Street Smart? Think Web Smart!

Street smart refers to “having the experience and knowledge necessary to deal with the potential difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment.” (Oxford) This is a very valid term to this date. However, with technology and the internet invading our lives, perhaps we should think about being Web Smart.

I’ve been working a web project lately, and part of this project involved outsourcing of web development activities. I did what many people would do, Google a web development company!

I sent out an RFP (Request for Proposal) document to approximately ten candidate developers. Nine out of the ten responded. So I began negotiating with the top three companies the terms, cost, and their understanding of requirements (I’ve already filtered candidate companies through stages).

Everything is fine and dandy up to this point.

Earlier last week I went to have a cup of coffee with a friend of mine, who started his own packaging business. He’s been working at it for about a year, and traveled back and forth between Bahrain and China to procure packaging equipment. I spoke to him about the project I’ve been working on and he suggested that I contact reference companies just to make sure that I’ll be doing business with a legitimate company.

At first, I disregarded the idea. I was so sure of the legitimacy of companies in my shortlist. I showed him the portfolio of each company and even visited some of the websites listed on their portfolio to illustrate how good their work is. I also checked in their commercial/business registration information through the publicly available commercial registrars.

He didn’t buy it, and insisted that I get in touch with past clients of each company. So I did. I sent an e-mail through to at least three clients of each web development company to inquire about their experience in dealing with the vendors.

Some responded, others didn’t.

And this is where the story gets interesting:

  • Two previous clients of company X responded advising me of not doing any business with them; stating that they never actually did any business with them, and asked a number of times for their name to be removed from company X’s portfolio with no responses. Not only that, but I also found an entire blog post advising of the misconduct of company X and warning against doing business with them due to poor customer service and even poorer coding.
  • None of company Y’s previous clients responded to neither e-mail nor phone calls. Their contact information wasn’t real.
  • Company Z on the other got all the praise it could get.

You can imagine my surprise to go through such experience. I was so happy to have had that cup of coffee with my friend that night.

Lesson Learned

If you plan on doing business online, you should probably put on the “web smart” hat and investigate vendors. There is so much information on the web, you’re sure to find something either positive or negative.  Never send money through to someone you’re not absolutely sure of, or conduct financial transactions through insecure websites.