Time is money. This is especially true when building a first version of a SaaS product. You have limited time to get your product to market, and every second you waste means the chance of missed revenue or a new competitor entering.
So you hire as many engineers as you can. This way, the product will get built faster, albeit with some corners cut here and there. But that doesn’t matter. You’ll be able to prove your product-market fit, and you’ll be flush with cash. Then you can rewrite the product from the ground up.
Sounds like a marvelous idea. Except you’ve made a critical mistake. At the start, investing in a core group of very senior developers is better than a large medior-level team. And here’s why.
Speed of development
I tell our customers to be the glue. What I mean by this is that the product needs to focus on creating value by gluing existing services together. Many teams waste time by recreating what’s already been built, a mistake more often made by engineers with less seniority.
Senior developers deeply understand the technical landscape and how they can deliver value the fastest. They know which tools are already available, what’s been productized and commoditized. Because of this, they can stand up a system and begin learning, an essential step for startups.
Junior engineers build too much. They add abstractions for the future. They build complex infrastructure setups for customers that won’t arrive for a year or more, if at all. There’s a reason that YAGNI — You ain’t gonna need it — has seen a revival in recent years.
Source: A Wardley Map by Simon Wardley
A more senior team will also help your product team cut corners in good ways. They’ll push back on complexity and offer simplified solutions. They’ll bring their vast experience to the conversation, something that is impossible for junior or medior team members.
When time pressure occurs, the reflex is to cut quality when instead, teams need to think about cutting scope. The most senior engineers understand that a baseline is needed. You wouldn’t ask a doctor to save time by foregoing washing their hands before surgery. So why do you ask engineers to skip writing tests?
With a quality-focus from the start, the team will be empowered to adapt the product in the future, something that will frequently occur in a startup. Your product will also benefit from reliability and flexibility baked in.
Seeing a path to success, the way forward is incredibly important for technical teams mired in uncertainty. Don’t underestimate how quickly psychological safety and morale can erode when a major technical challenge confronts the team.
A group of seniors will find an answer. They’ll work together to explore the unknown, create prototypes, and figure out what to do. I’m lucky that frequently someone on my team has built a similar product before; this alone will alleviate a lot of the pressure on the team.
Senior developers can also help hire the next set of employees. They’ve likely got large networks of talented engineers. With seemingly every company hiring a software team in recent years, it’s become very difficult to source good candidates. You’ll be sure to find the perfect employee if you have a dedicated group of seniors contributing to staffing efforts.
Medior engineers might be able to develop a stable product, but at what cost? Writing a bug is always expensive, something that senior engineers will do less frequently. When customers find them, perhaps they’ll churn. As a young startup, you need every customer to tell their friends about your product.
Even if employees detect a bug, say due to a manual QA process, it still takes time for the developer to read about the bug and create a fix. This requires a context shift and a loss of efficiency, impacting the bottom line. It’s a better choice to not write a bug in the first place.
Relying on senior engineers to build the first version of a product is the best way to ensure quality, something that your startup needs to have from day one. They can avoid making costly mistakes that could potentially ruin your company. I’ll leave you with a quote:
If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur. — Red Adair