Why is finding a good developer so difficult? For many non-technical startups, the problem boils down to knowing what to look for in the first place. We asked a panel of 16 successful entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) what separates good developers from big headaches. Here's what they had to say.
Trevor Sumner, LocalVox. Your first website will not be great, and it shouldn't be. According to Reid Hoffman, if you are happy with what you launch, you've launched too late. Foreseeing that your business will evolve in unexpected ways will allow you to constantly update your website without a lot of effort. You don't want someone who hacks something together that's hard to change later. I'm never happy with my website.
Tim Jahn, matchist. Most people think they need the best Web developer to get their project done. Unless you're working with nuclear reactors or advanced rocket science, you actually don't. What you need is a fantastic communicator. The number one reason projects break down is because there is a miscommunication between the developer and you. You want a developer who's great at keeping you up to date on your project.
Nick Reese, Microbrand Media. After working with 30 different developers both in-house and out of house, the one key takeaway is this: Never reinvent the wheel on non-competitive advantage elements. This even applies if the programmer says it will only take an hour. This one premise has cost us more deadlines and delays than any other. Always use commonly available code for non-essential pieces.
Brett Farmiloe, Internet Marketing Agency. I once hired a Web developer and felt cheated when the new design didn't produce the results I wanted. The developer had a great portfolio, understood exactly what I wanted, and was very responsive. The problem wasn't the developer--it was my customers! They didn't like the product. The number one thing you need to know when hiring your first Web developer is exactly what your customers want.
Andrew Howlett, Rain. Until you're ready for long-term needs, outsource. Find a reputable firm to help you out. While the hourly rates will be higher, you can take advantage of their talent pool instead of trying to find one person to fit all your needs. Focus on what your business is trying to do instead of becoming a development shop. When your size and site require maintenance, then hire someone.
Lawrence Watkins, Great Black Speakers. Many Web developers are more interested in supplying all of the bells and whistles than in providing a functional solution to your business problems. Avoid these individuals like the plague. They will cause you headaches because of a poorly executed Web strategy. Make sure that your Web team has good business, design, and development competency.
Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World. Don't just depend on a portfolio! I once almost hired a Web developer with an incredible portfolio, but when I dug a little deeper and started contacting the owners of the websites in his portfolio, I quickly realized that he was exaggerating his role and including sites he didn't even develop. Now I always follow up with past clients and dig deeper into portfolio pieces before making hires.
Ryan Buckley, Scripted, Inc. Anyone hiring their first Web developer needs to understand where the code is being stored and to have a clear agreement stating that all code is owned by the company. I highly recommend a service such as GitHub or Beanstalk to share the code repository so you'll never lose access to the code you're purchasing.
Charles Gaudet, Predictable Profits. It's one thing to have a nice-looking website, but looks aren't everything. It's sort of like pulling up to the race track with a tricked-out Ferrari but having a Chevette engine under the hood. It would be hard to compete. In business, you want every competitive advantage possible, and having a website built with a search engine-friendly foundation is key.
Adam Root, Hiplogiq. Communicating with developers can be a difficult task for non-technical entrepreneurs. Having been on both sides, I'd recommend creating the key value screens of your application in PowerPoint. Engineers will see what you are attempting, and you will gain a deeper understanding of how your app will accomplish your business goals.
Kelsey Meyer, Contributor Weekly. When hiring developers who previously worked for another company, ask about their side projects. Most likely they've been working on passion projects, and it will give you a better idea of what languages they prefer to code in, where their interests really lie, and how you can keep them really engaged in your company.
Alexis Wolfer, The Beauty Bean. Assuming you don't have a background in Web development, the best way to hire a developer is by asking for recommendations from peers and by getting references from potential candidates. Even more important is a developer's ability to pivot when your business does, and believe me, it will.
Stacey Ferreira, MySocialCloud. The most important thing when hiring your first Web developer is looking for someone who is willing to learn. Programming languages, like everything else, are constantly changing. Even if someone has great previous work experience, he or she has to be willing to keep learning and stay up-to-date with an ever-changing industry.
Danny Boice, Speek. By "Swiss Army Knife" developer, I mean someone who is decent at all levels of the stack (front end, middle-tier/API, back end) and who knows a breadth of languages and platforms, as opposed to specializing in one. When I met one of my best early developer hires, he had just taken six months off to do hackathons--using a different language for each one. He's still with us today, and he is amazing.
Steven Le Vine, grapevine pr. A conceptualization of your brand should be the first thing you are aware of when developing your website. Your website is the primary platform for potential clients, and customers will visit when doing research on your company. It's essential that your website mirror your brand identity for consistency purposes. Consistency is always key.
Jared Brown, Hubstaff. If you're looking for a top-tier Web developer, which you should be, you can often find one by posting on Hacker News or GitHub jobs. But be prepared to spend some money to find and employ the developer. Development will most likely be your highest cost for the first few years, so go all in. Being cheap will only lead to ulcers, and it's the surest way to torpedo the company.