Looking for a Website or App Developer?

Lately, we have been getting a lot of emails and seeing a lot of ads on Craiglist, and other online gig boards, from people requesting web development services for very low compensation, “internship” credit, equity, commission, and even “pro bono.”

As such, we wanted to point out a couple things to anyone considering posting an ad or sending a request for this type of gig.

1) Internships are for students, and they are supposed to be situations where the student can learn and gain experience. If you are looking for someone to build your company’s entire online web presence or mobile app, and you yourself know little to nothing about web development, then it does not qualify as an internship. You are trying to take advantage of students in order to further your own business. Not only is that illegal in most U.S. jurisdictions, but it’s just flat wrong from an ethical standpoint. By law, internships are supposed to be positions that teach a student skills and do NOT provide benefit to the employer. The employer is supposed to be providing further education to the intern. Having an intern build a website for your company, or perform work that is not under the direction and instruction of a more experienced person, is NOT legal.

2) If you are offering equity in your business in exchange for web or app development services, you should have your equity offering filed with the S.E.C. and/or your state’s local financial transaction authority (here in Washington, that’d be the Department of Financial Institutions). If your offering is not properly filed, you are not only in violation of securities laws, but you are making it evident that you’re not interested in operating your business legally or “by the book.” In addition, you have to ask yourself the following questions: Why would a web developer want to work for free in exchange for equity in a company that may never turn a profit? What guarantee do we have that your company will be successful? Even if you are one of the lucky few to turn a profit, what say do we have if you decide to recycle all profits back in to the growth of the business, thereby delaying our compensation? and last but not least, if you are the ‘idea man’ and we are the developers, why should you get all the control and the lion’s share of the equity? We are the ones doing all the hard work!

If you think your idea is so good that all it’s going to take is a website to make it explode, you are probably seriously mistaken. If you don’t have money to pay for the development of your website, how are you going to market your product and afford the other expenses associated with getting your business off the ground? There’s much more involved with creating a successful and profitable business, aside from just having a website. Anyone who can’t afford web development, and expects a developer to work for free in exchange for equity, is really showing poor management, poor planning, and a serious lack of understanding of how businesses work. Who wants equity in a business like that? Not us!

3) If you are offering commission, or a percentage of each product sold, in exchange for web development services, you should rethink your approach. Why should a web developer concern themselves with whether or not your product or services actually make sales? It’s our job to create your website, not to sell your products. That’s your job.

4) If you expect someone to develop your website for free, or below fair market value, you are making it very evident that you lack even an ounce of respect for the work that goes into web development. No one works for free. I can’t get my house remodeled for free. I can’t get someone to paint my house for free. I can’t go to the grocery store and get food for free. Nor will any self respecting web developer design a website for free.

5) If you are offering below fair market value for web development services, you will get what you pay for. You’ll likely be stuck with an off shore developer who can barely speak your language and who does not understand the intricacies of the project. You will explain what you want, and the developer will act like they understand, but when you get the final product back you’ll notice many problems caused by the language barrier. Good luck trying to explain to them how to fix it or make the changes you need too! Like I said before, you get what you pay for.

6) If you think you have an idea that is “the next big thing,” stop right now. It’s not. Your idea is probably not even new. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has 2 or 3 “big ideas” and yours is probably not very unique. Besides, ideas are nothing without a well thought out plan and proper execution. No one becomes successful because of their ideas, they become successful because they turn their ideas into a well managed business, with proper funding, the right team members, and good execution. Oh and by the way, those team members need to be compensated for their work. This includes your web developers.

If you want someone to work for you, and create the website you need, you need to pay for it. You have to keep in mind that most of us web developers have been shafted many times in situations like these. We already own equity in worthless companies, we’ve already done work in exchange for promises that were never kept, and we’ve already worked for commission that was never generated. Trust me, we can’t go a day without someone telling us their idea is “the next Facebook” and we get tired of hearing it. We aren’t interested in working our asses off to further your dreams. We work in order to get paid, pay our mortgages, put food on our family’s table, and pay our bills.

Web development and app development is not cheap. It’s not an easy job. Us web developers deserve to earn a living and if you want to launch your business, or have a website for your products or services, then it’s worth paying for. At the end of the day, if you short change your web developer, not only are you starting your business out on the wrong foot, but you are selling yourself short. Your idea, your business, your products, and your services deserve a proper web presence, and the only way to get the right development and support you need is to pay for it. It’s only fair, both to the developer as well as yourself.

So What is The Bottom Line?

Getting a developer to work on a project is easy; pay them. If you’re trying to get a developer to work for free for a share of the profits down the line, forget it. Most people who have never hired a developer try that route first and we all recognize that for what it is: a cheap inexperienced slacker with what they think is a million dollar idea, but who – in reality – is never going to go anywhere with their so-called business. Very very few developers will ever agree to work on those terms and there’s a million reasons why.

Here’s why it doesn’t work that way:

  • The vast majority of websites and apps don’t make money, even ones that are good ideas and well written.
  • 99.99% of “ideas” are utter shit, unoriginal, impractical, or can’t be monetized.
  • Most people who have “great ideas” are completely devoid of any business sense and look at it as a get rich quick scheme. It really has become today’s modern version of “waiting for my insurance settlement to go through.”
  • People completely undervalue the worth and magnitude of work “making an app or website” entails. I once had a guy try and pitch me a partnership in his app business. In exchange for single-handedly developing his entire line of app products (months to years worth of work), website and handling all support I would get 5% ownership in the business (which had zero sales, and wasn’t even incorporated yet). These people are always tire kickers and dead-ends. Once they’re educated on the cost, time and technical challenges of making an app or website, their illusion of the “get rich quick” scheme falls apart and they disappear into the woodwork.
  • Virtually everyone overestimates the value of their idea. It’s quite common for people to value just the idea at a ludicrous 7 figure number. Ideas are just ideas, they’re a dime a dozen. It’s having a good idea AND good execution that gets you to the finish line. That second part is a lot tougher than the first part.
  • Even if all the stars align and you have a good idea, and you have a good developer, and you have a good understanding of the business, and you accomplish everything you set out to accomplish, chances are you will still fail. To achieve wild success you need a fair bit of luck on your side.
  • Almost all of the top 25 websites and apps are actually “re-imagined” versions of others. One of my favorite quotes from Shark Tank/Dragons Den is “Pioneers get slaughtered, and the settlers prosper.” There’s a lot of truth to this in virtually every industry including the app and web development industry. It’s very common for a mildly successful app or website to get knocked off, polished up and published by a larger developer who has the resources to properly advertise it. Honestly it’s so common that the people who do this aren’t even trying to make them look different anymore.
  • As a reference, the average salary of a developer in our region is around $100k/year. A good freelancer can easily make upwards of $200k. If you want someone to dedicate a few months (or more) of their time for free at that wage, the return has to be phenomenal to outweigh the risks I mentioned above and still make good financial sense.


TL;DR: There are a lot of risks involved in software development, website design and development, and application businesses. Software developers already make good coin and are in high demand without taking on huge risks. Any return for the developer would have to be huge to make good financial sense, and chances are that is just something you cannot offer us. If you want good work done, pay for it!

Remember that.