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!