Insights From CEO, Jason Roff
Let’s hear a little bit about your background.
I’m a software developer who has been developing since I was around 10 years old. I wrote a lot of books on it, actually. I decided to go to school for it, and then I got my first real job in the 90s.
A little later, in 1998, I worked with 18 Ukrainian software developers. This was before outsourcing was really a thing. Only a few businesses seemed to do this successfully, so I started doing it on the side. Over time I realized I could start doing this full-time. I finally opened up my own office because I didn’t want to be a middle-man anymore.
I started with 4 people and now we are up to 75. Our first client ever helped us fund this office, and they were a client for many years after that.
Interesting. So, why Costa Rica?
At first I was looking at St. Lucia and Dominica, but I was really more intrigued by Costa Rica. I did a lot of research and realized the economics were perfect in Costa Rica; very literate, they focus a lot on education, they had a great relationship with the US and so much more. From the moment I chose Costa Rica to the moment I opened the office was 60 days.
Starting a new business in an entirely different country was exciting. When I was looking in Costa Rica, there was no discussion of nearshore versus offshore, there was just outsourcing. I wanted to explore nearshore for the same reasons people do today. I wanted a place where we could travel to easily, where people spoke English; a place where I wanted to travel and felt safe. I thought, maybe clients will even fly down. Back then, this was a really big idea, but now we get to do it on a regular basis.
I was never afraid to take clients here. India, Russia, China.. There are just too many complications going on there. Flights would be long, and no one wants to spend an entire day flying across the world just to meet with their development team.
You built a great company. How did you build such a great staff?
Through our experiences, we got really good at training people, and we always found the diamonds in the rough. We often found that people with some experience could become just as good as someone with 10 years of it if they were motivated enough. We loved adapting to the culture, and we certainly know now how it works. This helps us to create the perfect mix of team members.
What makes First Factory different from other nearshore options?
We will have candidates come in and right off the bat say, “I’m so excited to get this interview. Everybody knows how hard it is to get into First Factory.”
I honestly believe people are mimicking us now. When we first got there I’d ask how our place was different. The answers were crazy. A lot of places made employees hand cell phones in when they got to work. They were told they can’t be on the internet. Granted, this was years ago, but still, you need to hit the internet. At certain companies, if you hit the internet they would lock you down. We just aren’t, and will never be, that type of company.
We were some of the first to trust our developers.
I modeled a lot of what I did based on Joel Spolsky. He knows how to treat software developers. He had a lot of opinions that I agreed with and that we mimicked in Costa Rica. I built this company based on what he taught and it has been very successful.
What do you look for in an employee?
The most important thing is that they are smart. I constantly tell people we hire people who are smart and can solve problems.
Obviously, I know you’re not gonna work for me forever. That said, I have people who have been with me for over 10 years. I just ask you to give me a couple good years. Work your ass off for me. I’ll do the best I can for you. Everyone needs to be healthy and happy - if you’re miserable you’re not going to do your work well, and I need people that understand that.
They need that spark. I want that person who I can give X and Y and they can make sense of it and transition just fine. Multitaskers are fantastic, but I’d also like people to calmly realize that they can stop and prioritize. Stop me and slow me down if I’m throwing too much your way, and we’ll be just fine.
I love a self learner - The employee that will go home and wants to learn the next technology will be more valuable to me.
At First Factory, you’ll learn so much. You’ll be challenged and you’ll make a lot of friends. We’re going to give you these opportunities, but we’re also going to give you extreme amounts of respect from day one. We assign people to projects on their first day and trust that they’ll get it done. We want you to learn it and go! That’s how you find the best people.
What do you look for in a client?
They have to value what we do, and they have to realize that we are professionals. Respect us and understand that what you are paying us for is a skill. The best clients we have don’t ask about the rates or if we really put in 8 hours a day. They know things come in ebb and flows and they value the service that we give them.
What advice would you give to someone searching for a software vendor?
The best values we can offer are the relationship, honesty and integrity.
We come highly referred and have a money-back guarantee. Try us out for a month, and if you don’t like us we won’t even send you the bill.
Find someone you would want to go have a beer with. Someone you could call up and you’d know they’d want to do the work for you. Ask yourself, is this someone you can call up and they’ll WANT to help you?
How does First Factory stand out from its competitors?
There are a thousand companies like us. We aren’t trying to be the Walmart versus Kmart versus Target. We aren’t the most expensive, and we aren’t the least expensive. We aren’t competing on price, but price is an extra value added.
We are going to give you really good work, and we are going to build a relationship with you. We’re offering ownership, loyalty and trustworthiness. We also don’t play games with our developers. We know that you’ll see that very quickly.
Want to learn more? Have a conversation with Jason whenever it is convenient for you. He’s looking forward to it.