Search for API Security Tests

Hiring Developers for Your Startup: A Guide to Building Your Early Stage Team

Learn how to hire developers in an early stage startup, written by Akto CTO - Ankush Jain.


Ankush Jain - Co-founder and CTO, Akto

4 min read

Hiring Developers for Your Startup

Before we begin, do us a favor and star us on GitHub. Stars help us know that you care and keep us motivated to write. Thanks 🙏

Someone asked me this question recently and while I was giving him the answer, I thought this must be a common question for a lot of companies. I decided to write a post about it!

Question the person asked me:

One of the companies where I have recently invested in is finding it hard to find good engineering talent (1-2 years exp). Is there something that has worked well for you at Akto?

My answer:

Who do I want to hire?

Good devs have the capacity to take ownership, are curious to learn a lot, and possess decent programming skills. In a startup, they should also be prepared to take on any task, be willing to accept a lower salary for higher ESOPs, and take the initiative. I want to hire only 5 devs - really good devs.

You don’t know what problem is going to hit you, you don’t know when would a customer be blocked on a P0 bug and you don’t know which approach to take if there are 3 available. What you definitely know if you need the solution as fast as possible. You want to iterate fast and fail fast.

What do good devs want?

If our standards for good devs match, then it is important to understand what they want from the company.

  1. They should be given ownership of a significant chunk of a product lane, with an experienced senior dev as guidance.

  2. They should be presented with challenging tasks, such as scale, latency, and accuracy

  3. They should be presented with a unique experience that they would not find in bigger companies.

  4. They should be provided with a really good mentor.

Ambitions are very high when you are fresh out of college. Personally, I wanted to make significant impact in the company I joined as a developer 10 years ago. I wanted to learn more about the tech world and at the same time apply it too. I wanted a good mentor to help me and guide me. Most of such ambitious freshers and even senior devs find it hard to get a good developing environment around them.

How to get them in short time?

Here is how you find such people in 3 months:

  1. Referrals: Reach out to your network and ask if they know anyone that is looking for a job change. Provide them with two great qualities of the role and manager.

  2. Previous employers: Contact any good developers from your network to see if they are looking for a new opportunity.

  3. LinkedIn outreach: Believe it or not, this strategy works! Find a reputable company who has good hiring/screening practices. Reach out to their developers too. Perhaps someone wants to work in a new and exciting company - so it's worth a shot. Aim to message 100 people, as 20 will respond, 10 will talk to you, and one may convert. Make sure the CTO is the one to contact them.

I reached out to all good devs I have known and worked with. Most of them weren’t looking for a change, but they helped me a lot in providing referrals. Some of them joined Akto. I also cold-messaged quite a few devs on LinkedIn to tell about Akto’s vision and achievements. 20% responded and were open to a call.

How to keep getting them in the longer run?

We can't rely on the above methods alone; they may not be as effective 3 months down the line. A good approach is to build a pipeline of developers.

  1. Stay in contact with everyone you spoke to in the points above. They may not be ready to join you yet, but one day they may become unhappy with their current job and you should be the first company that comes to mind.

  2. Post interesting tech-related content on your company's or founder's LinkedIn profile. Any good tech blog will pick up on such posts, and if it seems impressive enough, they may become more interested.

  3. Recruit a skilled intern from universities such as IIIT, BITS etc. A single good intern can spread the word to their college and encourage more of their friends to join you. We have had five interns at Akto, two of which are now full-time employees. Even if they haven't graduated, they can gain lots of valuable experience.

  4. Handle applicants who are desperate for a job carefully. In this tough market, they should not join you just because they need a job, they should join because they believe in the cause. You need to be aware of the fact that they may leave once the market improves and they can get a better salary.

We regularly post technical blogs on LinkedIn and Twitter on APIs, API Security and handling scale. We used LinkedIn & Cuvette ( to hire interns. I have received some calls back from candidates who weren’t ready earlier, but now want to join Akto.

Monthly product updates in your inbox. No spam.

What do I tell them during interview conversations?

  1. When talking to them for the first time, I like to explain the problem we are solving, how existing solutions are inadequate, and how our solution can bring improvements and success to people's lives.

  2. I encourage them to ask questions and try to ensure they learn something valuable in just 20 minutes.

  3. I like to demonstrate our product and explain it in simple terms so they feel that we care and are invested in helping them understand.

  4. This is when I try to really wow them. I let them know about our amazing tech, how they will have a hand in one of 5 product lanes, what clients are using our product, and the angels who have invested in us. I also mention familiar names to impress them. I tell them that they'll not just learn tech, but also the business side of things, and that their efforts will be reflected in the business. I make sure to mention the generous stock options that should make them feel like they don't want to miss out.

  5. Lastly, I try to reassure them about their career growth. I tell them that the founders are putting a lot of effort into advancing their career, and if they ever leave the startup, they will be able to get a job that is much better than they could have imagined. I usually tell them the story of one of my interns who, despite only having a 6-pointer at BITS, was the first one from their class to get placed due to the amount of knowledge they had gained in just 4 months. They should keep building good tech and I build their career.

This seems like a VC pitch, but why shouldn’t it be? These devs are going to be the foundation of your product!

The result

After this 1 hr of call, it is time to tell them if they want to interview and schedule it for the coming weekend. Be prepared, but remain confident that they will be impressed, and they will refer good people to you and remember you when they are frustrated in their current jobs. This does sound like a lot of work, but I wanted to hire only 5 devs. I put in the effort and it paid off. I have 2 freshers, 2 senior devs (5-yrs exp) and 1 8-yr experienced dev. Each of them handle 1 lane out of 5 that we have today. It took me 1 month net-net to find out these 5 gems, and their notice period etc took 2 more months.

Please share what I have missed here! This was all to help early stage startups create an organic pipeline for a small scale hiring. If you have already tried a few ideas here, let me know how well they worked (or didn’t work!) for you. A few months later, I would want to hire more. Would love to learn from you 🙂

Follow us for more updates

Follow us for more updates

Follow us for more updates

Want to ask something?

Our community offers a network of support and resources. You can ask any question there and will get a reply in 24 hours.

Want to ask something?

Our community offers a network of support and resources. You can ask any question there and will get a reply in 24 hours.

Want to ask something?

Our community offers a network of support and resources. You can ask any question there and will get a reply in 24 hours.

Table of contents