Can you give us suggestions on hiring senior developers for our startup?

Hello everyone, I would like to bring to your attention the many doubts and questions that we have on our mind concerning the foundation of a new web startup. Since September 2015 I’ve been working with my business partner on a web product on which we believe a lot. Conscious about the possible success of our idea we decided to launch a new company and make tangible what is for now just a bunch of ideas on our mind and notes on our desks. We are already facing the reality that neither me nor my partner have the technical competences needed in this field although we have economics and business expertise. Initially we thought about outsourcing the whole development of the product, by assigning it to a third party. However after a short time we understood that this wasn’t the right path to follow. We then decided to create an in-house team that will fill in for the holes in our knowledge. This is where the majority of our problems come from. Since we only have a fledgling of the product, our idea was to set up a company, rent an office and start to hire the professionals that we need to develop the business. Initially the idea was to hire 2 programmers and 1 web designer. We were not conscious about the job market for these kind of positions so we were not interested about the age or the experience of the candidates, especially because we didn’t want to invest too many financial resources in such an uncertain environment. However after researching this particular field we learnt that the development team was very important to reduce the risk of failure in the early stage. We have decided that the best move is to hire a senior programmer with proven expertise on web development and coding languages. We want him to help us select the right candidates to hire for the development of the product. • Where can we find this kind of expereinced programmer? • The main concern about the idea of hiring professionals for our entrepreneurial project is the risk of exposing our business model to professional figures who could steal the idea and develop it by themselves. How can we reduce this kind of risk? We thank you all for your time and really appreciate your help. Feel free to give us your advice on whatever seems wrong or incorrect. Best regards. Jacopo


First of all, don't be afraid to share and exposing your business model. The Fear of stealing ideas is limiting you.
I don't know your business model, your idea, your service or product, but no one of these will be the key of your success.

The people, and how you talk to your market, will be.

You don't sell product or service, you sell yourself (people) ... especially in the first time of your startup, when no one knows you.

Every day someone builds a product or service that is a copy of another. The difference is the market and how he/she talks to the market.

Back to your question.
Hire one senior, skilled person, that after will be in charge of hiring other people is a right way.

I didn't understand the reasons of why outsourcing wasn't the right way to follow. Costs? Was it a firm?

Don't know. But...
I can share a simple process that I follow every time in my business, even if I'm a developer and I could write all the code, I didn't write a line of code for software that serves my clients.

You have to sketch your solution (application).
Do it with tools or pen and paper (the right tool is better).
I use keynote for mac or balsamiq is also a great tool.

You have to have the entire application designed. Every page, every feature is running in the sketch. All the elements.

It'll take a lot of hours or even days.

Don't care about design and "looks good" now. Be fast.
Don't care about "is it possible this?" question. Sketch it and write a note or doubts in a post-it.

Now you don't have only a clear vision in you mind, you also have something that you can share with a developers.

Developers are strage guys.
They can build and make things from nothing but it's not easy when the product is placed only in a corner of your mind.

"Rock Star" developers loves to work on UI (user interfaces). There is no-way to get off the road.
And when they perfectly understand your application, they can give you advice, clear your doubts and build it faster.

The key point here is to get the version 1.0 as fast as you can. Give it to your market and get feedback.

To overcame the fear of stealing ideas, you could split your big application in a lot of smaller pieces.

You should search and hire rock star freelances from website like and give to a single professional only a small task.

Then, hire a trusted person that put all together, like a puzzle. This works, I know a few friends that do this strategy.

I can't tell you more than this, because a lot of decision depends of what are you trying to build, how much money you can invest and what are getting you stuck.

Answered 7 years ago

First, understand that "an employee stealing your idea" is not in the top ten things to worry about for a startup. Ideas are everywhere. It is the execution that makes all the difference.

Second, your challenge is a common one. I have been on both sides of the challenge. About ten years ago I answered an advertisement for a "web and database developer in the Bay area" — the only problem was that I was in South Carolina! It was a two man startup with tons of SME (subject matter expertise) in a neat industry, What they really needed was a CTO, DBA and programmer. So that is the role I served. Regardless of what they called my role. I had to show them I could deliver and within the timeline. We knock it out of the park!

Your answer lies in great part in your network of connections. Your first level (or personal) connections may not be your answer, but it is a fact that one of their connections will be, at least in 80% of the cases. Be open to various scenarios of "employee" vs. 1099 employee or hired gun. You need to solve this problem yesterday! Does the nature of the status of employment really matter?

Finally, consider the burn rate for staffing your company with even just two programmers. Senior or otherwise. Remember this: "Go with the A team in every hire." The odds are against your success, why further handicap your dream by hiring B or C players? With this economy there are amazing people available.

Pair your pitch down to ten slides, I love Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 model (, and schedule a call with me.

Answered 7 years ago

Building a piece of software (that's unique or not) is one thing. Running a business is a completely different thing. Do not worry about your idea being stolen.

That said, I would always suggest looking at a developer's resume and sample code (GitHub, etc.). They should be active. If you find someone without any online presence, they don't follow news or communities for things...That's a red flag.

For a senior developer, ensure they have 6+ years real-world experience. Ensure they have been exposed to a variety of tools and languages. Ensure they are enthusiastic about what they do and that they are a good problem solver.

Get a developer like that...And you're set.

Also try to find those who have experience with the same kind of tools you'll be using. A developer should be able to tell you the appropriate tools for your project. They shouldn't try to shoehorn it into something that doesn't make sense simply because they don't have experience with those tools. So you may need to have a general sense for your architecture first before hiring a developer. You want a very senior person helping you out with this (pssst, Clarity is a good place to for this...shameless self-promo - come ask me, I'll let ya know what you need).

Programming is NOT about sticking to one language and knowing every little tiny detail. It's not about committing some API to memory. It's about problem solving and organization.

When hiring, I rarely ask programmers to do silly tests or write out code on a whiteboard, etc. That's a meaningless academic way of assessing how well someone has memorized something (that likely does not even relate to your own product!). It has absolutely zero bearing on real-world web application programming. Plus, you won't be able to do that because you wouldn't know if it was good code or not.

So instead, I focus on problem solving. You can too. I throw out challenges and ask how would you do this? What kind of database would you use. Or which language? Would you need multiple languages even? What is the work flow? How would you deploy and make changes to the app? How would you handle a situation where millions of users were online and the app was crashing?

You can learn a lot by having high level conversations like that. Don't forget cultural fit and communication skills also play a huge role here.

Answered 7 years ago

Hi Jacopo,
I've recruited dozens of engineers in several disciplines of software development over the past 12 or so years. Recruiting for software development is challenging and I've made mistakes over the years that helped me develop lessons that I now try to follow when coaching entrepreneurs on this topic.

1. Know Your Risk Level and Be Upfront About It - Some of the best engineers I know are very sensitive to the risk level of companies they are considering. Since you are a startup with (likely) an unproven product/startup idea, you will need to convince candidates that the idea is a clear winner and that the risk is worth it to them. Being upfront about this will act as a filter to eliminate developers who cannot tolerate risk. Ask interview questions that probe for this tolerance level.

2. Try Not to Worry About IP Theft (a.k.a. Share Your Business Model) - If a senior developer you interviewed could take your idea, create a competitive product, launch it and gain market share all before you've brought your idea to market, then it wasn't a very good idea to begin with. The friction in creating great software products is very high and does not begin and end with an engineer. So many things have to fit and be executed well to succeed, that the risk of an interviewee stealing your idea and making it WORK is next to nothing. This should not be your "main concern."

That said, there are ways to protect your intellectual property--once you have something to protect--that you should be aware of. This post from Steve Blank is a good start:

3. Have Clear Metrics that Execute the Vision - Perhaps my number one lesson that I try to teach non-technical founders is this: the best recruiting tool you have for technical founders is your passion for the product. The best way a technical person (a.k.a. developers) can gain trust that you know how to achieve that vision is to explain the metric(s) that you will track toward achieving it. A good resource on this topic:

4. Go Where the Developers Go - If you want to find talented engineers, then start thinking like one. Go to hackathons (see for events happening in your area), attend tech-based meetups (, and scour online communities for talent looking for work. As a more direct approach, advertise your position with services like ZipRecruiter, SmartRecruiter, or if necessary, hire an agency to find a talented developer for you...this will cost you a non-trivial amount of money (typically 15% of the developers salary) but can be a *fast* way to get high-powered engineers.


There are many other variables that make answering your questions more accurately a challenge, such as:
- How finished is your product design? This is necessary to guide your recruiting strategy.
- What is your minimum viable product (MVP) that will prove your idea? Has this been validated?
- In the first 90 days of the developer's time with your company, what do you want that developer to achieve? What does success look like. Re-review this every 90 days with the developer.
- What is the market for talent like in your area? Are you looking for someone local or is a remote developer acceptable?
- Do you need someone to manage the entire "stack" for you? Is there an expectation that this person can architect, code, and deploy the software on his or her own (e.g. a full stack, devops-capable talent)?

I'd be happy to help answer any additional questions you have on a call.


Answered 7 years ago

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