How to Find a Developer for Your Startup Idea: Don’t!

The GymPact TeamThe NextWomen Technology Theme

Yifan Zhang, CEO and Co-Founder of GymPact, looks at some alternatives to finding a developer for your startup idea.

The one question I’m asked most by first-time, non-technical founders is, “How do I find a developer”?  My suggestion is, don’t.  At least not right away.  Why?

  • Don’t, because good developers are highly in demand and not likely to be short of startup ideas. 
  • Don’t, because a bad tech co-founder can destroy a good idea and create infinite headaches down the line. 
  • Don’t, because you haven’t yet proven your worth as a non-tech co-founder. 
  • Don’t hire a contractor because without experience, you will have a hard time selecting a good contractor or writing specs good enough to outsource, and you will spend a lot of time and money with little to show at the end.

Of course, I’ve made many of the mistakes listed above.  So what should you do then?  Unless you find and attract an excellent tech co-founder who believes in your idea alone and is willing to join you on equity compensation (in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog post), here are my suggestions in order of speed and preference:

1. Prove your assumptions without code. 

Figure out what is the biggest risk to your startup idea, and come up with a non-build way to test it. 

At GymPact, we knew the biggest risks were – Would people sign up for this?  And would our incentives work?  So we put up Craigslist ads to recruit alpha testers, and slapped paper sign-in sheets at local gyms to verify gym attendance. 

2. Learn to code yourself. 

If you really can’t test your assumptions without a product, this may be, no joke, the fastest way to get it built.  Caveat: this doesn’t work for everyone, myself included. 

If you are smart, have even a little background in CS (took that one intro class in college), patient enough to fix bugs (my fatal lacking), and interested, learn how to code by building a small piece of your MVP – minimal viable product yourself.  By learning through building something useful, hopefully the desire to make your startup happen will propel you to seek resources and learn what you need to develop your product.  And it’ll rise your esteem in the eyes of potential tech co-founders.

3. Bribe a technical advisor to help you work with a contractor. 

As a last resort, seek out technical friends.  Even if they don’t want to join your startup, you can offer them incentives (small amounts of equity? stipend? cookies?) to help you sort out a good contractor from the likes of, Odesk, etc and write detailed specs for the contractor to carry out.  With enough beer, your friend may even be persuaded to review the code, or become interested in what you’re doing.

Tip: Make sure to set milestones dates for your contractor, and bonuses for finishing early.  This will keep your project on the top of their project pile.

If you’ve seen other successful tactics at finding developers as a first-time entrepreneur, I’d love to hear them. Good luck on starting your companies!

Yifan Zhang is the CEO and Co-Founder of GymPact, a fitness app that gives you cash rewards for exercising, paid for by those who didn't get off the couch!  She has been featured on Entrepreneur Magazine, CNBC and Kiplinger's, and was previously named "Boston's Most Impressive New CEO" by The Boston Globe. Yifan graduated magna cum laude in economics from Harvard University, and was part of the Techstars Boston class of 2012. Contact her at @yifanz.

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