A guide to finding a web or mobile app programmer that fits in best with your company.
You’ve written your business plan, legally registered your company, made a Facebook page, and even started reaching out to potential investors. You have everything ready to go…besides your product. At some point or another, you’re going to have to commit to a developer. You’re looking for somebody with enough technical skills to execute, enough reliability to meet expectations, and enough communication to keep you in the loop. While these are some standard criteria, you also want somebody that identifies and aligns with your company’s brand and culture. Here’s a guide to make your hiring process a little easier.
Consider the options.
Most startup founders consider one of four basic options when hiring programming talent:
- Hire an hourly freelancer.
- Contract a dedicated developer.
- Partner with a “technical co-founder.”
- Outsource to an agency.
Each of these are a valid alternative to consider. The key is to find the one that is most suitable for each specific organization. The best way to start is to:
Weigh the pros and cons.
The Hourly Freelancer
Most startups generally consider the freelancer option as the cheapest and seemingly easiest hiring alternative. Sites like Upwork and Freelancer make it easy to unlock global talent that is hungry for work and will fight for your project, often even engaging in price wars. Receiving dozens of proposals, some within seconds of job posting is very flattering, but it creates two major points of concern before the project has even commenced. Most immediately, the applicant pool is too large. Even if the time is taken to message and speak to each freelancer who has bidded, the client still may have difficulty weeding through the mess to find the right one.
The second problem is that a great deal of the freelancers have submitted proposals after only skimming through or without even reading the requirements. I mean, how could someone provide a proper estimate in just seconds? The reality is that most of them couldn’t care less about the company and the project.They’re hungry for money and will say and do whatever it takes to get it. Someone with little interest is not likely to follow best practices and will instead take shortcuts and deliver a subpar product. If something goes wrong, an individual is much more difficult than a business to track down and pursue legal action against. If they are overseas, the contract likely amounts to nothing and the money and even the IP might never be recovered.
A good friend of mine shared a story a while back about a freelancer who quoted him one month and $2,000 for a project that ended up being six months and $10,000. Aside from the wasted time, the total costs after damage control exceeded the ones he would’ve incurred through a different route. It’s important to establish a sense of trust, but one should still take everything with a grain of salt. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”
The Dedicated Developer
Contracting a dedicated developer for several months at a time can be a much better solution than making a salaried hire. This route allows the startup to make a temporary hire at wage rates that typically beat those of a freelancer (which can easily surpass $200-$250/hour for the best onshore talent). Many companies even use this as a “trial run” to help them decide if they should bring the developer on full time. While they can be a good addition to an already existing team, a few issues may arise. First, extensive interviewing and vetting is required, which is especially difficult for startups without much technical knowledge and experience.The same concerns apply once the hiring process is completed. Whomever is responsible for directing and overseeing the developer will need the right skills and experience for, as well as time to dedicate to this responsibility.
When contracting a dedicated developer, a startup’s hard-earned money can go to waste when scheduling conflicts arise. It is not uncommon for developers contracted for several months to deal with downtime, which often comes in between projects. I’ve had firsthand experience with developers who were contracted for three, six, twelve, or more months, and sat around for days or even weeks at a time waiting for work but still getting paid. This kind of waste can be a killer for startups.
The “Technical Co-Founder”
The “technical co-founder” route is especially popular among college and grad school startup founders looking to partner up with their more technologically-versed peers. This partner is usually willing to join the venture if they are interested in the concept and want equity in the company, therefore making it a more feasible option for startups that aren’t funded or are low on cash. Finding a good partner is hard enough, as the best talent will often be recruited by large tech companies for internships and full-time positions. Even if they intend to enter the startup ecosystem, they often have their own ideas and may feel that they are in not even in need of a partner. Take this story from Alexey Komissarouk, a CS senior at UPenn and contributor to TechCrunch, told in his article “Stop Looking For a Technical Co-founder”:
“‘How many of you want to start a company?’ David Tisch asked. All hundred hands went up. That’s why we were there, crowded into a Wharton classroom to seek startup advice from an industry luminary.
‘Keep your hand up if you are technical.’ Five hands remained. Maybe six.
‘Keep your hand up if you are looking for co-founders.’ The only remaining hand belonged to a CS freshman in the corner.”
Even if the founder manages to find a co-founder, greater concerns are posed, as they may lack all of the technical skill necessary for the startup, or may have trouble keeping the same commitment as the original founder. Startups take time to cultivate, and motivated people often look for other opportunities with greater rewards in sight. Komissarouk suggests in his article that founders can learn to code themselves, but it may take months to even garner a fundamental understanding. Take this quote from Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur and author of the “The 4-Hour Work Week”:
“Coding your own app, especially if you’re teaching yourself at the same time, will take too long… After all, the goal is to get your time back and escape the long hours of the rat race. Therefore, programmers will be the foundation of your business. They will allow you to create apps quickly and scale your efforts.”
Thus, the best route is probably:
The Outsourced Agency
Outsourcing is often seen as a complete relinquishing of control. Beyond this, companies often fear hidden costs or threats to security and confidentiality, amongst other things. A client can definitely expect to deal with some of these things from a poor agency. Clients have come to me with all of the outsourcing horror stories, from the companies constantly piling on extra “unforeseen” costs to the companies who delivered buggy code and then stopped responding or wanted more money to fix it.
Outsourcing can yield many more benefits than losses if it is done right though. A good agency brings all of the technical skills needed and internally manages the team to save time and ensure quality, thus allowing the company to use their own resources more efficiently and focus on what they do best. A good agency should also make the client aware of their processes and infrastructure in place. And finally, a good agency is also transparent throughout the entire experience, and will dedicate individuals to regularly communicate with the client, helping them keep control of the project. A flexible engagement model will allow the client to be hands-on and retain just as much control as they want.
The key to making the final buying decision is to find an agency that you’re comfortable and can afford to work with. This where many startups have trouble. Speaking to several agencies that offer the same core services can make it difficult to differentiate and shortlist them. For unfunded startups, or those low on cash, the best agencies are completely out of reach. This often forces startups to compromise one or more of their deal breakers, and make a decision that they will later regret.
A Different Breed
Startups need an agency that brings out the “pros” from each of these alternatives. A startup-friendly agency is of a different breed: trustworthy, affordable, efficient, and versatile, all without compromising on quality. On top of that, the agency must be understanding of the founders and their needs, add value beyond just development, and be as dedicated to the project as you are. I know what you’re thinking: “no such agency exists” or “this is too good to be true.” Allow me to point you to TechSuite, the hybrid for startup founders just like you that want it all. Check out our startup deck to see why we are a different breed.