Spent $25k with Toptal [AMA]

I was in a pinch and decided to contract Toptal to find a dev for me.

The project was to build a video and audio streaming service for our app Median

The project was completed in 3 months when the ETA was 30 days.

In total ended up spending around $25,000 dollars.

YES, I know I over paid.
No, I would not use Toptal again.
YES, I am happy with the result.

Haha, feel free to ask me any questions.

  1. 9

    The pay sounds reasonable, actually. But I wish you'd asked here first - I build streaming services for a living.

    What was the hourly rate? Was it just a single dev? Did you switch devs part-way through? Which technologies were used?

    Is there a way to get a better rate from Toptal?

    1. 2

      @maxk42 you killed it with these questions. haha

      Hourly rate was $90 per hour.

      Yes, it was a single dev.

      No, I didn't switch devs. (more on this below)

      We used TokBox APIs from Vonage.

      Better rate? Yes, you can probably get a better rate but I don't think it would be worth it. Meaning, if money is the issue then you should source the talent yourself. I knew I was getting destroyed on pricing BUT I thought I was paying for world class service. Come to find out, there is a reason this dev does work for Toptal and not a company. He is NOT very reliable.

      I would advise Bootstrappers to stay away from Toptal unless it is an emergency.

      Using a single dav is a HUGE problem even if they are great. My dev for this project got sick with covid and took time off, he took 2 weeks off for vacation, and as of right now he is unresponsive... If possible, I will NEVER use a single dev again.

      I am not a total rookie when it comes to hiring dev talent. I own another SaaS company called Loup that I built into a six figure company with a dev team from India. They are amazing! Median was simply too complicated for them.

      @maxk42 please fire me an email because we STILL need help. Click Here

  2. 7

    If you're happy, why wouldn't you use it again?

    1. 1

      In my head... (first problem)

      I paid Toptal for speed and professionalism Of which I got neither...

      The project STILL is not live and currently the developer is unresponsive...

      I am happy because I do have software that works. It's not the Devs job to move the code into production. I am currently working with my AWS team on this.

      1. 1

        Ah, that's funny because I was evaluating Toptal earlier.

        They talk a big game and make it sound like they're the best in the market.

        Thanks for the heads-up!

        1. 2

          Jay, I think Toptal works for some people/businesses, BUT if you are a bootstraper I would use UpWork.

  3. 4

    Upwork is kind of better. You can check reviews of Devs not agency.

    1. 3

      In my experience UpWork is WAY better

  4. 2

    I think my AdBlock doesn't like your site, it blocks it at DNS level

    1. 1

      Interesting. Can you share more? We use CloudFlare for DNS.

  5. 2

    interesting. I have almost used total twice.

    What was their response when the 30 day decline was approaching and the work was nowhere near finished?

    1. 1

      So Toptal has ZERO visibility into what is happening with the dev... nor do they care...

      As far as I am aware they do NOT do project work and will only bill hourly. So the longer the project takes, the more money for them.

      Also, when I say no visibility I mean ZERO!! My Dev took a 2 week vacation and Toptal had no clue and kept billing me. It was insane.

      1. 1

        Wow. Good to know. Ill be avoiding them then.

        1. 1

          Mick, I am sure they are a good company, I just had a sub-par experience.

  6. 2

    Did you manage the developer yourself or did you just assign the desired result and let the dev work on his own?

    Did you plan sprints with the dev before starting?

    What do you think went wrong for the deadline to extend so much?

    1. 1

      Both, I managed the Dev via slack but I was extremely hands off. In fact, I started shitting my pants after 2 months and $20,000 was gone and I had NOTHING.

      What do you mean did I plan sprints?

      The deadline issue was a result of
      1.) The dev had personal issues. He took vacation and got sick with covid.
      2.) The dev didn't spend time to fully understand the project. Median is super complex with a lot of moving parts. At the surface the project seemed easy, until you pull back the covers.

      1. 2

        Sprints are part of agile methodology. Basically you take a big project and break it into small chunks planned to be completed in a small time frame... usually two weeks. At the end of a two week sprint, you check in and see how the progress has been and if anything is slipping or there's road blocks.

        1. 1

          HA... Never heard of that.
          Not sure it would apply here. This whole project should have been a sprint. haha

          1. 2

            If it was quoted as 30 days, it would have been 2 ;)

            Either way... sprints have a way of revealing gotcha's in the dev process. As you're breaking a larger project down into smaller bits and pieces, you identify questions and potential road blocks.

  7. 1

    Toptal is generally bad, not necessarily the dev's but the company, it is just another version of a HR company that only cares to get their cut, not good for the dev and not good for the client.
    Unfortunately the Upwork, Fiverr and similar sites is just question of luck to find a reliable dev, it is a global problem with no solution.
    Only a good dev can recognize when another dev is good, but where you find the first dev to ask :)

  8. 1

    What was the process like in selecting the talent?
    What was the original quote? And how much did you think it would cost before the quote?
    How come you don't get a refund or a discount?

    1. 1

      I submitted a SOW to Toptal and they said they would line up talent. The first guy they sent was ex Netflix and had built a 2 way video stream service for like 5 companies. Maybe I am an idiot (probably), but I went with the first guy. haha

      There was no Quote since it was hourly work, but the dev informed me that he could get it done in 30 days which equaled about $15,000.

      I did get a refund on the vacation days the dev took. They also dropped my hourly rate by $10 dollars.

  9. 1

    Software estimation is hard. I agree they should have give you a bigger estimate, maybe then you would be happier;). The price is reasonable for 3 months given it's like hiring an agency (accounting for Toptal fee). Next time, hire a dev directly;)

    1. 2


      After the project, I learned Toptal was taking a 60% plus cut from the revenue.

      I will NEVER use a sourcing company again. Rookie mistake.

      PS: I do think Toptal makes sense for large companies, jut not bootstrappers.

  10. 1

    What alternatives did you consider?
    Why wouldn't you use them again if the results were good?

    1. 1

      UpWork (in my opinion) is the BEST place to find talent. I picked Toptal for speed. My thought was, if I hire world class talent then this job will get done better and faster. NOT TRUE.

      The results are great. The experience was weak. Dev was unresponsive for weeks. I later learned Toptal was taking a 60% cut, which means I wasted about $15,000 on sourcing average talent.

      Excuse me, the dev (I think) does amazing work BUT his communication is TERRIABLE!

      I would rather pay for better communication and less talent.

  11. 1

    $25K for 3 months work? I know Toptal is expensive but not this expensive.

    I previously hired multilple devs on UpWork, Toptal is even more expensive than Upwork.

    One big lesson I learned with Upwork, by the time the project is finished, total project cost is always much more than initial expectations. Roughly 4 to 5 times to what initially agreed on, I felt its not worth it.

    1. 1

      I LOVE UpWork.

      I hired a team from eLance (now upwork) 5 years ago for Loup and I still work with them today.

      It has been a great experience.

  12. 1

    Even though you know that you over paid, how come you are happy with the results?

    What kind of results you got? what's your ROI on $25K?

    1. 1

      The dev delivered on what I was looking for. So I am happy.

      We have a video streaming service engineered into our website. haha. It's insane.

      For Example, if you go to HelloMedian.com right now I can pop onto your screen and we can chat via live video without any installs or downloads.

      The ROI is ZERO as of right now but I can't seem to move the service into production in order to sell it. I am stuck in a staging environment because my dev is NOT a server guy.

  13. 1

    Whats your experiece that made you not to go back again?

    1. 1

      I have had a LOT of success in the past hiring dev work from upwork.

      In the future I will do that instead.

  14. 1

    What do you think went wrong with Toptal? The expensive commission? or something else?

    1. 2

      Good question. Nothing went WRONG per say.

      I just thought I was paying a premium for better, faster, smarter service and that just was not the case.

      Considering my experience I could hire someone from upwork and have the same outcome, at the same speed, and for half the price.

      Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if my Toptal developer has a profile on UpWork.

  15. 1

    What would you do differently next time? Different company? Different approach?

    1. 1

      I would hire from UpWork.

      You end up working with the Dev directly anyways, seems stupid to let a middle man manage the billing.

  16. 1

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