How To Locate a Developer For Your Startup

3 minute read

In a recent question posted at the OnStartups forums, a founder asked how to find a developer for their Software as a Service (SaaS) idea. While I was able to provide some advice, there is a deeper discussion to explore before trying to locate a developer. Here is a more detailed look at the questions you need to ask and how to find developers for your startup.

1. Do you want a staff programmer (employee), a freelancer/solo contractor, or a development team?

Having an employee means putting in the infrastructure for benefits, making sure you have enough salary to cover at least twice as long as you think it will take to break even (possibly longer), and more paperwork. The upside is that they are someone that you are working alongside without giving up equity, or at least as much equity as you would give up in a full partnership.

A popular choice for many startups is to locate a freelancer that can help convert your idea into a product. Freelancers vary greatly in their skills and hourly rate, so spend your time doing research to determine the right range of rates for your idea. The upside is that you don’t have to manage benefits, pay your half of social security, and other responsibilities as you would an employee. You can also control your budget by managing their hours through prioritizing your feature list. The downside may be a lack of skills needed to build certain features that emerge later (e.g. iPhone development in addition to Ruby on Rails skills).

Depending on your need and budget, you may find that a development team can provide the flexibility of the skills you need. For example, your SaaS may need a part-time iPhone developer, a part-time designer, and a full-time Ruby on Rails developer. If you can’t find a single person to do everything, you may need to find a team that can provide both sets of skills to your team.

To find a staff programmer or freelancer:Visit a local user group, such as a Ruby on Rails user group. Any kind of group that attracts developers is a good place to find some that are looking for freelance work or looking to join a startup full-time. LinkedIn can be used to reach out to your network as well.

To find a development team: Local user groups, perform a Google search for development teams using specific technologies in your area (e.g. Ruby on Rails Consulting Austin)

2. Is your startup ready for a v1.0 product or are you looking for a prototype to close more complex sales?

If you need a rapid prototype to get something up-front before you start full development, your choices may be a little different. Prototypes can often be put together on-the-cheap using any technology that someone is familiar with, allowing for rapid throwaway code until you are ready for starting development of version 1.0.

The downside of taking this approach with cheaper help is that you will likely be required to do more up-front spec work, as lower-priced developers often work in a “do what you say” mode rather than a more creative, brainstorming mode. If you need more creative types that can help you work through business and technology issues, consider finding a local development team or experienced freelancer.

To find a prototype developer: Local user groups, friends-of-friends that have built a web application before, or web designers that can write Javascript to make a free-standing prototype for offline laptop demos.

3. Are you open to bringing on a development partner in exchange for a share of the business?

While some founders are partner adverse, sometimes a great development partner can help push a startup past the initial hurdles needed to launch a startup. They may be a developer, in which case they will often be able to build a prototype, a rapid first version, or steer to the product to v1.0 and beyond. Alternatively, they may have a technical background and capable of removing much of the burden of managing outside or inside developers for your startup.

To find a development partner: Locate networking events in your area that focus on technology. Talk with other technology founders that may know someone that is looking for a new venture. Search your LinkedIn network for entrepreneurs that are in your friends’ network.

Once you locate one or more candidates for your startup, be sure to revisit our article called How To Select a Development Team For Your Startup to help guide you through the process of finding someone with the right fit.