Where are the Developers Hiding?

How to acquire development talent is one of the first questions tech start-ups run into when they begin to implement the vision they have for their product. Right now, it feels like developers are hiding from start-ups looking for top talent to help build their products. So why is it so hard to find development talent?

The short answer is competition. Demand from traditional businesses, large and small, is siphoning off development talent at an unprecedented rate. How do they acquire development talent? They are recruiting early and often. Whether it be from college campuses or early-career developers with as little as one year of experience, businesses are willing to hire developers and train them in the skills they need for their projects and products.

So what are the main channels for acquiring development talent for a start-up? The three most common are: partnering with a developer for equity, learning the skills necessary for DIY development, or hiring development talent through an agency.

There are pros and cons to each approach. Let's take a look at each.

Partner with a Developer for Equity to Acquire Talent

The entrepreneurs I work with dream of disruption. Their visions are great case studies of how to innovate and transform existing markets that have been stale for decades. The sticking point comes when implementing the product and determining how to acquire development talent. The first approach is partnering with a developer.

Currently, the demand for development talent is pushing the hourly/salary price tag higher and higher. A Computer Science or equivalent degree undergraduate is being recruited as early as their sophomore year in college. Highly competitive salaries make the risk of jumping into a startup unappealing. More often, if a programmer wants to get involved with a tech startup, it will be an idea of their own that they can work on as a side project to their day job. Wooing them away with equity just is not going to be a route many are willing to pursue.

Developers are going to either need a substantial hourly rate or salary to persuade them to join any organization, especially a startup. This isn’t to say finding a developer to partner with is impossible. It just means there is a lot of competition and you will need to be creative to be appealing.

So what about the DIY approach to acquire development talent?

The DIY Approach to Development Talent

Are you a programmer? Do you know how to code? If so, you're in an envious position when it comes to acquiring development talent. You're ready to start building out your vision with the skills you already possess. However, if that's not the case you may be pondering learning the skills you need to become a developer on your own.

However, I always ask the people who are considering this route, “Why haven't you learned these skills already?” Nine times out of ten their answer is because they haven't had an interest in learning them before. If that's the case I am doubtful about the likelihood that their pivot to becoming a developer will succeed. Sure, there are plenty of resources like Simple Programmer that can help develop the skills necessary to become a developer but is the enthusiasm there to see it through?

Programming and Coding are challenging fields to master. There is a mountain of frustration that lies ahead before you will become proficient with even the basics of development, let alone becoming capable of creating the vision you have for your product. It takes a special sort of personality to enjoy the process enough to stick with it. If that's you, great! I encourage you wholeheartedly. If not, you're heading down a rabbit hole that's just going to result in a u-turn once you realize development is not the path for you.

So what does that leave? The path that I've seen the most success within tech start-ups is to acquire development talent by hiring through an agency.

Acquire Development Talent through Hiring from an Agency

This approach is by far the one that requires the most financial resources. Most agencies bill in bi-weekly increments. That means every two weeks you will need to write a check to cover the costs of the development work that has been completed. If you don't have the funds to pay, your development efforts will come to a screeching halt.

However, if you do have the funds to pay an agency, you will have access to experienced developers and usually project management as well. Agencies don't like to give the impression that they failed to deliver top-tier talent. That's why they include skilled project managers to help deliver successful results. As long as you are communicating your desired outcome, you are very likely to get it if you select a reputable agency.

You are going to need to have a cash flow strategy to employ an agency. This means you will need funds from a product or service that has enough income to cover the development costs, or an investor willing to cover your burn rate while your product is in development.

The goal with agency development is always to get from pre-revenue to income with your product before you use up all of your financial runway. If you are going the agency route, make sure you have a financial plan before you start the clock with their development team.

My preferred agency is TopTal (affiliate link). They acquire top development talent from the industry and make sure there's a plan in place before you ever get started. A lot of things can go wrong on a project, but working with TopTal reduces the risk.

Development Talent Strategy Help

If you need help acquiring development talent or building a strategy around your team, I will be happy to help. Simply use my calendar at https://NatThompson.com/cto-session to book a free consulting session with me. I'm happy to put my experience to work for you. Feel free to reserve any open spot.