5 Tactics for Startups to Get the Most Out of Remote Developers
Enticing high quality, U.S.-based developers to join a startup full-time is one of the greatest challenges founders face today. Early-stage companies usually can’t beat the salaries and perks offered by the Apples and Googles of the world. Even for developers who are entrepreneurially-inclined and willing to take a pay cut, founders face fierce competition with other startups in convincing these engineers that their organization has the best mission, work culture and opportunities for growth.
The dearth of engineering resources in the U.S. is something we’re all too aware of, and it’s no secret that entrepreneurs often turn to remote developers for everything from building applications to designing websites. A less-talked about topic is the nitty gritty of what it actually takes to get the the best results out of these remote teams.
I’m not referring to the basics of vetting work portfolios, making sure enforceable contracts are in place, establishing clear lines of communication and keeping costs down. Following these pieces of advice are certainly necessary building blocks of a productive relationship with remote teams, but founders who want to get truly great work from developers outside of their companies should consider employing some less-common tactics.
1. Insist on talking directly with the developers you’re hiring, and pitch them your project.
Remote developers do their best work when they’re psychologically invested in the project, and it’s a founder’s responsibility to make sure these developers are interested in the work. Getting this buy-in begins during the hiring process. When working with a development firm, do not agree to hire a remote team based on a conversation with a salesperson. Insist on talking directly to the developers who will be doing the work.
When speaking with these developers, pitch them your project. Describe what the product is and the challenge your company is solving, ask them what interests them most about working with you, and discuss ideas they have for moving the project forward. This conversation will not only let you experience how well developers are able to communicate, but will also give you an opportunity to take the temperature of their excitement level.
If you get the sense that these developers are just doing the work for the paycheck, don’t hire them.
2. Kick off your project in person.
Video chats and conference calls do not replace meeting someone personally, particularly when startups are spinning up an initial project with remote teams. Even if it means spending a little extra on plane tickets and hotel rooms, collaborating face-to-face for at least few days can greatly help establish trust and communication.
For startups who are not able to meet the entire remote development team in person because of issues associated with travel costs or logistics, at least meet with the project manager in person during these initial stages.
3. Define 'done' before you even start.
When kicking off a development effort with a remote team, clearly lay out parameters for what the finished product should look like. If your goal as a founder is building a marginal value product, your definition of “done” will look very different from a more mature startup that’s working on the second or third version of an application.
The process of defining when the project is complete shouldn’t be done in isolation. You can work with your remote team to draft a list of specific criteria for what the end product should consist of. Having this understanding in place will help avoid any discrepancies at the end of the project and dictate what your contract engineers should focus on and prioritize during the engagement.
4. Negotiate to buy out remote developers.
Getting developers to take ownership of the work they’re doing is key to your project’s ultimate success. As a founder, you can do even more to get developers to get excited about the work than talking about it convincingly, paying them well and kicking off the project in person.
I highly encourage you to look into buying out the software engineer from the development firm you’re working with. This buyout can come in many forms. You might pursue an agreement with the development firm to make the engineer a dedicated resource to your company for a period of time. You can even see strike a deal with the firm that lets you work with the developer directly outside of the company.
5. Offer remote teams equity in your company.
Startups have a certain percentage of their stock devoted to giving options to engineers and usually reserve these options for in-house engineers. If you’re working with external engineers on a regular basis, and they’re making a significant contribution to your startup, you should consider finding a way to give them equity as well. Much like with in-house workers, offering equity to contractors can help give them incentive to get their best work done.
Remember, external teams are no different from internal employees in the sense that you need both groups to be doing top-notch work in order to succeed. If you want to great results from remote developers, you have to take proactive steps to get them invested in what your company is building, and make them part of your team. This starts with the interview process and continues through your efforts to motivate remote teams much like you would your staff.