Building Your Digital Platform: Who To Hire And When
One of the biggest challenges I see companies face when building digital platforms is uncertainty over hiring. In my experience, issues with hiring often arise when companies view development unilaterally and hire developers too soon. Hiring developers early is a little like bringing in a general contractor to construct before an architect even draws up blueprints. A more effective approach? Consider development in phases and hire accordingly.
To help you adopt this approach and assess your hiring needs, I’ve outlined a three-phase development process based roughly on a typical startup. I’ve used this model in my company to navigate and, most importantly, optimize the development process for our clients. I’m giving you my top advice on the goals at each phase and how to hire the talent needed to level up in your development phase.
Phase One: From Idea To Proof Of Concept
In phase one, you may have an idea of your startup and business model, but it’s still mostly in your head or jotted down here and there. You don’t have a clear vision yet. You are not sure exactly how your platform will look or what its features will be.
Create a prototype. You need a great prototype to prove your business model, gather feedback from potential users, secure early funding and move to phase two.
You generally do not need a developer now. While some developers can help prototype, you won’t be maximizing their talents. My advice: Hire a prototyping specialist, such as a UX/UI specialist or graphic designer with experience using software such as Figma, Invision or Typeform. You’ll always save time and money hiring someone to do a job within their realm of expertise.
Phase Two: Minimum Viable Product (MVP) And Bootstrapping
You have proved your business model by this phase, received positive feedback on your proof of concept and maybe even secured funding! During this phase, you'll need to assess your budget, align your goals with your budget and create a technology road map.
At this point, a good developer is a must—possibly even a development team. Your budget and goals will determine whether you hire for the short or long term. A company in phase two should also make sure their staffing plan includes an expert (or experts) who can implement a quality control process. Lastly, explore code repositories with version control, which ensures the company owns the code and can access it at any time.
If your budget is tight, but you want to get a product out, then hire for a short-term solution. You can bring in freelance developers or a small development team for project-based work. Most freelancers you hire should know WordPress, Wix, Shopify, Bubble.is and/or Squarespace. But remember, building with a third-party platform means you could face issues later with scalability, portability and security. Plan ahead!
Keep in mind that while freelancers are more cost-effective upfront and often great coders, you brought them in for the near term, which might keep your platform from future scaling. Unlike internal, long-term hires, freelancers generally don’t interpret your business needs, project-manage, solve business problems or consider marketing and SEO.
If you have the funds, consider hiring for the long term and building your internal team. You can create an in-house staff, or depending on your budget and initial team’s technical expertise, you might want to outsource some tasks to help expedite and reduce costs. Along with developers, a fractional CTO and product manager can aid your progress in this phase.
Whether hiring for the short or long term, you still need to plan and budget for additional, future development. The solution that worked in phase one may not be right for future phases. Know that it’s common to rebuild your codebase from scratch when you scale. Stay adaptable; your digital platform will only help your business grow if it keeps functioning and meets users' needs as technology changes. My rule: $1 invested in planning saves $10 building your product and $100 once the product is built.
Phase Three: Startup With A Solid Online Presence
You’ve now secured angel, seed and/or other investment, your platform works and you have a solid online presence. The good news is you already laid the groundwork for phase three development needs in phases one and two. Your work now is to keep the machine running and ensure you have the right team to do it.
Build a team set for the long term.
The main objective now is to consolidate a permanent team similar to the one for your MVP. In this phase, I recommend hiring a full-time product manager and a strong technical lead or architect. They’ll help establish a technology road map, make a clear workflow and release process, set up quality assurance and control measures and create redundancies. And, crucially, the right team will make sure you own your code, and they’ll host it in a reputable repository with version control. Your budget now should also include hiring marketing and SEO experts. Lastly, you might consider hiring external consultants—freelance or an agency—who can help make your costs more efficient.
Remember: Development is incremental. Be aware of what phase you're in. And save time and money while reaching your goals by hiring the right people for the job.
Last updated: May 17, 2022, 5 pm EDT