Do you have an idea for a startup company, but you aren’t technically savvy? Or maybe you’ve already begun work on validating your early-stage startup idea, but now need someone to build out your solution to the next level?
Hiring a developer might seem daunting at first, especially if you’re a non-tech entrepreneur. However, with the right resources, knowledge, and guidance, you can add a valuable player to your team with less heartache than you might think.
Developers are everywhere. There are thousands of developers working across the world who are ready to jump in and work with you on your concept.
My intent here is to walk you through the high-level process of effectively finding and hiring a talented developer for your startup needs.
Start with a Solid Concept
Before you hire a programmer, you should have a solid idea of the problem you’re solving and a relatively clear picture of your product concept. Meaning, you’ve done research on your ideal client base and gained a preliminary understanding of user pain points and response to your solution.
Questions that will help in this early step include:
What problem are you solving?
What is the general process for how your software or app works to accomplish this?
How is the way it accomplishes this “different” or “better” than competitors?
What do you need to build out now that will satisfy the essential needs of your customer?
Lay Out the Roadmap
With that being said, your first step is to determine what product development is necessary for your solution and structure a plan around that.
When you hire a developer or communicate with a development company, the last thing you want is to not be able to communicate what you need. This will directly impact how your solution is developed, the cost, and the specific ways it will work (or not work in the case of miscommunication).
The clearer you are, the better. Everyone understanding the vision and needs of the product is essential.
You’ll want to create a business plan that lays out the following:
What is your runway? When are you looking to launch your minimum viable product (MVP)?
What funds do you have available to allocate to development costs?
List out what features are essential, versus “nice-to-have”. Create a simple table in an Excel sheet or Google document to brainstorm.
What features do you need to include in the first iteration of your product, and what details or additional features can you build out in later phases?
For example, does your ideal user need to complete transactions with a certain payment processor?
Are notifications needed?
Does the application need to provide analytics?
Does it need to integrate with social channels?
For each feature you’ve listed, designate a level of priority. Keep in mind that your first product (or MVP) doesn’t need all the bells and whistles. It only needs to include the essential features to help your ideal user.
User Experience (UX) Design
Consider the design, look, and feel of the user experience. This is the overall flow of a person experiencing an app, from registering their account, to performing basic tasks in the program or app, to processing payments.
To start, take a look at what other solutions in your space are doing.
Download a couple of competing solutions (if freely available for download) and/or sign up for free trials. Otherwise, look for product screenshots on company websites, and available user reviews.
Create a document and make note of what you like and what you don’t want in your solution. Make note of user-generated content sharing pros and cons for consideration in building out your product.
Markup product images and screenshots for products and solutions. These can serve as an early inspiration for your solution.
For example, last year I was working with a startup that was building its MVP. We shared product screenshots with developers that showcased software products from entirely different industries. However, we preferred their design and functionality and wanted to incorporate some of those minor elements into the MVP and later phases.
Depending on the nature of your app, you may require more input from a designer. This may include the creation of a product mockup and wireframes to detail the concept out further.
A tool you can use to help create mockups and wireframes for product prototyping is JustInMind. It’s free to download and offers free resources with wireframe tools and design templates. Even if you don’t know how to write a single string of code, you can easily take your idea from a napkin doodle to a simulated user experience.
All of this said you need to determine the type of developer that’s required to build out your project. There are different types of developers who work on different development aspects, as well as different coding languages.
Do you need back-end developers?
Review Alternative Options to Hiring a Developer
Now that you’ve charted your course, it’s time to start the process of sourcing your development expertise.
There are multiple options these days when it comes to developing a product. You can choose to hire a freelance developer, partner with a software development team, or invest in no-code tools.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll mainly be focusing on freelance developers, but it benefits you to understand the different options first. Let’s briefly break these down.
First, you can invest in an app development company or offshore development team to handle your development needs. An example of a company would be Belitsoft. With a development team in your corner, you can count on the expertise of a dedicated team with established workflows, instead of bearing the weight of learning what you need to learn in hiring and managing a freelance developer.
Second option: You can hire a freelance developer, which allows you to take advantage of key tech talent, and retain that talent in-house. This can be accomplished through sourcing talent through a variety of platforms, which I dive into below.
Finally, you can invest in a no-code solution for your MVP. An example is Bubble.io. With a no-code tool, you can build a fully-functioning MVP product in less time and expense. The result is a product that you can feel confident sharing with your early adopters and investors. Plus, with a platform like this, key factors like deployment and hosting are handled for you.
Challenges of Hiring Developers for a Startup
There are numerous options, but there are pros and cons for each. With the challenges of early-stage startups, it’s important to do your due diligence on identifying what works best for you.
With a frugal budget, you have to make critical decisions and realize that your negotiating power is limited. Whether you have funds or not, it’s important to carefully consider your options.
Hiring an experienced freelance developer could cost you anywhere from 10-15k per month, per developer, based on experience. When it comes to hiring out a software development team, you could be looking at a $250,000+ price tag.
Consider what your needs are, your cash flow, and what you “can get away with” when it comes to launching your MVP.
Some key questions to consider at this point:
Who is your audience and what are their product experience expectations?
Are you B2C or B2B?
Instead of launching a full app experience, can you launch a specific core feature to test with your target audience?
Overall, what does your solution need to provide in order to help your ideal user achieve a specific end goal and have their needs met?
At the time of launch, your MVP will not be perfect, but understanding the bare minimum of what you need for your customers (remembering that MVP means “minimum viable product”) will go a long way to overcoming development challenges and making the journey easier and less expensive.
If you are a non-technical founder or have little experience when it comes to product development you might be reading up to this point, feeling overwhelmed and point-blank saying:
“This is a lot. What if I don’t know what I’m doing at all?”
That’s okay. It’s better to acknowledge a lack of knowledge now and identify what you need to learn, before charging into hiring a developer or team and hoping to simply “figure it out” as you go.
The best way to chart a course forward is to connect with someone who has CTO or development experience or has been in your shoes as a startup founder in your same industry. In connecting, you naturally collapse your learning curve and you gain early insight into upcoming challenges and lesser-known pitfalls.
In terms of finding a mentor, LinkedIn is the best way to connect. You’d be surprised at how well a personalized LinkedIn direct message titled “I want to pick your brain, [Name]” will do in catching someone’s attention.
Another route to take is to reach out to founders that are recently featured in interviews for publications like Thrive Global, or Authority Magazine. In these interviews, they often share ways to get in touch with them personally, or with their company. You can sometimes source direct emails or get access to their Calendly links to book a time to chat.
Overall, make sure there’s a clear fit in connecting. Do your research on the individual, their previous project(s), companies, and background. From there you can formulate smarter questions to make the most of your time and gain better insights.
Where to Look When You Want to Hire a Freelance Programmer Online
At this point, you’ve completed all prior steps and determined that you want to move forward with hiring a freelance developer. Nowadays, there are a number of sites that allow you to find suitable candidates.
Here are just a handful of sites to consider:
Upwork: This is one of the most popular sites for freelance developers. Upwork makes it super easy to post job openings and attract applicants for a variety of jobs and skill types. However, the process to interview and vet candidates is a little more time-consuming.
Fiverr: Similar to Upwork, Fiverr makes it easy to find talent across the globe, but any vetting is left up to you. Bear in mind that while you can find rock-bottom developer rates here, you can run into the age-old adage of “you get what you pay for”.
Toptal: A recommended site when it comes to matching companies with talent. This site also offers the ability to screen candidates and offers a free calculator tool to estimate freelancer rates.
Authentic Jobs: This job posting site has been around since 2005. Whether companies need remote, freelance, interns, or full-time developers, they look here to hire professionals.
Stack Overflow: Stack Overflow is one of the largest and most well-known developer communities. The community features a job board where you can source talent. A number of big companies rely on Stack Overflow for recruitment and hiring needs.
Gun.io: This is a well-respected platform for hiring tech talent. This platform is also known for its customer service and full money-back guarantee.
LinkedIn: With the ease and ability to post and share jobs to millions of job-seekers and securely message potential candidates, LinkedIn is a necessary addition to this list.
How to Write an Effective Job Description
Once you’ve determined who you want to hire and where you’re looking to source talent online, you can start crafting your job description.
In general, creating a job description comes down to detailing the following key sections.
This includes the type of programmer you need, their required years or level of experience, degree of study (if applicable), and the programming languages they need to be familiar with.
In this section, you’ll detail the job responsibilities of the developer. For example, they might be in charge of testing and deploying software and observing user feedback to better recommend system improvements.
List of Desired Technical Skills
There are so many tools and facets to technology, but a good programmer should have a good grasp of more than just how to code. They should also understand data structuring (how to cleanly organize code to successfully execute and solve a problem), and source control (how to store code and manage it with team members).
List of Desired Soft Skills
A good programmer knows how to code but also how to collaborate with a team. This section is where you’ll detail the required soft skills you’re looking for. For example, self-awareness in assessing weaknesses and learning what is needed to learn is key. Another is being accountable. If a mistake is made, a professional developer will own up to it, and with your team, you’ll work toward a solution and workflow to not repeat the same mistake.
Finally, in this section, you’ll include a short blurb about the company. This is also the section to layout your company culture.
While hiring, culture fit should not be the biggest factor in your decision for a developer. However, it’s still important to consider talent that resonates with your company and its overall vision and values. This impacts your team dynamic.
What to Look for in Programmer Applicants
Once you hit “Publish” on your job post, you’ll need to ready yourself for the influx of applicants and the process of reviewing candidates.
Like any other job search process, it will take time and bandwidth to find the right fit. However, the key piece to bear in mind with hiring programmers is that good talent doesn’t wait. Talented developers are likely fielding multiple job opportunities, and they will go where they are needed.
It’s important when receiving applications to make a shortlist of the best applicants. This includes those that submit resumes that match the requirements and keywords within your job post. Additionally, look for details about projects that are similar to what you’re intending to build out and what they’ve accomplished in doing so. For example, did they help create a project on a faster development timeline than anticipated?
Beyond resumes, review online profiles for developers by asking for their usernames for StackOverflow and Github. These platforms are major communities for programmers and most, if not all, professional programmers will have a profile. The main purpose isn’t for you to analyze their repositories, but to see what contributions they have made. Seeing regular activity shows you that this potential candidate is willing to go out of their way to learn new methodologies, keep pace with new trends, and problem solve.
Additionally, take the time to review any references provided. For platforms like Upwork, read through the reviews of previous clients on the results of projects completed. This is a great way to get a peek into the skills of the candidate and see what it would be like working together. If it’s possible, reach out to previous clients and references for further insight.
How to Further Assess Potential Candidates
Beyond the resume and online profiles, there are a number of assessment tools to help you test the skills of your shortlist of candidates.
Assessment tools can help you determine hard and soft skills, and in the event of lacking technical expertise, these tools can help you see if the programmer has the technical skills you need.
A good assessment tool will be easy to set up, review and run, supports multiple coding languages and frameworks, is cost-effective, provides good support, and makes your hiring process easier.
The following assessment platforms are options to consider and better lean toward simpler startup needs while providing an experience that appropriately challenges your candidates.
The interview process can feel daunting. Not only for the fact that the right developer can make or break your startup idea (no pressure), but also because you’re leading the conversation with a lack of coding or development knowledge. It’s hard to assess an area that you don’t know.
In the case of being a non-technical founder, your best course of action is going to be leading with and communicating what you want (see above sections on laying out your “roadmap”), as well as behavioral-based questions to get to know the candidate. This includes the time-tested questions like “What is your greatest weakness?”, etc.
Beyond that, dig a little deeper to get an understanding of the prior projects that the developer worked on. Green flags are projects that a developer is happy to share, are still online, and are easily searchable.
Finally, during the interview, you can discuss completing a small project for a set fee. This is a great way to test the developer, while potentially getting some internal work done. The bonus for the developer is that they receive a small payment in exchange.
Making the Decision
When it comes to the interview and follow-up consideration for the candidate, it can be helpful to pull in an advisor or colleague in a Chief Technical Officer (CTO) or an HR Manager with tech recruiting experience to help in the final stages of the review process.
Overall, the best match will be with a developer who understands the visions and is passionate about the startup idea. For being in a position where you may not hold all the cards and have a limited budget to pull them on board, passion in a team goes a long way.
Rather than hiring the most experienced developer, make the final offer to someone who can communicate effectively, you’ll enjoy working long hours with, and who is flexible and willing to learn.
The end goal is bringing a developer on board to help you bring a vision to life. It’s both an exciting and challenging process and all the work invested is going toward expanding your team and making the impossible possible.