Hacker, hustler and designer: Building the tech team

Hacker, hustler and designer: Building the tech team

You have the idea, you’ve built a strong business model to support it and now you’re ready to validate it. But do you have the right team to make it happen?

Hiring good people is necessary in any organization. In a tech startup, it’s even more crucial. Startup hiring and recruiting should be high on your to-do list as a founder. The risk of failure is high and any bad hiring decisions can cost you time, money and traction—three elements that can make or break your startup as you go through the phases of customer development.

Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds. — SEAL Team saying

While you’ll need founders’ agreements and the fancy titles (CEO, CTO, etc.) that accompany them to impress investors, Dave McClure of 500 Startups fame says that every startup should have three roles on their team to achieve success: a hacker, a hustler and a designer.

Hacker, hustler and designer: Building the tech team

Hacker: The hacker is the back-end, front-end or “full-stack” developer (i.e. the chief technology officer or chief technologist) who can create the algorithms, intellectual property and resulting technology that your customers want via the insights drawn from the discovery process. The hacker is instrumental in choosing the coding environment and platform for the startup to sustain growth. The best hackers I’ve seen also have knowledge and use of design and customer development best practices. As an added bonus, if he or she can hustle—that is, get outside of the building and talk with customers—you’ve scored big. The hacker eats, sleeps and breathes code.

Hustler/visionary: This is the leader of the team (i.e. the CEO), the one who builds the team, ignites their passion, manages projects, updates the business model, forms partnerships and guides the team along the validation path while cementing its culture. The hustler has a keen eye for numbers (including financials, cost structure and user metrics), can speak to the long and short-term vision of the company, and can make investor pitches and tough decisions under the extreme uncertainty that startups operate within. In most cases, the hustler hires the chief technologist and helps guide the startup to success. The hustler eats, sleeps and breathes the business model.

Designer: The designer follows the best practices in brand identity building, user experience, information architecture and wire framing, while constantly informing the customer archetype. Wearing multiple hats, the designer builds layouts and, in most early-stage startups, is the copywriter as well. Ideally, the designer is also integral to the get, keep and grow marketing plans generated by the startup for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer campaigns. He or she understands messaging and how to A/B test, and can likely measure the success of marketing tactics through all brand touchpoints and paid and free forms of media. The designer eats, sleeps and breathes design.

How and where do I find my team?

As a founder, keep in mind that the skill level, experience and capabilities of each individual will change as the startup finds a validated business model and begins to scale or move into company-building mode. Finding investors or dealing with the complexity of the scaling business will likely require a different set of expertise. As always, a startup should surround itself with a volunteer board of advisors and mentors who have deep expertise in the areas the team lacks experience in order to best fill the gaps in the business model.

This brings us to the question: Where and how do I find these folks? It’s a difficult one to answer as it depends on your startup’s needs but here are some great resources to begin your search.

Resources and tools for building the right team


  • Ladies Learning Code is a great full-day Saturday or Sunday event that has a 4:1 mentor ratio. The mentors are often entrepreneurs or soon-to-be entrepreneurs, so it’s usually a great group of both hackers and designers.
  • VeloCity is the University of Waterloo’s innovation playground. It helps give students the real-world experience of building a startup.
  • Bitmaker Labs is the “Code Academy” of Canada, Bitmaker connects you with freshly minted hacker talent. Check out one of their recruitment events.
  • HackerYou is put on by the same people as Ladies Learning Code and offers all sorts of workshops, from short three-hour-long evening classes to three-month-long courses. Again, there are lead instructors and mentors present who are sometimes entrepreneurs, and who may know people looking to get into the startup world.
  • #DevTO is a place for all—regardless of age, experience or sex—to gather to collaborate on the problems we face while developing applications. You may not be a developer, but if you have written even a bit of HTML, you should go to this event.
  • Rails Pub Nite is a great evening where you can meet all of the rabid coders of Ruby.



  • The Association of Registered Graphic Designers is a great playground to find designers to get your site off the ground.
  • OCAD University is one of the best design institutions in the world and its graduates are the best of the best. It’s well worth attending one of their student graduate exhibits, meet-ups or networking events.

Other places to find your dream team

  • LinkedIn is a great resource to find hackers, hustlers and designers of all sorts. Although LinkedIn is a great tool to find more seasoned workers, you can also join groups and company pages to network and post jobs to secure the right talent.
  • Startup Weekend is an entire weekend where entrepreneurs pitch a company, build a team and present their progress at the end of the weekend. This event draws many entrepreneurs and is a great place to look for that ideal partner or team.
  • Lean Startup Machine is a three-day workshop that teaches lean startup methodologies and encourages you to get outside to talk to your market to validate your product. You can go with your existing business or with a completely new idea and either way you’ll end up meeting some great people.
  • Through Meetup.com you can find hackers, hustlers and designers who are in your area’s local meet-up groups. Here are some great ones in the Toronto area: NSCoder TorontoHTML5Lean Coffee TorontoHackerNest and Google Developer Group.

Recruitment tools

  • GuruElance99designs and Dribbble are all strong resources to help you hire freelancers and project managers in the hacker, designer and hustler groups to get your project off the ground.
  • Hireglyphics is an amazing tech recruitment firm based in Toronto that will help you find and secure the best.
  • MaRS Discovery DistrictStartupNorth and AngelList  are all great places to start posting jobs and, most importantly, refer back to the posting via your social share feeds.
  • Jobvite is a fantastic tech recruitment tool that is totally disrupting the traditional online job board and is solely focused on tech recruitment.

American and global resources for finding founders

  • FounderDating is the premiere site for founders and co-founders.
  • CoFoundersLab helps you find a co-founder in any city.
  • YouNoodle deals with founder matching.
  • FoundersHookup is an invite-only way to find a co-founder.
  • Stanford Business School’s Entrepreneurial Summer Program allows you to hire a Stanford Business School intern for cheap.
  • PartnerUp is a small business site for finding partners, business opportunities, real estate, etc.

Photo credit: Good Business by samarttiw, image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net