How To Find Tech Talent As A Startup

A guest piece from Unfold’s Founder and Managing Director Harry Cobbold, on recruiting for a startup.

Harry Cobbold

Harry Cobbold is Managing Director at Unfold, a Bristol-based UX and digital development agency.

Harry has lead numerous award-winning teams, delivering digital experiences that bring businesses closer to their users and drive better results. At Unfold he helps ambitious start-ups and scale-ups accelerate their business by simplifying their user experience and creating marketing-leading digital platforms.

Read Peaple Talents piece for Unfold, here.

How to find tech talent as a startup

The need for solid tech support is something most businesses simply cannot avoid. Whether you’re developing a SaaS product as part of your key offering, or are simply looking for a super sharp website to support your businesses’ wider efforts; tech plays a huge role in underpinning business operations. 

Hiring tech talent to any business can be a big issue. Firstly there is the cost of hiring and paying the salary of a highly-skilled and sought after individual. And secondly, given the high volume of positions with relatively few candidates to fill them, finding the right fit for your business and keeping them can be an equal struggle.

Who and how to hire

If you don’t currently have anyone in the business who heads up tech, building a technical team can be a daunting prospect. From your simple HTMLs right down to your APIs, there’s so much to get your head around – with each aspect having a huge impact on the success of your business. 

So where to start? There are three main options in front of you:

Seek out a technical cofounder

Pros/cons to this

If you’re an entrepreneur in the early or pre start-up stages, lack of capital might make hiring outside of the realms of possibility. If this is the case then a co-founder could be a good alternative option to get your feet off the ground. A co-founder will likely work for a cash/equity split rather than a full salary, which can help manage cash flow in the early days. You can think of co-foundership as a professional marriage, it makes people much more invested and far less likely to leave, meaning that it’s far more secure. 

This kind of partnership can be very hard to find, however, not least a partnership of high quality and equal hard work. It can also end up being expensive in the longer run where you’ve given away precious business equity to the other party. It’s worth remembering that a cofounder will also have a say in the direction of the business, and you might not always agree so make sure you trust each other enough to work through potential conflicts.  Just like any marriage, it can also end in divorce. This process can be extremely messy, and can even result in the closure of the business. So there are risks here to be considered as well. 

Hire a developer

Hiring your own developer leaves more flexibility for everyone. You don’t give any equity away, they’re relatively easier to find and you’re not tied to them forever. You also have full time access to the individual and with some time and investment they will become a specialist in your business.

With greater freedom though comes a level of risk to the business as well. It’s relatively easy for your star developer to be poached by that hot new startup down the road, and if that individual has become a mission critical part of your business, you could be in real trouble. You also need to consider that a single person is not going to have the expertise of an entire development team – so you might need to make several hires to have all the bases covered.

Partner with an agency

The third option is to consider working with an external design and technical partner. This can be an attractive option for those wishing to benefit from both experience, breadth of team, and consistency. Agencies will also have done it all before and so can help you avoid the common mistakes. They are also much faster to engage, as the option of hiring can take many months. 

The obvious down-side of this option is up-front cost, but the trade-offs are expertise and a greater degree of certainty in your project.

When considering the above options, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is the struggle for capital the bottom line in your hiring decision? If so, finding a co-founder may be the only way to go.
  • Alternatively, is the tech likely to form an ongoing backbone of your business, with enough hours to occupy one or more people full time? If the answer is yes, then hiring your own developer and building a team out may indeed be your best option. 
  • Do your tech needs require a large upfront build with some ongoing testing and maintenance work? Will you need the support and experience of one person or an entire team? If so, you might be better off partnering with a technical agency. 

Strategies for hiring

Hiring can be a drawn-out process, particularly for tech roles. The number of positions available often outstrips the number of experienced candidates by some margin. There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of finding the perfect candidate, however: 

First – what tech and skills do you even need?

If you know what outcomes you want but not the technologies or skill sets which will get you there, speaking to an expert regarding what you should be looking for is the first step. 

Work out what technologies you need to use for your proposed project, because this will be different for everyone, and then hire your experts in line with this. Look for someone who has an understanding of your project in full including and in-depth knowledge of the technological aspect. Either members of your network or tech agencies can both guide you through the necessary knowledge, as well as what to look for in a candidate. 

Use your network

It’s always a good idea to let everyone in your network know you’re on the lookout for new talent or a new co-founder. This is one of the best, cost-free ways to find a candidate and although a positive outcome will be largely down to luck, there is very little to lose from this approach and a lot to gain. 

Speak to a recruiter to help you find the best candidates

Recruiters are a fantastic way to access some of the best talent available. Recruiters are experts in seeking out candidates and will have access to a far greater pool of talent than most individuals could amass on their own. Whilst recruitment can be a pricey option, it’s also important to remember how much time they can save, including the time cut short from the recruitment process which can sometimes take months.

We hope this has helped those of you who are in the midst of kicking off your tech enterprise or are looking to scale-up the offering you currently have. Ultimately the best option will be different for everyone, but when in doubt, speak to an expert.

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