Finding the first software engineer for Ajust

Ajust is looking for a founding engineer to take our product to the next level. Ajust’s Founder, Tom Kaldor, reflects on what he’s learnt searching for the right technical collaborator.

My biggest startup challenge

Since starting Ajust about a year ago, I’ve poured most of my energy into 4 buckets: building a product, getting the product into people’s hands, raising capital and finding the right technical collaborator. By technical collaborator, I mean someone who can write code and build software. (For context, I’m a sole founder and I’m not a developer.)

My quest for a software engineer has probably been the most challenging of these 4 priorities. I’ve taken a few clumsy steps along the way and learnt a lot from those stumbles. My search continues, but I’m now much more intentional about who I’m looking for and how to find them.

I’ve decided to share my reflections about this experience for two reasons:

  1. To help other founders walk a smoother path to finding their first developer.
  2. To connect with engineers who want to take on a big role in an ambitious business.

Three questions

In my early discussions with engineers, I found it hard to work out if there was a fit. Now I can quickly get a sense of whether there’s an opportunity worth exploring. The main thing that’s changed: I’ve thought carefully about 3 essential questions.

Question 1: Do you need a technical collaborator for your tech startup?

This question looks like a contradiction. If I’d started Ajust 5 years ago, it would’ve been tough to move beyond an idea without the help of a developer.

But that’s all changing thanks to the rise of no-code and low-code tools. With these tools, you can build and test products lightning fast and without writing a line of code yourself. That’s how I built Ajust’s MVP, which has already helped hundreds of consumers resolve complaints with over 50 businesses and recover thousands of dollars in refunds and compensation.

No-code tools are great, particularly when you’re starting out. But they have some limitations:

  • Solution-centric. Product development should start with a problem a user needs to solve and then build towards the best possible solution. But with no code, you need to start with an available tool and find a way to wrangle that solution to fit your problem.
  • UX control. Some no-code tools can deliver great user experiences, but you won’t have full control over the design toolkit.
  • Brittle integrations. The best no-code tools come with plenty of native integrations – and then there’s tools like Zapier, which can patch together thousands of apps. But no-code integrations are fragile. Change a label somewhere or regenerate your API key and the sticky tape might not hold.

As a wise advisor explained to me, the question of whether you need a developer comes down to whether you believe that software is essential to the success of your business. If so, you’ll outgrow no-code tools and need to establish a genuine tech capability within your startup.

Ajust is committed to building an amazing product that transforms how consumers resolve complaints with business. We believe software is critical to our mission, so we need an engineer to join our team and make a big impact.

Just a bit more

These are the no-code tools I’ve used to build the early versions of Ajust, which hundreds of consumers have used to resolve complaints with businesses:

Question 2: What type of technical collaborator do you want?

There’s a big spectrum of technical collaborators, from co-founder to contractor. The differences can have a big impact on ownership, runway, responsibility and culture. Here’s how I think about the main categories:

  • Technical co-founder. There from the start; equity split with other co-founders; minimum salary; up at night thinking about growth and burn.
  • Founding engineer. Early, high impact hire; generous option allocation; salary below market; up at night thinking about architecture and prototyping.
  • Team member. Joins after there’s some traction; small option allocation; market salary; up at night thinking about code.
  • Contractor. Short term mindset; no ownership; high pay; sleeps peacefully at night!

(And there’s plenty of other categories – like advisors, off-shore engineers, dev shops and even Replit bounties.)

To make life harder, these titles can mean different things to different people. You won’t always be able to fit someone into one category or another. For example, the ideal person for Ajust is probably somewhere between technical co-founder and founding engineer. We want someone focused on building the early versions of the product, who has the potential to grow with the business into a leadership role. (If this sounds like you or someone you know, please contact us!)

Question 3: How much progress should you make before bringing a technical collaborator on board?

Momentum is a valuable currency for early stage startups. Making progress is a silver bullet for most challenges, from capital raising to sales. But when it comes to finding your first software developer, my experience is that progress can cut both ways…

In general, progress is great for team building. It’s easier to hire people when you can show traction and growth, because taking the leap to join your business will feel less risky and more exciting.

But I’ve found that’s not always true for people who want to join a very early stage business. The right people are often more comfortable with risk and most excited about starting something from scratch. For them, too much progress can be a deal breaker. I’ve made some great connections with quality engineers, but we’ve decided not to work together because they wanted to do their “own thing”. (And I completely get it, because so do I!)

This is an interesting dilemma: these days you can make great progress without a developer (thanks to no-code tools); but if you make too much progress, you might miss the window to bring on board some potential co-founders.

For Ajust, I’m looking for someone who’s impressed by the progress we’ve made so far and sees the opportunity to make a significant contribution on the path ahead. The right fit is someone who recognises the value of no-code tools and wants to take the product further with cutting edge technologies like natural language processing and large language models.

Four lessons

I spoke to plenty of engineers before I had razor sharp answers for those 3 questions. But I learnt a huge amount from those chats. Here are my top 4 lessons.

Lesson 1: No one will be as passionate as you are about your business right now (and that’s okay).

These days, I look for someone who’s excited by being part of an early stage company and likes the idea of building software that makes a real impact for Australian consumers. As long as that foundation is there, the passion will follow.

Lesson 2: Be intentional and transparent about the type of collaborator you’re looking for and the stage your business is up to.

It’s okay if someone doesn’t match what you need. Your aim should be to work out if there’s a fit as quickly as possible. This will be hard to do if you haven’t answered the 3 questions above, because you won’t even know what you’re looking for.

Lesson 3: Don't confuse a need for an engineer with a need for a co-founder (and vice versa).

These are different needs. A technical co-founder could fill both gaps. But if your priority is building software, you might not need a co-founder – and if you’re looking for a partner on your startup adventure, the right person isn’t necessarily technical.

Lesson 4: Test it out.

Like almost everything in startups, there’s only so far you can get by thinking and talking. If it’s possible, test out the collaboration before going all in. The bigger the role, the more important it is to test.


Resolve your issue the easy way

Take the effort out of making a complaint. Ajust sends the right details to the right place – so you get the right outcome.

It only takes 2 minutes!

Issues We Solve

Read about the issues consumers are facing. Have a different issue? You can still make a complaint.

Do you have a complaint?

Ajust is the express lane for resolving customer complaints.