Attracting Technical Talent When You Are Not Technical

I seem to be fielding a specific question more often lately.

“How did you find your technical co-founder – your lead developer – when you yourself are not technical?”

Finding technical talent when you are not technical yourself is indeed a challenge.  Developers are notoriously hard to find, difficult to communicate with and almost impossible to convince to join you to build a random and weird idea.

So, how do you find them?

You actually don’t find them.  They should find you.

You see, developers are approached all the time by “biz dev” guys pitching them yet another idea.  An idea in which it’s blatantly obvious the person pitching cannot build, hence the earth- scorching search for a workhorse they can ride.  This almost never works, since just like the pretty girl at the bar, developers have their pick of the litter when it comes to accepting job/founding opportunities.

So rather than finding developers, you must attract technical talent.  Here are just a few ways to put yourself out there so technical talent will 1) discover who you are and 2) actually want to work with you.

Write stuff

First thing you need to do is get in front of people, and the easiest way to do that is to create a blog, pick relevant topics and start writing.   “Ok Nick, what am I supposed to write about?”  ANYTHING.  Simply putting your thoughts and opinions out into the public is the first step to helping people understand who you are and what you are thinking about.

Then, once you have a few solid posts under your belt, quickly reach out to growing media resources and offer to write a guest post for them.  Guest posts give you instant credibility (given it’s the right channel and one developers are reading) to the technical crowd.

Go to technically focused events

I have written about the value of events before, but I will touch on it again.  Attending events focused on the technical crowd is a great way to meet new developers.  What better way to connect with technical person than to go to a meet up centered on an interesting technical/programming topic which will attract technical people.  That’s just common sense 101 right there.   And if you have been following #1 above, you will start to get approached by these people since they are reading your stuff.  See how it all works…

Offer compensation in ownership and equity

There’s nothing worse than pitching a developer on your idea, making it very obvious they are the one’s who will make this thing come to life, and then stiff them with no equity in the product/company.  The best approach is once you feel you have a solid candidate, you need to have a very uncomfortable conversation about the equity and compensation structure going forward.

If you are just starting out, I would say you should consider looking for an equal partner and splitting the ownership around half/half.  If it’s farther down the road of the product/company, you can offer a smaller chunk or negotiate a different agreement.  Bottom line = give them the respect they deserve for bringing your vision into reality.

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It Just Got Even Easier To Find Talent At SURF Incubator

logo_104x60One of the most common challenges for early stage startups is finding talented and willing people to join your startup.   In the early stages, finding the right developer can be the difference between success and failure for a young startup.

Today, SURF Incubator announced how they are addressing the recruiting challenges of its tenant companies by partnering with local recruiting agency Capability IT.  With an intellectual partner like Capability IT, startup entrepreneurs are empowered with intellectual resources and a robust network to find culturally and technically capable employees, enabling them to more quickly secure talent and get back to work.

Although the Puget Sound region has proved itself to be home to a world-class high-tech workforce over the last few years, with several companies either opening Seattle engineering offices or expanding their engineering departments, it still remains a tough hiring environment for early stage startups.  Especially since the competition can promise an immediately rewarding salary with large signing bonuses, full benefits and various amenities like a famous executive chef at Google.  But through a partnership with Capability IT, SURF startups will receive greater access to a network of developers and potential growth opportunities, making their lives a bit more pleasant in the process.

Over the past year, Capability IT has made solid traction in the tech community, by adding superior talent to a number of Seattle based startups.  Not only does Capability IT provide more access to developers, they can also help startup entrepreneurs identify and secure contract assignments. It is quite common for entrepreneurs to take on technical consulting projects while their startup gains traction, enabling entrepreneurs better cash flow and sometimes even finance their startup. Because Capability IT works with companies ranging from early-stage startups to publicly traded companies, they are able to efficiently source opportunities for fledging entrepreneurs.

Being a SURF tenant startup founder myself, I can validate how important this move is for all the startups within the SURF Incubator community.  During the early prefunding stage of a startup, founders have little more than their dream to pitch to prospective early talent.   We also have limited time and energy to somehow go and find this talent., which requires scouring online profile databases, attending local meetups and events, searching through our own networks or simply asking around.

At times those can work, but where I see Capability IT really helping is farther up the funnel, providing founders with a larger pool of applicants/names to sort through.  Even though we might still be looking for a needle in a haystack, Capability IT will give early stage startups more haystacks to look through and in the end helping us find better talent to join our teams.  In this way, Capability IT’s partnership with SURF Incubator is just one part of SURF’s mission to be a community-supported space for digital startups.

SURF will be celebrating this announcement with a happy hour event, including beer and wine as well as a few startup pitches from resident companies.  Everyone is welcome to attend, if you are interested – RSVP here.

Launch Event – When & Where

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 from 5:00 – 8:00pm PST

Exchange Building – 821 2nd Ave, Suite 800

5:00 – 6:00pm          Hosted wine and beer

6:00 – 6:15pm          Partnership announcement

6:15 – 7:00pm          Startup demos

7:00 – 8:00pm          Entrepreneur conversations