How to Convince Developers and Designers to Join Your Startup


I am your typical first-time ‘idea-guy’ entrepreneur who had an idea at 20 years old and wanted to see it come to fruition. I had no technical expertise, no understanding how to run a business or “lean startup,” and absolutely no reputation. And I faced what hundreds of entrepreneurs face today: I had the next big idea and all I needed was developers and designers to design and build it. By the way, if you think people will come to you to build it because you have the best idea in the world, I’m sorry to say that you are mistakingly wrong. Ideas are nothing today; execution with the right team is everything.

But somehow through many expensive failings and painful, dark weeks, I am now with an amazing and talented team of 2 developers and 1 designer. And I want to share with you 3 steps in how I did it so you can quickly focus on the more important thing: finding product market fit through constant learning and not worrying about just building the product.


1) Learn the language.

If you had to sell something to someone in France who didn’t speak English and that sale would profit $10,000, wouldn’t you go try to learn some basic French to do so? That’s exactly how you should be thinking when convincing devs & designers to join your team. You’re selling your business vision to them, and convincing them to give up their time and opportunity cost of a hefty salary at Facebook to work with you, for a chance to profit something large when exiting.

I’m not saying to go learn the ins and outs of programming and design, rather just go learn the basics. Go learn how the Internet works, some basic HTML/CSS, how databases work, what certain colors and shapes mean, what are the popular user interface techniques being employed. How? Research, ask questions, and try things yourself.

The more you learn, the more you understand how to speak to engineers and designers. The more you understand, the more you think like them. The more you think like them, the more they respect you.

One of the biggest key takeaways I learned after learning their language: engineers and designers thrive on people ACTUALLY using and enjoying their work.  That’s what drives and excites them to join you.


2) Show your commitment.

Someone once told me once you decide to start a business, you pretty much just gave up the next 5 years of your life, minimum. Instead of going partying or socializing with friends, you should now be going to events to network with potential customers, constantly learning and researching online, and refining your product with mockups, etc. Not many people realize this, and blissfully split their time between their business idea and ___________ (school, work, friends, etc.).

This is where you can recognize great entrepreneurs to work with vs. wantrepreneurs to avoid. If you want to convince a designer or developer to forego a $100,000+ salary to join your unfunded startup, they have to know you’re going to do whatever it takes to succeed. They have to know if you are a passionate entrepreneur chasing after a vision or just another “idea guy” wanting to strike it rich because of all the hype they read from the media.

You’re going to have to sacrifice parts of your life, and that shouldn’t matter because you are so damn excited about executing on your idea with an awesome team.


3) Get as much validation as YOU can.

This is the most difficult, but if you can achieve this, this is the easiest way to convince. Basically you want to de-minimize as much risk perceived by the devs and designers. Their risk is giving up a steady job, steady paycheck, and a chunk of their life dedicated to your idea.

So how do you do this? Go create mockups and ask potential customers if they would use/pay for it. Go create customer surveys and know the ins and outs of your market. Bring on some credible advisors onto your team so they can vet for you and your idea. Build a landing page and collect email addresses to show how much interest your product has generated. Go outsource some development or code the most basic version of your product.

Go do whatever it takes to show that your product is the next big thing you claim it is. The best test is for you to put yourself as an investor who is thinking about investing money into your idea. What information/validation would you want to get you excited to invest money into the business? That’s the same way engineers and devs think and instead of money, they will be investing time and sweat.


This process will be painful, but no one said starting your own business was going to be easy. None of these should seem like work, rather should be perceived as challenges to overcome and learn from.

Are you a developer, designer, or entrepreneur who successfully recruited engineers/designers onto your team? Do you agree with these 3 steps? Got any more? Let me know in the comments!


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  • yup, agree with the points above! i think showing your commitment (quitting your job, putting your own money into it) shows a lot to potential founders. something i remember is nothing happens overnight, it’s best to be friends first before getting married!

    • Tim

      Exactly, showing your commitment in terms of giving up your own steady paycheck is HUGE proof that you’re in it for the vision. And couldn’t agree more that things take time. Rarely is there such thing as success happening overnight.

  • Points 1&3 are an absolutely must. Well said. As far as #2, I’m personally somewhat against it. But you’re right, I hear entrepreneurs, vcs, and even professors, talk about startup-life as this dark, 100-hour work week that needs to be the ONLY thing you ever think about. I disagree. Sure, as a startup, your biggest advantages are being lean, agile and nimble, but that doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself until you make it – especially if you want your team to stay motivated. Taking some time off once or twice a week is hugely valuable in my mind; and for a few reasons: FULLY disconnecting for say a whole day, allows your mind to wander freely and then come back re-energized ready to attack. In addition to that, that period of break often gives birth to our most creative insights and thoughts. When you’re attacking a problem non-stop (while “giving up 5 years of your life”), you become tunnel visioned. So I think as leaders of young companies, it’s important to create a culture that embraces some down time. And more often than not (assuming you’ve hired a solid team 🙂 ), you might find that you have to force your team to take this time, because they’re all so into your startup that they just want to work. Just my thoughts.

    • Tim

      I absolutely agree that taking time off during the work days and weekends are crucial. I practice that myself. I shut down on weekends to reenergize myself so I am 100% in during the work weeks.

      What I was trying to get across with #2 is to show commitment in terms of not having a full-time job and doing a startup at the same time. Definitely go out with friends for some down-time, but I know some people who get distracted from going out and not focus on their business as a result.

  • May Busch

    Many thanks for this great post, Tim. You’ve hit on some crucial
    concepts and action steps for those of us who want to succeed and win!

    a new entrepreneur (after 24 years in a “big time corporate career” –
    and yes that was by choice!), I agree that finding the “right people” to
    form the “right team” so that you can collectively deliver the outcomes
    (i.e., execute) matters far more than “just” having the idea.

    for the “right people”, you’re absolutely right to say that they need
    to be completely bought into and super excited about what you are
    seeking to do. In fact, I’ve come to believe that the talented person
    who is “in love with” your business is a far better choice than the
    genius person who is indifferent.

    On the topic of the
    “right team”, I’ve come across a very useful tool for checking out
    whether you’ve got the right balance across your team. It’s called
    Kolbe-A and I know entrepreneurs who won’t hire anybody onto their
    teams without knowing their Kolbe-A profile. My key take away is that we
    need a diverse set of thinkers and doers in order to succeed, and the
    trick is to have each person understand how those others (who are
    different) think and work and then to cultivate mutual respect. That’s
    the way to make differences among individual team members into
    unbeatable strength across the team as a whole.

    Finally, I would recommend your step three as great advice overall, and not just in the context of putting together your team.

    Thank you again for sharing!