Ask the Bartender: How To Find Project Partners?

I was wondering, where should I go if I want to find a developer to work with on an idea? I have an idea for a product. I know the market well, I’m part of the target audience, and I just need someone else that would be passionate and interested in the idea just as much as myself to have to agree to work on an open-source project. Tinder for project partners?


If I am being honest, your question reminds me of my cousin. He is what I call an “ideas” guy. Every few weeks or so, he calls me up with several new rough concepts of things that could make some money. Most of these conversations end with him asking if I could build him a website or an app. “We can split the profits 50/50,” he would say. I then tell him that I would rather be paid upfront and show him my rates. He can reap 100% of the profits down the line. He moves on to the next thing.

As I said, he has loads of ideas. His problem is with the follow-through. Anyone can dream up the perfect product or service. The stumbling blocks tend to be all the steps between concept and production.

It will be hard to sell any legitimate developer on a dream alone. Feeding, sheltering, and clothing one’s family comes first. You must have a way to pay for those things in almost all scenarios.

I have built projects on nothing but faith with others. Some have worked out. Most have not. Having cash on hand to pay for those months in development will provide a smidgeon of security for the programmer putting in the time to turn a dream into reality.

One of those projects I completed for my cousin in my younger and less-financially-intelligent days was a hunting and fishing “magazine” website. It actually saw some early success. The accompanying Facebook group grew to about 1,500 members in the first year or so. The audience was there, but there was no business plan. There were no products or services. No advertising deals. No payday coming for Justin.

I know 100s of developers who have been in the same boat at one point or another. Most of them wise up after the first project or two that goes nowhere.

Most dream projects that folks build will be personal itches that they are scratching. If there is no guarantee of a paycheck, it is something they are already passionate about. It sounds like that is the sort of person you want to work with, so you will need to find someone likely already motivated about the same market as you. Without knowing your particular market, it is hard to say where your starting point might be.

Let us assume your idea is the Next Big Thing. If you need someone on the development end, you should be prepared to take on the other roles to make the project successful. Do you have a business plan? What is your marketing approach? Do you have research that shows there is a market for the idea? Mockups of a potential UI? If you want to pitch someone on coming along for your journey, make sure you have done everything possible to show that it is something worthwhile.

Where to find that elusive partner, though? It tends to be easier to find open doors when you are involved in the WordPress development community. It is about making connections. That can be through blogging or joining a business-friendly community like Post Status. The more involved you are, the more people you can meet who may share your passions or be able to point you to others who do.

My usual advice would be to visit your local WordCamp to meet others in person. Of course, during this Covid-era, such conferences are virtual. There are tons of online-only events that can help you connect with people in the community.

Those human-to-human connections are your foundation, even if they are just over the web.

I do like the notion of a “Tinder” for WordPress project partners, or at least some type of networking place for folks. That could be a unique site and service you could build without a developer — just a domain, hosting plan, and a business model. It could even be the launchpad for finding the partner for your dream project.

If all else fails, there is always the DIY route — I am guessing you are not a developer. Many plugin authors have been born from a dream and not a lick of coding knowledge. I started in this industry primarily because I needed my website to have specific functionality. With no money to pay for it, I just started learning. I even enjoyed the art of programming and built a semi-successful business that I ran for over a decade. It is not some magical skill that only a certain few possess. Anyone can pick up the trade with time and effort.

If you do not have a developer in your corner, that may just need to be one of the hats you must wear as you kick-start your project. Once you start turning a profit, you can hire out that position.

I have probably not adequately answered your question. The truth is that anything I have ever done with success has started by connecting with others in the WordPress community. So, I am going to kick this can down to our readers. How would you approach finding the right development partner for a great idea?


3 responses to “Ask the Bartender: How To Find Project Partners?”

  1. Your first paragraph made me laugh out loud Justin. I’ve been that guy (long time ago) and since then the person awkwardly trying to say no.

    My answer to the question put though is simply that nobody will have the same passion for your own idea. So find a financial partner if you absolutely must avoid fully investing yourself, and then pay a developer on a professional basis. But I fear it would be a waste of breath 99% of the time and my response these days is more like “wow, your’ going to be rich – that’s amazing! Unfortunately I’m washing my hair this weekend” (hopes doesn’t notice I’m bald!).

    Then again, it’s poor form to just poo poo people with ideas – but the approach is flawed if they won’t invest themselves.

  2. As a non-developer who is in the midst of figuring out how to bring a digital vision to life, I’m going to come at this from a different perspective.

    It seems to me that the most effective thing anyone who wants to “build/achieve something” can do is to follow in the footsteps of the “starving artists” – people who will work menial side jobs and live in relative squalor in order to focus their time and energy on what they are truly passionate about, giving up (others would wrongly say “sacrifice”) anything that gets in the way of this much more meaningful goal.

    My version of this has found me settled in the developing world where I have spent a few years exploring poverty and its endless causes and effects to try to come up with an effective, efficient, scalable solution to help people sustainably better help themselves.

    I don’t want to get into too many details of my story or what I’m trying to build (this is not an advertisement for me or my efforts, or a solicitation for a development partner), but just as my non-digital project plans have evolved immensely as I have learned more about the situation here, my digital plans have evolved considerably as I’ve become more aware of what exists/is possible. They’ve gone from a basic blog with articles and embedded videos, to maybe building some sort of user profiles with custom post types, to discovering BuddyPress and bbPress, to buying BuddyBoss, to discovering the myriad plugins for any feature you can imagine, to considering building out much of these features (classifieds, events, knowledge base, etc…) myself with something like Toolset. In the end it’ll mostly be a combination of gluing together various plugins with my own CPTs, and making various tweaks to the layouts and functionalities.

    Now, many would say that I could have saved 3+ months of time and living expenses if I just had a competent developer on-board who would have known all of this, as well as save another 6+ months of upcoming work to figure this all out. This is time which I could instead put towards things that I am actually competent at. But what they don’t realize is that because of various choices that I’ve made, my monthly all-in cost of living is probably equivalent to 2 hours of a good developer’s time. I even live on less than most locals do. This has all allowed me have the time and flexibility that is necessary to really get to understand the situation (both here and in general) to a degree that very few others are able to, as well as to now focus on learning how to do basic WordPress development – which will certainly be a very useful skill to have – and eventually all of the other things that I will need to learn.

    Perhaps I could have found a developer who is similarly passionate and willing to work for free as a co-founder, but that’s simply not an option as what I’m doing is deeply philosophical at its root. I’ve finally come to appreciate a quote that I’ve long thought about “Those who know How will always work for those who know Why” – something that a much younger version of myself laughably, and wrongly, thought he knew both sides of. There’s no chance that I could cede any control of my project to someone who hasn’t spent 6+ years getting to the Why of it all.

    Perhaps I could find someone who would be perfectly content with “working for” me for free, but I still don’t know the fullness of the Why myself, much less how that should manifest itself into a website, so it wouldn’t even be a productive relationship as much of my time is spent just pondering, then trying something out, then throwing it away.

    Any of the above people – competent paid developer, competent co-founder, or less competent volunteer – would sooner or later quit rather than deal with my bullshit. Fair enough – all the more reason for anyone who is trying to do anything difficult to stick to themselves until the can properly make a good first impression and make good use of people’s time.

    So, I’m left plugging away alone, bit by bit. Spending a month or two exploring what options/possibilities exist and reflecting on how they could be incorporated into the site in a meaningful (let alone compatible) way. Spending a few days learning about wp_query here, another few about hooks there, still not really understanding either. Half a day to figure out how to add a dropdown filter for a search box. Waste a week with a search plugin (SearchWP) that is ultimately beyond my capabilities of leveraging, but then fortunately finding one (Ajax Search Pro) that is nearly as powerful and far more flexible/user-friendly at a fraction of the cost. And so on.

    I’ve got complete confidence that I’ll figure it out and that this will become “successful” – the technical stuff really isn’t all that complicated, the fundamental ideas are solid, and it’ll all be provided for free to people who desperately need it. I just need time to focus on my work, which I have plenty of given the decisions I’ve made.

    And, as stated in the article, when there is some minimum viable product out there, I’ll have profits (in this case, I assume I’ll receive donations given the billions that are annually flushed down the drain with 99% of NGOs) to pay for competent people to bring some rigor to my hacking, as well as help optimize it for better scaling. Or, perhaps with what is now a clear project and vision, they (and other people with other skillsets) will volunteer those services because they believe in it. Ultimately I aim for it to be highly collaborative, but for now it is just a mess of thoughts and poorly written snippets.

    Having said all of this, I’m extremely grateful for the bits of guidance and tips that various people have given me in various forums, facebook groups, as well as the wealth of WP resources that people generously share all over the web. To say nothing of the existence of WP itself. None of this would be possible without people being generous with their time and knowledge.

    And that’s the real message here. Lest I be misunderstood, this is not about me. The real message here is that we all need to focus on what is important in life and what is enough to pursue it. A hint: find a way to use your skills, preferences, opportunities and resources in a way that makes the world a better, more harmonious place for having had you in it. Give up everything that gets in the way of that and get to work. When you do that, doors will start to open where you never expected, and will increasingly open as you find more success.

    I’m sure there are countless people in the WordPress community who could attest to this – they started contributing in some negligible way, and that grew into larger projects, jobs, careers, friendships, marriages etc…, all centered around the great idea of democratizing the web.

    I hope this fits in, and is perhaps even appreciated, here in some way. If not, it was nice to reflect upon and articulate for my own sake…

  3. My project was on hold for 3 years because I couldn’t find the right partners, and maybe because I wasn’t ready either. However your thoughts are much true, and this year I did found not 1 but 3 partners to finally make my project happen. With patience, the best team will be born.


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