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Start ups: stepping stones to well considered staffing up

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Written by: Duncan Custerson

This article is more than flamboyant alliteration and in fact offers some useful guidance for early stage founders pondering their next move. 

As you explore ways to bring your vision to life and scale the business, there is a balance of three key factors that can make or break progress: timing, people, and funding. In the early stages there are many routes you can consider or paths you can inadvertently stumble down, each one with various combinations of stepping stones made up of these three factors.

It can be difficult to decide a strategic time to employ key staff in house or source expert agency collaboration. An average of 25-50% of early stage funding allocation is factored against key team staffing. The combination of the timing of staffing up and the importance of getting the right people involved is critical when it comes to implementing investment. 

When building the ultimate digital platform there is some optionality to further complicate the timing and people balance. For founders negotiating the blend of existing in-house resource, key employment timing, outsource expertise and investor expectations it can feel like start-up Squid Games! 

So, having a considered plan of action is worth some thought to avoid early elimination. 

Transposing your vision into reality

Who you entrust as a technical lead is a reliant partnership that non-technical founders can feel particularly uncomfortable with. Deciding how to distill the MVP functionality, creating a frictionless and refined platform based on market and audience research data and then iteratively developing the platform through an ongoing audience feedback loop (breathe) takes experience and so, expertise is a must. Getting this right can be sink or swim particularly if you’re bootstrapping.

When it comes to building an in-house team, you cannot afford to make an error in judgement. Finding the right skill set is the ‘easy part’ but knowing how it will pan out with your new colleague and their long term plans is a little more tricky. Founders are often multi-talented and masters of spinning plates, but I’m yet to meet one with a mind-reading side hustle. So, sadly this decision can be the cause of much anxiety and sleepless nights that you also can’t afford. 

The main routes to building your product and recruiting the technical team to maintain it are outlined below along with pros, cons and advice. For the winning formula skip to no 4! 

1) Recruiting a full or part time technical lead in house

Consider if: You already have a few people in mind for  the role of Co-founder, CTO or lead developer. 

Our advice: Explore your network further (LinkedIn is a good place to start). Send out some targeted messages that encapsulate the excitement of the project. Set up meetings to pitch your concept to them and create a score sheet for yourself to draw comparisons on relevant experience, technical expertise, cultural fit, character fit etc… What are your non-negotiables? This article offers some succinct advice on choosing right people

PROS.: A CTO with an impressive CV (particularly building similar tech) offers great optics from an investment perspective as the in house talent form part of the start-ups potential value. The ideal scenario is that you know someone already from a peer network, previous colleague, university friend etc. A technical co-founder relationship is the backbone of many hugely successful start-ups. 

CONS: Unless you already know your CTO or lead development it can be hard to fully relinquish trust to them. 

You will most likely have to give away significant equity in the business (most likely 50%) to convince a credible CTO to come on board. 

What happens if they leave? A huge amount of your IP can become intertwined in their work and IF the relationship takes a wrong turn… be sure you’ve done your contractual due diligence. 

2) Outsourcing development to an overseas resource

Consider if: You already have a very clear understanding and defined roadmap of the requirement and are comfortable having in depth technical conversations. You have a credible recommendation and need to save money at this stage (bear in mind that it will only save money if it goes to plan and you manage closely)! 

Our Advice: Overseas resource can be utilised to great success but a first hand recommendation from a credible source is really the first security measure, without this (and to some extent even with it) - tread carefully. Eastern Europe and India are two of the more commonly explored options and we have seen prices increase over the last few years but comparable to a London agency the rates are lower, but not without significant risk. 

PROS: This can absolutely offer a viable option to build your platform to an investable position and beyond. Ukrainian (for example) dev fees are significantly lower than that of a  London agency fee so, it’s a great cost saving option. There is some great talent located across the globe at more palatable rates.

CONS: The time difference (depending on location) can cause a lag in communication and stilted progress. This can cause particular difficulties if you need to unpick an issue or react to an urgent concern. 

Depending on your start-ups target user group and the team/individual assigned to your project there is a higher risk that there will be a lack of market knowledge. Having local, cultural or contextual understanding of the required outcome can be beneficial to development and nuances of functionality.

There is less likely to be shared passion for your vision as the developer may be working on multiple projects or contributing their time without consideration of the wider project which can mean they are unlikely to raise potential issues up ahead. (Note: This can be true of UK agencies)

3) Employing freelancers part or full time 

Consider if: You have a specific deliverable in mind and you aren’t in a financial position to commit to a permanent role or are unsure if there’s longevity in it beyond your initial requirements. You may find that there are areas of expertise that you can’t fulfil yourself (or don’t have time to) and you need a safe pair of hands to take the strain or propel your business to the next stage. 

Our Advice: Try and get recommendations for freelancers from trusted contacts or from your wider network. You‘re more likely to land the person that’s right for the job and there’s nothing better than word of mouth to help filter out candidates. Take the time to interview them and make sure you feel confident in their experience. You’re paying for an expert and they should be able to hit the ground running.

PROS: You don’t have the long-term financial commitment of a specialist or senior hire. There is a wealth of talent out there in the freelance world and it’s a great way to ‘try before you buy’. Freelancers in all sectors have been hit by the new IR95 rules (you need to brush up on these) so a lot will be looking to eventually settle down. Hiring a freelancer gives you both the time to see if you’re a fit professionally and culturally and somewhat mitigates problems further down the line. 

CONS: Booking freelancers exactly when you need them can be hit or miss. Good people tend to get booked up quickly, so you may need to be flexible with project timings. You may have to spend a bit more time finding the right person, which in turn can have an adverse effect on your project timelines and budget. 

4) Collaborating with a specialist digital agency 

Consider if: You would like a de-risked and de-stressed process and want to work collaboratively with an excited team that bring years of experience and expertise as well as fresh eyes to a project.

Our Advice: Set up a call with Hex 😀

PROS: Hex have a proven track record of working directly with founders from ideation to launch. An accountable team of expert analysts, strategists and creatives on hand, assigned to your project. For a successful product you need a product owner (you), a project manager, UX research, UX Design, UI Design and then front end build and back end developers; experts  which are all  in-house at Hex and would become a full project team. A CTO’s role, delivered at a fraction of the cost! 

Working with a dedicated, specialist agency brings the security of competence and experience. This allows you to keep as close to the project as you need to, safe in the knowledge that your team are working in sprints, against clear milestones toward the agreed outcome. The time this affords you as a founder is invaluable, not to mention the mental health relief. 

As a business we have made a conscious choice to only work on innovation projects that inspire and excite the team so any project we decide to collaborate on is underpinned by a genuine passion for the vision.

Here’s the important differentiator: we know our place and work collaboratively with you until the time is right to well… make ourselves redundant! 

So, think back to your challenges of finding an in-house team… Hex can collaborate with you throughout your journey as and where needed from ideation to identity, direction, platform and growth strategy to final implementation. We have experience working with start-ups as a lead agency, feature team, through to a seamless hand over to an in house technical team that we can help you source, interview and onboard. This type of relationship and process runs deeper than finding the talent and facilitates autonomy as well as a highly scalable and fundable venture. 

Multi disciplines under one roof makes for a single strategic partner that can interlink your vision through brand identity and directional strategy to UX/UI design and build as well as growth strategy. 

We could go on, but we like to get to know founders so, why not book a call to discuss further with the team.

CONS: It can be hard to find a single specialist agency that works in this way, oh wait..