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Why Hackers Don’t Want To Join Your Startup

There have been multiple articles recently about the dearth of tech co-founders in New York City startups. The are plenty of developers in New York, so why does there seem to be so many startups that cannot find programmers to help launch their visions?

As a developer who has worked with startups and interviewed with many more, I can speculate as to why developers would not jump into the deep end with a new startup, blindly joining a neophyte company that is first gaining it’s legs. Different situations have different reasons, but from my experience, they all seem to fall into several categories.

The first reason is financial. Many startup companies seeking tech co-founders are pre-funding and tend to offer shares in a company that has no track record and no product yet, but no proof of possible success beyond some paperwork created by someone the potential technologist does not know. Food and shelter cost money and the offer of potential future earnings doesn’t keep the developer from living on the streets now. I have turned down interviews where there is no financial offer with the offer of founder stock, and even walked out on an interview once when I was told there would be no income.

When joining an established startup, there is more money. Computers, servers, software and all the other essential needs of a company cost money. In addition to the technologist wanting to be paid, there are things they see as essential to their success. If there is no money, the programmer is stuck using their own hardware and software to develop with. Many programmers do own the things they need, but scaling becomes an issue when the production environment is a basic hosting account on an Internet provider.

Last summer, I wrote how the programmer was the guitarist with mystique. Many developers are introverts, which is effective when one spends 12 to 14 hours a day in front of a computer screen staring at thousands of lines of code, but not when seeking them out to work. Unless the developer is actively seeking employment, they are hunched over their keyboards in a cave, developing the next wave of applications to hit the market. Not every developer goes to New York Tech Meetup, it is harder to find those excellent developers who are out there that don’t put themselves out there.

Even if your startup is a genius idea, who is to say the programmer doesn’t already have a better one? Most developers in the startup space have potential ideas for startups, so why would they want to buy into yours? A developer could devise, design and prototype their own idea in the time it takes to be scouted, interviewed and meeting with the other founders to design the application. The gross income in the same period would be the same, but at this stage, the developer would have a much greater ownership and control of the application than if they were working on yours.

When there is a set of requirements in what the non-technology founder wants to see in a developer, sometimes they are just reaching for the stars and set impossible standards. Most technologists specialize in certain technologies, usually ones that compliment each other. When the developer sees that someone is looking for someone who masters five different programming languages, 3 different databases and can speak four different languages, the interest of the developer wanes due to the demands that the startup is looking for. An unreasonable set of expectations does not bode well to someone who is unfamiliar with the founders personally.

And sometimes, the developer just doesn’t like your idea. It’s a new, unproven idea, that may or may not succeed. Just like the founder seeking a developer is going through the process of seeking out and testing different people, the developer is also testing the founder. If the developer doesn’t like the idea or the founder, they have the option of choosing not to join the startup.

There are plenty of reasons why developers would not join a brand new startup. If a non-technical founder can’t find them, can’t entice them or interest them, then they won’t be able to find a developer for their project. There are a lot of developers around New York City that are interested in the startup scene, it’s just a matter of reaching out to them and interesting each other in the project.

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