One of the biggest constraints faced by a startup is access to cheap & quality manpower. Though you can get experienced techies to lead or manage your projects ( Thanks to ESOPS & the startup bug – a lot of experienced hands are willing to associate with bootstrapped startups) . But the real problem is about getting freshers to do the basic coding/marketing .With out paying say a 6k (minimum), it’s really difficult to find some good coders for your development team. Because these people are not in a position to work in a startup with out any pay or not comfortable with the bootstrapping culture.
I had interacted with quiet a few startups and most of them where facing the same issue ( Like they have a good tech guy to lead, but they lack the basic team to work on the project).
The best solution for this problem is to partner with Universities / Colleges and associate college students for your project. Here the universities role is to provide support to the students in interning with the startups by ways of faculty support, infrastructure etc. The advantage for students is that they get an opportunity to work on the latest cutting edge technologies / real life projects while the universities are in a position to provide students with practical exposure to enhance theorotical learnings. The startups get access to manpower for their projects with out affecting the bottomline of the company.
One question which may arise in your mind now is how capable are these students in terms of your requirement. The answer is firstly you are not relying on these students for building up your entire platform , but they are just doing a part of your product which is normally done by a team with out experience. ( For example for an online portal – the students can design the UI, the database , do content aggregation, do the documentation, market survey etc …..now if you needed 3 people for this you will be saving around 3 x 6 = 18 k/month ). Secondly the skill sets of a final year student and fresher are almost the same and what matters is their capability to learn and explore things.
Startups can allow students to use the project as a part of the final year projects, as well as provide them with incentives and by the time student pass out of the college if the company is well funded they can even recruit the student into their rolls.
Coming to our startup, we had designed a program called SCORE-MAT (SECURE CAREER THROUGH OBJECTIVE & REFLECTIVE EDUCATION in MANAGEMENT & TECHNOLOGY) for associating students with our projects as well as initiating R&D tie-ups with universities and colleges. We were successful in initiating a tie-up with SKIT college Jaipur and a team of 20 final year students are working on our projects from the campus which acts as a virtual incubator for the company. The program is wholly supported by the college and respective departments . Also a 4 member student team currently pursuing integrated Mtech at IT-BHU,Varanasi is also associated with the program and they recently were selected finalists for the IBM Great Minds Challenge 2008 for the Core Banking Solution they designed.
I think this is a good model which other startup can also follow. I believe if we can volunteer and form a common platform for linking start ups, universities and students it will benefit every one in the value chain.