The number one question we get asked week in, week out by people who want to know how to build a startup is:
“As a non-coder, how do I find a serious technical co-founder?”
It seems everyone these days has an “idea” and is just looking for someone to build a startup for them…
Some have baulked at quotes from local dev shops and are looking to find a CTO who will work in exchange for equity.
Others have already outsourced their MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to offshore dev shops, struggled with project management, received a hacked together end product and are now looking for a local developer to debug their code.
And we generally give them two pieces of advice:
- “Finding” a CTO is one thing, convincing that person to partner with you is another thing completely.Convincing a CTO to join you will require trust and trust requires tangible evidence of traction. An idea and a promise of equity aren’t generally an attractive offer because equity doesn’t pay rent. Most developers will expect you to bring something to the table beside your idea before committing.
- You should understand the basics of tech if you’re going to build a startup y or use an app as a marketing tool.Because building software is hard but managing your builders will be harder. Regardless of whether you’re outsourcing to offshore devs, using a local shop or relying on a CTO you need to know enough code to ensure that you maintain control of your project and that you’re not getting screwed by the developer building your product.
Traction – Your Startup Currency
When you’re pre-revenue or bootstrapped traction is the currency that counts.
Nothing is free, so the more traction you have, the more things you can afford. However, definitions of what indicates traction may vary depending on who you’re trying to convince to invest.
For an investor who is looking to put in capital, traction could come in the form of a working MVP, letters of intent from potential customers or a waiting list. When you’re making revenue it might be how sticky your customers are, how likely they would be to replace your product with a competitor.
If you’re trying to convince a developer to invest their time to actually build your product out you need to come to them with more than an idea.
Think of it like this:
- Your idea is for your family and friends.
- A landing page/sandbox prototype that demonstrates traction is necessary to pitch a developer or CTO.
- To raise venture capital you’ll need an MVP that demonstrates product-market fit, chases a sizeable market and has a strong team behind it.
How to Manage Your Developers
We don’t advocate off-shore development.
Not entirely because of the quality of developers, they usually end up getting 457 Visas and coming to work for large Australian companies anyway.
It’s mainly because project management is impossible.
How can a developer really get inside your head and bring out your vision if they’re separated by time zones and communication barriers? Accountability for deadlines, transparency on what they’re spending their time on and code reviews go out the window with outsourcing.
Accountability for deadlines, transparency on what they’re spending their time on and code reviews go out the window with outsourcing.
We’d only suggest outsourcing if the product was fairly simple and cheap to develop.
How to Build a startup if you’re going to use an offshore team…
Make sure that you’re extremely clear on what you want your application to do, start by setting up a project scope contract and stick to it.
Offshore teams are generally good at sticking to a budget so if you’re developing a product for less than $5K then at least you’ll get a basic MVP to market quickly. It definitely won’t be the best, but you’ll be able to begin testing and iterating your product on the cheap.
Make sure you peer review your outsourced team’s code every couple of months.
Sites such as Codementor can give you 15 mins with experienced engineers from between $15-20, where as a sit down third party review with a senior engineer can cost between $130-160 an hour.
Lastly and this goes for in-house developers as well, make sure they document their code.
If a devs code is doing something, they should be able to articulate what that is. Properly documented code will become crucial in the advent that they leave the company or you’re trying to efficiently scale your team.
Code is stylistic and personal so onboarding new devs can often take a few weeks to a month before they’re accustomed to someone else’s code. However, having a well-documented code base will help you speed up the onboarding of new members and scale your operations.
How to build a startup using a local developer
Just a few points on using a local developer or dev shop.
If you’re using a local developer make sure you own all IP on the code, unless they’re a technical co-founder in which case they legally own a certain percentage of it.
If you’re using a local development team, make sure you set up a milestone system where they get paid for a feature deployed (eg. 5 features = $10 000). This forces them to build a workable product from the beginning.
Never pay anyone who says “give us $40K and we’ll give you a product in 6 months”, stop the negotiations and look elsewhere.
At The End of the Day…
Your job as a non-technical founder is to bring business viability and your connections to the table so your main area of focus should be marketing, product design and sales.
However, understanding your tech will help you attract talent and project manage your team more effectively.
There are a bunch of online courses on Udemy & Lynda that can bring your technical knowledge up to speed. We suggest learn either JS or Python as a language, don’t bother with PHP, a lot of people are exposed to it because of sites such as WordPress.
Watch the video we’ve attached above where Vaibhav Namburi gives an excellent rundown of tech from a (previously) non-tech perspective and find his slides below.