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Meet Abel Osorio - The CEO of The Startup You Need To Watch

An Interview with Abel Osorio

In this episode of E Coffee with Experts, Matt Fraser interviewed WeDevelop’s CEO and founder, Abel Osorio. Abel recounts his time as a self-taught software developer and his subsequent success in building a nearshore staff augmentation agency. A must-watch for aspiring business owners.

One of the things that makes us so attractive to talent, and our clients is that we are not relaxed. We are constantly learning and moving forward.

Abel Osorio
CEO and founder of WeDevelop’s
Hello everyone. Welcome to E Coffee with Experts. I'm your host, Matt Fraser, and on today's show, I have Abel Osorio with me. Now Abel is the CEO and founder of WeDevelop, a nearshore staff augmentation agency headquartered in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is self-taught, though he studied engineering and was always curious about new technologies. Since 2019, the US-based part of the company has been delivering exceptional staff augmentation services. The team has a diverse group of people from around the globe, with most engineers and designers coming from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, and other Central and South American countries. Abel, thank you for being on the show.

Thank you for having me, Matt.

No problem. So, what is your story of how you became a software developer? I know you're self-taught, maybe share a little bit with us?

Yeah, sure. So I went to a technical school. And as a teenager, I was very interested in technology in general. It was 2005 or 2006, so we didn’t have a lot of computers around here, but I liked them. Then, I needed to use software with my first job, but we didn’t have that piece of software. So I had to learn how to create it, and then I became a software developer.

How long did it take you to create it?

It took two years and quickly developed into a large project. I was part of it. It was my first introduction to these new words.

What was the motivation behind creating it in-house instead of finding a development company?

It was a unique piece of software we needed. So I worked for a company that needed to change its software. Unfortunately, the software had a bottleneck, so we needed to change it quickly. And we had an in-house solution. The standard solution didn’t work for us, so we started to create our own. And I learned not only to develop software but to do it in a very fast way.

You know, it's amazing nowadays how many websites there are out there, like Code Academy, and there are specific websites dedicated to learning to code. You don't have to go to school anymore, as far as I'm concerned, to learn how to code. If you go that route, much of what you learn in school might be outdated. I could be speaking on my butt because some people go to university for machine learning and data science and all those things. But for the majority, you can learn how to code online. What resources did you use to do that?

You can learn from many different sources. But I believe that you don’t learn the whole thing. So it depends on your ability to learn. In my case, I was very lucky to work with a university teacher. He was very smart and taught me mostly everything I had to learn. So it was like I went to university but did not learn about building.

So you had a university professor mentor you? Well, you couldn't ask for anything better than that. That is pretty amazing.

I was very lucky.

How did that relationship come about?

So he was an advisor for the company I was working with, and we started to work together. And he would come to my home and explain different concepts and theories. I was, again, very lucky to have that opportunity.

I have a friend like that, whose family company had a professor, computer networking, and all those things. He was a university professor and did the same thing in the same situation, he mentored him to do all the networking. And problems would come up in the business, and he would guide him, but not exactly tell him how to do it like he would give him hints to figure it out, to point them in the right direction. So it's amazing how essential it is to have a mentor. Going back, you used to apprentice with someone you'd learn to be a carpenter or a blacksmith, and you would work with them. And you would work hand in hand, and sometimes you have to do the dirty jobs to learn how to do entry-level work that nobody wants to do.

Nevertheless, it's the foundation, and I still think that even in today's world, that's the best thing to have. Like, we go to school, and it's a one-to-many relationship. And I think we are missing that one-to-one, and I don't know how to do that, how to affect that change. So I think online platforms are good, especially those that offer the training, but you can also get that one-to-one back from a coach. So I think that's a really good thing to do.

But I think the mentor-mentee relationship is very personal. So I don’t think you can easily get that from some online platform. But I truly believe it’s one of the best ways to learn, I had that great opportunity back then. But then, as I grew up professionally, I looked for others to learn from because it’s very important. How you learn is very important, once you learn you use that method for the rest of your life. So, learn from people, and I always do that.

It's interesting that many young people today think that education ends when you graduate from high school or university. But if that's your philosophy, you're going to stop growing. And there's been things that have been directly tied to the amount of knowledge you have, compared to the amount of income you can make, especially in today's economy, we are in a knowledge economy. And I've heard it said that leaders learn, green or green things grow, and ripe things rot. So if you're going to take a philosophy that you know, everything you're going to rot, but if you're going to remain green, there's always things to learn about your specific field or industry, and it sounds like you've taken that approach.

I think it’s how people see the world. People think that other people will teach you to open your mind, put some content into it and close it again. I don’t think education should be through work in that way. It’s something you should do for yourself. And when you go to school, you learn from the environment, the teachers, and the content, and once you finish school, you continue to learn. Because you didn’t go to school to react to what was happening at the school, you went to consume content related with no blueprint. So it’s something that you do so I agree that you should do that for the rest of your life. Otherwise, you will not complete your mission in the world.

Exactly. So people think, I graduated from culinary school, and now I'm a chef. You have a certificate, but there are many things to learn about food and cooking. You're going to spend the rest of your life doing that. Coding, code changes all the time. Like, there are many adaptations and new things to learn and try and test. Whether it's coding, web design, or digital marketing, maybe you're not learning consistently about digital marketing and what's happening in the space, even in the skill set of this sub-skill set that you need to focus on to become an expert. You are going to be lost. You learned to code from a university professor while in a position at a company that needed a solution you developed in-house and grew from there. Did you decide to start focusing 100% on software development, or did they notice that you have this knack? How did that continue to develop beyond that one situation?

So I started to like it. It wasn’t a passion for me back then. I liked it and found it very interesting. It was a tool to create things, but I didn’t love it. But I started to like it and saw that there were many other tools and technologies I could use and learn, so I started to dedicate my time to learning and developing my skills. So I was in that job for maybe six years and then started my freelance career as a Software Developer. So when freelancing was not the thing, and remote work was nothing, I was doing remote work at home with a very bad internet connection.

So you left your job and started freelancing. Was that scary?

I had the motorbike, sold it, and used those savings to live and survive while looking for freelance work.

That's amazing. How long ago was that?

Not too long ago, maybe 2016.

Okay. That's six years ago. Did you find work on like, freelancer.com or elance.com, or upwork.com sites like that?

I did, yes. So I used different freelance platforms. But that wasn’t the thing I liked. I wanted to engage with something more than a task. I wanted to engage with a company with this vision and create something more than a piece of code.

Okay. Cool. So you were looking to be a bit of part of something bigger?

So I engaged with one of the clients I was working with as a freelancer, they hired me as a subcontractor and then started a bigger relationship.

Oh, cool. It's kind of like me, how do I say this? Rather than having 50 Different mortgage brokers as clients, I'd rather have one and own part of the company and help that mortgage company to grow across the continent, rather than being everybody's mortgage broker guy. I'd rather be the mortgage broker marketer, the Chief Marketing Officer of a mortgage brokerage company, to help that company grow and expand rather than having 50 different clients. And sometimes they are in competing markets and maybe a market for you, so it's hard to classify those things. So I understand what you're saying, we want to be a part of something bigger and more involved. So what was the next step in your career that led to you taking on bigger projects and got you to where you are today in owning WeDevelop?

So I started to create bigger and more complex things. I started with software and then built teams. And I started to have this notion of team culture. So I had to do all that without anyone telling me how to do it, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to create my own company and have a very particular way to work, which is very informal and friendly. So I wanted to create a company that lived for those values. So we started with developing and were lucky to start with a project, so we didn’t need any funding or striping. So we started with a very big contract and were very lucky.

Did you eventually partner with someone?

Yeah, I have two other partners. I was lucky to meet people with a lot of experience, so I learned from them daily.

I guess you saw how you guys complimented and formed the company to survive?

Yeah, we did complement each other in a big way. One of my partners has a very extensive career in management and entrepreneurship. He’s a very active person and knows many things, including finances, and comes from the bio-gaming industry, laboratories, and things like that. He is not very technological or a software guy but has a lot of commercial experience. So, I am the IT and software guy. So we complement each other very well.

A business is a three-legged stool in my opinion, sales, marketing, and operations are the three legs, and you need people who are good at all those things. Some people at marketing are not good at sales, and others are gifted at both, but that's rare. And you can't do it all is the point I am trying to make. There are other agency owners out there with soft skills who just try to do it all. And you can't have all those skills if you build something bigger than yourself.

Yeah, you do need those skills. But you can always hire people to do that. I think the difference with partners is they are your partners, and it’s like when you get married you get a partner for the good and bad moments. So that’s a very supportive relationship, and that’s very useful.

It should be, but some people marry the wrong person.

When you partner with someone who is supportive, likes, and compliments you, it’s great. It’s a good feeling; it gives you more security and confidence. So together, we faced the COVID pandemic and had many troubles and issues that many companies had. So we went through the pandemic and all the situations together as a strong team. Yeah, it’s awesome.

What are some of the challenges of having partners, if you wouldn't mind sharing? You don't have to, but there is the thing that says partnerships are the only boats that don't float. I know people who think their partnerships are just awesome, they work. And other people would never have partners ever. They're like, I am the boss, and I'll bring on executive managers, but never any partner. So, how do you navigate that with partners? Like, do people stay in their lanes, and you decide beforehand?

I believe that every company must have a very formal method for decision-making, and that should be very clear to everyone. Because we are very complex machines, we are three partners that we develop. We are three people with three different families, a set of problems, and different bags. So that’s complex.

Has three outlooks and ideas about doing things. First, you get one person to bake a cake, and they do, or you tell them how to go there and get from here to there, and they'll take three different routes.

So it’s very complex. So you have to first believe in your partnership and your partners. That ID is the first point, and you must have a very well-defined structure for the partnership. For instance, I’m going to do sales, and you will do marketing. So, for decision-making processes or positions, this is the process. We are going to decide this way. Otherwise, it’s more difficult and may generate chaos.

So it's almost like having a business constitution made up of the rules and regulations of how the business will operate before even getting started and developing those as you go. It is something that Michael Gerber talks about in his book, The E Myth revisited, setting up the duties of each position, the expectations of those positions, and deciding who will do what beforehand. If you've already started the company, still do that, and decide who will be the CEO and the final decision maker, even if your equal partners are 50-50, somebody has to be the boss. Who's going to do this? Who's going to do that? I find this book fascinating, and I think many people don't implement those structures into their businesses, at least the ones I've worked for. And they would be way more successful if they had those things.

I believe that even a two-person partnership should have those rules. And also, we do develop and believe that, we are three partners, and we are three equal partners. We are a CEO, a CFO, and a COO; those are like entities and partners. So if the CEO considers that some decision has to go through the partners, then he takes that decision to us, and we discuss it. We are in partnership.

So, do you, as the partners, fulfill those roles? Because I'm a little confused, sorry. Do you fulfill those roles?

Yeah, we are three partners. I am the CEO, one is the CFO, and one is the COO. That’s in the daily.

Execution of business?

Correct.

You've started an outsourcing development company. How did you see the need for that service in the marketplace? What was it that made you identify it?

So, we started by doing web development outsourcing. It’s very traditional, you need to create something, and we do it for you. But we found that wasn’t the best case for many companies. Because those companies either had other teams working on the same project or wanted to manage the project differently. We didn’t start this business line from scratch, it evolved from web development. So we started with a team and no project manager. The results were very good, so we started another team with no project manager, and here we are. So we offer companies that need a development force, we offer them a team of developers or our team of not only developers, but designers, business analysts, or whatever the brand needs.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face competing in your industry?

Challenges? Yeah, so it’s a very crowded market. It is very difficult for companies like ours, which are new in the market, to stand out and be noticed by potential customers. And to make that worse, some companies don’t offer a very good service but have great marketing. So that’s very bad for us because they get the contracts, but they do it wrong, and then companies that had that experience don’t want to engage with the staffing agencies anymore because they had the experience.

They give us a bad name. It's the same thing in the SEO marketing community. So many people out there are so bad that they could slap up a website in an hour or two, buying a theme saying that they're a marketing professional and not. And it makes it harder for the rest of us. So how have you guys overcome some of those challenges?

We are okay with a less noisy marketing, less loud marketing. And we engage with companies and care about offering a very good service. So, the way we overcome that noise is by getting a lot of referrals. So every company we have worked with they refer someone to us. We have engaged a few of those contracts for different reasons. But we have a very good reputation. So that’s a way to overcome the very noisy market.

I know of a very large SEO company, a gentleman who was on our show. And he is an SEO prodigy, but most of his business comes from word-of-mouth. He spends very little on marketing because he does such a great job that people can't help but tell other people about him. And it sounds like it's the same thing with you, you guys are so dedicated to what you do and providing such value and quality to the marketplace that you can't help but tell.

The need is real. There are many companies worldwide that need development help, and they can use staffing as a way of recommending that need. There is a huge market that needs staff augmentation services. They are bombarded with messaging and other companies that offer the same services as us. If we do the same, it will be difficult for us to say yes, we are different. All companies want to be different, and good marketing in that scenario is challenging.

It comes down to developing your unique selling proposition. I learned from a marketer named Dan Kennedy, who talked about differentiating yourself in different ways, for instance, having certification. I can hear him now saying if everyone of your employee is certified in their field, industry, or skill set. For example, in the marketing field, there is the OMCP certification. Companies like Home Depot will not hire you unless they are an OMCA-online marketing certified associate. And even better, the university's professor here in Canada is an OMCP-certified marketing professional. Also, look at what your competition is doing and guarantee your work and customer satisfaction. I had this company, and I thought they were very smart, they offer a two-year warranty on their websites. So they were like we offer a two-year warranty guaranteed on your website. I talk to business owners, and they won't do it, and I'm like, you guys are crazy. I am not a coder like you, but I build websites with beaver builder, and I don't do it for other people, I do it for myself. But that would be so easy. I am building websites on WordPress and a theme builder. How hard is that? You get on your server and ensure when there is an update, you get on your dev or staging server and make sure it doesn't break, and if it does, you do the update. It may be something different, but I am trying to think of a context of how to differentiate a company. His thing was to offer a money-back guarantee or double it. So if your competition has a thirty-day money-back guarantee to offer a hundred and twenty-day money-back guarantee or if they have a five-year warranty offer; like Mitsubishi did this, they had a ten-year powertrain warranty. Say what you will, but with the cars they build, Mazda has a lifetime warranty because they are confident in the quality of their product. I am trying to say that people are scared about getting ripped off and not getting quality work. So when you do satisfaction guarantees and certifications, it gives you authority, assures people, and takes away the risks. I don't know how to apply that to the software industry. But maybe just thinking there is a way.

It is a bit complex because, as developers, we work with people, and our job as a staffing agency is to build the right team for the project. So it’s very hard to get a certification for it. But our way of saying we care about what we do and offer a very good service is to get our customers to say that. On our website, we have a section for customer reviews, and we also offer potential customers to contact our current customers. We believe that is a good way for someone to say, okay, this is worth the shopping, and you can start with a small engagement, for example, one or two developers, and grow from there. So I think a track record is very important for a staffing agency. So we let our track record speak for us.

Do you think there is a worldwide shortage of developers and coders?

There is, but at the same time, there are developers, as I said, who take a five-month course and get the job because of the shortage. So it is hard for companies to find good developers in that scenario.

So you can waste a lot of money. One of the benefits of working with someone like you is you have already found the skilled players, so they don't have to risk their money hiring someone who may or may not know what they are doing. You guys have already done that work for them.

Yes. Our vetting process is very sophisticated. We have iterated many times, and to place one developer, we interview almost sixty developers. That is because we receive a lot of emails and CVs.

So the advantage you are providing to the market is you are doing the vetting work, which saves them time and money by providing talented quality developers instead of wasting time and money to find them on their own.

One part of our value proposition is that we provide the top three percent of talent, which means to place three people, we interview a hundred. It isn’t easy to find good talent, so in our vetting process, developers are interviewed by developers. It is a complex process, people don’t like it because it has a few stages; interviews, think tanks, and challenges. So we can confidently place a developer in a team knowing they are capable of what they are expected to do.

What can the people who don't cut do? Should they work on smaller projects and get more training? If they are not in the top three percent but want to work, be successful, grow and do this for a living, apart from not having the intellect and physical limitations, what can they do to get better so a company like yours can hire them?

It all comes back to experience and learning. We have people applying for a job as senior developers, and they have two years of experience.

That's not enough to be a senior developer. Even I know that, and I am not a coder. That's not enough to be a Senior web developer or SEO person. So you need a certain amount of hours and projects to do that.

You need a variety of projects. It’s not only the number of years of experience you have but also the quality of that experience. So it’s quality time, a lot of patience, and reading.

And maybe working for less than what you think you should be paid to pay the cost to become a Senior.

After all, if you want to be a doctor, you must go to school for ten years.

Where I am from, it is twelve years.

For those twelve years, you have to study and practice a lot, and then once you graduate, you can go to practice and have a long career. There are many differences between and doctor and a software engineer. I am trying to say it is not a simple career being a developer. It requires time and dedication. So for those who want to get a good job in this industry, buy books, read, and have different jobs, work hard.

Work on your projects for less money than you think you should be paid to get the experience. So outsourcing software development is becoming more popular, Abel; what are your thoughts on this trend?

Yes, it is becoming popular, but I believe in the short term, maybe five years from now, people won’t be coding as much as we are now.

Because of Artificial Intelligence?

Yes. Because coding is becoming more repetitive, we create the same lines of code every time we do something; someone has done it before. I believe software development will switch to dynamics, where people will manage the process with their creativity. I also think they will provide more creativity and empathy for users of the products, but they won’t be coding as much as we are now. So, relating to what we discussed, there won’t be a need for so many developers. I believe the industry will need more intelligent and sophisticated developers but in less quantity.

That's very interesting. What one big takeaway do you want listeners to get from this episode?

I think we discussed learning and developing a career.

That is important.

That is one of the things I can conclude no matter your career or what you want to do in your life, you must always be learning.

Always learning, never stop; that is great advice.

We have that in our DNA and are always learning for the company.

Company culture.

We try to learn the completion out. We are always learning different needs and ways to manage our processes. I think that is one thing that makes us attractive to talent and clients. We are not relaxed; we are always learning and in movement.

How can our listeners connect with you online if they want to? For instance, are you on LinkedIn?

Yes, I am on LinkedIn; Abel Osorio and I have started to write, so I am a medium.

A medium. Cool

I write about management habits and productivity.

I will make sure to check that out. We will put that in the show notes so people can connect with you that way. Thank you for coming to the show today; it's been a pleasure having and talking to you, and thank you very much.

Yes, thank you, Matt.

You have a great rest of your day.

Yes, you too.

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