How to build a $1 Million dollars team for a startup

Building a dev team is one of the things that is perceived to be much easier than it is actually. I have seen dozens of nontechnical founders trying to find individual freelancers themselves and build dev teams from grown-ups. Unfortunately, in 90% of cases, they end up having high talent churn and an extremely messy product. When I come to such projects the first question I raise is “Do we wanna throw our product and start from scratch or try to support it?”.

As a non-technical founder of a nontech company, you always have the option to work with an agency. But if you have a goal to build your own tech startup, you can not outsource the dev team. A well-built dev team is going to be your competitive advantage. not the product you have.

In my career, I have spent 2 years working in a TOP Upwork agency and then 3 years building a startup myself and helping other founders build their own dev teams as a consultant. The #1 reason people are coming to me is their struggles with building a dev team. What most people are looking for is a quick fix, but, there is no such. Building a great dev team will take months not years and in this article, I will explain what will your journey look like during that period.

Stage 1. Unknown strangers

While building a dev team the only things matter – your connections. Most probably you have no great engineers in your contacts so you would need to start looking for such. Unfortunately, there is no way to make sure they are great without actually working with them for some time. You can organize extensive interviews and give them a test project. It will help, but it still won’t save you from taking them on a trial period. In addition, you still wanna build your product, even if an engineer is average you just may not have another option.

A popular place to look for developers is freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Fiver. They provide no quality verification services and there are thousands of developers. By statistics only 1 out of 30 devs you meet on Upwork will be an A player you are looking for so you would need to interview all of them and make a guess.

Most probably you will end up hiring 1-2 or even 3 engineers and sticking with them for some time to evaluate their skills and make some progress on product development. In 1 month you will see that one of them is not trustworthy and you replace him with a new engineer. The process started and now your main goal is to find A player who will become your team lead / CTO.

If you get lucky, you can find him very quickly, in the worst case you are going to get stuck with an average dev team and high churn for a long team. You are going to introduce processes like weekly planning, daily standups, time tracking, and demos. Everyone on your team is going to be a stranger and you are going to be a leader. Very soon you will realize that managing them is not what you were imagining when started a business and there are people who can do it much better for a pretty low price, so you’re going to hire a project manager.

Common characteristics of stage 1 team:

  1. High team churn
  2. Low trust
  3. No project management
  4. Nonpredictable timelines
  5. Poor execution with bugs

Stage 2. Team of strangers

The main characteristic of Stage 1 and Stage 2 is a low level of trust and extremely poor communication. Once you found a project manager, introduced a project management tool, configured the communication tool, and added development processes you are coming to Stage 2 of dev team evolution. Now you are still strangers, but you know each other and you work as a team.

Your work is well structured and now you can easily iterate and evaluate talents when they join your project. A project manager is usually handling 90% of the work at this stage and the job of the business owner is to guide the development on a weekly basis.

Every month starts with a roadmap planning where you choose the trajectory of the company. A good practice is to get a technical advisor on board who can help guide you in making the right decisions at this stage. You have no trusted members in your team just yet so it is important to verify you are going in the right direction.

The advisor will prepare a roadmap and will break down all features into smaller tasks with specifications and acceptance criteria attached. Your team will take it over from there and start the development while the project manager will make sure all requirements are met and the project is on rails.

Every week, probably on Friday you will get a demo of the progress where the team will present their progress. After the demo, you will have a chance to express your feedback and suggestions on how to make team structure better.

To make sure everyone is working properly you will introduce time trackers and estimation. People who do not have precise estimates and who have low activity will soon leave the team and you will eventually find the one.

Common characteristics of stage 2 team:

  1. High team churn
  2. Low trust
  3. Established project management
  4. Somehow predictable timelines
  5. Acceptable execution

Stage 3. Trustable stranger

One day you will notice that our newly hired engineer performing much better than everyone else you ever hired. When he is talking to you he is asking the right questions and when he is executing you get exactly what you envisioned as a result. Sooner or later he will start advising other team members and taking more and more responsibilities on his shoulders. You notice, that he can become a great leader and you start trusting him as a business partner.

While evolving to stage 3 you feel like things finally gonna get stable, but that is not the case. After proposing your newly acquired A player to stop tracking time and join the team in the role of a team leader, he is going to change the team, in a better direction. First of all, there will be no more need for a project manager because it is highly probable your tech partner will decide to fire 80% of the team and bring some of his friends or past colleagues.

A project manager is needed for teams that don’t have a team leader or a CTO. When a team is small and everyone is dedicated and has good communication skills – the team will self-manage. Your team lead will take over the project management and will be suggesting new hires and fires.

Common characteristics of stage 3 team:

  1. High team churn
  2. High trust in a single team member
  3. Established project management
  4. Somehow predictable timelines
  5. Good execution

Stage 4. Trustable team

In a couple of months, you will find yourself in a position where you finally closed the label “Hiring” on LinkedIn and started to concentrate on delivering the best possible product to your customers. Now you work with a team like with partners and you trust every word they say. If something is taking longer than expected you understand that it is no one mistake, sometimes things may go longer.

Building a trustable team needs not only luck but also a set of correct processes. You need to make sure the team trusts you and they trust each other. Team building activities will help to do that. For example, in our team, we play Bobble League in Discord every day after the daily meeting. It is the time when we meet not as colleagues but as friends. Trustable teams have bounds bigger than money and job, they spend free time together and they are loyal to the company and to each other.

Once the trustable team is built you have to make sure no one leaves. Organize consistent one-on-one and make sure everyone is satisfied with their salary and has no internal conflicts with each other.

Common characteristics of stage 4 team:

  1. No team churn
  2. High trust in the team
  3. Established project management
  4. Predictable timelines
  5. Good execution


Building a great dev team takes time. If you get lucky you can do it as quickly as 2-3 months, but on average it is going to take at least 1 year. Some people never achieve stage 4 and stay forever on stage 2. If you wanna build a successful tech startup, you have to achieve level 4. If your business is more content or community-oriented, stage 2 will be enough for you.

In the end, if you can not find a trustworthy person who can work with you full-time, at least get a Fractional CTO or consultant who will ensure in quality of execution.

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Yev Rachkovan

I have been coding for the last 5 years, which might be described as "a proven track record" or "delivering consistent results" on LinkedIn. I am currently on a mission to enslave humanity with the power of gambling. My skills include writing, re-writing, tweeting, startup founding, mixing cocktails, full-stack engineering, and watching the same isekai over and over again. Proficiency ranges from excellent to absolutely awful.

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