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Where do I start on finding technological wizards to make my digital media concepts reality?
November 5, 2006 3:27 AM   Subscribe

A friend (okay, it's me) has absolutely no understanding of coding or building software whatsoever. But I have a couple of potentially very exciting digital media business concepts which would require for a software program or web app to be built. How would I go about finding someone, or a group of people, to work with on investigating one or more of these concepts and making them reality? I'm willing to invest some money, but this needs to be at the lower end of the scale and I have no idea where to start.
posted by skylar to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
MeFi Jobs would be one way to find the kind of help you're looking for. You also might see if the CS departments of your local universities have any undergraduates knowledgable about web dev that you could hire. A third option would be to research open-source projects that are related to the project you're considering, and either post a job ad to their mailing list or contact their lead developer(s) directly.
posted by gsteff at 5:25 AM on November 5, 2006

I've been on the other end of this relationship before. Here is what I always wish had really happened to me and to my peers. I'm handwaving the parts where knowledgeable mentors tell you your ideas are possible and marketable, and where you have lawyers set up your business papers, and where you've done diligence to establish you're not replicating an existing product.

1. Network. Since you don't know anybody who's available and have no expertise in the field, hook up through programmers you know. Geeks might be antisocial trolls, but they know their own. Get referrals. Correlate referrals and claims.
2. Carry Non Disclosure Agreements. Keep them simple and in plain English. There are boilerplates available online, so pick something that sounds good and hire a lawyer to vet it. You don't have to assert property over your contractors' thoughts in perpetuum, you only need to protect your i.p. between now and the first public release. If you're not in the U.S., do whatever's appropriate in your country.
3. Pick your contractors' brains about project scope. If you have a well-reccommended geek with professional experience at your disposal, he will be, if anything, optomistic about how quickly he can get from zero to demo. If your geek says you need a team, your first hire should be a project manager. If you have no technical expertise whatsoever, hire a project manager regardless of team size. If the team is small, a good P.M. may only need to work a couple hours a week.
4. Work with as small a group as you can get away with
5. Invest in infrastructure. If everybody's working out of their homes, lease a colocated server and set up a software repository. Mandate regular code check-ins so that you always have a copy of the source. Do this even if you only have one developer.

If this threatens to spend you broke, consider finding investors. If your ideas are worth capitalizing on, they're worth finding capital to do. You should always have enough money to back out and close the project gracefully, paying everybody off, archiving the source, closing the books. The romantic scenario of everybody running on sweat and credit cards until Kleiner Perkins blesses them with Aeron chairs and an IPO has ruined more worthy projects than you can fit in a patent office waiting room.

6. Mandate face time. Weekly at a minimum. Especially if everybody's working out of their homes. Hold them to their benchmarks, and don't be afraid to replace them if they never ship. At the same time, if your staff have day jobs, realize their day jobs take priority and they'll sometimes just plain drag.
7. I'm sure there's something here about what to do as you get closer to ship time, but the idea guys I've dealt with didn't do these things and never got this far.
posted by ardgedee at 5:41 AM on November 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

There's also the Rent A Coder route, which can help you get off the ground with a quick-and-dirty solution. It might be a better site for people who know something about code and can eyeball/verify the quality of what they're getting back, though.
posted by bcwinters at 7:34 AM on November 5, 2006

One more thought crosses my mind, which may or may not apply to you. If you can't articulate the goal of your project without handwaving and 'y'know', you don't have a clear enough idea of what you want to do yet. You don't have to resolve the details -- that's what you're hiring people to do -- and you don't necessarily need an elevator pitch yet. But if you have to research, edit and rehearse the description to make it clear to others, do so. People will feel more confident about working for you when they know what they're working toward, and when they know you understand the technology.
posted by ardgedee at 8:54 AM on November 5, 2006

Thanks for some superlative answers. I could do with more suggestions in terms of networking and finding coders - yes I know people who work in the web world, but I don't necessarily know what skillsets will be needed to carry out my concepts at this stage.

So any more suggestions like RentACoder or MeFi Jobs might be useful... can anyone recommend ways I might come into contact with knowledgeable geeks with whom to thrash out some of the requirements of my project? Maybe MeFi jobs might be an option, but this would probably require for someone to spend a couple of hours thinking about a brief I would write.
posted by skylar at 9:03 AM on November 5, 2006

Well, I just got hired at a startup; third technical staff hire. I'll tell you how they snagged me.

Is a real job? That is, does it pay a living wage? Is it competitive with similar positions in the marketplace? You cannot expect a quality fulltime programmer for less than $40k/year, minimum.

Or, is this a night job? Are they working from home? Are you still paying an hourly wage, or a salary, or what?

Are you offering equity? In what form? A straight stock payment for their time, a vestment period, or options? If you really want people excited about something, let them own some of it.

Post your ad on craigslist and monster. Ignore the recruiting companies, as the programmers do too. You're looking for a "project manager/programmer" and/or a "software architect". If you can't pay much, make it clear from the experience requirements that very little industry experience is required. Hold out for bright college students, prefer graduate students. If you can pay a living wage, but not a great salary, hire a recent graduate as a fulltime programmer. Hold out for a bright one who can talk to people. If you can afford $100k/year, hire somebody with ten years of experience.

Then, interview like mad.

Hold out for somebody who's bright, relatively socially functional, and whom you like. If you value creativity, as you must if you're not going to provide the technical leadership yourself, you should select for that. You want people who work on hobby projects and can discuss them intelligently, not necessarily those who have a string of certifications on their resume.

You need to hire someone who can design a system from the ground up. You're talking about media concepts. Unless that's bussiness-speak for just-a-webpage, you need somebody who's at least played around with this stuff before. They also need to speak a widespread application language: Java and C/C++ seem perhaps the most likely to be useful.
posted by Netzapper at 9:18 AM on November 5, 2006

Thanks. Yes, just to fill in some background here... I think I'd definitely need the part-time, hobby project and college graduate end of the market.

I'd have to incentivise using stock options and would rather some sort of project based fee rather than talking about an annual salary... if it was the latter I'd definitely need to get investment first.

What I need initially is someone to sound out the concept and see if it's technically possible before actually putting it into action.

The two ideas I have are very simple concepts best described as tools that could either be sold as software apps or placed as services via some sort of web interface. Thanks Netzapper for the advice.
posted by skylar at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2006

doh! Tip: Don't use the word "incentivise" in conversation with your developers. You're entering PHB territory there.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 1:10 PM on November 5, 2006

I've been an early stage employee at a few startups, and I've founded a couple of startups myself. I've also raised money for a startup I founded, and I'm currently in the process of founding another. So hopefully this isn't male answer syndrome talking. Here's what I learned:

You need a partner who is technical if your business is technical and you are not. Your partner must believe in the idea enough to work for equity. There are a couple of reasons for this, but it mostly comes down to 'skin in the game.' (the reverse is also true if you are technical)

An NDA is worthless. No one worth talking to will sign it, anyone who signs it will either not have enough worth taking to prevent them from breaking it, or have so much money that they can out lawyer you.

Ideas are worthless, implementation counts. Your ideas are not special or unique. The sooner you get over this the better. Tell as many people about your idea as possible; get as much feedback as possible. This more than anything else will tell you if your idea is worth doing. Pray nightly that someone else is already competing in the same market - ideally someone big, slow and stupid.

Finding initial partners for a business is all about networking, you can't network if you don't talk about how cool your idea is. Most cities have groups devoted to various parts of the entrepreneur scene. You should be able to find groups devoted to software, systems, networking, sales, marketing, finance, etc. with a bit of searching on google. Unless you live in the most bumfuck of bumfuck towns, in which case - move.

Anyway, for what it's worth, the above worked for me a few times.
posted by mock at 7:35 PM on November 5, 2006

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