Looking for a partner? Hoping someone perfect comes along and tells you that you are exactly what they have been looking for? This has nothing to do with whether or not you like pina coladas or walks in the rain. This is all about finding that right developer to be your one true tech co-founder. I’ve recently emerged from the long dark tunnel that is wooing developers. The journey was not pretty.
Part of the problem here is that there simply aren’t enough tech stars to go around. Brisbane appears to be idea rich and developer poor. More specifically, if you do not have a lot of funds to pay a local developer, then getting your idea off the ground – even the leanest, meanest of MVP offerings – is quite a tricky task.
Like me when I first started out, you might have tons of knowledge about your industry and be across the business side of things, but have no clue about how to build a tech product. You may use apps and websites everyday, but that doesn’t mean you have the first idea of how to go about building one. Even hiring someone to build your product requires a certain level of knowledge. You need to know what to ask for and be able to manage the product’s development. Ideally, this is where a tech co-founder comes in. Having a tech savvy founder in your team is the best way to get building, but there are other options, too.
I filled my startup’s tech gap the hard and costly way: trial and error. I embarked on a series of casual relationships with prospective tech partners in my search for The One. Looking back, the way I see it, there are three options available to those with a product idea but no tech skills to create it. I’ve had a crack at two out of three.
Option 1: Entice a tech co-founder
Convince a person blessed with the coding skills of a superhero that yours is the startup they should commit to. Ideally, this arrangement means that your tech star has such a firm belief in you and your idea that they will join your team on the promise of equity alone.
Enticing a tech wizz to hitch their wagon to yours is the dream but, unfortunately, rarely the reality. The hard truth is that most of these people are either making good money plying their skills at large companies or are already involved with their own startup. Moreover, equity in your very early stage company is likely not worth much. Don’t be surprised if the experienced developer you’re courting would rather be paid for their work. Sometimes, as I learned, even if you do happen to coax one of these rare creatures into your camp, the relationship can go south and you are back where you started.
If you do want to give this option a go, start by going to every meetup, pitch night, and information session you can. Go anywhere you think you may meet tech-minded people. You can try hackathons, startup weekends, and accelerator boot camps. Start talking to people and making friends in the community. You never know, you might run into the techie of your dreams.
I thought this fairytale had come true at one point and went a long way down the road of on-boarding a shiny new tech co-founder. It didn’t work out. It turned out there were other startups in Tech Charming’s life and he simply didn’t have as much faith in my startup as I did. On my end, I could have been more proactive in following up on his work schedule and establishing firm goals. I also should have done a bit more research before jumping into a serious relationship. Lesson learned.
Another avenue to explore, particularly if you’re in a developer poor city like Brisbane, is the founder matching websites, like Founder Dating. Here, you can browse the world for potential co-founders. Don’t get too excited though – developers are always the belles at this ball and convincing them to join your startup is still a hard task. You’ve got to really sell yourself, your idea and the market opportunity. Again, I gave this a go and ended up in a long distance relationship with a promising techie in Bolivia. Alas, once again, it wasn’t meant to be. Lack of communication on my end and too many other commitments on his meant that we soon parted ways.
Option 2: Hire a local developer
Pay a local developer – either an individual or a firm. A very good option indeed. Especially if you swim in your money pool every afternoon like Scrooge McDuck. The advantages are strong: you don’t have to spend months courting these people and convincing them about your business idea. Moreover, you can meet and talk to them, you can describe what you want in non-tech speak, and you can come to them with issues that pop up down the track. They will hold your hand throughout the process. You will feel in control and informed of progress all the way and at the end you should be the proud owner of some very tidy code.
However, this option can easily end up costing more than the little amount of money your startup has access to. This is especially true if you haven’t specified the product in sufficient detail initially. Having said that, it’s worth shopping around. Some development houses will work on a fixed price contract, and they may even be willing to pay in instalments. If, like me, you’re too strapped for cash to hire a contractor, then you may need to move on to option 3.
Option 3: Outsource online
Outsource your development needs via a platform like Upwork or Freelancer. This is where things get interesting. Outsourcing is great for a few reasons: it’s much more cost effective than hiring a local developer, the talent pool is much deeper and it can be a faster process overall. Conversely, it’s also much riskier. You may think you have found a bargain only to be disappointed – like when you see half price shoes in your size and snap them up, but discover at first wearing they have been created with cardboard and a glue-stick. Dirty, poorly crafted code can be a real liability. Don’t panic though; there are ways to avoid the proverbial glue shoes and come out with a respectable product.
Firstly, know exactly what you want. Not just in your head – you need to have it all mapped out with as much detail as you can muster. Get your requirement documents written and designs done before you start freelance shopping. You may need to get a techie friend to help you write the spec documents, to make sure they’re clear enough. This is a time consuming process, but it’s worth it. Not only will you be able to post your job and answer questions more easily, you will have set clear expectations from the get go.
This then means you can shoot for a fixed price build, which is much better than opening yourself up to skyrocketing hourly contracts. Always check references and go with a candidate who has excellent reviews and, if possible, someone who speaks your language – and I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean someone with whom you can actually hold a conversation. I once worked with a freelancer in China who did not have the best English. This may have been workable if I could speak a little Chinese or even some Objective-C. But I do not. We would video chat and end up making ridiculous facial expressions at each other whilst madly typing in the message window. It was harrowing. The finished product wasn’t brilliant either.
Finally, stay on the freelancing platform to complete the job. There are companies who will try and entice you off the site in order to “save you fees”. Don’t do it. You may save a little by not having to pay the platform fees but you lose all the security and safety measures that the site has set up to protect everyone – features like not releasing funds to the developer until you approve the work.
I was taken in by the “let’s take this off-platform” ploy for our company’s first build. It was a firm in the Ukraine and, whilst they did a reasonable job in the end, managing the build was a nightmare and we wound up paying more in international bank transfer fees than we would have if we just stayed on the platform in the first place.
These things take time
There you have it. Each option has its own advantages and drawbacks. As you can tell, the learning curve was steep and precarious as my startup moved through various stages. Whilst it might be seem like a stopgap, outsourcing did push Perch to where we are now.
Quite unexpectedly, the search for my dream developer circled back around to having a co-founder join the team…sort of. We were recently fortunate enough to have a well-resourced business partner come aboard. Their resources include developers – actual, real, live developers! This is not something that happened overnight or suddenly – no committed relationship is – it’s a culmination of lessons learned and knocks taken. So I really owe a shout out to all the short-term relationships that got us to where we are now. Hopefully I can pack away my little black book for good.
Top image credit: Damian Joyce