Tim Smith is a Partner at Bee Partners, a pre-seed venture capital firm working with machine learning, robotics, and synthetic biology startups.
Bee Partners + Crowdbotics
Tim Smith is an eight-time founder with over 25 years of experience spanning technology design, development, and marketing. In other words, he's well-acquainted with the challenges of building custom software. As he puts it, "You're not always sure what you're going to get with regard to the level of engineering support. You're constantly worried about consistency."
So when he decided to evaluate Crowdbotics as a third-party development partner, he was looking for very specific signs that we'd be a good fit. "We needed to see a procedural cadence for managing the product. That requires traditional stand-ups on a regular basis, carefully designed and pseudo-coded direction, and basically a tight iterative loop."
Two years after partnering with Crowdbotics, Bee Partners now provides its portfolio companies with "the type of support you would typically expect with a much later-stage venture capital firm." Says Tim, "We've had very consistent engineering, very consistent support, and huge flexibility with regard to what we can do." We recently sat down with Tim to discuss his Crowdbotics experience in greater detail.
Case Study Video Summary
On Needing Help with That Last Mile:
Tim: We're a small team, and the clearest way we can leverage the abilities of a small core team is primarily through data. Early on, we knew we could be the smartest small VC in the business given the resources we've got, and it's through understanding and manipulating data.
A typical CRM will deliver about 80% of what any entity might want to do. The real key is that last mile, that last 20% of the functionality that will be specific to your own needs. As we went out looking to evaluate what we needed to build, we wanted to start with the foundation of a good CRM, but that needed to be one we could extend aggressively through an open API. That led us to Copper as our CRM, but with the specific intent that we were going to extend it considerably.
On Choosing Crowdbotics:
Tim: What led us to begin working with Crowdbotics was a couple of things. One was a general frustration with the landscape of freelance development resources out there for the kind of work that we wanted to get done.
A clear motivation for us as a venture capital firm was to first look and see if we had resources within our own portfolio, and sure enough, Crowdbotics was an early investment for us. We have a close connection to the founder, Anand Kulkarni. That was a clear motivation for us to investigate very deeply what our own portfolio company could do for Bee Partners.
But the real motivation was a lack of the flexible resources to do the work we needed to accomplish over the next couple of years.
On Working with the Crowdbotics Team:
Tim: We had some initial reservations working with third-party freelance resources. You always have the time differential, the geo differential, they're not in the room with you.
Most importantly, we needed to see a procedural cadence for managing the product. One of the key aspects of how we have learned to build product has been fast iteration. That requires traditional stand-ups on a regular basis, carefully designed and pseudo-coded direction, and basically a tight iterative loop. Those were the concerns we had going into the relationship with Crowdbotics that were quickly resolved.
Two years in, we've got consistent product managers on the Crowdbotics side that help us along. We have daily stand-ups with our lead engineer in India, and that's worked extraordinarily well. We have extensive documentation online that we carefully manage through Adobe XD, where all of our requirements and design specs are housed, and all of our tracking with regard to milestones. So, those concerns have all been completely alleviated. The Crowdbotics team is almost like they're in the room with us.
On Crowdbotics' Dedicated Team and Consistent Support:
Tim: A major issue with using third-party developers is that you're not always sure what you're going to get with regard to the level of engineering support. You're constantly worried about consistency. Will there be turnover of the engineering team?
What drew us most to Crowdbotics was the flexibility in what we were able to build and the consistency of the support over the course of long projects. We've had very consistent engineering, very consistent support, and huge flexibility with regard to what we can do.
On Using the Right Tools for the Job:
Tim: The predominant stack we work with is Django with a Postgres database, hosted on a flexible cloud platform like Heroku. That allowed us to use Crowdbotics to build out that last 20% of what we needed.
Two years in now, we have a strong foundational CRM platform in Copper, but we've built out a custom extension through Crowdbotics and their judicious and professional use of the open API. This includes a wide array of open source libraries they have extensively catalogued that basically turn the code into a Lego box of parts that you can use to build consistently for a performant and custom platform you wouldn't otherwise be able to buy.
On Partnering with Crowdbotics for the Short and Long Term
Tim: The other exciting part about Crowdbotics is that it is a lease-versus-buy decision. You get not just competent professional front-end and back-end developers, but you also get devops as part of the package.
The implications of trying to keep a system up and running for years, with regard to changes in Python, in Django, or any of the libraries—that's all handled for you by Crowdbotics. You get a stable, performant, custom, bespoke platform for a fraction of the cost that you would normally spend.
On Building a Bridge to Better:
Tim: Now that we've built a sophisticated platform, we realize how much more we can build. We are now looking forward to opening up our portal to third parties, to bring them into our system in a controlled way. That's surprisingly difficult to do with the amount of data we use.
We're excited about that prospect, and it will be possible given the evolution of open source and the sophistication of the libraries we're yet to see, which Crowdbotics quickly ingests, tests, and curates to make sure they're okay for deployment. As we see these new things—they can be augmented reality, VR, computer vision, NLP, just a whole long tail of functionality—we will consider what makes sense for us and what we can do. For instance, we are looking at turning our entire portal into a responsive site so we can work mobile.
There's just an explosion of opportunity for us going forward. That's an embarrassment of riches, and we really have to constrain ourselves with our ambitions because of how empowered we have become with this enormous virtual engineering team at hand.
With Crowdbotics, the Power to Be a Giant
Tim: Crowdbotics has given us superpowers to extend a four-person team to evaluate more deals, to support our portfolio more effectively, and to apply the seven hundred bench resources we manage where they're needed in a timely fashion. What our portfolio companies get out of this system is the type of support you would typically expect with a much later-stage venture capital firm.