Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about internet startups and entrepreneurial software developers (or as I like to call them, “developer entrepreneurs”).
And lo and behold, no sooner did I sit down to write about it than I received an email with my “prompt” for this post. It went something like this:
For several years I have been refining a business idea to be conceived as an Internet startup. I have met with numerous developers over time and even after they express support for the business concept, my challenge has been in persuading web developers in partnering in the opportunity as entrepreneurial venture.
Could you suggest to me an approach I could take to persuade Developers, to see such opportunities as business ventures instead of a project/job?
How should I go about selling the business concept enough to have development of the application without initial funds?
If you’re a non-technical founder looking for a developer entrepreneur, these are questions you should ask yourself. Having been on the developer side of the coin a number of times, here is my take.
Code, Marketing and Money – Pick Two
If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this:
There are three components to bringing a web startup to market: code, marketing and money. You need at least two of them to succeed.
Often, if you have one of the three you can find someone willing to partner with you.
If you have coding skills, find someone with marketing skills who’s willing to become a partner. If you have money, pay someone to do the marketing.
If you have marketing skills, find a developer who’s willing to become a partner. If you have money, pay someone to do the development.
If you don’t have coding or marketing skills but Uncle Buck just left you a mad stack of cash, put together a good team, give them a truckload of Benjamins, and send them on their way.
Before you approach a potential partner, figure out which of the three you bring to the table. If you don’t have any of them, re-consider the idea of an internet startup (or any software startup). I say that because a good idea does not count as one of the three.
You’re looking for an experienced, professional software developer, right? If you’re not an experienced, professional marketer, then why would a developer devote hundreds of hours of spare time to your project?
To summarize: if you are a non-developer looking to woo a developer, the first and most fundamental asset you need is experience bringing a product to market, or money.
Since most people reading this article will not have said truckload of Benjamins, let’s assume you have marketing experience. In that case, how should you go about courting a developer for your risky, unfunded startup? In much the same way you would court an investor: show them that the idea will succeed.
Show them a business plan (even if it’s just a long email), research, numbers, specs, sketches, designs. Show them you have done your research and are dedicated to the idea.
You’re trying to convince an investor (not of money, but of time) to fund your company. Your idea has to sound so good that this developer, someone who sees things in black and white, can’t help but volunteer hundreds of hours of their nights and weekends. Don’t bring a three-sentence summary and a quote from Us Weekly as your market research.
If you have trouble convincing developers to partner with you then one of three things is happening: your idea isn’t very good, you’re not presenting it well, or you’re presenting it to the wrong developers (see the next section). Once 3 or 4 programmers have heard your idea and walked away, start asking yourself what needs to change.
Where to Find Entrepreneurial Developers
Two bad places to look for entrepreneurial developers: your local financial institution’s I.T. department, and Craigslist.
Enterprise I.T. developers make a lot of money, and they won’t easily leave a six-figure job to do unpaid work. You’ll wind up with a long development schedule since they can only work 10-15 hours per week, their #1 priority will always be their day job, their productivity is not very good in the evenings because they’ve been coding all day, and it’s hard to depend on someone when their wife’s knitting club gets in the way of a deadline. Moonlighting is more akin to hobby development, so think twice before going down this path.
Depending on your locale you might be able to find someone on Craigslist, but more likely you will find a beginning coder who won’t have the ability or dedication to bring your product to market. It’s worth a shot, but except in rare circumstances you’ll be better off with the suggestion below.
After moving to New Haven I spent a few weeks searching online for local tech entrepreneurs (Craigslist and Google). I had no luck connecting with people and decided that no one in New Haven was starting tech companies.
When we recently moved across town due to some landlord issues, I happened to move into the house of the founder of a local tech company called Higher One. That was all it took: with this single connection I met with half a dozen entrepreneurs, angels, and developers in the course of 10 days (and many more since then).
The moral: figure out how to break into your local network.
Find a local group or search the web for “[your city] entrepreneurs.” Look for tech-focused entrepreneur groups on Facebook or other social networking sites, but go beyond that and meet people face to face. Sure, this requires you to leave your house, be social, and invest your time, but the dedication of the people you meet will exceed those you find building flat-file importers at IndyMac.
[tags]internet startups, startups, programming, entrepreneurs[/tags]