Hiring the First Developers for Your Startup

Building any software product from scratch, even if you have already successfully validated your startup’s business idea and proved it is brilliant, is both an interesting and challenging task. No matter what area your startup is going to work in and no matter how disruptive your product will be, it will pay back only after it is built, tested, and released to production. The most tricky challenge for any startup is to find the matching developers to build this product, and it is even more difficult due to tight budgets 99% of startups usually have. This post is intended to help startups hire the right developers to set up their core development team and show them which obstacles are there and how to overcome them.

General Startup Hiring Issues

Finding the right people who would make up your fundamental, core development team is extremely difficult, and unless you have an unlimited budget you will realize it quite soon. But you shouldn’t think you are the only one facing this problem, as all companies struggle with this problem.  

When we were only starting our operations at DIGIS, we also ran into this issue, and since then, we have seen a lot of similar cases with our friends’ and competitors’ and other companies. That’s why we performed a small research and found out there are 3 main reasons for startup hiring problems, and here they are.

Startups have no hiring resources

Startups, because of their novelty and lack of experience, often lack required knowledge, time, and resources for a high quality hiring process. We mean that they usually have no in-house recruitment specialist(s) with a needed level of hiring skills and experience. 

Startups have no brand

As seen from the terminology, startups only start their business path and have yet to build their brand, both as service/product providers and as employers. Most people don’t want to work with unknown companies as they don’t have trust in them and don’t believe them. One of the biggest things is that most startups fail, and we have already posted the article about it. Potential candidates just don’t want to risk their time and efforts, working for startups. 

Startups cannot afford good compensation packages

Startups in most cases have very limited budgets to get rolling, so they offer way worse compensation packages as compared with big businesses and corporations. They simply can’t win this fight with big and well-known brands. Talents prefer working at established businesses known as reliable and reputable employers offering awesome compensation packages to their employees. 

Of course, there are multiple other reasons for startup hiring issues, but these 3 are the most affecting ones. At the same time, we know from our experience that they can be overcome if a certain degree of thinking and efforts is applied. 

For example, your startup can get along without a recruiter if you write a good detailed job posting, ask your existing employees for referrals and prepare a short but nice list of questions for your interviews. 

As regards your brand obscurity, it’s some more difficult to overcome and requires more effort from your side. You need to establish your company as a reliable employer and build your reputation. Again, ask your existing employees to promote your startup as a good employer among their friends and across the communities they are part of. Use your social accounts to increase your brand recognizability. 

The third issue is also solvable. It doesn’t matter that you cannot offer high salaries or social benefits like medical insurance or fitness club compensations. You cannot offer high performance iMacs or MacBooks or even separate rooms for your employees. But you can win them by offering them flexible working time or even remote work options. Find the goodies that can sell your startup to potential employees as the best place for them to work.

Hiring Suitable Developers

So, your startup is going to create and market some tech product. But you cannot do that on your own unless you are Vishnu or another Hindu god endowed with several pairs of hands, hehe. You need to find and hire software developers, which will build your product. But you cannot just get out to the street, find a software developer there and bring him with you to your office. Good developers are not sitting there and waiting for you. You need to use the appropriate resources and options, which are local hiring via a well-thought employee referrals program (ask your employees/friends if they have some software developers as acquaintances and offer them some bonuses for bringing such for interviews), use LinkedIn portal as a great source of experienced software developers, use such resources as Upwork etc. Use every possible way to draft the list of potential candidates for your software development positions. 

Qualities to look for in your future developers

Before hiring a software developer, you first need to find out where this person’s qualities meet your requirements. But you don’t delude yourself: there are 100% ideal candidates. You need to identify the key qualities you want to see in your developer and use them as a starting point for finding and hiring your new employees.

We see these key priorities as follows:

i) Technology and hard skills, as it will sieve out those candidates who have no experience with technologies (programming language, framework(s), library(ies), testing environment, database(s) etc.) you choose for your product

ii) Previous experience, as you certainly don’t want to teach your developer(s), you want them to do what you need. 

iii) Personal and soft skills, because you need not only a developer or developers, but person(s) who will become members of your team.

Interpreting the candidate CVs

When you have short-listed certain candidates for your open software engineering positions, study their CVs properly. Pay attention to all the details mentioned there. We recommend to focus on the following 3 aspects as they will show you the candidate’s professional and personal sides and will also help you get some knowledge about the candidate’s loyalty to employers.

Background/Previous experience

You should review not only the kind of job that the candidate has previously held but also their movement in the workplace, i.e. how they moved up their career ladder. It will show you whether the candidate is motivated to get promoted or not. It will also tell you about the candidate’s efforts in the workplace – nobody is promoted for nothing.

Candidate’s opinion about previous jobs

Understanding how passionate a candidate is about their responsibilities is needed to test the candidate’s loyalty to the employer as well as see the candidate’s attitude to their job. If the candidate speaks about their previous employers without respect and uses strange terminology, it may be a first reason for in-depth screening of this candidate as it may show the lack of loyalty. If the candidate is plain about their job and tasks, it may also tell you about lack of activity and initiative from the candidate. And you certainly need active and ambitious employees for your startup.


Knowing your people’s interests is key to creating a suitable climate within the team and the entire company. All these corporate events like birthday parties, Friday’s pizza&beer parties etc. are needed to make your people relaxed and familiar with each other. The more similar their hobbies are, the more close connections they will establish, we mean professional connections.

Analyzing the above, you will be able to pinpoint those who are most suitable for your needs. 

Expensive Senior Software Engineer or Cheap Young Developers

We know that as a startup you may have a very limited budget to complete your development team. However we learned from our experience that the saying “buy nice or buy twice” is absolutely true. Success of all your startup business depends on the work of your first developers, so don’t even think about saving on them. Below is the comparison of the average junior and senior software developer salaries in various countries of the world.

You can be tempted of much lower salaries of junior developers as compared to senior engineers, but we INSIST that you need to: 


Inexperienced software developers, even if their technology stack is in line with your project, will not provide you with the same level of quality and achievements as an experienced senior engineer. The latter is essential for building out the basis of your entire system. You can scale up your development team with young developers at any time later, but the first hire must always be a software engineer who shares your vision and knows how to implement your ideas. This person is also able to mentor young teammates and help them when they need such help. 

Yes, you may face a problem that experienced senior developers won’t work for your startup as you cannot offer them high salaries and other benefits. But the proof pudding is in the eating. At least you will try.

Cunning Plan

In case this attempt fails, there is a great work around, which is outstaffing. You can delegate key roles and responsibilities to augmented staff provided by specialized IT outstaffing companies.  And you can freely hire junior devs to complete the team led by an experienced augmented senior engineer, who will be managing the people and translate your requirements to them. 
One of DIGIS activities is IT outstaffing and augmented staffing services, and we will happily consult your startup on this matter any time you need.  Our main recommendation, meanwhile, is to try finding an experienced CTO or at least Technical Lead who will help your startup attract the needed technical human resources. And you must not save on this person’s salary, never!…

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