Matchmaker, make me an app: How AppFutura, Tapfame and Toptal bring developers and clients together

It may be one of the most controversial apps in recent memory, but you can say this for Tinder: It has made the process of matchmaking (even of the short-term variety) as quick and easy as possible via technology. The same cannot always be said about pairing up app developers with those who could give them interesting work to do. 

Right now, of course, there are plenty of developers who are still hobbyists or moonlighting with apps and mobile games when they're not busy with their day jobs. However, as more developers and studios seek enterprise app work with business clients--or who want to help someone with a great mobile game idea to make it a reality--establishing a pipeline of customers could be tricky. While some might continue to use Craigslist and LinkedIn, there are a growing number of online venues that promise both potential clients and even services to help manage the relationship. 

Linking developers with clients

AppFutura, for example, is based in Barcelona and was only founded in January of 2014 but already boasts a network of more than 13,000 app developers. It charges $89 for a one-month membership, which includes a listing and other services, and recently it launched a "platinum" level that will help verify a developer's credentials. The certification will involve AppFurtura conducting reference checks with previous clients, for example. 

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"It's been a long-time request from project owners," Bernat Guitart, AppFutura's CEO, told FierceDeveloper. "The thing is, when they receive 20 proposals from developers they know nothing about, it is interesting for them to see that AppFutura does know them. That is a way to filter what candidates they should approach first."

Those kinds of filters are important, but they're not always easy to offer on public-facing sites. 

"We actually see more consumer apps and mobile games than enterprise focused apps. The primary reason is that developers are usually under NDA and can't include the enterprise apps they have worked on in their profile," said Ankit Ranka, co-founder of TapFame based in San Francisco, which also offers a directory and matching service for clients and app makers. "We are working on a solution where developers can privately include those apps in their profiles and only share with potential customers."

Toptal, which is also based in San Francisco, uses what it describes as "a rigorous prescreening process" with developers to assess both hard and soft skills. This includes steps such as a language, personality and communication interview, timed algorithm testing, and test projects to demonstrate their level of expertise. 

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Du Val

"On average, we accept only three percent from the thousands of applicants," Toptal co-founder and CEO Taso Du Val said, adding that the firm's own developers assist with matching talent to clients and it offers a 100 percent no-risk trial period so that developers can be swapped out of projects that aren't a fit. "Toptal still pays the initial developer for their work on the project that did not continue. Through our model, the client and elite programmer win."

AppFutura as referee

It's not just a case of making a match, however. Even if they get accepted for work or approached for a project, app developers may need to hone their soft skills to successfully work with some clients. When that doesn't work, AppFutura offers to act "as a referee" in disputes between the two parties. For example, developers may be expected to do a lot even when the budget isn't where it should be. 

"We do a lot of counselling with project owners to either make them understand that they will need to raise more money if they want their app idea to be properly developed, or to let them know that they have to lower their expectations and go for something less ambitious," said Guitart. "If that works, they can always have updates done until their app becomes what they envisioned in the first place."

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Ranka said app developers should also be generous with time estimates. 

"It helps because it will always be the case that the app starts to crash under edge conditions. Educating businesses about the app development process and how it's different from web development helps to remove unnecessary conflicts," he said. "For example, once the app goes live it cannot be changed in real time, unlike websites. So planning and a continuous update cycle is necessary to iron out bugs."

The one thing all app development matchmaking sites agree on is that communication and a sense of taking their job seriously are the best ways to be successful. 

"The response from clients has been very consistent that what they want is a really good developer that brings with him or her English proficiency, good collaboration skills and a high level of professionalism and integrity," Toptal's Du Val said. "For the serious projects that our clients bring to us, they want developers with a complete skill set."