No, you don’t ‘just need a developer’


You don’t know how many times when I’ve asked about building a home a person has referred me to a construction worker.

Ok, just kidding, that’s never happened. No one would ever do such things. Why would they? It doesn’t make sense. Yet, however, when you are looking to develop your dream software product that will change lives, make you famous, save the world, put your babies through college one day, and allow you to work from your remote island sipping on pina coladas, your ‘advisors’ tell you that you need to find a “developer”.

Whoever you are out there in the ether, telling people to ‘just find a developer', please stop it, just stop it now. You are doing a terrible disservice to your entrepreneur friends and the world.

Now I’m stepping into dangerous territory here because some developers are going to cry foul and say ‘how dare you compare me to a construction worker!!!’ So, before that inner conversation goes too far, I need to clarify a few things.

There are different levels and types of developers. Every developer is not the same and that should be acknowledged. Some developers are also architects. Some developers have a great grasp of how to build a full stack application from start to finish. Others are specialists who focus on specific types of projects, etc, etc. But in reality, some are simply good at developing. There is nothing wrong with that. However, there could be something terribly wrong if that developer, who just likes to build stuff, is now entrusted with designing your dream product and has the keys to your future empire.

So, that gets me back to the construction worker… he’s not overly concerned with how you feel when you’re in the house, or how you plan to have family dinners here or why you need an extra nook in the bedroom…, he’s concerned with is the structure well built, are the right materials being used, is the building up to code, etc.

Similarly, a good developer should be concerned about building your app, how to make sure it’s scalable, keeping the code clean, and ensuring it can be supported over the long-term. There is a lot to worry about here, and, unfortunately, your grand vision is not at the top of the list most of the time.

So, the problem with people saying ‘go find a developer’ is that:

  1. You most likely don’t know the difference between a product focused developer and a normal developer.
  2. You don’t know how to tell in general whether you found a good developer or not.
  3. You might not even know that you should care.

Running my own software consultancy for 9 years and many years of freelancing, I have met many entrepreneurs who have found out the hard way. I have seen so many hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted on products that were great ideas, but poorly implemented. Unfortunately, for everyone involved a great amount of clean up was required, but there wasn’t enough budget left to do much of anything. I always wished I could catch people before these big, bad decisions were made… alas blogging and now working with startups at DeveloperTown Starts to help entrepreneurs with their product strategy.

You have a great idea and a great vision. Don’t sell it short.

As great as it is to get a developer and pay them with beer or find an offshore solution (which is not as cheap as you think it will be), the development part of the project is actually the last thing you need. And not last as in least important, but last as in order of operations.

Here are just few things you need to think about before deciding who will build your app:

  1. Market Research & Analysis — Who is my target market? What is the size of the target market? What is the market opportunity?
  2. Market Validation — How can I test that my assumptions about this market before I spend my life savings on a hunch? Don’t be too scared or too confident to test your assumptions.
  3. Competitive Analysis — Who is my competition? (believe me you have competitors) What are they doing? How will I position my product in relation to them? Do I have a competitive advantage? Is my product position defensible?
  4. Go-to-Market Strategy — How am I going to sell to my target market? Please leave budget for this. If you build it, they’re not just going to come, you have to go get them.
  5. Product Design — How will my product look and function from a user perspective (user experience). It can look good, but still be the worst in regard to usability.
  6. System Architecture — How is the system going work. This is your backend development, databases, server architecture. (Ok, you do need an architect/developer for this one… a good one).

Many entrepreneurs I’ve worked with have ignored that list above and felt that it was a waste of time and/or money. But I guarantee you, it is much faster and cheaper than the alternative: building your whole app and then realizing it’s not even close to what you or your potential customers want.

I get it, you want to be a doer, but the right amount of thinking and analysis can make the difference between a successful product and one that crashes and burns.

Here’s the truth on cost… if you do the prep work ahead of time, you may be able to find that developer you always wanted for free beer and pretzels (and some equity), because now the developer knows exactly what he or she is building. The project scope is well defined. The workload is no longer a big blob of your stream of consciousness written on a whiteboard at the last “sprint” meeting of which only 25% was retained by everyone (including yourself). Your great developer is now building with a solid blueprint. What other way would you have it?

(One thing to keep in mind, creating a plan, doesn’t mean the plan won’t change. I’m not saying be inflexible, but that doesn’t mean don’t plan either)

There is so much more to be said on the topic, but…

One last thing.

After doing the product planning you may find out that the ROI for your product idea is not a good as you thought it would be, and decide to scrap it. Better to scrap an idea $20k in versus pouring $200k down the drain.

Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you who you should be looking for instead of a developer…. who you’re looking for is a product manager.