RR 431: Building a Consulting Business with Todd Kaufman

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Todd Kaufman is one of the cofounders of Test Double, a software development consultancy that was started 8 years ago. Todd talks about how he got started with Test Double and how it grew. He and Justin started Test Double because he felt that a lot of consultancies didn’t align with what they thought was important. Most consultancies then didn’t focus on good software development practices, and instead focused solely on the process. They decided that they would put the developers first and foremost so they could solve hard problems.

Charles talks about his experience with a consultancy, where he was fired after his project finished, and asks how Test Double does things differently. Todd talks about the importance of financial stability in a consultancy, and one way that Test Double accomplishes this is by being a completely remote company to cut out the cost of having an office,Todd shares their approach to the projects they take on. Their contracts are open ended and they tend to work with clients for a longer duration.

They discuss the differences in knowledge that comes from working with a product company versus a consultancy. A product company will typically give you depth, while a consultancy will give you variety. When deciding which you want to work for, you need to know if you want a steady approach to software development or do you want the challenge change up from time to time.

Todd delves deeper into their policy of not doing fixed bids and how they uphold that policy when negotiating with companies. Test Double’s unique approach is to engender trust where if the client feels that they are not getting the results they want, they can terminate the contract and ask them to leave. This in turn makes the fixed scope go away. Their only requirement is that the client gives them a weeks notice before termination. When taking on a project, Test Double strives to quickly integrate with an existing team, help them, and leave them in a better place than we found them. They can help with testing, learning languages, meeting deadlines, and communication.

The panel discusses some of the gotchas of building up a consulting company. Todd says that you always need someone looking for ne prospects and jobs, keep a consistent level of sales activity, and address issues in real time. He talks about what the company does to generate awareness, such as conference presentations, the website and blogs, networking, and how the company is organized to help manage sales.

Todd and the panel discuss Test Double’s process for growing and shrinking the company ahd what drives their decisions. Test Double’s priority is to make sure that the size of the compan does not affect the work experience. He talks about their four step hiring process and their trend of hiring experienced programmers. The panel agrees that there is a commitment to hiring junior programmers. Though Test Double does not typically hire junior programmers, they help companies that do. Todd has found that there are companies that want to hire juniors, but they have no experience leveling them up, so his consultancy helps clients develop mentorship practices.

Todd talks about some mistakes made and lessons learned in starting his company. One of his primary regrets is not focusing on diversity and inclusivity enough during the early days of the company. Their goal stated as a company is to improve the industry, and be an example for teams to follow on how to build healthy teams, but much of their early members were fairly homogenous. Todd believes that variety in a company leads to better problem identification and solutions. The panel discusses how to really identify diversity of background, because sometimes it can be proxied by diversity of physical appearance, but sometimes it can’t.It’s important to identify people that truly are diverse, and not just say ‘we want more women’ or ‘we want more people of color’. They discuss ways to increase diversity in hiring. Todd talks about what it was like to make the first hire for Test Double.

Todd shares how he decided what Test Double’s values and mission is. They had to consider why they were putting so much energy into building Test Double, and it was because they wanted to help fix the industry and improve the way the world builds software. He talks about how he implements it within his company, especially since they do not have a physical office. One of Todd’s visions for the software industry is that software isn’t viewed as manufacturing and getting the commodity purchasing out of software development. He also hopes to help create more sustainable code and to fix the problems that caused unsustainable code, whether in the code or the team.

Test Double doesn’t focus solely on code, but also on the work environment of the company. They do that by trying to act as an extension of their existing team. Todd talks about what it’s like running a primarily remote company and how it affects their clients. He talks about how the company builds camaraderie between its employees, including an automated tool to pair you up with somebody to have ‘coffee time’ with once a week. He talks about the tools they use, like Zoom and Slack, and the different leadership roles within Test Double. Listeners are encouraged to go to Test Double’s website to learn more about what they’re working on.

Panelists

  • Charles Max Wood
  • David Kimura
  • Nate Hopkins
  • Andrew Mason

With special guest: Todd Kaufman

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