I received a nice email today from someone living outside a major metro that wanted to do a startup but couldn’t find a developer. While I’m no expert on recruiting, I do read a lot. Here’s the response I sent him, slightly edited and cleansed of incriminating info, that can hopefully help someone else.
- Attend all the developer social events you can. User group meetings, hackathons, etc. You’re more likely to find startup-interested people at a Ruby or Python user group but you’re trying to find a specific developer, not a demographic, so don’t be choosy at first. Do some research beforehand on the speaker and their topic so you can participate and ask useful questions. Offer to help the organizers – running these things is a pain in the butt so it’s easy to curry favor by helping out with mundane things. This will give you some credibility within the group which is useful as a non-developer. Even if you don’t find a cofounder, you will make some technical friends that you can use to help you “sniff-test” people you hire/recruit elsewhere.
- (if you’re not a developer) Learn to program. You won’t become great, but you do need to be competent. You can build a demo of a product without having a ton of experience. I would recommend either Python/Django or Ruby on Rails. Python is a little cleaner and more consistent, but Rails has a lot of tutorials and a platform called Heroku that makes it super easy to deploy and run a website. Buy this book: http://pragprog.com/titles/rails4/agile-web-development-with-rails and work through it until you’re satisfied with what you have. You should now be able to make a decent website and have some ability to evaluate other developers’ work.
- When you find someone, give them some small, finite, measurable deliverables that you pay for (cash or equity) upon completion of each piece. They’re auditioning as a developer, but you’re also auditioning as a boss/partner. Employing a person, let alone taking them on as a partner, is a big commitment, and you want more due diligence than a couple of emails.
- Pay. Microeconomics works, so the more money you can offer, the deeper your pool of candidates you’ll have access to. If you want people to believe your stock is going to be worth something, you’d better show some convincing proof. This goes doubly outside of Silicon Valley.
- Move, or allow telecommuters. No one is going to move to a somewhat isolated town of 350,000 for you until you’re an established company. Groupon could open an office there and people would flock to it. They won’t do that for you or me. The big tech markets of NYC, SV, Boston, Seattle, Austin, etc have the deepest technical talent, but they also have tight labor markets for developers. Big metros like Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, or Los Angeles have lots of technical workers without the startup culture. Also consider smaller places with high levels of technical talent – Columbus OH, Portland, Research Triangle NC, Pittsburgh, Ithaca, etc.
- Consider applying to the SproutBox program (http://www.sproutbox.com/ ). They take a higher % of equity than other incubators, but they co-build companies with you, providing developers and other resources beyond just a little $.
Readers, do you have any other recommendations for an unfunded, unheralded startup trying to find a developer?