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When it comes to attracting and retaining software developers for your startup, there are several factors to consider to stay ahead of the curve.

In recent years, finding a software developer has only gotten more difficult due to the global developer shortage. 

More than that, we saw The Great Resignation which began early in 2022. Talent from all sectors began to leave their jobs en masse in search of new opportunities. Specifically in the tech industry, at this time, only 29% of IT workers had a “high intent” to remain in their employment.

This drove demand for developers up even further. Twinned with the developer shortage, the challenge of attracting and retaining developers only grew. 

Now we’re seeing a change in pace, however. The Great Resignation has been quickly met with The Great Reset – in which (primarily unicorn) tech companies are laying off talent left right and centre. 

According to Senior Reporter at TechCrunch, Natasha Mascarenhas, this is largely due to many founders’ lack of discipline. She goes on to say that the fault lies with founders who overspent despite knowing that the boom wouldn’t exist forever. Now we’re seeing them cutting the same employees that helped them soar. 

For you, this means that there’s potentially a wave of qualified tech talent left looking for a new opportunity. 

All of this aside, you still need to be able to attract them to join your team and fly your flag. 

Over the last decade, our team has built over 70 products. That includes both startups our founding team created before Altar and the products of entrepreneurs we’ve worked with since our inception. 

In that time, we’ve seen that there are several things that developers will always look for before considering joining a startup.  

I’ll delve into them later in this article, but before that, there is some groundwork you need to do before you start hiring developers.

The Groundwork You Need to do Before Hiring Developers

Get Your Story Straight  (a.k.a. Vision) 

It’s going to be very difficult to attract a developer if they’re not excited about your business vision. 

Of course, if you think your idea is worth building, you’re already excited about it. However, you need to be able to clearly communicate that vision to others. 

To do this, I recommend putting your startup story down on paper to showcase your business vision. It needs to clearly demonstrate why this project is relevant and exciting. 

This will make it much easier to attract a developer – as they’ll already be aligned on the “why” behind your startup. 

Nailing your story (your reason “why”) now won’t just attract developers. It’ll also help you attract investors, potential customers and any other relevant stakeholders for your startup.   

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Understand the Basics of Tech

Learning some basic tech knowledge will go a long way to help you when it comes to looking for developers for your startup. 

Firstly, it’s going to make it much easier to follow tech conversations with developers.

Secondly, it helps to show a potential tech stakeholder that you’re passionate about tech – which, again, makes alignment much easier.  

This is a piece of advice that CTO and startup advisor Nelly Yusupova believes in wholeheartedly. 

When I asked her what her best piece of advice was for non-tech founders building tech startups, this is what she had to say: 

Become tech literate.

That’s the number one piece of advice I have for any non-technical founder. Having that knowledge is going to completely transform the way you see and make connections with tech.

All of a sudden things will make sense. You’ll see things in the future that you wouldn’t have been able to see before. 

The confidence you get from being tech literate is going to change how other technical people perceive you. You’re going to be able to attract technical people just because you’re able to communicate with tech stakeholders more effectively.

Note: We always advise that on top of learning the basics of tech, you have a technical advisor as a non-technical founder when you first set out to onboard developers. 

They’ll be able to quickly validate the profiles you’re looking at to ensure you’re only talking to developers with the skills your startup needs.

More information on that here.

Speak to Developers. A Lot of Developers

Finally, the best way to learn what developers want in a job is to talk to them. 

So you should reach out to as many as possible. Understand what they like, what they don’t like and what kind of work environments they’re drawn to. 

Having these conversations will give you a much more educated view of what developers in your target market want. 

More than that, you’ll be able to use the knowledge from those conversations to prioritise which channels you should be focusing on. 

Depending on how urgently you need developers, this may mean focusing a lot on intent channels (places where developers go to find opportunities. Meaning, job posting boards, recruitment agencies, etc). 

Still, you should use some of your time to look at the long game. Hone your employer branding and share resources that show you as an authority in your industry. On top of this, you should be part of communities that developers pay attention to – events, webinars, podcasts, blogs, you get what I mean.

Expert Tip: Don’t Look for Talent – Build Relationships

Start developing relationships with people who’re relevant to your startup as soon as possible. You’ll not only find talent, but you’ll also find customers, advisors – and maybe even investors.

Yaron Samid, Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Founder

6 Ways to Attract Developers for Your Startup   

Here are the common things that, in our experience, developers look for in a startup. 

All of the things on this list have been mentioned by developers that we’ve worked with here at Altar. 

1. Showcase Opportunities for Growth & Progression 

The first thing developers will be looking for in a startup is clarity on how far they can progress in your project. 

They don’t want to come to a company where there’s no room for them to grow. 

Therefore, you need to be able to show them that you have a clear path in your mind that they can take.

For an early hire, this means that they’ll have the opportunity to progress to a high role in your structure in the near future – and maybe get stock options in the company further down the line. 

More than that, you should also show them how you can help them hone their skills in their career as a whole. 

For example, we’re very focused on supporting our developers, helping them gain the skills they need to be successful.

It’s something that has gone a long way to actually help retain our developer talent – because we care about their growth as a developer as opposed to how they can execute better deliverables for us. 

People who choose to become developers are, generally speaking, very ambitious people. They want to be challenged and they want to grow. 

So, share your vision with developers and the technical challenges it presents. The right people will be excited about this challenge and be more likely to join your team. 

There’s also a line of thought here that, if your project isn’t challenging from a technical perspective, do you need developers in the first place? Or can you do it with a low-code solution? 

More than being challenged, the majority of developers are more interested in changing the world than the number on their payslip (as I said, they’re ambitious). 

So as well as giving them a challenge, you need to show them that they’ll be making a positive contribution to the world. This will largely depend on your specific use case – like the type of project you’re building. My point here is that you should clearly communicate it as early as possible. 

Expert Tip: Put Your Team First, And The Rest Will Fall Into Place

“In the office I would be hyper-focused on the team, ensuring everyone understood the bigger picture. 

I didn’t have an agenda to be the first one in and the last one out of the office. My agenda was to make sure that everybody was extremely focused, happy, doing their thing, understanding how what they do impacts the market and the client, and that they were supported and were able to look at the problems and face them the right way.

If I saw that my development team was working really hard on the next release and there wasn’t much I could do to help, then I would bake them cakes and bring them coffee. The point is: there is always a way to help out and support your team!” 

Illit GellerFounder & CEO

2. Offer a Flexible Working Model 

Covid taught us that companies can function when everyone works remotely. And although many big tech companies have forced people back into the office – the majority of developers prefer a remote-first environment. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that developers are shunning an office environment entirely. Rather, they’re much more attracted to a hybrid model – where they choose when and if they go to the office. 

It’s a model we’ve adopted since the pandemic and we haven’t looked back. It allows our developers to get together in the office whenever they want whilst allowing them to retain the freedom to work wherever they want. 

3. Create A Positive Environment Full of Innovators 

It should come as no surprise that great developers want to work with people they can learn from. 

So, if you want to attract them, you need to show them that they’ll be in among professionals who’re at the top of their chosen field. Or that at least you have concrete plans to do so in the near future.

Whether that’s other developers, product people or you and your co-founders.

More than that, you need to create a warm and friendly environment where people are able to build relationships. 

To attract them, clearly communicate that they’ll have the opportunity to get to know their colleagues on a deeper level through informal events. 

Depending on your location and how far afield you hire, your software developers will have a bearing on how much you’ll need to invest in these events. 

But, they don’t have to be grandiose. Team lunches, regularly scheduled football matches and scheduled meetups at your HQ will all go a long way to creating an environment in which your team can gather together informally. 

And when they get to know each other better, collaboration becomes that much easier. 

It will also allow you the opportunity to build strong relationships with your team. Getting to know them personally will go a long way to building even more trust between you. 

My point here is to always remember that people are the core of any startup. 

Sure, all the aspects I’ll mention here are important. But they won’t do anything to help attract (or retain) developers unless you’re building a team of people who communicate with ease, trust each other and (critically) actually like each other. 

Expert Tip: Culture Starts at the Top 

“When it comes to culture, it all starts with you. The Founder. The company is a full-blown extension of you.

You have to bring the same values that you have in your life, in your family, to the startup. 

Then, you want to bring in people in the early days who have similar values to you. 

Then when the next round of hires comes along, they will share those values and thought processes and the culture will spread to them that way. 

If you get the culture right, you’ll get to a point where the company’s grown but it’s still like a family. There are 100 or 200 people and everyone is taking care of each other.” 

Garrett Gafke, Serial Entrepreneur & Silicon Valley Veteran

One of the key things that draw developers to a startup is the technologies they’ll be working in. 

The worst nightmare for many developers is to be stuck working in an outdated legacy coding language – it’s one of the many reasons developers turn to startups instead of working for large corporations. 

This is why I put so much emphasis on learning the basics of tech at the top of this article. 

You need to be able to identify the best technologies for your startup so you can use that to attract developers. If this is something you’re not comfortable with I highly recommend getting a technical advisor to help you. 

This will also help you focus your search on developers who have expertise and passion in the specific technologies your startup needs.

5. Implement Good Processes & Excellent Product Documentation 

Just like developers want to know they’re working in cutting-edge technologies, they want to know that there are solid processes in place to allow them to execute their work effectively. 

Here I’m talking about methodologies like Agile, Scrum, Lean, etc. 

On top of this, they’ll want clear documentation from the product team with clear requirements lists for them to implement. 

In other words, they want to work in an organised, tidy kitchen. 

6. Offer Competitive Compensation

Finally, while I don’t believe that compensation is at all the most important aspect of attracting developers to your startup (and nor should it be), it would naive to not mention it. 

The developer landscape is extremely competitive, so it stands to reason that developers want to ensure they’re properly compensated for their work. 

Giving them a clear salary range, alongside the benefits and perks that come with it, will be key in piquing a developer’s interest.

How to Retain Developers in Your Startup 

There is one, surefire way to retain the developers you onboard for your startup: 

Make sure you follow through on everything you told them to attract them to your startup. 

  • Showcase your passion and get them pumped up about your vision regularly
  • Regularly talk to them about their progression both in their career and in your startup 
  • Allow the freedom to work where they feel most comfortable with a flexible working model
  • Nurture an environment with a great culture filled with great innovators
  • Stay on top of tech trends and make sure you’re always working at the cutting edge of modern technologies
  • Show them how their work is making a positive impact on the world while making sure they’re still being challenged in their day-to-day. 
  • Keep a tidy house – ensuring everything is organised and proper processes are implemented and followed

If you can do that, you should have no problem with retention. 

And By The Way,

I’m Rui, Partner & CMO at Altar.io — a team of experienced second-time founders & world-class developers based in London, Milan and Lisbon. We help startups and corporates build great tech products.

If you have a brilliant idea that you want to bring to life — drop me a few lines here and let’s chat!

Good luck and thanks for reading,

Rui