I’m often introduced to folks who have been doing consulting/tech/corporate/academic work for a while, and are looking to start a tech startup. They have an idea, and if they’re good, a network of potential investors/mentors. Hopefully they have done their research on their market, finished up some initial customer development and have a paper prototype. The problem is: they don’t know how to build a webapp.
If you are one of these people, you faced with a seemingly-monumental choice. How are you going to build the app? The options are:
- Learn to program.
- Find a technical co-founder.
- Hire an offshore team.
With a decision this big, there are a quite a few dimensions to consider. Is your first hire a co-founder? A mini co-founder? A contractor? Do you want to have someone whose interests are aligned with yours long-term? Or just something short-term? Bringing someone on full-time is going to mean giving up a significant amount of equity, particularly if you are compensating only in equity. But if you can get to a MVP prototype out yourself, you can gain some initial traction and investment and then hopefully pay a salary.
Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of each of those three options.
Learn to program
Learning to program can be an arduous task for someone who is not heavily analytical. On the other hand, it is a lot of fun, and your software development skills will be an asset to you forever.
- You’ll save equity and cash.
- It can be done.
- You’ll gain a valuable 21st-century skill.
- It can be slow.
- It can be tough.
- There is A LOT to learn.
If you’re not going to jump in the deep end and get a degree in computer science, I’d recommend code academy, or classes at a local tech space. Also, network with other techies. Nothing makes a tough task easier than a little moral support 🙂
Find a technical co-founder
As a technical co-founder of a NYC startup, I am the most experienced with this route. I went through Techstars with my partners. And we’ve been working together for 5 years.
- Given the right incentive package, you will find someone who is aligned with you for the long term. You’ll have a partner to enjoy the highs and suffer the lows with you.
- It’s quicker than learning tech yourself.
- It’s tough to recruit developers.
- You’ll give up equity.
- It’s tough to manage the personality and the output of programmers. Especially as a non-programmer.
Hire an offshore team
This is personally the option I have the least experience with. I know folks who have gotten to MVP stage with this approach, and I know others who have wasted 9 months of burn getting nowhere and eventually re-writing from scratch. Whatever you do – Invest in diligence on the team upfront and make sure your incentives are aligned with the team. If you contact me, I can intro you to some vendors who do good work.
So there you have it. The startup struggle is long and if you’re reading this post, your journey is likely just beginning. Forgive the cliche, but Entrepreneurship is truly a journey — Good luck and Godspeed 🙂