Developer trouble….

I was chatting to a friend from America recently about the problems I’ve had over the last couple of years with web developers. I’ve worked with a couple who’ve both let me down really badly and put me back to square one with my web-based startup. Admittedly much of this was my own fault for not being tough enough with them when it seemed like they weren’t committed to the project. And also my lack of capital meant that I had to engage the developers with equity stakes instead of cold, hard cash. The problem with this, as I wrote about in this post, is that developers don’t often see the potential future value of things. So giving them a share of the company didn’t excite them into action in the way I thought it would, and I slowly drifted down their priority list until I wasn’t hearing from them for weeks at a time.

I understand that a freelancer’s gotta eat, and so therefore will have to take other jobs that offer to pay upfront. But if you have been given a substantial stake in a potentially very lucrative business that you would find the time to make it work. Where are all the programmers out there that have developed the sites for the multi-million dollar businesses out there? I don’t believe that all of those were funded by entrepreneurs backed by Silicon Valley funders. Surely some of them must have been started by geeks in their bedrooms with groovy ideas – like these guys who had to quit the UK and head to the States?

So what’s the solution for cash-strapped entrepreneurs like myself?

Sadly i can’t say I can think of many ways other than using shares / equity as “payment”. A good chat to my developer friend Paolo (who’s one of the rare breed of “geeks” who’s also a great creative entrepreneur – check out his spendamillion.com project) has clarified a few possible steps to consider in the future:

  • Networking events to bring geeks and entrepreneurs together – but will the geeks still be as potentially unreliable? Maybe I should organise one…
  • Using sites such as elance and getafreelancer to find cheap labour – quality and reliability an issue?
  • Break the design, wireframing, development etc into smaller chunks so that it’s less daunting for the entrepreneur, plus developers are less likely to go AWOL at any given stage. Especially if you give each stage to a different developer.

Sadly I think the ideal solution is to find a good, well-respected freelancer or small company, pay them for however long you need them for and make it clear that for that fortnight, or whatever, they completely belong to you and you expect twice daily updates. Now, finding a freelancer with the necessary skills and time….. That’s another matter!

I’d be really interested to hear from anynoe who has any thoughts on how best to get quality web work done with as little capital outlay as possible. Any ideas?

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6 thoughts on “Developer trouble….

  1. Stefan Goodchild 28 March, 2008 — 3:41 pm

    Don’t forget that good freelance developers are already investing time in a business. Themselves. And that’s a very lucrative business already for most.

    The problem is the mindset mate.. Devs by design are supposed to be and need to be cautious and work to set plans and structures.. If they took risks with your codebase you’d not be very happy with the result, trust me. 🙂

  2. Stefan Goodchild 28 March, 2008 — 3:41 pm

    Don’t forget that good freelance developers are already investing time in a business. Themselves. And that’s a very lucrative business already for most.

    The problem is the mindset mate.. Devs by design are supposed to be and need to be cautious and work to set plans and structures.. If they took risks with your codebase you’d not be very happy with the result, trust me. 🙂

  3. Stefan Goodchild 28 March, 2008 — 3:48 pm

    Forgot to mention, a web developer myself, it’s one of *the* most common offers I get.

    “Design me a website that would ordinarily cost six figures to make for free and you can have 10% of my company that’s worthless.”

    Even if the company made decent it would probably never turn out to be worth the 2 million that they are valuing it at.

    It’s simply a bad investment (time vs return) for a developer.

    Laters Bruv!

  4. Stefan Goodchild 28 March, 2008 — 3:48 pm

    Forgot to mention, a web developer myself, it’s one of *the* most common offers I get.

    “Design me a website that would ordinarily cost six figures to make for free and you can have 10% of my company that’s worthless.”

    Even if the company made decent it would probably never turn out to be worth the 2 million that they are valuing it at.

    It’s simply a bad investment (time vs return) for a developer.

    Laters Bruv!

  5. Couldn’t agree more with you. And I’ve certainly never expected “free” work. My equity offers have always been very substantial to account for the inevitable time and effort that a dev has to put in.

    But there’s a problem with the economy of web development and wicked new ideas. Good quality development is expensive, but groovy, thrusting young idea-generators like myself don’t always have huge amounts of cash!

    😉

    I definitely think there’s scope for finding a way of getting those two groups to work together.

    Not that I’d ever be able to afford you, Stef….

  6. Couldn’t agree more with you. And I’ve certainly never expected “free” work. My equity offers have always been very substantial to account for the inevitable time and effort that a dev has to put in.

    But there’s a problem with the economy of web development and wicked new ideas. Good quality development is expensive, but groovy, thrusting young idea-generators like myself don’t always have huge amounts of cash!

    😉

    I definitely think there’s scope for finding a way of getting those two groups to work together.

    Not that I’d ever be able to afford you, Stef….

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