The most important piece advice I can give to a #startup: own your #code.

I’m going to get supported and slated in equal measure I feel but I’ve seen this so many times now that it’s becoming the elephant in the room so I’m going to comment all the same.

Dear Founder…..

What we do know, especially in Northern Ireland, is that there’s a lack of developer talent that is willing to work on a startup from the initial stages, no sweating out the product in the small hours. Founders have little option than to go to development houses to get their concepts built so that they can be proven to the market.

Buyer Beware

When you are shopping around make sure you ask this simple question:

“The work that you do, do I own ALL the code?”

Hint, if they say “no” or “we use some of our own custom software” politely end the discussion immediate and walk away. 

Emphasis on the question is on the word ALL. In order for your business to survive you have to be able to adapt your code at any time. Software houses are not their with your best interests at heart (regardless of what they might actually say to you, they’re a business they need to survive too, it’s all about recurring revenue). If you don’t own ALL the code then you can’t adapt quickly or adapt at all.

If open source libraries are mentioned check the licensing agreements on them, not all open source is free. And make sure your developer in waiting shows you want libraries they are using and get the links so you can see them too.

I’ve seen many company start well and within time end up like



Trust me, it will hurt your revenue far more than it will hurt the development house.

My Advice To You, Founder

With the big wedge of cash (yours, an investor’s or the government’s funding) you are the customer who can call the shots. So demand 100% source code ownership, in your hands, in a Github account. In the event you need someone else to do some work as you grow, well then you can.

Even better is get friendly with a coder, even if they have a full time job, coders like to code so if you offer them a rate they’ll support you too. Have a developer fallback plan, you owe it to your business and your investor if she/he is putting the money in.

Review any SLA’s you have with development houses and see exactly what you are getting for your money. Insist on a monthly statement of how many hours were actually spend on your business. Complain bitterly if you need too, the customer is king here though every development house would make you think you are nothing without them.

Basically you need the following for a fairly run of the mill web/mobile tech startup:

  • Someone who knows your web side code (PHP, Ruby, Java, Python or what have you)
  • An iOS developer if you have an Apple supported mobile product.
  • A developer who knows good Android development.
  • A server guy or gal who’ll advice, stress test and update your server (a lot of development houses will steer clear of the hard stuff and just code)

One person can cover all of those roles, well they are rare but they do exist. I’d look to spread the workload where possible. In Northern Ireland we are acutely aware of a complete lack of good CTO material for startups but try and find a technical person that can articulate comments and ideas to the development house, nothing a developer house hates more than a person who knows what they do.

With so many new ideas coming out development houses are only too happy to greet you with open arms and discuss your dreams and visions. Corny as it might sound it’s a long term relationship so make sure you’ve done a bit of dating first to find a suitable match.

Ultimately though, make sure you’ve got your prenup in order for when you want to move, you need 100% of your code with you in order to continue your life once the developer separation happens.



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