How to recruit the first coder for your startup
Hiring anyone for a team is difficult. But hiring a developer is much more challenging.
Entrepreneurs have experienced most roles to some degree, whether it’s marketing, finance, or operations. But writing code and building a product? Zilch, nada, nope.
I can’t sit down and write code but I’m fairly educated in how building products works. I have to be because it’s a key part of running an early-stage startup.
I once met a plumber who was the founder and CEO of a multi-million dollar plumbing company. He was busy running the business and wasn’t doing any plumbing, but he sure as hell could do any of the jobs his employees were doing.
He knew the ins and the outs of every aspect of the business.
Yet entrepreneurs launch a startup without ANY knowledge of product development or how to find a decent coder. Not having development knowledge is ok at the start but you need to be willing to learn so you have a basic understanding, which allows you to communicate with your coder and understand the scope of what you are asking them to build.
I’ve watched tons of entrepreneurs recruit coders without any knowledge of their skill level. And ultimately end up with a shitty product...or a shitty team. You don’t want either of those problems at the start of your journey.
Here are the five lessons I’ve learned from hiring coders and helping other entrepreneurs hire their coding teams.
1. Slow. The. F**k. Down
You wouldn’t propose to someone on a first date.
You wouldn’t hire a designer without looking at their portfolio.
You wouldn’t start a cafe with someone you only met once.
Hiring coders is no different.
Slow. The. F**k. Down.
As one of my key mentors Paul Mansfield reminds me regularly, be deliberate, not desperate. It’s a great reminder that ‘winging it’ often doesn’t end the way you want.
2. Recruitment is a game
No matter what anyone tells you, recruitment is a game. Coming across needy or desperate doesn’t get you anywhere.
All the evangelism skills like FOMO & indifference that are used in sales, partnerships, and raising money work exactly the same in recruitment. But beware, recruiting coders is certainly different than recruiting salespeople.
DON'T oversell the vision. It’s likely they don’t care much about it.
DO sell yourself.
Why are you different from the other entrepreneurs who try to convince them to build their product?
Why are you the right person to lead this company?
What proof do you have that people actually want this product?
3. Wait until your product is designed and scoped
Right now, as you read this, there are tens of thousands of entrepreneurs explaining a product to coders and doing a great job of confusing the sh*t out of them.
Before you hit up a bunch of coders to join your crusade, you need a clear idea of how your product will look and flow, and the reason WHY it’s important to build.
Coders often think entrepreneurs are flakey because they’re constantly coming up with new ideas and abandoning old ones. Or requesting new features because one person requested it.
Entrepreneurs focus on the big vision and come up with ideas to get there, but coders need structure, concrete information, and detail.
When you go to a potential coder with a viable idea (this means you have solid proof people want it), killer designs, and a clearly-scoped product, it puts you in the top 1% of entrepreneurs. They'll be impressed by how ‘together’ your sh*t is. 💩
4. There are more options than ‘Tech Co-founders’
We interviewed a bunch of coders to see how they felt about the title ‘Tech Co-founder’.
Turns out most of them weren’t interested in it.
One of them said to me, “That sounds like I need to work for free to get 50% of a company that is worth nothing”.
A lot of coders were also quite intimidated by that title.
So here’s a different one for you… Tech Lead. It’s far less intimidating - and suitable for a large portion of startup circumstances.
5. Pay PLUS equity.
Coders are tired of being asked to build a product on ‘sweat for equity’ (which means no pay, but getting some ownership of your company). People need to pay their bills.
We’re big fans of discounted salaries + vested equity.
If you’re joining a startup as a coder, you can’t get paid the same as an enterprise job. There needs to be a level of sacrifice.
Salaries in an enterprise job can range from $100-200K. For a startup, the wages need to be closer to $50-70K depending on their experience.
Everyone in a startup (other than investors) should ‘vest’ their equity, which means you earn the equity over time. The standard time frame is 2 or 4 years.
For example, if you agree to give your tech lead 10% of your company, this 10% will be allocated in smaller chunks each few months over 4 years. If the coder decides to leave after 2 years, they’d walk away with 5%.
Vesting protects the company from dead weight.
Follow these tips and you’ll be WAY more likely to get the right person on your team to build a great product.