How to Hire an App Developer

How to Make an App


Learning how to hire an app developer to help you build you mobile app(s) is critical to the success of the project and introduces unique challenges for the technical and non-technical founder alike.  In this episode of the App Business Podcast  – David shares his #1 “filter” for eliminating applicants to his project postings, and Chris shares how he has uses a hybrid strategy of project-based, hourly payment terms with his developers with success.

In this Episode – David and Chris discuss:

  • Importance of a great hire
  • Do you need to be a developer to manage developers?
  • Why a project manager (PM) is a great resource for the non-technical founder for managing devs
  • To sign a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) or not?
  • Basic applicant filters and deal breakers
  • *** The magic of Easter Eggs and Asterisks
  • Hourly vs Project based costs and impact on “Scope Creep”
  • Knowing your App and Taking Responsibility!
  • Topics and questions for the interview
  • Plus more!

Giveaway for our listeners:

[PDF] Download Our Hiring Process Template

Special deal for our listeners!

Chaim from affordabledev.com is so kind to offer all of our listeners a 20% discount if you mention the App Business Podcast. Instead of having a commercial on this episode, we decided to just pass the savings on to our listeners (Chris and David don’t make a dime on this!). We don’t know how long the deal is up, so grab it while you still can.


Transcription:

David: Hey there. This is episode number 2 of the App Business Podcast where we talk about how to hire an app developer. Yes so today we want to talk about a topic that is very important for both of us is about hiring developers and designers. Now first of all I guess why is this important and how did we come up with this idea.

Chris: Well, I mean this is probably number one issue facing publishers or new publishers is before you have you kinda go to team, or you go to staff, you go to developer. You gotta find those guys and that can be tough coz the good or mixed them with the bad and you know, a bad one really hurts you.

David: Yeah, absolutely and the small pause in your answer such as the, this kind of a funny question to ask, yeah I know but its kind of obvious you need to have your high ring solid, you need to be very good at finding developers. It seems kind of obvious but still its not like the number one concern of most people and if you asked me the number one concern is my idea good? Or do I have a really new idea that nobody has come up before and I think how this relates to hiring or looking for a good developer is that people do not emphasize the execution enough. And that’s why people fail at hiring because its one of the most important cost of the execution, right?

Chris: Yeah, what normally happens when we talked about this stuff is you’re thinking from a developers perspective so if you can’t find someone to build it for you, changes how you could like build it yourself where a guy like me, I have to find someone to build it for me. So why hire the wrong guy, I mean when you’re, were talking about execution, hiring the right developer is the first step to executing on your idea. You know you got to get that right.

David: And that’s probably a nice controversy to start with. So there’s some people that tell you  that you can’t hire and manage developers if you don’t have a technical background yourself or at least know most people even say you need to be a developer to manage developers. What do you think about that idea?

Chris: But I think it definitely helps obviously but if you’re me and you don’t know how to write Objective-C and yeah you don’t have a partner that can do that, you can get lucky and I’ve gotten lucky before and a lot of it is trial and error and you just keep interviewing developers until you found the right one and you worked with them a little bit and its working. So I’ve definitely had that relationship before where the developer was good enough  that you gotta have, you gotta find a unique developer, really. But I would day the most success I’ve had in hiring developers is when there’s a PM, a project manager in between it. Where theres one single point of contact at lets say the agency or with the development team that I can work with and he can kind of manages the developer’s time and interacts with you know creates that filter when we interact.

David: Yes so you are either the living proof that its possible to manage developers and while not being a developer yourself or do you exception to the rule depending on who you ask, right?

Chris: Well, I would definitely say I don’t think I managed the developers well, right. So I might have gotten lucky for three months but yeah I mean I would even worry to talk about a lot of different things that you can do to improve your chances of hiring a great developer, finding a great developer and some tricks to managing developers. But for me I found that the best way to for me, a non-technical guy, the best way to get your best results from a development team is to have a project manager, a technical project manager in between. So I don’t , I think that one is this one exception to the rule that proves the rule.

David: Yeah I think so to, project managers’ really important especially if its  a good one and a technical one that’s all the better but maybe just to have a scope for the discussion, we are not really taking about hiring someone locally and getting into an office etc. Probably a lot of the conversation will still apply to that situation but we are more experienced or we only have experience in hiring people that are not in the same room with us right? So we are looking at, as resources we’re looking at Elance, Odesk and Guru.com or Freelancer etc. So that’s the kind of site that you’d be looking to hire an app developer right?

Chris: Right and this is one, this is one huge takeaway from my experience of the last two years that I don’t think I approached it with enough respect going in because really if we really talked about what were trying to do here. So I managed people before, I’ve managed marketing people and sales people and business development people. So I’ve had experience managing people. But guess what, they all spoke English as their first language and half of them were in the same room as I was in most of the time. So really what you’re doing is your hiring, most likely you’re hiring someone that where English isn’t their first language or whatever your primary language is and you manage them completely remotely, you’ll never most likely ever meet them in person and chances are for this discussion, for technical, I’m not, its really a bigger, you know it takes a career effort to do well on it and I don’t think I gave it the proper manner respect going in. Oh, I’ll post my job, and I’ll interview three people, i’ll pick the best one. And that’s just crazy, I mean that’s a terrible way to approach this, this is not an easy thing to do.

David: Yeah I was just mentioning before we hit the record button that while I was preparing for this episode and looked at my history of hiring people that I was quite you know negatively amazed by how naive I was in the beginning in hiring people. But I think this is also and maybe a good sign for people who were just starting or just looking for someone online right now, because you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to, have every detail nailed at the beginning but you will need to put an effort and time to get to a very good result. So it goes both ways, right?

Chris: Well, ends like those things with practice, right? You’re gonna get better at it the more hiring you do, you’re gonna start to see trends, you’re gonna get better at managing people and that’s a learned skill. You know you just don’t wake up one morning and be very good at it. It takes practice.

David: Yeah, tell me about it. So I think that is a good sign and a good, probably advice, “When you’re starting out, don’t think you nailed it in the beginning.” You can read a lot of articles, listen to a lot of podcasts, but you didn’t exercise this management muscle and this hiring muscle yet just by reading, you actually have to do it. Its kind of like reading about different exercise methods but not going to the gym, right?

Chris: Right, absolutely. And you know, you’re gonna find what works for you. You know as an example, some people think Eastern European’s they talk too rough and like they’re not as, I don’t know, soft enough and they seem mean. Well I like that, I like that black and white type of dialog. So for me were calling Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians, Russians, that’s great for me. But other people they might prefer a different culture, a different communication style so its nice to start with a framework and I think you wrote the framework that were gonna post on our website.

David: Absolutely, yeah.

Chris: So whats the website again, this is obviously our second podcast.

David: Yeah, this is the appbusinesspodcast.com/hiring where you can find all of the resources for this episode and for this episode we’re going to feature a, maybe a letter template, that’s what you call it. Just a template that you can post on the sites that we mentioned like Odesk and customize it to your needs obviously but it will give you a good start I hope and its something that I’ve been using in my business in modified form for a couple of them once now and it worked pretty good and I keep making it better and you obviously added your wisdom to it, so I think it gives you a good starting. While were at it, let’s just mention a couple of things that we put in there and in this framework or template and why we put them in there. So the first controversy that came up while we discuss this before the episode was the issue of should this have a potential developer sign an NDA or not? What’s your opinion?

Chris: Yes so I started with that and it became pretty clearer really early on that ideas are almost worthless and they’re not gonna steal your idea, they got other stuff they’re doing, right? Unless your idea is something phenomenal and really unique and I mean ask 10 people and let’s see what they say if its really unique. I don’t have any (unclear) 10:37  or signing NDA because at the end of the day its all about execution. So yeah, NDA is just a distraction as far as I’m concerned.

David: Yeah, so I actually agree with all the reasons that you gave and I do think execution is the most important part. I don’t think that signing an NDA is generally a good practice. You shouldn’t do it all the time but when I hire developers, I often hire them because I’m doing a project not for myself, not for apps that I want to publish on the App Store, but for clients that came to me with an idea or maybe with an existing application and they want it converted to another platform so we have a lot of people coming in with iOS apps and they want them to work on Android. So they’ve give us you know for example they give us the iOS source code. And obviously the client will be very nervous if I was using people in my company that I didn’t know or I didn’t trust or I didn’t have sign an NDA with. So I think that’s a very different situation so whenever your protecting your own intellectual property, yeah I’d be probably very loose with that as well. I don’t believe in the value of the idea so much but its just the good practice I think to give your clients a good feeling when you’re doing work for someone else.

Chris: Yea and you know its gonna be hard to enforce but if you’re talking client work and I imagine a large part of the audience does do client work, you don’t wanna be the ones to tell them that they even get them to sign an NDA coz its just too easy to do.

David: Yeah absolutely and with most of this legal documents and while were working across borders, across continents and sometimes and working on skills that just aren’t worth even going to court with. Obviously this legal documents will never be enforced but I think its still sets a different tone on a project in terms of how professional you are going to be with your persons that are involved in the project bid with the clients. So I always have very intense documentation signed with my clients as well as with developers because it gives everyone the expectation of working professional even though you will probably be never be able to enforce any of the legal stuff.

Chris: Right, so with this template and all the things were talking about, you’re gonna find what works best for you and again the way you find what works best for you is practice. And so one thing that really change the way I hire was when I spend much more effort on interviewing. And so I raised my standards quite of it. So I’m looking for 4 1/2 and 5 star ratings, I’m looking for tons of hours on Odesk, I combed through all the reviews. So they have five 5-stars and 1 that says, “dude failed half midway through the project”. That’s a huge red flag that’s happened to me a couple of times. This just kills the project. Or it wounds the project pretty deeply. So but interviewing lots of people and getting comfortable with saying, “No, you’re not the right fit.” Or it even helps you zone in on what you’re looking for by talking to lots of different developers and its just practice is whats gonna get you, finding what’s best for you, what works for you and exposed to a ton of hopefully great development options.

David: Yeah, so I know about you and I’d be curious what you’re experience is in that regard but for me it was always a problem of filtering and all the problem of not getting enough applications.

 

Chris: Well yes, so if you filter more but you still couldn’t get applications right.

 

David: Yeah so I think you shouldn’t worry like , okay if I’m going to be too hard on my standards, I won’t find a developer. That’s not going to happen. There’s so many developers out there on this platforms that you can hire for obviously very different hourly rates but you will always find someone. The question is, are you going to select the right one and to ensure that I mean there’s some obvious requirements. For me the most important requirement that this is maybe a little bit, maybe a little bit surprising as were talking about developers and technical skills, but really the most important thing is the language. So they should speak excellent English or you know if you find someone for example my first language is German, if you find someone who speaks perfect German, okay great but I never found someone who spoke German. So you need to get someone with excellent language skills and you need to require that they hope on a skype call with you.

 

Chris: Absolutely.

 

David: Even if that’s not something you’re not going to do  during the project a lot but in the beginning just to send them a signal, that’s a really really important thing.

 

Chris: Absolutely. So can you guess what, mine’s different than yours and this is unrelated to the one, can you guess what my number one thing is? So take a guess.

 

David: I guess its ratings.

 

Chris: My number one thing when I hire an app developer is are they late to a meeting? Like if I emailed them something and it takes them two days to get back to me or if we do a real quick chat on skype which is usually how I start my formal interview, we kind of just chat on skype and its taking them 4-5 minutes to respond or if we scheduled it and the guy’s late, drives me bananas. Its just..end it right there. No matter if he’s all 5 stars, I just, I have a hard time working with people that aren’t honoring a commitment and taking my project seriously.

 

David: Yeah that’s very German of you.

 

Chris: Thank you. That’s a compliment, right?

 

David: Yeah, absolutely. No its obviously, its very important because it communicates the entire attitude towards the project. And that’s also what I said about the legal document. You want to set a tone for the project that is just very professional and if someone violates that in even the smallest things like being late to a call, that’s a big problem.

 

Chris: Absolutely. So we’re prime up the post all the little hints and tricks that we’ve learned throughout the years on the site, but I kinda wanna go rattle a lot off a couple because I know even people with years of experience developing apps or client apps or any kind or projects where your outsourcing to other countries and you’re feeding through a lot of interviews and applications, even just this little tricks I’ve used them all and some of them are really good and it really helps you filter out either the pretenders or the guys that just aren’t taking your project seriously. No one’s gonna take as serious as you do but they need to, you’re paying them real money so they need to be respectful of that. So let me just rattle up a couple David real quick, Easter Eggs, have you heard of that before?

 

David: I think I know what you mean but explain it to me.

 

Chris: Okay so halfway through the description of the job, sometimes my descriptions are very brief like, “Hey, join this amazing team or growing and here’s the type of things were doing and blah blah blah.” I’ll put something in like Go Chargers because I’m from San Diego and I like the Chargers Football Team. And its nothing that makes sense in there but all say, “Hey, if you’ve read all this, put Go Chargers in the subject line when you respond” or something like that.  And its awesome to see them do that because it means they read the whole description and they understand what I’m looking for and when they say, “Hey I can do this, this is, here’s my portfolio that matches the types of things you’re talking about. I know this its not just this template that they respond to hundred applications or posts a day so that’s one of my favorites.

 

David: I did it from the very beginning. And I used little bit different technique so I..around 60% of the text I put a sentence that say something like “to confirm that you read the entire letter, please start your response with three asterisk” or something like that, and that’s not as cool or easter eggy like what you do but the positive side is that its very easily recognizable when you’re scanning through hundreds of applicants so you can, I mean its immediately just, you don’t have to read anything, you can just visually recognize there are three asterisks and okay there are no three asterisks, done next one.

 

Chris: So what percent you think of the guys that your landing a streak for have respond with, recognize with Easter egg, with asterisk?

 

David: Well it seems like a lot of people have been adopting this technique and the last couple of months so it has gone up, it has increase. So I think its around 50% but its still like even if you’re just filtering out 20%, its 20% of your time. I mean it takes time to read this responses and to figure out that that’s just the template and that doesn’t apply to your project, etc. And you want to minimize this waste and even if its just 10% it would be a great idea to put an easter egg in there. But I think its even today its still around 50% probably.

 

Chris: Yeah, I was gonna say I cut at least two hertz, right? So I’m working with an agency now that I’m, its working well so I haven’t had to do any hiring for developers in several months but yeah I’m saying, 1/3 with put it in, 2/3rds quit. And they had this huge response and then nothing happened and then we have this ray, so I wanna have my good developers got well and got cut out because they didn’t catch the easter egg. But for me that’s like showing up on time. I mean, I wouldn’t apply to a job without reading it although I’m also not applying to several jobs today. So but its a good trip for winning guys out right away. What about hourly versus project based? How do you usually set up the payment?

 

David: I almost always do fixed projects or fixed price projects. That’s just an element of eliminating risk and it also shows you how good the person is in estimating how long a project will take. Now there are projects where its very hard to estimate or its very open ended and uncertain and then were going to use hourly projects. Sometimes the project is base solely on hours, you know sometimes a client approaches me and wants me to just rent them out development time. They said they need like 10 hours a week on their app to fix some bugs or you know publish it a little bit and then I’m happy to hire someone on an hourly basis although normally I use guys that I already have having working with. But hourly, yes almost never.

 

Chris: Yeah it definitely introduces risk so for the newbies out there I would definitely start with project based but I think a lot of the listeners pry aren’t newbies, they’re frying up some portfolio going or some client base going. I tend to do a bit of a hybrid where I’ll pay them hourly but we have to set hours for the project with X Y Z deliverables and as the deliverables change which is often due to me wanting to change something or add something then we just keep tapping on hours. I think most agencies or developers prefer to be paid hourly and I feel like it gets them thinking what other cool stuff that I add with it. Instead of trying to cram into a project, I think unli should agree to the deal a little bit but I definitely don’t let them change the terms of the agreement and just add on hours, say oh its just taking me longer hours to get what I agreed on done. So its a little bit of a hybrid but I still pay on hours. But its kind of eliminate that overage risk.

 

David: Okay, that’s very interesting. So I’m thinking about changing my strategy on this especially as you just mentioned how you do it. In the beginning I was just very afraid of project scope creep and that’s a real issue if like people keep adding stuff or you know they come up with things they need to make better or they have introduce box all over the place and then they just you know they don’t care because they can spend their hourly payment on that but if you really find it where you bound in the beginning, then I think your approach might lead to battery last

 

Chris: You know and that was a big piece of growth for me was when I had a run of like 3 or 4 bad development partners I could say or developers that I hired for projects in a row. I was thinking man I just do not know how to hire. And what it really was I wasn’t being specific enough with what I was handing them to hold them accountable strictly to what we agreed right? So I was kind of being a little loose with my wire frames and almost like I was building the app as we went and boy did I learned that that’s not the way to do it. So if anyone out there was struggling with  a string of bad developers, look in the mirror maybe and see if it isn’t something about the way you’re communicating your project with your developers and they shouldn’t have to do the thinking. I mean its great when they do but you should know what every button does. You should know where this data is coming from. You should know where the ads are popping up. Its not for them to figure out, its for you to tell them. Its when I looked, when I figured that out, it helped myself more accountable. Yeah the results were better.

 

David: Yeah, here’s something that is by now basically ingrained in my DNA and this is the idea of its always my fault. And even it its just the selection of the developer in the first place. So its a very very healthy idea because you stop blaming others and start looking for solutions. So even if the developers are just very untalented, doesn’t have the skills that he said he has etc. That’s bad that he should do that obviously but what can you do to avoid hiring such developers in the next project. What can you do to communicate in a way that someone doesn’t think they have the skills for a project when they actually don’t. So assume that you take the responsibility for anything that’s happening in your business and I think this is just the perfect use case for this hiring and looking at how I can improve the process rather than blaming the developers.

 

Chris: Yeah and that’s really kind of what entrepreneurship is all about. Even if you don’t think you’re responsible for it, your bottom line is gonna pay the price so yeah your in charge of it all, right?

 

David: Yeah absolutely. So one more thing that I’d like to talk about again this is loosely coupled to the template that we’re going to put online. But that’s a very late step in the process which is the Skype interview so you have put your application on there you have gotten a bunch of applicants filtered them out by a couple of tips and criteria that we’ve mentioned and then you get them to call you on skype. So what are you going to talk about?

 

Chris: You know I generally, well, like I said I haven’t done this in like four months and now with my guys I talk every day with them. So I haven’t interviewed in a while but I guess when I was interviewing them and talking with them, we’ll first I wanted to make sure that we could communicate like you’re kinda hit out loud with the English. Then I wanted to see what other projects they’re working on and how much time they could dedicate. Yeah I guess it really dependent by product or by project. What are you thinking?

 

David: Well I’m just thinking a couple of principles that I try to apply every time I interview someone and first of all is can we find regular appointments during the week or you know on whatever period you want to choose for a project but can we find times where we can regularly call across our different time zones. Because sometimes you know it is a good match but if you can never talk to them because either you’re asleep or they’re asleep or you’re having other responsibilities that you can cancel and its going to be a very very hard time communicating with that developer. So try to find a spot where you can at least have the expectation that you can regularly meet with them and call them.

 

Chris: And you know a couple thing with David, actually when I was hiring new devs I would set, like we would agree on how often were gonna talk. In fact they got so bad where I was strong so bad with this, I was say hey I’ll pay extra if we meet every day. So I wanna see progress every day, right? That’s why I overkill, but every three days there should be an agreement on how often you’re gonna meet over the course of the project.

 

David: Absolutely yeah and there should be from the beginning a clear expectation of reports and reporting in general and you know accountability in that sense. So that should all be done on the first call and be communicated very clearly so that you’re not having problems in the middle of the project where suddenly someone dissapears and you know it wasn’t a trip for three days or something like that. You don’t wanna have something like that happening. And the other principle that I would apply to questioning someone is to only ask open ended questions because developers you know especially from other non best western countries, tend to sometimes just give the answers that you want to hear and just say yes to everything and that can be a really big problem in your project is someone actually says yes but you know doesn’t really mean it in the sense that you ask it but just doesn’t want to you know hurt your feelings or something like that. And…

Chris: So David, you’re a good developer so instead of me asking you, hey do you know how to code Objective-C and you say yes or have you ever built an app like this before and you say yes. What’s the better, another way to ask that question

David: Another way to ask that question is what apps have you done that are similar to this project? What projects, what technologies did you use to accomplish this project or solve this problem that you’re talking about? And also asked them a little bit non-technical stuff like what’s usually frustrating you when you work with clients and how can we overcome this frustration? And get them to start using their brain and think about start it too late into the project.

Chris: Absolutely.

David: So another example would be lets say were using a map in our application. Don’t ask them have you ever used Map Kit or do you know what Map Kit is? But tell them, hey can you bring up a project where you use Map Kit and talked about it. How you implemented this and why you implemented it in this way and not another way etc.

Chris: Right, absolutely. We can also have another on, okay after you hired a developer, how do you retrieve that relationship, right?

David: That’s a whole another episode.

Chris: Absolutely yeah.

David: But its actually important probably because just like with customer retention and which is probably more important than customer acquisition, also having a good developer and keeping it is more important than finding good developers. Don’t you agree?

Chris: Yeah, I absolutely agree and that’s why I’m sick and the guys that I’ve been working with for long is 4 months. Yeah you know you wanna grow together and if their business minded and they enjoyed, their goal is to grow their business, then that’s usually a good sign that you’re gonna be, you’ve got a strategic partner and your gonna be growing your companies together. That’s always a fun way to do business.

David: Absolutely.

Chris: Speaking which I talked to my developer right now?

David: Yeah, go ahead

Chris: So David and I were gonna have an ad so we could get this thing produced and we decided you know, we don’t need ads, we’ll just pass the savings on I guess you could say. So my, the dev agency that I worked with is AffordableDev.com and the guy I work with this time and so instead of paying us for this plug, he’s just gonna pass off 20% to you guys if you mentioned the App Business Podcast, when you talk to him. Thats affordabledev.com and its gonna be on our website to.

David: Absolutely man. I think its just really awesome also fine to give the 20% discount and just to be clear again we don’t make a bulk of off this deal, this is just for our listeners so you can get started with app, with developers that we’ve worked with and that you know worked pretty well for us so I think its a good head start rather than you know going to this websites and doing all that research etcetera which you know is still can, but why not take a good offer for listeners.

David: That’s it for this episode. To find out more about the deal that we have for you, we’ll download a template that I used to hire developers. Go to appbusinesspodcast.com/hiring. That’s apbusiness.com/hiring.

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5 Comments

  • Christopher S

    Great episode! I love the *** tip for job postings.

    • Chris Chidgey

      Thanks Christopher! I think David nailed that one, I am changing my “Go Chargers” to ***.

    • Patrice

      nice work guys, I like the cheat sheet, some top tips there

      • Chris Chidgey

        Thanks Patrice! I think the key in that doc is keep standards high! Good reviews, proven track record of hours and ratings on oDesk/Elance. A good dev team can have a huge impact.

  • Guest

    Thanks Christopher! I agree – David nailed it with the *** idea.

Comments are closed.