Navigating the developer hiring process:
A step-by-step guide for startup founders

By Max Ikaheimo

23rd March, 2023

It’s no secret that a successful startup hinges on the strength and skill of its team members, and finding the right developer is a crucial step in laying a solid foundation, especially as 20% of businesses fail within the first year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unsurprisingly, lack of technical talent is one of the main reasons for failure. As you build your startup’s future, you can’t risk not having a solid company website or a fully-functional web app.

However, hiring tech talent isn’t as easy as it sounds –especially if you’re more on the business side of the equation and lack a technical co-founder to steer the techy side of the ship. For some, hiring an agency is the best way to go. You get all the benefits of a dedicated team of developers and almost no management complexities, except for the usual meetings and progress reports. 

If you’re a startup founder, this article will provide a comprehensive overview of how to hire a developer for your startup, offering insights and guidance to help you decide between hiring an in-house developer or an agency. By following this roadmap, you'll be better equipped to identify, vet, and onboard tech talent to build the best website for your company.

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-Hire in-houseHire dev agency
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Time to marketLongShort
Hire in-house$$$
Hire dev agency$$-$$$
CriteriaLegal and financial complexity
Hire in-houseMed
Hire dev agencyLow
CriteriaManagement complexity
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CriteriaTime to market
Hire in-houseLong
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Hire in-houseNarrow
Hire dev agencyDiverse
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Hire dev agencyHigh

Validate your idea

Validating a startup idea requires careful research, testing, and feedback. By following these steps, you can determine whether your startup idea has the potential to succeed and make informed decisions about your business.

Define your target audience

Defining your target audience is the first step in validating your startup idea. Identify your ideal customer, their needs and preferences, and how your product or service can solve their problems. Conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups to gain insights into your target audience. You can also use social media analytics tools and market research reports to understand your target audience better.

Conduct market research

This is crucial to understanding the demand for your product or service and identifying gaps or needs to solve. Research your industry and competitors to determine what products or services are currently available and where there may be opportunities to differentiate yourself. Conducting a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) can help identify potential risks and opportunities.

Create a minimum viable product (MVP)

In a tech startup, an MVP is a basic version of your website that you can test with your target audience. It should be a simplified version of your website or product demonstrating its core features and value proposition. Developing an MVP allows you to do a dry run with real users and gather feedback on improving it.

Why get an MVP before approaching an agency? Feedback is essential to refine your startup idea to make it more appealing to your target audience. Tests help you identify and address potential problems before investing in a full-scale app development project.

Seek mentors and advisors

Seeking feedback from mentors and advisors with industry experience can provide valuable insights and help refine your startup idea. They can offer advice on overcoming challenges, provide industry insights, and help you identify potential risks and opportunities. Joining an accelerator or incubator program can be a great way to connect with mentors and advisors.

Test your MVP

Testing your MVP is the fastest, most effective way of knowing where you stand and how the audience received your product. Conduct user testing and gather feedback through surveys, interviews, or focus groups. Use this feedback to iterate and improve your product or service. Pay attention to the feedback on your product or service's usability, functionality, and user experience.


  • Define

  • Research

  • Create

  • Listen

  • Test

Chart the role and expectations

By clearly defining the developer's role, identifying required skills, communicating expectations, setting performance metrics, providing feedback, and discussing growth opportunities, you can ensure that the developer is set up for success and can deliver on the project requirements.

Outline the job responsibilities

To attract the right software developer; it's important to clearly and concisely describe their role within your startup. Delineate their tasks and responsibilities, such as designing and implementing new features, troubleshooting and resolving technical issues, or collaborating with other team members on cross-functional projects. This will ensure your potential candidate understands what is expected of them and can evaluate their fit for the position.

Establish the level of experience needed

Consider the level of expertise your startup needs to achieve its goals. If you want more than a simple WordPress website, you want to use modern architectures –or have specific ideas and integrations in mind, an experienced developer may be essential. This is also when hiring a web dev agency can be a lifesaver because you gain an experienced team ready to work right away without any extra steps or hiring cycles. On the other hand, if your project is relatively simple or you have CTO who wants to become a mentor, a junior dedicated developer might be a suitable choice. 

Decide between hiring an agency or an in-house developer

This is a decision you must make early on. Commissioning work from an agency is usually easier for busy founders as they can offload the task onto an external team. This doesn’t mean you lose control over the product, as an agency will always listen to you and keep you in the loop. A full-time app developer can provide dedicated support and commitment to your business, yes, but things usually take longer to work, and all that time you lose developing your first idea could cost you money, reputation, and the interest of potential investors. Carefully consider your budget, project timeline, and project complexity when deciding which type of tech talent best suits your needs. 

Agency or in-house developers? The choice between an agency and in-house developers depends on your specific needs and priorities. An agency might be better if you require a wide range of expertise, fast project delivery, and scalability.


  • Outline

  • Establish

  • Decide

Identify your dream developer or agency

Hiring software developers involves understanding your project's unique requirements and finding a partner who aligns with your goals, values, and expectations. Here are some steps to help you identify your dream developer or agency:

Assess your technical needs

This is a crucial step of the hiring process because it’s where you usually find out that your product requires more than a single talented developer, you need a team –and that’s when your head starts to spin, and you get paralyzed. To prevent that paralysis, evaluate your startup's current and future technical requirements before even hiring someone. Analyze your project's scope and goals to identify the necessary skills, expertise, and experience you’re looking for.

Tips for assessing your technical needs: If your startup already has an existing technology stack, such as a specific programming language or framework, you need to find a software development agency that works with those technologies or could help you migrate to a more suitable platform.

Determine their technical experience

Once you've assessed your technical needs, you can pinpoint the programming languages and technologies in which your software engineer should be proficient. Consider the platforms and tools used in your project, such as web development frameworks, mobile app technologies, or cloud-based solutions. Align these requirements with your hiring criteria to ensure you hire the right development team and that you don’t have to compromise on features only because the developer you hired can’t work with the tech stack you chose. 

Tips for determining your tech stack:  Look for scalability. Choose a tech stack capable of  scaling with you, allowing you to add new features and functionalities as your project grows easily.

Consider their soft skills

In addition to technical prowess, the ideal developer or agency should possess a range of soft skills that will enable them to collaborate effectively with your team. Look for candidates who demonstrate strong communication, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities, as these traits are essential for navigating a startup's fast-paced, dynamic environment. By prioritizing hard and soft skills, you'll be better positioned to find a developer or team who can make a meaningful impact on your venture.

Tips to screen for soft skills: List your team and project's most important soft skills before starting the screening process. Some fundamental soft skills include communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, and time management.

Why culture fit matters?  Considering their technical skills and compatibility with your startup's values and culture is essential. Ensuring the candidate's work style, beliefs, and attitudes align with your organization's ethos will create a more cohesive and collaborative team environment. During the interview, discuss your startup's mission, vision, and core values to gauge their enthusiasm and understanding of your venture's goals.


  • Assess

  • Determine

  • Consider

Assess their project management skills

A well-organized project management approach is crucial for completing your web development project. In this section, we will discuss key aspects of project management to consider when evaluating potential agencies.

How do they communicate?

Effective communication is essential for a successful project. Inquire about the agency's preferred communication and collaboration tools, such as email, project management software, video conferencing, or instant messaging platforms. The agency should be willing to use tools that facilitate clear, timely, and efficient communication to keep your project on track and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Are timelines realistic?

A reputable software development agency should be able to provide you with a realistic timeline and milestone estimates for your project. This includes the time required for planning, design, development, testing, and deployment. Ensure the agency's proposed timeline aligns with your startup's expectations and requirements, and they can commit to meeting crucial deadlines.

Why keep it real? Realistic timelines ensure that quality control measures are followed. Rushing the development process to meet unrealistic timelines can lead to substandard work, resulting in bugs and other issues that may not be caught until the later stages of the project.

How often do they update you?

Throughout the development process, the agency needs to provide regular progress updates and maintain open lines of communication for feedback. This lets you stay informed about the project's status and promptly address any concerns or changes. Ensure the agency has a system for sharing updates and incorporating your feedback, ensuring a collaborative and transparent working relationship.

Is there any post-implementation support?

A website is not a one-and-done project; it requires ongoing support and maintenance to keep it up-to-date, secure, and functioning optimally. When choosing a web development agency, inquire about their post-launch support and maintenance services. This may include bug fixes, performance optimizations, security updates, and adding new features as your startup grows. A long-term partnership with an agency that offers reliable support can save you time and resources while ensuring your website remains a valuable asset for your business.


  • Communicate

  • Timeline

  • Update

  • Support

Compare Pricing Models

Understanding and comparing the pricing models of different web development agencies is crucial for startups to find the best value for their investment. Let’s discuss the key factors to consider when comparing agency pricing models.

  1. Fixed-price vs. hourly rates

Web development agencies typically offer two pricing models: fixed-price and hourly rates. Fixed-price contracts involve a predetermined cost for the entire project, while hourly rates are based on the number of hours worked by the development team.

Fixed-price contracts can provide more cost certainty and make budgeting easier, but they may require a detailed project scope upfront and offer less flexibility for changes during development. On the other hand, hourly rates allow for greater flexibility but may be harder to estimate and manage from a budgetary standpoint.

Fixed or hourly? Fixed-price contracts can provide more cost certainty and make budgeting easier, but they may require a detailed project scope upfront and offer less flexibility for changes during development. On the other hand, hourly rates allow for greater flexibility but may be harder to estimate and manage from a budgetary standpoint. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of each pricing model based on your startup's needs, project scope, and budget constraints.

Scope of services included in the price

When comparing prices, it's essential to consider the scope of services included in each proposal. Some agencies may offer a lower price but exclude certain crucial services, such as UX/UI design, SEO, or post-launch support. Review each proposal carefully to ensure you understand what is included and any additional costs that may arise during the project.

Payment terms and conditions

Different agencies may have varying payment terms and conditions. Some may require a deposit upfront, while others offer monthly billing or milestone-based payments. Ensure you understand and are comfortable with the agency's payment terms, and consider how they align with your startup's cash flow and financial planning.

When comparing pricing models, it's essential to consider all factors, including pricing structure, the scope of services, and payment terms, to ensure you make an informed decision that best suits your startup's needs and budget.


  • Fixed price vs hourly

  • Scope

  • Payment terms

Request proposals and conduct Interviews

Once you have researched and evaluated potential web development agencies, the next step is to request proposals and conduct interviews.

Prepare and send some Requests for Proposal (RFP)

An RFP is a document that outlines your project's requirements, objectives, and expectations. It should include information about your startup, target audience, desired features and functionalities, project timeline, and budget. A well-prepared RFP allows agencies to understand your needs and provide accurate and detailed proposals.

Why an RFP? An RFP helps you evaluate potential agencies based on their capabilities and experience. This ensures the vendor has the skills and resources to deliver the goods.

Shortlist the best agencies

Create a shortlist of the most promising web development agencies based on your research and evaluation criteria. This shortlist will help you focus on the agencies that best align with your startup's needs and have the potential to deliver the desired results.

Conduct Interviews and discuss project expectations

Schedule interviews with the shortlisted agencies to discuss your project in more detail. Use this opportunity to ask questions, clarify concerns, and gauge the agency's enthusiasm for your project. Assess their communication style, responsiveness, and ability to understand your needs.

Evaluate and compare proposals

After receiving proposals from the shortlisted agencies, evaluate and compare them based on the criteria you established during the research and evaluation phase. This may include technical expertise, project management style, pricing, and company culture.


  • Send

  • Shortlist

  • Interview

  • Evaluate

Make a decision

Weigh the pros and cons 

After evaluating and comparing the proposals, weigh the pros and cons of each option. Consider technical expertise, project management, pricing, and long-term partnership potential.

Long-term or short term? Partnering with a development agency on a long-term basis allows you to access a dedicated team of experienced professionals familiar with your project requirements and goals. This helps to ensure continuity and consistency in the quality of work.

Consider the Long-term Partnership Potential

A successful website requires ongoing support and maintenance. Consider each agency's long-term partnership potential, considering their post-launch support services, communication style, and company culture.

Communicate Your Decision and Sign a Contract

Once you have decided, notify the chosen agency and begin discussing the contract terms. Ensure the contract includes all necessary details, including project scope, pricing, timeline, and payment terms.


  • Pros and cons

  • Partner

  • Sign

Closing words

Choosing the right developer or web development agency is critical for your startup's online success. A well-designed and functional website or app can help establish credibility, attract customers, drive business growth, and pique investors’ interest. 

While hiring an in-house developer provides direct control over the project, it can be expensive and limiting in terms of expertise and scalability. On the other hand, outsourcing to a development agency provides access to a diverse team of experienced professionals with the necessary expertise to deliver the goods.

Agencies also offer higher flexibility and faster time to market. Plus, a collaborative approach between the agency and your startup can lead to innovation and a product that’s even cooler than the initial idea you had. Overall, hiring an agency or a developer depends on the specific needs and requirements of the project or organization, but hiring an agency can be a strategic and cost-effective option for a startup that wants to focus on growing.

Finding the perfect web development agency requires time and effort. Following the steps outlined in this article, startups can make a more informed decision and select the agency that best aligns with their needs, budget, and long-term goals.

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