Hiring a tech co-founder vs. freelance developer

The Right Tool for the Job

Imagine you’ve got an idea for an amazing mobile app. Before you let yourself get too excited, you pause to make sure you’ve crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s.

You do some deep market research to determine your mobile app’s validity in the marketplace. You even develop a forward-thinking marketing strategy that takes advantage of tactics your competitors overlooked.

Coming up with that million dollar app idea is hard—but what about actually building the thing? Now that’s tricky.

Clearly, you’re going to need someone who’s tech-savvy. But before you start laboriously sifting through LinkedIn profiles, consider what your options are and (more importantly) what service best fits your needs.

Freelance Developers: Because Every General Needs an Army

The decision to hire a freelance developer should come down to the candidate’s experience and programming knowledge. They don’t have to be industry veterans, but they should (at the very least) have some impressive passion projects to show off.

Of course, that won’t always be the case. If you manage to find an experienced developer who fits into your budget (more on that later), their portfolio should be stacked with impressive projects. The ideal scenario here is that you’re familiar with programming, but you just need someone to do most of the heavy lifting, development-wise.

Whether you choose the veteran or the up-and-coming developer, make sure you feel comfortable with their level of front-end experience and mastery over a variety of languages (CSS, HTML, Javascript).

Working with Freelance Developers

If you decide to hire a freelance developer, be prepared to give direction—lots and lots of direction. Freelance developers are generally more scalpel than sword, great for specific solutions but not your best bet for overall development.

It’s not that they’re incapable of building the app without your guidance. They’re professionals, after all. The problem is that without your detailed direction, there’s a serious chance that the app could end up looking or working completely differently than you’d intended. Features that you thought were implied won’t be included.

Which leads us into a critical misunderstanding that most entrepreneurs seem to have: you can’t expect a freelance developer to be as invested in your long-term success as you are.

How could they be? It’s not their business, it’s yours. You paid for a service, and that’s exactly what you should expect to receive—nothing more and nothing less. Unless you’re dealing with a very generous developer, don’t expect a ton of initiative on their part.


There’s no way around it: freelance developers are your most inexpensive option.

Average Pay For a Front End Developer via: www.payscale.com

Even if you’re paying the veteran developer a market rate salary, they end up costing you quite a bit less in the long term. After all, freelance developers aren’t typically offered (or interested in) equity, which could end up saving you thousands of dollars down the line.

If you come across a developer offering a price significantly below market rate, be wary. If you’re willing to take the risk, understand that app development is like any other industry: you get what you pay for.

Tech Co-founders: Where Business and Programming Meet

Working with freelance developers is usually straightforward. All you’re getting is an extra pair of hands behind the keyboard. Bringing a tech co-founder on board is a significantly more impactful decision, requiring a completely different evaluation process.

Not only should their programming knowledge be extensive (particularly in the industry you’re building the app for), but they should be used to taking the lead. Co-founders are leaders in their own right and should be ready to take initiative and manage a list of development priorities (among other responsibilities).

There’s nothing temporary about a tech co-founder. Generally, they’ll end up being involved in every aspect of the app development process. When you hire a capable tech co-founder, you’re not just buying a service—you’re adding depth to your team and expanding the vision of your business.

Working with Tech Co-Founders

The interesting thing about working with a tech co-founder is that, by the nature of their work, they’re going to be just as invested in the success of your business as you are. Forget about the “hired gun,” you’re dealing with a partner now.

You should expect your tech co-founder to blend business and technology knowledge effortlessly, keeping in mind both ends of the spectrum. While you’ll still be working closely with your tech co-founder, you’ll feel less like a micromanager and more like a CEO, discussing the overall vision and execution of the app rather than getting bogged down in the development jargon.


At first glance, a tech co-founder is going to seem like a cheaper option (especially if the phrase “market rate salary” gives you goosebumps). But if you’re trying to save money, hiring a tech co-founder is a short-term solution that could cause you some long-term headaches.

Yes, it’s cheaper—right now. But most tech co-founders are willing to work under market rate because they expect something in return: equity. Once your app makes its first $1 million and they expect 20%, their cut will be an enormous expense.

Will they deserve it? Oh, absolutely. A quality tech co-founder is worth their weight in gold (sometimes literally), but it’s crucial that you understand what you’re signing up for.

Audit Yourself

Making this choice shouldn’t be too hard. If you’ve got deep pockets and you don’t know much about programming, then finding a solid tech co-founder should probably be your next step. If you feel comfortable around code and you’re just looking for a helping hand that won’t break the bank, freelance developers are for you.

Having an airtight business plan means understanding your company’s weaknesses and knowing how to overcome them. It doesn’t matter who you pick—what matters is why you chose them.