Bootstrapping · Recruiting

Advice on bootstrapping

Kobus Marneweck Founder and CEO at Cingo

June 27th, 2013

I am working on a startup in Austin, TX to change the way we access websites (eliminate the need for user names and passwords). I have 2 developers working part time on a prototype but it is going slowly since they cannot commit enough time.

Does anyone have advice to find people that can dedicate more time or work full time without pay (for a while)? I have reached out on Founderdating but have not had any success. 

Any advice will be appreciated

Kobus Marneweck

George London Founder of

June 27th, 2013

FWIW, based on my own experiences:

The first thing you need to do is to reverse the way you're approaching the problem.

Unless you're extremely lucky, you're not going to have a lot of success with "how can I get people to do what I want?" No one else cares what you want. They care what they want. So instead you need to think in terms of "how can I give other people what they want (and satisfy my own needs in the process)?"

No one is going to work for you for free (would you personally spend months helping a stranger out of the kindness of your heart?) They may work for no cash, but only if you can compensate them in some other way that's as valuable as cash. So think about what the type of people you need (i.e. programmers) want and think about which of those things you can offer them. The best thing you can offer is traction (i.e. a hugely reduced risk of failure) because everyone wants a seat on a rocket ship. You might offer equity, but if you haven't raised money yet then your equity is basically worthless.[1]  Or it might be some connection or hard expertise you can share. If you don't have anything at all to offer, then you need to go focus on yourself for a while and figure out how to either develop yourself to be a more useful partner or how to acquire the resources you need to attract people.

Applying this framework will give you a "candidate archetype" of people with whom you can make a mutually agreeable transaction. Then figure out where that type of person hangs out (e.g. in the UT-Austin computer labs) and go talk directly to them. Computer people are friendly and most of them will talk to strangers as long as you're humble in your initial contact.

If you're talking to a lot of people and not finding anyone, the problem is probably with you. Either you're talking to the wrong people (because you didn't target well) or you don't have enough to offer at this point as a partner.

[1] Rule of thumb -- think about the amount of cash you'd sell your company for today, and assume the whole equity pie is worth less than 1/10 of that.

Balki Kodarapu Experienced Software Engineering Leader

June 27th, 2013

Here's a fantastic article by Elizabeth Yin (co-founder at LaunchBit) summarizing her analysis of the exact same question you asked:

My own two cents... anyone you can find for just equity will either be not talented enough to execute on your idea or will not be committed enough beyond a few months.
Your best bet is to find a 100% committed technical co-founder who is thoroughly convinced of (a) your own commitment and (b) the core idea itself.

good luck with your venture and keep us posted with your progress here!

Douglas Tarr Entrepreneur and Software Architect

June 27th, 2013

That is a great article Balki. It resonated with me a lot. As an experienced engineer, when I get approached to work for equity, I will compare the project to my own personal projects, where I am also working for equity. In my personal projects, I have more control and they are my own ideas (so I am attached to them) I will also be more skeptical of your idea and your representation of it, since you have a motivation to portray it in the most positive light. I will also compare it (on the flipside) to contract work, where I am working completely for pay at good rates. It is hard to compete with both of those cases. But paying is a really big signal. I find that I will work with people who are willing to put money up front, because it is a very strong signal that they are serious and also have enough connections to get some funding. I will also consider some greenfield projects in new kinds of technology, since that gives me the opportunity to learn something new. For engineers, that's often a good motivator.

Shivin Bakshi Visionary team leader who enjoys solving problems in new, unexplored sectors.

June 27th, 2013

Hello Kobus,

In my opinion, the best way to meet people with similar interests and passion would be through groups in your city. Developers that are much free and excited to work on new projects usually are pro-active in these meetups as well as try Startup Weekend in your city to connect with various technically minded people. Hope this helps in your pursuit.

Ryo Hang Do More

June 27th, 2013

Why not paying a little cash and equity to hire people dedicate on your work? Paying cash is one way to stimulate productivity, without that you may need to find another way to simulate engineer. I found it is hard. Not so much help sorry.

Marlina Kinnersley

June 27th, 2013

An options pool might be effective for you, I'm investigating this option myself. if you do this, make it performance and time based, otherwise you could end up with code that doesn't work. Hope this is helpful.

Nimesh Thakrar

June 27th, 2013

Here in London there is a growing number of startups employing interns, some of which are paid (cover expenses at least) or unpaid. If you can get to a position where you have at least some budget, use elance. It's been indispensable for me - access to a global workforce at competitive rates in a matter of minutes. Once you learn how to write an accurate job description, fish out the A-players and manage the process, you can get great results. odesk is a similar option but I haven't used it yet.

Gaurav Garg

June 27th, 2013

Kobus, I know someone who runs a specialized recruiting company for startups. For a fee, he can help you find resources who are willing to work on low salary or pure equity. I am happy to introduce you to him if you want to explore that option. Alternatively, you can hire a team offshore under "work for hire" contract. This will protect your IP but give you a low cost option. Cheers, Gaurav

Toby Herrera New Product Development and Contract Engineering

June 27th, 2013

I will echo some of the points above with some words of wisdom from some one I grew up with who echoed these words to his client in the same position you are in. "You can own 100% of nothing or 25% of something big." These words are something to think about when in a market like Austin and realizing that everyone in Austin is working on a startup, including those working at startups. Think about what can you do to differientiate yourself from others and have them join your team?

Brahm Singh Eng Head - Deep Search at Quixey

June 27th, 2013

Adding to George's (awesome) reply : I have formed teams without paying people cash - only equity based. My 2 cents : 1) Work with them first - go to hackathons, build something as a side project - do something together. You will get the feel of each other. 2) Once you have worked together, and you both like it, you guys have mutual respect for each other. This is important. After that, you can talk about equity. Talking directly about cash/equity/package will not help because there are too many unknowns. Of course, for being respected by someone, you will have to offer some thing which the other person does not have - complementary skills, better contacts, traction - something. Regards, Brahm Coach Pal co-founder