You have a great product idea and now you’re wondering how to build a startup team to bring that idea into being. We’ve put together a few tips to help you figure that out.
Rubyroid Labs has provided React Native and Ruby on Rails outsourcing for startups since 2013, delivering to ventures backed by YCombinator and Seedcamp. We know what skills and character to look for when building a startup team. And if you don’t feel like putting on your recruiter hat, write to us and we’ll pick the right talent for you from our pool.
If you’d like to take advantage of our experience first, keep reading. For this article, we gathered actionable pieces of advice on building a team for a startup.
Assign a Chief Technology Officer
Your startup will need a chief technology officer (CTO) first.
Technology is the flesh and blood of your product, regardless of its target audience, goals or key features. That makes the role of a CTO all the more crucial the less tech-savvy you are.
What a CTO Does
A CTO is more than just a technology advisor to the executive. Here are some of the things they’re typically responsible for:
- Developing a technical vision and roadmap for your startup.
- Building out a tech stack that will meet your product’s specific needs.
- Describing developer requirements and vetting candidates for technical positions.
- Distributing startup roles and managing the development team.
- Pitching the technical side of your startup to developers.
As you can imagine, a lot hinges on the expertise and personality of a CTO. If someone is technically minded and knows how to build a team for a tech startup as well as how to manage it, success is possible.
However, we’ve seen multiple projects where the cost of a CTO’s mistakes resulted in failure. For example, they might have selected a technology that wasn’t really made for the particular goal the startup was trying to achieve. As a result, work on the project grinded to a halt.
How to Select a CTO
But selecting the right CTO is about more than technical expertise and management skills.
Your ideal candidate is also your business partner, one who is as interested in achieving success as you are. Otherwise, they might jump ship at the first hint of trouble, and trouble is all but inevitable in building a startup.
Another important thing to consider: your CTO should always be present and fully engaged. While you can completely outsource software development, your potential investors will still want to see a CTO who’s either in house, or fully engaged. In the end, it’s one of startup management team roles.
Where to Find Them
Let’s say you don’t have a technically knowledgeable business partner. Where can you find one?
Start with where digital professionals typically hang out to network, both online and offline: meetups, hackathons, IT conferences and similar gatherings. Search for experienced developers, seasonal startup CTOs or tech-savvy entrepreneurs looking for a project like yours to join.
Should You Put a CTO On the Payroll?
We’ve already mentioned that your CTO should be fully present. Does this mean you need to assign a paid startup position for that? Our experience says, not necessarily.
One case study to prove that is Rocket Wash. This startup used our help to develop a CRM allowing car wash businesses improve their services. They needed a CTO and a team experienced in using Ruby on Rails and React Native for startups.
Both the CTO and the team we supplied to RocketWash acted as third-party service providers. And they did so successfully for six years.
Decide Which Team Composition Model to Use
There is more than one way to create a team for your startup. In fact, there are three.
Hire a Team for Your Project On-Site
It is certainly tempting to hire a team for your project where everyone works under one roof. For you, this creates a feeling of control. It’s also easier to develop bonds between team members when they know they’re all in, rowing towards a common goal, rather than between side-project-based individuals.
However, consider this:
- 69% of US employers are struggling to find skilled workers.
- In the UK, over half of the job ads for tech roles, including systems consultants, senior technology consultants and senior back-end developers, remain unfilled for at least two months.
- The COVID pandemic has changed people’s perception of work. Many won’t agree to sit together under that proverbial roof ever again.
This means you might get stuck while you choose the right team members for your startup. And you don’t have much time as an early-stage startup: you’ll probably have to build, test and pivot multiple times.
Also, you can’t forget about things like office rent, utilities, equipment, recruiting and employment benefits. Are you sure you’ll be able to cover those costs without sinking into debt? Startups are called ventures for a reason. There’s a lot of risk involved, and you’d be crazy to raise the stakes when you don’t need to.
Finally, you might eventually decide to pull the plug on your idea for whichever reason. This is easier to do with an outsourcing partner than with employees you may have social responsibilities toward.
So, we suggest you start by outsourcing software development at the beginning. Just get a CTO who knows how to build a startup team. They should be able to come up with a clear technical vision and guide your developer toward carrying it out.
You can always build your own in-house team once you’ve proven your hypothesis or found a new, successful product concept. Further growth will probably require adding more startup team roles anyway.
Find Team Members for Your Startup Externally
Outsourcing development will almost always be the right choice at the early stages. However, there are several things you’ll need to know before you find team members for your startup in the outside world.
First of all, figure out what you want from your developer. Generally, you’ll be looking for relevant experience and technical expertise, a decent reputation, the ability to adjust to your requirements and strong communication skills. We have previously written in detail about how to choose a software development company.
But even if you manage to find a brilliant partner, you’ll still have work to do. You’ll have to explain to them your business vision, describe the key features of the prospective product and provide materials like designs and research findings. In other words, you’ll need to prepare to present your idea to a developer.
Before you go out to browse the web for building a tech startup team, keep in mind that you’ve already found such a team. At Rubyroid Labs, we know how to handle startup development from the ground up, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Create a Team Using a Hybrid Model
You might start out as a group that includes a couple of developers and designers. In this case, you can create a team by outsourcing those parts of the job where you don’t feel your founding members have enough expertise.
Follow the principle stated by Peter Drucker, one of the godfathers of modern business management:
“Do what you do best and outsource the rest.”
Hard Skills: Identify Relevant Technical Expertise and Roles
OK, you’ve decided where to find a startup team. But how do you know which level of technical expertise to look for in candidates?
You have two ways to go about this. The first (and most obvious) way is to rely on your CTO’s judgment.
However, your CTO may not have enough relevant experience. Or the task may be too vague. The alternative is to request a quote from several outsourcing companies. Their responses will help you understand which specialists you need and the minimal level of expertise required.
For example, you might discover your project isn’t technically challenging. In this case, up to three junior or mid-level developers under the guidance of a team leader will do the job.
Generally speaking, you need to gather a team that covers the following areas:
- Business analysis
- User experience (UX) design
- Quality assurance (QA, a.k.a. testing)
- DevOps (setting up and maintaining the overall software infrastructure)
- Back-end development (creating the software and setting its operating rules).
Many developers specialize in particular technologies. For example, we use Ruby on Rails to develop a whole range of web software, from websites to complex corporate applications. And we use React Native to build mobile apps that work equally well across all platforms.
If any of that sounds like your prospective product, let’s talk.
Soft Skills: Look for Startup-Friendly Character
Technical expertise is important. But the right expertise in a wrong head is like the proverbial sword in the hands of a coward: useless.
You’ll need developers with a warrior attitude. Find people who are curious and brave enough to try new things and are not frightened by changes in requirements. That’s because requirements are going to change as often as the situation on a battlefield. You’ll get to know your customers increasingly better and adapt all the time.
Growing Your Team
The final piece of advice on how to build a team for your startup will be this: don’t rush things.
It’s true that you’ll need to move fast. But it’s also true that you’ll increase your risks if you grow your team too quickly. Do that, and you’ll bite off more tasks and responsibilities across the board than you can handle.
Ready to Start Building a Team for Your Startup?
Every new venture is a challenge in itself. And building a team for a startup is probably the most crucial part of that challenge.
You have to start at square one, where the quality of your judgment for a CTO will define how well everything else rolls out.
An experienced CTO will help you pick a developer, preferably from the outside. That developer will need to bring relevant technical expertise to the table, as well as startup-friendly character traits and soft skills.
Finally, you’ll have to think twice before you decide whether you should expand your team at successive stages or stay lean.
All that might sound like a complicated process. If so, the best thing you can do is contact us, Rubyroid Labs. We’ve helped startups backed by leading accelerators like Y Combinator and Seedcamp develop their products. Tell us about what product you want to build, and we’ll suggest a solution.
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