Date-less at the prom: the challenges and solutions for a founder with no CTO [guest post]

* Guest post by Elinor Kalina

So you thought of a brilliant idea, ran a quick market analysis and now you’re knee deep in initial spec drafts while also searching for the impossible – a good, talented, experienced programmer. There are a few lucky ones who happen to have their best friend as their head programmer. You hear of those every day, but just like the ones who happened to win season tickets to their favorite team’s games – it’s never actually you. After searching for a few more weeks you break down and eventually either shelf the idea, or give too much equity or money for someone who you don’t even know and who you’re sure doesn’t deserve it.

What are your options? Well, there are a few. But suffice to say – unless you can spruce up an iOS or HTML5 salad in 2 seconds, and can do everything on your own – you’re looking at a few weeks of hard search, and a lot of skepticism. One thing is for certain – you should definitely understand the difference between a developer, who can simply do the work, and experienced CTO who can serve as a co-founder and lead meetings (investors need to see that and also for the simple reason that you can’t do everything on your own). But for now, let’s focus on actually getting the development job done:

1. Friends, Friends of Friends, and that guy from class: no matter how much you’ve searched – there’s a good chance you haven’t searched enough. If you’re after someone who might join in for equity, that should be your main focus group. The initial instinct is to think of your closest friends, but actually your network is comprised of about a few hundreds of thousands of people who qualify as your friends and their friends of friends – so keep spreading the word and looking. Make sure people know you’re looking, it might come back as some positive feedback a month from now, and end up being worth it. Better someone you know, even vaguely, even via a far relative, than a complete and utter stranger.

2. Show them the money… The biggest pitfalls here, are a few: (1) not knowing exactly what your spec is – 99% of founders can draft up a fairly good general spec, but not if this is meant for a contracted programmer who’s going to charge by the split second and is handed a vague scheme of features. It’s best if you drill down your spec to the smallest and most accurate degree, if this is then going to the hands of a paid programmer, (2) not knowing exactly what that programmer’s availability is: most of these guys are either employed by a software development company, or they’re independent contractors who get retainer payments from several clients. Either way, they’re not 100% dedicated to you, unless agreed upon otherwise. Construct an accurate agenda and know precisely when they’re going to work – what days, how many hours per day, what’s the structure going to be in terms of working together with you, etc, and (3) not knowing exactly how you’re going to oversee the work, is he able to update you via Pivotal Tracker or any other special purpose software? What’s the process in case of a technical difficulty or error – does he stop work and call you or is there any other way to progress? Are you two going to agree in advance on the timeframe for every task so that you’re in control of your expenses? All these questions should be answered ahead of time, otherwise you’ll find yourself, very quickly, spending thousands of dollars on pretty much nothing.

3. Mixed breed: sometimes, it’s possible to create a good and healthy mixture of some equity and some payment with a good and reliable software development firm or any other entity or individual. This might be a good option if you’re not up for spending too much at this early stage. This is also a good alternative for some peace of mind, since naturally the developing side would be slightly more emotionally attached to a project they’re actually invested in, rather than otherwise.

4. The lower cost alternative: there isn’t any easier way of going about it, so let me put this out there clean and simple: Romania, Bulgaria, India, and China are a few countries which offer these services, by talented individuals, at fairly low costs. You can scroll through for some of them, just as an example. This is not to say that each and every programmer you find there is the epitome of quality assurance but for the sake of quick and cheap labor and work – it serves the purpose. The best thing about it? Complete and total availability.

Elinor Kalina is co-Founder & CEO of Yadda Yadda, the first location-based public-chat app. She’s 29 and a self-proclaimed innovation-addict

Eze Vidra

Eze is managing partner of Remagine Ventures, a seed fund investing in ambitious founders at the intersection of tech, media, data and commerce. We are backed by some of the world's leading media companies. I'm a former general partner at google ventures, head of Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe and founding head of Campus London, Google's first physical hub for startups. I'm also the founder of Techbikers, a non-profit bringing together the startup ecosystem on cycling challenges in support of Room to Read. Since inception in 2012 we've built 8 schools and 31 libraries in the developing world.

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