Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner. One of our first — and biggest — hurdles was finding someone who could actually build the product my partner and I wanted bring to market. But the real challenge, we quickly realized, wasn’t just hiring a developer; it was hiring the right developer.
Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I had any tips for hiring the right developer to fill in the gap left on a team that doesn’t have a tech founder on-board at the outset.
A short, 3-minute video in which I offer my response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I’d share the four key takeaways with you here:
RECOGNIZE THEIR WORTH, NOT THEIR RATE
Money isn’t always the only motivator driving a developer’s decision to join your team. In fact, it’s rarely the main motivator. Yes, the issue of compensation will be one of the first issues to come up. But in my experience, the last thing you want to do is to start negotiating rates right out of the gate.
Why? Because it sends the wrong message. It says this is predominantly a monetary transaction — and that strategy almost always backfires. Because the minute the money is gone, so, too, is the developer.
To avoid the “money trap” discussion, my suggestion is to steer the conversation toward what it is you’re trying to build. That’s really what most developers want to talk about anyway. So engage them in a dialogue about the product, not the price. By engaging the developer in that type of conversation, you are effectively telling them that their opinion is worth something to you. And letting someone know you value their opinion is something you can’t put a pricetag on.
WORK TOWARD MILESTONES, NOT MINUTES ACCUMULATED
The tendency when you’re working with someone for the first time, especially when that someone is on the other side of the world (which is often where your developer is likely to be), is to constantly want to check up on them.
It’s only natural, if you think about it. You want to make sure your developer (again, often on the other side of the world) is doing what they say they’re doing, when they say they’re doing it. And the way most entrepreneurs do that is to ask their developer for a time sheet.
I’ve found this type of micromanaging is completely counterproductive. The concept of “trust but verify” may have worked with the Soviets during the nuclear arms race in the ’80s, but it doesn’t work very well with a person you’re touting as an integral member of your team.
This isn’t to say that you should throw caution to the wind and just turn a blind eye to what your developer is (or isn’t) doing. Rather than focus on hours accumulated, however, I’ve found it’s better to focus on accountability. And the best way to make people accountable is to work toward milestones you both agree to upfront.
It’s called “iterative” development, and I’m a big fan. Breaking down the project into a series of measurable milestones not only keeps things on track, it allows you and your developer to anticipate adjustments before they need to be made.
So tear up those time sheets, and start talking to your developer about what needs to happen and when. And stop looking over their shoulder!
MAKE THEM PART OF THE MOVEMENT
If you want to find the right developer, you need to make them feel as if they are part of the team — and you need to do that from the very beginning. Again, it’s really not about the money. It’s about the contribution the developer believes he or she can make to the process.
So here’s a suggestion: When you go out to talk about your successes as a founder and as a company, talk about your developer. Whenever possible, attribute your success to your developer. Make your successes their successes.
If you think about it, touting your team in public should come naturally. After all, at our core, most entrepreneurs are evangelists. But instead of thumping a Bible, we’re out pounding the pavement with a business plan. So doesn’t it make sense to make your developer a part of the movement from the outset?
LET THEM CONTRIBUTE & MAKE A DIFFERENCE
This may be the last tip to finding the right developer, but truth be told, telling your developer you want him or her to make a difference should be the first thing you say to them.
Here’s the irony: The best developers really aren’t technicians; they’re problem solvers. And chances are you probably had a pretty big problem on your hands if you had to go outside the organization to find someone to figure it out.
So let your developers do their job. Give them the latitude and the leverage they need to tackle the problem you brought them in to solve in the first place. Steve Jobs often called it “making a dent in the universe” — but you can’t make a dent if you let your developer make a difference.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Finding the right developer is often seen as a daunting, potentially overwhelming process. But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially if you approach the process of hiring a developer like you’re hiring a member of the team.
Because if it works out, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
This article is the second of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one.