builds, fixes, and triages technology companies and products

STARTUPS: Want "FREE" Developers to build your product?

Posted By on February 1, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

I meet a lot of startups that are looking for that perfect developer who will buy into their vision (aka “drink the KoolAid”) and work for equity (i.e. “for free”). Well, that’s not going to happen. I mean it can…but that’s like winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning – you can’t plan for it.
Yet…there is good news! There are a lot of low cost alternatives (in Los Angeles) that may be of interest to you: Internships, Incubators, Contests, and Outsourcing.
Students4Startups (S4S) might work for you. For a lot of startups, though, I’m not sure if it is a good fit. Your company needs to be able to strongly manage a junior technical resource. S4S also shies away from companies interested in “free work” as it’s the wrong type of message and is not a strong foundation for internships or first-time jobs (and I seriously question the cultural DNA that you are creating with this attitude). If you do have the capability to manage a technical intern, then it is possible  for a startup to get a for-credit (aka “free”) intern, but you must satisfy these criteria:


  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
For the record, I have *never* found a Computer Science (CS) student who will work for school credit. All of them want to be paid. And if it’s an internship, by law, you must pay at least minimum wage (~$12/hour). So, the cost of a CS intern is really $12 to $20/hour (or more, but I haven’t seen interns go above $20/hour yet). S4S has more info on internships.
If you are a graduate from USC, UCLA, or Caltech, I *strongly* recommend that you connect with the CS student groups and begin attending their events. That’s the best way to meet students – in person and informally. That’s how you can meet a technical peer to join you as a partner.
Outsourcing, Incubators, and Contests
Here are several more low cost methods for building your product or company. Some are free…most are not (by having a money, opportunity, or time-related cost):
  • Partner with a local outsourcing firm. There are several local outsourcing shops that have a track record in working with startups. They may do work for less fees that can be made up in deferred compensation or equity. Not sure how they’ll react to a zero budget, but they may be able to work with that. Your mileage may vary, but if you have a good idea, and a track record, you may get a local outsourcing shop to build your prototype. Contact me for recommendations.
  • Enter the idea in the StartupWeekend LA contest and win (or any startup building contest). You can get funded out of participating or winning a contest like this. Also, lots of “free” labor to build your company! It’s not quite like that, but these are typically great events and worth considering.
  • Enter the idea in a Twiistup, Spotlight: LA Tech or Fast Pitch event (there are many of these) that has an actual cash or funding reward. TCVN Survivor 6 is a good example of this…Joey Flores, of, won TCVN 6 and get $50k in services and a big PR and Marketing boost.
  • Join an incubator like IdeaLab or Y Combinator. I have an awesome Y Combinator story that I can’t tell anybody about yet (hopefully in the next 4 weeks).
  • Start hanging out at the CoLoft 2 days a week. Great startup environment. Lots of techies come by, too. Lots of meetups. Good way to be about as close to the heart of the startup storm as you can be, in LA.
This is more than enough to get you started on low- to no- cost options. I love talking about this stuff, so don’t hesitate to kick-off a conversation with me about it.
(FYI: This is written with the SoCal region in mind but may apply anywhere).

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