Algora: Student Programmers and Startups – a Match Made in Heaven

We’ve written before about how startups can attract technical talent, even when competing against tech giants like Apple, Google, and the like. One of the difficult things when thinking about that issue is how to deal with the money problem: as a startup, you don’t have any, while tech giants have literal billions of dollars to spend on developers.

There are a few ways startups attempt to solve this problem: since finding the right person at the right price takes time, they often fill the gap with contractors. And there again, you have a problem: contractors cost money, while good contractors cost lots of money (although, as the saying goes, “if you think experts are expensive, wait til you hire an amateur”). What’s a start up to do?

One option is to go offshore; however, there are many risks to this.

First, language barriers can really make things hard – even between native speakers, expressing your vision for your product is supremely difficult; how much more so when you’re talking to someone new to your language?

Second, many offshore companies are competing on price – but their currency is not actually so weak compared to the dollar that the economics make sense. As a result, many offshore companies put their employees on multiple projects at once. I don’t care how talented a developer you are, if you’re working on 5 different projects pulling 16 hour days, your code is going to suffer. And once the code starts to suffer, each new feature takes longer and longer, needs to be redone over and over, and pretty soon it costs as much as if you’d done it onshore (but with more headaches).

Third, timezones alone can wreak havoc with your timeline. When your working hours are completely disjoint, emails that take 5 minutes to answer take 12 hours to get to them, simply because they asked a question while you were asleep and you answered when they were asleep. This means you can go back and forth for days on a very simple issue, eating up valuable time in your launch schedule.

Best in class, onshore developers, though, can be risky if you haven’t yet achieved market fit. Sure, they’re fast, and high quality, but if you accidentally asked them to build the wrong product, you’re out a lot of money. This is always a danger, but when development goes quickly, it can keep you from realizing your mistake until too late.

The best thing you can do is get a technical co-founder who’s signing on for equity – but lots of folks go about getting a CTO all wrong, and building that relationship, again, takes time.

Many startups dream of being able to use student developers – folks who are still in school for computer science and are looking to bulk up their resume. The problem with that is, how do you find them? How do you know they’re good?

There’s a new startup out of Williams College that seeks to solve that problem: Algora. Algora does the leg work of reaching out to student programmers at fantastic schools and onboarding them onto the platform, where startups can post code bounties and students can complete them.

We at Lithobyte have used Algora for our own projects to great success, even hiring one of the students with whom we’ve worked. It seems to us that Algora is an excellent fit for many startups looking for the low cost and high quality that student developers can offer, without the hassle of finding them yourself.