Topic: Finding a rails programmer for start-ups: Three Questions

Hey,

I plan on finding a programmer to join my start-up, I won't be looking for at least a month but I'm just curious on a few subjects.

1) Are there many rails programmers willing to work for an early stage start-up on an equity basis? Whats a reasonable percentage of ownership? (15, 20, 30%)

2) How would you feel taking over the development of an application coded by someone with less skill then you?

3) Are rails programmers generally good at deploying and setting up servers? I will be launching on shared servers but possibly moving to Amazons web services.



Background..
I'm a college business grad, an OK rails programmer, and good designer but I would like to find a programmer to take over the technical side. I have someone focusing on the business side so I will go back and forth and manage product development. I've got a solid business plan and business model so this won't be some cookie-cutter ad-supported web 2.0 start-up.

Last edited by intrudah (2008-04-18 16:36:41)

http://dmix.ca | Toronto Start-ups, Rails, User Experiance and Indie Music

Re: Finding a rails programmer for start-ups: Three Questions

intrudah wrote:

Hey,

I plan on finding a programmer to join my start-up, I won't be looking for at least a month but I'm just curious on a few subjects.

1) Are there many rails programmers willing to work for an early stage start-up on an equity basis? Whats a reasonable percentage of ownership? (15, 20, 30%)

2) How would you feel taking over the development of an application coded by someone with less skill then you?

3) Are rails programmers generally good at deploying and setting up servers? I will be launching on shared servers but possibly moving to Amazons web services.



Background..
I'm a college business grad, an OK rails programmer, and good designer but I would like to find a programmer to take over the technical side. I have someone focusing on the business side so I will go back and forth and manage product development. I've got a solid business plan and business model so this won't be some cookie-cutter ad-supported web 2.0 start-up.

1) No personal expereince to go on.
2) Non-issue. Any decent software developer will have had to deal with applications done by a less-skilled developer as well as learn from applications made by better developers. The lesson here is that you want a developer who is eager to learn and eager to improve code no matter how good it might be when they take it over.
3) No more or less than any other developers. See below.

It seems like semantics, but it sounds like you need a partner who is a *software developer* not a programmer. A programmer is handed a spec or a design and implements it. A software developer has a broader understanding of design, architecture, and deployment in addition to programming skills. A software developer will be able to help you clean up existing code not by going through it line-by-line, but by looking at the big pieces, considering what it does now, and what it needs to do. That should include everything from a new feature to considering how to build and deploy the server.

Since it seems like you'll have a lot riding on your developer/partner you'll also want to find someone who knows when its time to ask for help. For example on my team of 4 developers, I trust all 4 to build testing and development servers that work for that purpose, but for production servers we rely on our alpha-geek and a handpicked member from our IT/Networking department to help us plan it out.

It sounds like you're starting out well and asking the right questions. Good luck!

Re: Finding a rails programmer for start-ups: Three Questions

Thanks for the response,

I believe your right about needing more then a programmer, a software developer/engineer sounds like a better term for it.

By the time I look for a developer I will have the core application that is functional and being used in a decent sized company. What I would be looking for:
- App to be turned into a commercial product (paid user accounts, tracking etc)
- Building out new features
- Helping me maintain and scale the application
- Improving the efficiency and quality of the code
bonus would be to help make a mobile version (learning opportunity for both of us).

Me and my other partner are both technical people by nature so we'll be there to help at each step. That part could even been done as a side project to begin with.

Slightly off topic... using this to think out loud smile

Anyone else have some insight into finding a software developer?

http://dmix.ca | Toronto Start-ups, Rails, User Experiance and Indie Music

Re: Finding a rails programmer for start-ups: Three Questions

railswork.com, railsjob.com could be a good start.

Re: Finding a rails programmer for start-ups: Three Questions

1) I've worked for several start-ups and I will never again work for equity alone. I may be biased because I have been doing this for a while and went through "dot-com".

That said, if you're young and just getting your career off the ground, taking an equity deal may be a good opportunity.


2) A good developer will be should be able to work it out. One of the big advantages of Rails is that it is "opinionated" - it is much easier to take over a Rails project because you pretty know where stuff will be. Won't necessarily stop you cursing the previous programmer though, I recently took over a code base which managed to take Rails' awesome Model system and f*ck it up completely. I guarantee that whoever did it had most of their experience in PHP.


3) You might need to find someone to help set things up, as system administration is a different skill set.

Toby Hede
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FiniteStateMachine - Software Development for Social Networks
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Re: Finding a rails programmer for start-ups: Three Questions

intrudah wrote:

1) Are there many rails programmers willing to work for an early stage start-up on an equity basis? Whats a reasonable percentage of ownership? (15, 20, 30%)

If your idea and your business plan are solid, you should be able to find someone. As Toby mentioned, most developers have been burned by the "equity-only" promise. My company is constantly approached by people who want us to invest in their company for a stake. You may have to kick in some funding as well.

I am involved with a start-up and chose Rails as the best platform for the job. My business partner (an old friend I trust) came to me with an idea and 50% on the table. We outlined each of our responsibilities, time-lines, financial projections, and the overall vision of the project.

50% is a lot to give away, but you have to know how much you can do on your own and how much you can't. I am now a long term partner of the company. As our company grows, there will be more and more share divisions to bring on the right dedicated visionaries and/or investors into play to sustain the growth of our company.

I'm not saying 50% is the right number (it may or may not be). Determine how much you are willing to invest in one developer. Are they a leader down the road? In charge of the technical direction of the company for the years to come? Adaptable to change? Etc.

Another example, I have an acquaintance who helped brand Rocky Mountain Soap for 6% of the company stock. That doesn't sound like much but as time went by and the company has grown it has worked in her favour. Last year their revenue for 2006 was CAD $3.5 million. This case is different because she is not involved with the company on a daily basis - just the one job to brand the company and do some packaging.

At the end of the day there are only two questions to ask:

1. Am I hiring someone just to get my idea of the ground?

OR

2. Am I looking for a long-term business partner?

If your looking for #1, get some money/funding together and hire. If your looking for #2, start making some relationships with Rails developers and get to know them and how they work. If you can find developers in your own city, take them for coffee and chat (not necessarily about your project). #2 definitely requires much more than a resume.

Last edited by Ignition (2008-04-24 11:24:25)

Re: Finding a rails programmer for start-ups: Three Questions

Just a side note, but many of the questions you post are things I target to post about on my blog. This could be a good resource for you. I would suggest that you get a team of at least 4 to do any startup. This will help you keep motivated and also learn to hand off control. In my experience with startups is that products developed on 1 or 2 person teams seem to become "babied" and the product never loses its original direction even if the community demands it. I figured I would post that since the other posts pretty much answered your original questions. (The blog post answering your questions is scheduled to post tomorrow, Sunday)