You’ve got an idea for a web platform or mobile app that you’ve decided to turn into a real product. You’ve documented what you want the product to do and you may have even drawn up some screens. So, now you need someone to make your idea into a living, breathing product. Along with figuring out how to brief a developer, hiring a developer is somewhere near the top of the list of challenges when building a web platform or mobile app. It’s such an important decision to make, but where do you start?
How do developers work?
The first thing is to understand the structure of the development industry. Developers can work via different arrangements:
- As an employee - where they work for you either in a permanent role or via a fixed-term contract
- As a freelancer (or contractor) – either hired by you directly or via an agency/recruitment firm; with the agency performing a mainly administrative role (e.g. billing, payroll, etc) and charging a percentage of the fee paid for the freelancer
- As an agency – where the agency is an outsourcing partner; offering a variety of services related to developing apps
As a new business, you do have a few additional options:
- Find a “technical” co-founder – someone who will build, operate and enhance your product for you in exchange for some equity in your business
- Apply for an accelerator – where some of these provide development skills and business guidance in exchange for some equity in your business
So, which one is right for you?
There’s a lot to weigh up here and it’s not a decision to take lightly. Some considerations include:
- How much control do you want to have in your company? The more equity you give away, the less control you have.
- What’s your budget? Some options are cheaper for you than others.
- How much do you want to be “involved” in the technical building of your app? Similar to the budget question, the more involved you want to be, the cheaper it will be.
- What roles do you need to fill? If you need different skills to make your idea a reality, some options will act as a "one-stop-shop" for all of your development needs.
While these are the obvious questions, there are a few other considerations to factor in.
What are your ultimate goals for the platform or app?
This is an important question to ask yourself as this affects the type of developer you look for. Are you building an app to sell out at a future stage? Or are you in it to create an ongoing stream of income for yourself?
When you give away equity or take on investment funding, there is always the expectation that people will want to get their money back – and then some. There are people that build apps purely for the opportunity to sell it for big bucks some time in the future. This business model generally involves large-scale investment up-front with a view of not making any profit in the short-term (think of any large online platform, and chances are this is how they’ve done it). Investors and founders make their money on the sale of the product (or going public on a stock exchange).
If you want to build your app purely to supplement or replace an existing salary, then you want to find an option that involves business partner(s) that have the same goals as you do, or you outsource to a freelancer or developer.
Do you know anyone personally or through a friend or acquaintance that might fit the bill in any of the above categories?
By far, the easiest way to find a developer is through a referral – either someone you know personally or someone that has a good reference from someone you know and respect. Like anyone that you might hire for your business, trust is an important part of the equation and if you can find someone you trust through your own network, it makes things a lot easier.
There’s a caveat here – don’t trust blindly! The developer may be good at what they do, but they may not have any experience in your domain or industry. The person you know may have had good results with a developer, but others might not have. Do your due diligence to make sure that the referral or recommendation is the right choice for your project.
Who will make a better long-term partner?
Knowing someone may not be enough of a reason to hire them. Building and running a platform or app is an on-going process. As I explained in Part 4 of my series on product and software development, your product will change and evolve over time. You’ll also have ongoing maintenance and support issues to deal with. This means that ideally, your developer is in it for the long haul. You want someone that isn’t just attracted to the shiny, new platform or app you want to build. This someone needs to stick around after it’s been built. There are so many stories of developers that become unresponsive after the initial launch – mainly because they want to get onto the next shiny project. It’s not always easy to find the right developer though – generally, most will already be taken by the high-paying startups or they work in large corporations.
Where does that leave you?!
You most likely won’t be able to afford to hire a developer in a permanent role and if you want to retain control of your business, then most of the equity options are out. This means you’re left with finding a tech co-founder, using a freelancer or an agency.
There is no “best” option here. A lot will depend on the person or agency that you choose – and there can be lots of variation in quality between them. Choose carefully as picking the right developer is an important factor in the success of your development project (check out my tips article for other factors).
To wrap up, if you’re looking to build a web/online platform or mobile app and you can’t code, then you’ve got to put together your own development team. There are several options for doing this and you’ll have to decide which is best for you based on your circumstances.
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