Developers · Teams

Which technical roles are vital in a lean start-up team?

YingYing Liu Assistant Brand Manager

September 30th, 2014

My friend and I would like to develop a new app, but we both come from FMCG marketing/business backgrounds. We are confident in our idea and the business plan, but have had very minimal exposure to the developer world. We understand there is UI, UX, front end and back end developers,  but we are unsure specifically which and how many developers we should include in our lean start up team. Can any experts provide their two cents? 

Corey Blaser Sailor. Mormon. Entrepreneur.

September 30th, 2014

Don't worry about putting together a whole team yet. You will want to do as much as possible yourselves. It is your idea and you need to be on the front lines dealing with UX, beta testing, and pre-selling. My suggestion is to create paper prototypes and have people accomplish tasks in the prototype (give them a goal and walk them through the mock up pages). 

And in the mean time, find a trustworthy technical co-founder with decent backend skills who is able to put out a product and iterate based on feedback. I am unsure of how big your "app" project is, but one good developer can usually build a bare bones MVP in a few months. They will also be valuable in helping to figure out the rest of your technical team moving forward.

Aleksandra Czajka Freelance Senior Software Engineer, Developer, Web Developer, Programmer - Full Stack

September 30th, 2014


I'm not really sure what you mean by "basic developer skills" :-). Not sure there's anything like that out there. In fact, on the contrary, any one with "basic developer skills" can really develop anything from my perspective. 

Yes, a lean startup CTO usually develops for the first year or two of the startup. Having a CTO that doesn't develop during the initial stages is wasteful and of no use. That's just additional overhead you don't need. 


Owen Rubel Creator of API Chaining, IO State, API I/O Abstraction and modern API Automation

October 5th, 2014

Superlean... do it yourself to start, Be the sys admin, devops, developer, etc. Fill every role you can. This is essentially good because as an entrepreneur, it helps to know what your company is doing and how it is going to function.

Lean... devops/engineer paid well. One good developer will get you up and running quickly and can get a database, server setup, simple devops and build your app. If they are a miracle worker, they will even write ERD's and flow diagrams of processes. :)

You can also add a designer/UI/UX developer; someone who has design skills and can do some Javascript. Your developer generally will be able to do a bit but it is not their expertise. A good UI/UX person is a nice add and can help with marketing features as well.

Aleksandra Czajka Freelance Senior Software Engineer, Developer, Web Developer, Programmer - Full Stack

September 30th, 2014


A great question. You would need to share the details of your project in order for us to give you an accurate answer as to how many people you would need on your tech team. A better approach is for your technical co-founder to answer that question for you. You will most definitely need a technical co-founder that you trust whose goals are intertwined with the success of the company. It's the only way you know that the answers and decisions you're getting from that person have the company's best interest in mind. You can hire many freelance people that will tell you just what you want to hear because their objective is to get a contract, make the most money on it, finish it and move on. There are freelance people, like myself, that will be truthful with you and just do the bare minimum of what you need. But, trust me when I tell you, you need a technical co-founder. This is for a lot of reasons, the least of which will be the fact that if you're trying to get any investment, it will be harder without one. Investors are looking for a well rounded team and are against off-shoring development... for many reasons.

Let me know if you have any more questions or would like me to elaborate on anything.



September 30th, 2014

Labels are labels CTO means nothing in an early stage startup anymore than a CEO does, short of on paper for separation of entitlements and corporate justifications.

Getting your MVP together first, and out and iterating feedback should be your second stage I would not touch a min of code without a stack of at least 100+ customer interviews and proven validation of things before you move forward. 

Spend the time targeting your core audience and "customer" first, do what you're good at already and market yourself and the potential product to a consumer base. This will drastically drive the direction and skillsets you need to go after in a developer/cto/coder/hacker whatever you want to call them. 

You apparently from what I am hearing already have more skills needed day one than a team of developers can get you , spend the next amount of your time sifting through your feedback to develop your MVP based on that feedback.


October 3rd, 2014

Many people are going to hate me, but these things need to be said:
- As Aleksandra politely implied,
_FLAME ON_  you can't rate developers, as 'basic', 'good', 'bad', etc.  _FLAME OFF_
There are people, who have experience in different fields, and who care or not about your project.
- Expert advice, I wouldn't name it two-cent.
- If Google Maps can be trusted, there is no such place as 'the developer world'.

Lokesh Kumar Cofounder & VP of Tech at

October 4th, 2014

You just need full stack SMART developer - and that is it. If you find that person, he will figure out anything and everything technology. Don't worry about label - you might have to call him CTO and give him fair equity, but these roles will not stick in long run. 

Ben Gamble Lead Developer at ViewRanger (Augmentra Ltd)

October 7th, 2014

Flexibility is the key here. you need people who can do more than just one thing. For each person you hire, you need more money, and more time to find them. Your "CTO" is your all-rounder, needs to understand the end to end, and rock at one of the bigger parts.

There is still a difference between a web developer and a app developer. As much as wrapping websites into apps is a nice idea, it leads to pain later on, along with team issues. You will probably need one of each. If you are cross platform (android and iOS) you may want one for each platform you support.

You will need a designer, This is for the graphics that populate the app, your marketing/pitching materials and your website. This can also be a UX guru, but they need to be good with Adobe tools or the equivalent. They are not often programmers and don't need to be, they should be busy enough anyway.

You should NEVER need a dedicated sysadmin until you have a lot going on, The same goes with testers and database engineers. If you devs don't know how to do this themselves, get new ones. 

Aleksandra Czajka Freelance Senior Software Engineer, Developer, Web Developer, Programmer - Full Stack

October 3rd, 2014

Depends on what type of app you're looking to build. If your app will need data from any other place other than your own phone, you will need to build a server component. 

It's easier to understand if you treat your phone app like a browser. your browser runs on your computer, just like your phone app runs on your phone. everytime that your browser/app needs data that is not locally stored (your credentials to log in, any analytics to show you, data that other users have saved to display to you) you need to retrieve that data on the server. that is, you need to make a call to the server.

there is no independent server side with mobile apps. it's the same type of server side that a website would have. 

however, you can have a mobile app that doesn't require a server side. think of a game, for example, that doesn't need to retrieve information about any other users's progress but your own. as you play the game, the app can store your data locally. because you don't need to retrieve any other data saved with any other user's phone, you don't need to go to the server. you can just use your own phone's local storage to save and retrieve your own data. 

in summary, if you don't need to communicate data between different phones, you don't need server side and all you will need is a "mobile developer". if you need to communicate data you will need a "mobile developer" and a "back-end/server side" developer. people mean different things sometimes when they say "back-end developer". i like to get rid of that miscommunication by just saying 'server side'. 

let me know if i should clarify anything.


Vlad Enache

September 30th, 2014

In terms of CTO vs developer they're the same thing early on.  What you need is a full stack developer, one that knows everything from frontend to backend/db, in other words one that has a holistic view of your product and can make good architecture decisions as well as work on any piece of the product.

But I agree with Corey, start small, do your own UX/usability tests etc and get a full stack developer that can build your MVP, scale from there as you need it.  Your developer/CTO should know better what they'll need help with at that point than worrying about it now.