Last year, consumers spent a total of $81 billion on mobile app downloads. In 2021, that number is expected to grow by a monstrous $57 billion.
If you're searching for a way to get your own app idea into the hands of users, there's never been a better time. The app market isn't just booming...it's exploding.
Of course, adding your app to the mix of all the others raking in billions of dollars is easier said than done, especially if you're a founder without a technical background.
Sure, you have options, like hiring a development team or finding a tech co-founder, but which one is best? Which path will lead you to the success so many other apps and startups have already seen?
If you have a promising app idea, but aren't sure how to best move forward with it, keep reading to learn the pros and cons of partnering with a co-founder versus outsourcing for help.
The pros and cons of finding a tech co-founder
Entering the world of applications without a technical background can feel overwhelming. Your idea is solid, but to treat and handle it like a business, you need help. Unfortunately, finding that help and then trusting that help isn't always easy.
For many founders, their first inclination is to set out on a search for the perfect co-founder — one who can handle and oversee all the technical aspects of their application. Not only does having a co-founder on board mean having a partner in the journey, it can also open doors to new opportunities.
Below are some of the positives to having a tech co-founder.
1. They could excel in all the areas you don't
To some, a tech co-founder is like a "work spouse." They're your equal (and potentially better) half. Where you lack skills, they might excel — even beyond the technical aspect. Perhaps they also know marketing strategy or have an eye for design.
Yes, the intent in finding a tech co-founder is to partner with someone who can actually help bring your technical idea to life. Their skills don't have to stop at "programming," though.
2. The burden isn't all on you
Likewise, since a co-founder's purpose is to be an equal player in developing, launching, and growing your application, having them on board means the entire burden isn't on you.
With a partner, you can make joint decisions, have a sounding board for ideas, and equally delegate the workload, whether it's technical or not.
Burnout is a real thing. By cutting your workload in half, you could greatly reduce the stress and burden of building a successful app on your own.
3. You could have more funding opportunities
Investors often look for teams when deciding where to put their dollars. As a non-tech application founder, there's a chance investors will think twice before jumping on board. Having a tech co-founder on the team, though, not only shows investors your idea was good enough to bring another person on board, but that you won't be bearing the workload alone.
A co-founder can mean more confidence when searching for backing.
On the flip side, of course, there are negatives to seeking a co-founder, too.
1. Finding the right fit can be impossible
To put it simply, finding a co-founder is sort of like finding a spouse. You need someone who's your perfect equal — a partner to balance out your weaknesses, be 100% as into the end goal as you, and be an enjoyable person to work with.
Look at it this way: Chances are, if you're married, you didn't meet your spouse on your first date. And if you're not married, how many bad dates have you gone on up to this point? Finding that match wasn't (or isn't) easy. The process of finding the right tech co-founder can be just as trying.
At the end of the day, you're searching for someone who's as passionate about your idea as you are. The thing is, it's your idea — not theirs. Sure, they might be 90% of the way there, but that lacking 10% can leave your application at a loss down the road.
2. Your idea or business is no longer yours
Here's where many app founders lose their interest in finding a partner; doing so means your idea — the one you're planning to turn into a profitable startup or business — is no longer yours.
If you do successfully find the right tech-co founder candidate, chances are, they won't come cheap (we all know you get what you pay for). That means there's a good chance you'll end up giving away a generous amount of equity to seal the deal.
In some cases, it's worth it. But ask yourself, are you okay letting go of complete ownership?
If you're not sure, here's a great calculator to help give you a sense of how much equity you could potentially be giving away.
3. They might not be enough
If you're building an MVP or are still in the first stages of your app, there will likely be a whole host of responsibilities for a tech co-founder to handle.
With that in mind, what happens when your app starts to grow? When you move out of the initial MVP or beta phases and start brining on larger volumes of users?
Chances are, your co-founder won't be able to handle everything on their own. That, of course, means you'll need to hire outside developers anyways. And while your tech co-founder might be able to manage those developers, it still leaves you going down the alternate path of outsourcing the development of your app.
That begs the question — is it easier to simply hire a development team from the start?
The pros and cons of hiring a development team
There are pros and cons to this option as well. Let's start with the positives.
1. You get to make the decisions
When looking for a co-founder, you're essentially searching for a business soulmate. Sometimes, the match is never made.
Developers, on the other hand, are like your friends. They don't have to share the same amount of passion for your idea as you — they just have to share that same level of passion in supporting you.
With a co-founder, you might find it impossible to come to an agreement on every facet of your application. That could mean sacrificing things you feel strongly about. With developers, it's different — they don't have to support the thought process behind every decision you make; they just have to support you. And they will.
By hiring a development team instead of finding a co-founder, the decision making is in your hands. That means you can take your app in the exact direction you want.
2. Your idea is your idea
Just like you get to make the decisions when it comes to the direction your app development goes, you also get to maintain ownership of it.
Going back to our relationship analogy, let's talk about divorce rates — currently, about 40-50% of US marriages end with a separation. Unfortunately, partnerships in business meet a similar fate all too often.
Co-founders aren't tied to your app, startup, or company for life. Yes, they can be a tremendous help on the path to growth, but what's to stop them from leaving if they're not happy or another opportunity comes along?
Co-founders can easily hold 30% or more of your company. When they leave, in most cases, it's just like a divorce. Who gets to keep what?
When searching for a co-founder, you have to go in with the expectation of them someday potentially leaving. That means hiring an attorney to create a business prenup of sorts because you need to be prepared.
The thing is, even when you are prepared, a co-founder leaving can shake your business hard enough to cause some serious backlash. What if you can't find the right replacement in time, or ever?
With a development team, this entire doomsday scenario becomes a moot point. You don't need to worry about business prenups, messy breakups, or a chunk of your equity slipping through your fingers.
3. A development team might be all you need
Have you moved past the MVP and beta testing stages, to the point where you're fleshing out your fully-functioning app's features and bringing on high numbers of new users?
If not, there might be no reason to bring on a co-founder; a development team could be all you need. If you're still testing an idea or iterating your working product, bringing on a co-founder could be like jumping the gun; you just don't need them, in which case, starting with a development team could save you a lot of effort and stress.
Let's say you are past the MVP stage, though — do you still really need a co-founder? Or, would it be easier to hire a development team to architect your app, and then perhaps continue to outsource other aspects, as well?
How hard would it be to find:
- A good marketing team of people who solely focus on marketing (aka marketing experts)
- A development team you can rely on without any backlash or compromise
- A project manager who can act as your right hand person
Not very, right? Sure, there'd still be options to consider and interviews to conduct, but that's the thing — you'd have options, and lots of them.
Now, think about how hard it'd be to find a single person who's an expert in all those areas (which is ideally what you'd want in a co-founder).
It'd be nearly impossible, right?
Not only might hiring a development team be easier than finding a co-founder, all those other aspects you'd hope to find in a partner could easily be hired out, too.
The truth is, you might not really need a co-founder, in which case, hiring a development team could be the perfect fit.
Now that we've gone through some of the key positives, though, let's touch on some negative aspects of hiring a development team.
1. There's management involved
One of the benefits to hiring a development team is the fact that you get to be the key decision maker. Of course, that means the team is going to be looking to you for direction.
When hiring a development team, you'll need to manage the project to a certain extent. That might mean extra hours making sure your ideas are being accurately executed.
Fortunately, professional development teams often include a project manager or key-person who will make sure everything's moving along smoothly. Still, you're not completely hands-free when it comes to steering the ship.
2. The work might not be done entirely on your schedule
As willing as you might be to work 24/7 bringing your idea to life, when outsourcing any aspect of it, you won't be able to keep that kind of schedule.
Working with a development team might require you to shift your own time-frame or create different deadlines. Yes, a professional team will work with you and communicate timing expectations up front, but the hours and availability might not align 100% with your own.
3. You'll need to search
Just like with finding a co-founder, you'll need to search to find the right development team for your project. Fortunately, the search isn't nearly as hard, but there are still aspects to be aware of.
The search for a development team will require you to do your fair share of Googling or reference searching. You'll also need to reach out to companies for quotes, estimates, and to get a general feel of whether or not they're the right fit. After the initial searching is over, you'll likely need to get on calls or do interviews to make sure everyone's on the same page before moving forward.
No, it's not as time consuming or difficult as finding a tech co-founder, but there's still a process involved. Here's a great wrap up of things to look for when hiring a development team.
Which option is right for you?
To decide which option is right for you — finding a tech co-founder or hiring a development team — carefully weigh the pros and cons of each. There's no simple answer to the question, but by making a self-evaluation of areas you're willing to compromise (and where you're not), you should be able to make the best choice for you.
If you're still stuck on which direction to go, consider testing the waters with both options. Reach out to development teams who look like they might be a good fit for your project and start a conversation. How does it feel?
At the same time, start putting feelers out for a tech co-founder. Go to meetups, attend conferences, and tap into your business resources. Start communicating with potential partners, or better yet, talk to other founders who have already gone through the process. How do their accounts leave you feeling?
At the end of the day, the decision depends on your own situation, but by weighing the pros and cons, you should feel confident heading in the right direction with your app.
This is a guest post by Kristen Youngs. Kristen is the Co-Founder of Coaching No Code Apps, a place for founders and startups to learn how to build fully functioning apps and software without coding. Courses, consulting, and in-depth lessons teach students how to use no-code tools to build, grow, or start their business.