In the past couple months, I've chatted quite a bit with different startup founders. Most were non-technical people looking for a developer to expand what they have (rare) or build it from the ground up (the vast majority). In all but a few cases, something rubbed me wrong about the conversations…

In a few cases, they're using equity-only to recruit. That's a huge red flag, but not a deal breaker. In a few cases, the technical priorities are solid and clearly defined. That's a huge plus but doesn't guarantee anything. A couple have offices, most don't. The lead people vary by demographics, experience, industry, etc, etc. It wasn't until I read Ellen Beldner's post titled “Should you take a pay cut to work at a startup? when it clicked:

“Your earliest employees – especially when they work for equity – are investors and considered similarly.”

If you're one of the “just want someone to build it” guys, stop reading and move along, you won't agree with or do anything with what I offer here. But if you want to recruit a solid technical person that will listen to your idea, get creative with it, add or simplify as appropriate, and add real value to the team, read on..

If you need a developer to dedicate 3 months fulltime (about 500 hours) to get to launch, consider how much that actually is. With a normal billing rate, it's a sizable tradeoff. Therefore, the developer has to have confidence in you, your plan, and that you can actually execute it.

You expect the developer to keep you aprised of timelines, problems, successes, and overall status, but what do you do to reciprocate? I assume you've shared an executive summary but what else? What about revenue projections? Do you share the full plan and metrics? What about the feedback from pitches? What about practicing the pitch on them?

If you just want someone to write code and shut up, pay them a reasonable – even if negotiated – rate.

If you want to pay with equity, treat them as a partner.

You don't get it both ways.

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