You have had a great idea for a business on the boil for a while now, so you think to yourself, “I really have to do something about this!” Followed closely by, “but where do I start? I don’t know the first thing about how technology really works and this idea will need a website, app or any number of other things a modern business needs these days that has to do with those fandangled devices, computers.” But you know there are people out there who dedicate their lives to understanding the inner workings of these devices, so how do you find them? And when you do, what should you look for?
So let me lay out some key points for you to consider before you start.
You are about to embark on a long journey into the unknown that requires a lot of trust between the parties involved to succeed. Because your technical partners are literally the creators and enablers of your business. Without them, your product becomes a liability.
When you work with technology, you are investing in a living, breathing organism that will evolve over time. You will need to keep investing in your digital ecosystem to keep it alive and healthy and you will have ongoing costs for technology until the day you stop running your business. Or it will die like that plant you neglected to water regularly on your desk at work. Factor ongoing costs in early and get used to them - they are here to stay.
To get any good at technology, you need to study and work in the field for years. Tens of years even! And as it’s also evolving at speed, a technical practitioner has to keep studying to just keep up. And this is OK, be humbled by it and use it to build an honest dialog between you and your technical partner.Understanding the environment you both work in will be a key to a long lasting and harmonious friendship.
Not all technologists are the same, you get types who are good at hardware or software. Prototyping or solving scaling problems. Then there are those that just focus on infrastructure or networking vs becoming a software programmer. And these are just a few of the many disciplines available! Then within these disciplines there are different types of people who are good at early stage businesses vs those that are good at later stages. In short, the people who need to build your business are not always the people you need to run it and you need to find the right person or people to cover all the types of thinking your business requires.
The power of technology is that it can do so much with so little and it scales so well. For example, you can, almost for free, offer a digital product that you can sell to thousands of people all over the world at the same time, like Google Docs or Microsoft word. And only require a relatively small team to create and maintain it. So the cost of development and maintaining the platform might not change very much while your profits soar (well, that’s the plan anyway).
You can also immediately compete in a global market which is amazing! However, it can be very hard to be heard. Did you know that in December 2021, approximately 66 thousand mobile apps were released through the Google Play Store and approximately 2.7 thousand via the Apple App Store? Of that combined number they probably featured less than 50 of them on the App Store front page - that’s a lot of noise to stand out in!
Creating technology products is not like playing a sudoku where you have to solve a puzzle with absolute logic to find the answer, it’s more like the process of creating the game of sudoku from scratch where you have to try out many different formulas to not only find a game that works, but is fun for the end users as well.
So good technology teams empower themselves with tools, practices, support and high trust environments, to enable them to find a way to succeed as fast as they possibly can. Teams rarely know exactly how long a build will take them until they start, and know requirements for builds usually change as you go. This makes it very difficult to plan. Most technology teams will use the tools available to them to guess the length/cost of a project: past experience and assumptions.
As you can imagine, most business minded people like definite delivery dates - how else do you know when to line up marketing campaigns or how much something will cost to make? Why do we need to replace something that’s currently working to build a seemingly simple new feature? So the two sides clash, the business asking for a line in the sand and some accountability while the technology team are asking for some empathy with the ever-changing environment they work in.
The good news is you only really only have a few to choose from, in no particular order:
This role will require at least a señor (🤠) technologist and the specific skillset will depend on the needs of your business. Once you have found this person, you will then need to convince them your business idea is going to fly. So much so that they are actually willing to invest 1000’s of hours and probably take a substantial pay cut. As you can imagine, you are probably going to need to be pretty clear about what it is you want to achieve. A good way to get involved earlier is to include them in the “figuring out what your business actually is” stage - which can have better results as you have greater shared ownership of the idea.
|Skin in the game||Mouth to feed|
|Longevity and consitency||How do you know if they are any good?|
|Retained IP knowledge||Can get stuck with them (I don’t like them that much, but can’t buy them out yet either)|
|A life long friend (hopefully)||No redundency (what happens if they get hit by a bus?)|
Freelancers can be a great way to scale up and down as you have cash flow and allows you to speed up and slow down as needed - but they will need to be managed if your team is bigger than one and you will be required to learn how to communicate well with them to get the best results.
|Pay as you go||Not commited to your cause|
|Realitivly easy to validate if they are any good (ask thier previous employers)||You have to fit in with thier schedule|
|Top tier talent available||No redundency|
|Risk of losing IP and knowledge about historic decisions|
|Need to be relatively technical to manage a freelancer|
Find a business (like us!) that specializes in bringing your product to life, helping you avoid many of the pitfalls of startups while allowing you to manage your running costs. The businesses require the least amount of effort to get running with, but can be perceived as the most expensive up front.
|Consitent billing||Lack of retained IP knowledge within your business|
|Access to extensive experence without having to pay full time wages||Can be perceived as expensive|
|Redundency||Can heavly influince your descions as you grow|
|Can help with a wide range of techincal requirements|
|Will push back on idea’s that are problimatic and offer solutions|
Time to get your study on and do it yourself. While this can seem like a great way to save on costs, it probably won’t save you on time as it takes many years of hard work to get any good at coding. The good news is that you may not have to even learn to code as there are lots of great no-code solutions these days which may be enough to get a prototype up and running so you can validate your next step.
|Retained IP knowledge||Lack of experence will expose you to many dangers|
|Investment is just the cost of your time||Very time consuming|
|You deeply understand your product, top to bottom||Where do you even start?|
|Bonus: Could be hired as a developer||You may never launch|
Top of the list is to find someone you can trust and that you can spend a lot of time with. Ask yourself, would I be comfortable spending a few hours at the pub with this person? Would I leave my kids with them while I get a haircut? Could I give them my credit card and pin to buy me something from the shops? And bottom line, if I make a mistake, will they be there for me? Because this is some of what you will likely be facing on this journey, so if you can’t give yourself happy answers to most of these questions - I’d recommend to keep looking.
The next thing you need to make sure of is: Do they understand how to give you what you need, not what you ask for. What I mean by this is that there are plenty of people out there who will take your brief and build to that regardless of if they think there is a better way or even if it’s a good idea. After all, it’s what you asked for, right? Unfortunately, this is a great way to not take responsibility for your project and just take your money while you figure it out. It’s not what you need in the start up phase as every penny counts.
What you need to find is someone who looks at your brief and asks questions. Lots of questions. And brings all their expertise to the table from the start. These people will not just ask questions like “What colours do you see xyz?” But ask hard questions that challenge your thinking and proposed business model like “how does this make money?” And “what are the bare minimum features you need for it to work?” “Who is your customer, how do you know they will buy what you are selling?” If you satisfy these kinds of questions enough you’ll move into “What’s your budget? What’s your breakeven point beyond launch? And how do you hope to get there?” Because they are busy trying to figure out how they can get your product to launch and beyond. They are trying to understand your business in its entirety as quickly as possible to make you successful - and this is what you need to find in a partner. Without this shared focus, you can spend a lot of time and money treading water, which is a fundamental risk for all start ups.
Equally listen closely to a rejection from someone like this, they will still try and give you the keys to making your business work. Because these kinds of people don’t say yes unless they think your chances of success are high enough to invest their time in. The last thing is to take little steps into everything, slowly and surely and a partnership is no exception. I wouldn’t just give someone your keys to the kingdom until you get to know each other - so a good way to do this is to do some work together first. Maybe just pay them a month or three to see how it goes before you talk about equity. You will find out more in those first few months than any interview will cover, and if you are to partner with this person or team, it’s worth the investment to check first.
Most of this is common sense, but avoid people who say things like “I can do everything and never sleep, it’s all easy to me!” or “I’m a 10x developer, I’ll have this out in a few weeks” when they clearly have not had enough time to understand your idea. No matter how good you think you are at communication, no one is that good at understanding it straight away and have just applied their own cognitive bias to your problem. These kinds of people will get you into trouble because they don’t know how to work in a team or will burnout before you launch.
Also be wary of design agencies who dive into what kind of font to use before talking about your business critical path - don’t get me wrong, design agencies have their place and are fantastic down the line, but right now, everything you do must be focused on getting your product to market. You are in a race - you need to get to market (launch) and then find a market fit where you generate income before you run out of money! And while it’s important to look the best you can, if you are not in the market or using it to win investment - it doesn’t matter how nice it looks if no one is using it. Most of the big tech names you might have heard of looked terrible when they started out, but they are doing undeniably better than any super slick app that nobody uses.
I’ve written this assuming you are looking to find a partner in your country or nearby, it is of course possible to find teams in other countries further away - the internet is global after all! You can find great teams to work with and quite often cheaper than your own country, which makes it an option worth considering. But it also comes with other hidden costs, mainly derived from miscommunication across cultures and timezones. If you are open minded and willing to accept that mistakes will be made, it can be worthwhile.
It should also be noted that many technologists, while being in a creative field, are often not designers, UI/UX specialists, good at social media, copywriting & spelling, selling your product or much spare time to do anything else other than just run your technology - so you will need to think about what you can do or find people to fill those other roles.
While this can be quite a daunting process, hopefully this has given you a better idea of what I recommend you look for and avoid in your technical partner, and a little on how to find one.
At the end of the day, it’s really about solving problems and finding great people to do it with. Find people who can condense and simplify very complex problems into concepts you can understand and together become a force multiplier. Man your ship with the best talent you can find. Brave rough seas to distant lands filled with new experiences and treasure. Make stories to tell your grandkids.
I genuinely wish you the best of luck and every success. And of course feel free to reach out and have a chat, we’d love to help.