Getting a startup going (Lesson 1)

One of the first things I’ve learned since joining as the first employee of a startup is that you can’t do everything. No matter how many good ideas you have, there’s only so much time and so much that you can do. In a startup, there’s limited personnel, but lot’s of things that need to be done. This is where outsourcing and contractors come in. Some of the areas are obvious, with a new company you’re going to need a lawyer and an accountant. But some other areas I hadn’t considered, some of which I had thought of as core peices of a business, but there are markets for pretty much anything you need done.

With a software / web startup there is a fair amount of design work that needs to be done. But, there probably isn’t enough to warrant hiring someone full time. You can get better, faster, and cheaper work done by contracting the work out to a design team. There are very proffesional teams out there that can get your work done in a very short amount of time as well as being fully involved in your design process.

Hosting and sysadmin work is something else that can easily be contracted out. At the early stage of a company there just isn’t that much of a need to bring someone on full time for this. Hire a contractor to get you up and running, then get an hourly rate for maintenance. Once the company is up and bringing in revenue and churning through millions of pages a day bring someone on full time.

Some software projects can also be easily outsourced. These work best if you can cut chunks of code off that can be heavily spec’d out. The clearer and less ambiguous the spec the higher your chance of a succesful result. Rent-a-coder is a good start for finding someone to do this.

You can even outsource a lot of your HR functions from benefits to payroll.

In the past I when I was considering a startup of my own I was concerned about how to handle these areas where I didn’t have the most experience or abilities. Now I see what people mean by focusing on what you know and hand off the rest.