Business People: How to Find Your First Developer For Your Startup

Posted on Categories Business, Startup, Technology

In my previous blog post Developers: Running Your Own Company Isn’t Only About Writing Code I talked about developers (a.k.a. programmers) need much more than programming skills to run their own company. This post is for the business people who always ask: “How do I find a good developer to help build my idea”

It’s a good question. Finding the first developer is a very important step in growing your business. This person will likely turn out to be the CTO because you have built a good rapport with them. This person will be the reason why other developers come (or dont come!) to your company. Since developers want to work with other smart developers.

I will highlight some things that go through developers heads so you can be aware of it and address it when you approach them. Then I will suggest some steps on how to find them. For ease of writing, I am going to refer to the business person as Bill and the elusive programmer as Peter.

What goes on in Peters head when approached by Bill

Developers are weary to work directly with business folk because they dont always “get them”. Developers are really like artists. They need room to breath and be creative. There are times when they need to put in extra hours – but coding is not like sales (i.e. the more you talk, the more you sell). Peter can not simply write more lines of code and have a better product. If Bill approaches Peter and talks about his business idea as a piece of art where he needs artists to work on, it is a much different conversation than if Bill says he needs factory workers. This is a subtle but key point that Bill needs to be aware of. When you want to build an Ark and attract builders, you dont talk about carpentry, you talk about the places that you will sail to.

Talk about the vision, talk about the great things you will change. Talk about the code as a beautiful piece of machinery that will get you there. Talk about the code as it if were a Mercedes, not a disposable 1985 Honda Civic (now, your first version of your code might look like a 1985 honda civic, but the vision is the Mercedes). When Bill talks like this, he is signalling that he sees deep value in Peters work, and not as a stepping stone to get his millions.

Peter knows that you don’t know much about his world (Scalability, High Availability, NOSQL Databases, Backbone vs. Ember JS, etc) so dont pretend that you know about it. Being inauthentic is a big signal to run away for developers. You should read a little about their world, then use it as a topic starter.  You just need a couple tech conversation topics, and you are good to go. But be authentic, dont pretend you know everything about the subject, but also dont be so clueless – this shows that you have no interest in their world.

Here are some basic developer conversation starters

“Hey, I read that Backbone is better than Ember as a framework for JavaScript. What do you think?  (And can you help explain to me  like you would to your mother)

“Hey, I hear a lot about these NOSQL  databases’s  like Cassandra and Mongo, but I know facebook still uses MYSQL for some parts – what’s your thoughts about these new databases?  (and remember, I’m not actually a technical person, but interested in this topic, so if you could explain it in simple terms, that would be great.)”

“I have heard a lot of great things about the programming language Ruby on Rails, but I also know that PHP still has some strong points. What do you think – and please try to explain to me as you would a non technical person – I find this stuff interesting.”

After Bill has warmed Peter up on these topics, then Bill can start talking about his vision. The next section covers where Peter hangs out and how Bill can present his vision.


Where Peter the Programmer hangs out

Peter likely already has a job and making good money. But it does not mean that you can not reach them. Developers also frequent certain places.

First Step:

Create a simple website on Tumblr or (very easy to do) and describe the vision of the product in words and in a video (do a you tube recording of you talking and post it on your site). This way, you can leave the developer a link to a site with more information for them to act on (rather than a business card). You can also use this page to share with other prospective hires and investors as to your product idea.

Second Step:

1) Go to meetups (on search for technology topics that pertain to your idea (i.e. Ruby programming language, medical developers, PHP developers, JavaScript Developers) and go to these meetups. Talk to people (using the topics I suggested above) and see where it leads you

2) Post on craigslist/kijiji for a developer job description and put a link to your site that explains your vision. You might not get the best people here, but you will get some leads

3) Stack overflow is a large FAQ website for developers. Developers come here to ask questions that do not have common solutions. Stack overflow also happens to have a job board where you can try to recruit your developer. Have a post to your site here

4) hacker news. This is a forum for developers that talk about the latest technology companies, products, etc from a developers view. Just read the blogs to get a glimpse into their world. Do not create an account and say you are looking for a developer, they will get annoyed and shun you.

5) angel list – this is a website where angel investors meet startups and startups can find talent. Post your company here and try the career finding tool. You can use this as your website instead of a tumblr blog (since it allows you to describe your company and post videos)

6) Don’t outsource (unless you know that countries culture or know the outsourcing company personally). Your product changes so much at the beginning, you need someone close to do quick changes and contribute good ideas. You need high bandwidth communication. Do not underestimate culture differences between here and other countries. Also, you eventually need a developer in house – so you are just putting off the inevitable. If you are building a technology company, you need to put a lot of time in finding technology people. You don’t build a car company with no in house experience on how to build cars.


The last part is compensation. You have to figure out how to pay them  anywhere from 60K – 120K. This is for another blog post….

I would love to hear your comments below, I will reply to all of them.