would take us a month (if not six) to find somebody that good. iTechArt is able to put the right people in front of us in a week.
There is always room for improvement, so are there any tips or recommendations on how we can do even better?
I’m a huge fan of iTechArt. We’ve been so happy with Kate and with all our engineers. Also, I only hear Michael (Nivo1’s Director of Software Development ) saying nice things about you guys, and I see the results too. From my perspective, I don’t think I can be happier. I feel like iTechArt is an extension of my own company. So you have a big fan in me.
Nivo1 from a technical perspective
Here are some thoughts from our conversation with Nivo1 Director of Software Development, Michael Christ.
AP Express was created using Java. What made you decide to go with Java over other programming languages?
Well, it’s transferable across platforms. It’s established and there is a lot of talent available to create Java applications. In our situation, there is always a chance that someone is going to move on and be replaced by someone else. Java has wide support and a lot of talent who can work with the language. This makes it easier for the next person to come in and pick up where someone else left off.
Why did you choose iTechArt?
We were using an Indian firm for development and there were a lot of challenges with the work they were giving us. A member of our company reached out to a friend and he recommended iTechArt.
Shortly after that I spoke to the US representative in New York. When I asked him why we should choose iTechArt, his response was “You’ll hear the word ‘No’ a lot more from us than you hear it from India.” And I knew exactly what he meant.
What experience and background were you looking for in your team?
What I’m mostly interested in is someone who has experience in the full development of a web application. We are still relatively small and the tasks I give can be related to any aspect of development.
The other thing I’ve been looking for is independence: people who can be proactive, make decisions on their own and come back to me with questions. This is our first cloud application and if someone else has done something similar, I welcome people suggesting that we do it differently than I originally suggested.
What do you like about your current team?
All the things I’ve mentioned. They are very bright and produce excellent results. They understand the technology very well and they know how to apply it.
I’ve learned is to adjust my style so that everyone is crystal clear on the tasks assigned. To take advantage of the time difference, I need to have clear direction and clear documentation. If I can be clear upfront, they don’t have to redo the work. Having been a developer for many years, I spent a lot of time coding solutions and there were cases when a person I’m doing it for would tell me, “No that’s not what I meant.”
It seems like you’re an ideal client...
Maybe. I hope so, because that means both teams are happy with each other and that’s a win for everybody. I think this might be a result of me having been a consultant for 25 years. If you feel like you’re part of a team, then that’s an advantage. I think that’s one of the things we do well. We extend to our partners a sense that we are all in this together. If you don’t treat people the right way, then it’s not gonna work out. It doesn’t matter the industry, it doesn’t matter the business.
How would you compare your product from when you first started to where you are now?
It’s a real product now. When we started with iTechArt, we were just beginning to have a sellable product. We recognized that there were a lot of features that we needed to add and we didn’t have an onshore developer that could do the work. So we’ve extended the functionality of our application with a number of products...all with the help of iTechArt engineers.
Any tips on how to come up with a successful engineering team?
If your customers understand what I’ve learned about how to work with the engineers, if they understand that, then chances are they’re gonna have a good experience.
Organize yourself and make sure that you coordinate tasks in order to take advantage of the time difference. Also, make the documentation as clear as possible. If a potential client doesn’t have these skills and is not willing to step up and make changes themselves, then they are going to be frustrated. But that would be their fault, not your engineer’s fault.
Nivo1 (in the middle) and its team from iTechart