Start Houston, Gigster Partner to Match Developers With Startups

Start Houston co-founder and tech entrepreneur Apurva Sanghavi found himself in a predicament familiar to many entrepreneurs: an incomplete project was stalled because of a lack of developers.

Almost on a whim, he turned to Gigster, a San Francisco-based startup that connects freelance developers to entrepreneurs like Sanghavi.

Hiring Gigster gave him the developer talent he needed at a fifth of the cost of a traditional developer he considered hiring. “It was such a great experience that I told them, we need someone like you in the Houston ecosystem,” he says.

That experience led him to approach Gigster CEO Roger Dickey to formalize a relationship. Dickey is a Dallas native and a founding designer of mobile app video Mafia Wars, who sold his company Curiosoft to Zynga in 2008 before founding Gigster in 2013. Gigster last week raised $10 million in a Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

On Tuesday, Sanghavi told me that Start Houston, a co-working space that has become a hub for IT startups in the city, would funnel startups needing “dev/ops” help to Gigster. The upshot, Sanghavi says, is that he wants Gigster to put a sales engineer on site at Start, who would work with local entrepreneurs.

“We want to get the volume of these inquiries enough for them to justify bringing someone on site,” he says. “This person would just be working for Start Houston startups, a product manager-in-residence or a sales engineer-in-residence.”

Start Houston hosts a monthly demo day for very early stage startups. During these pitch sessions, entrepreneurs get critical feedback from venture capitals, those who run accelerator programs, and veteran entrepreneurs.

“We’ve been trying to pick apart the problems and challenges in the ecosystem to see if we can solve them, from funding to mentorship,” he says. “This is our crack at trying to help early stage guys who have no means or human resources.”

There is an additional bonus for Sanghavi and co-founder Gaurav Khandelwal, who are seeking to invest in up-and-coming startups: “The idea is the find viable early stage companies in which to invest,” he says.

Sanghavi and I spoke Tuesday about his partnership with Gigster and future plans for Start Houston. The conversation has been edited for content and clarity.

Xconomy: Why partner with Gigster?

Apurva Sanghavi: In a market like ours, there is a severe tech shortage to begin with. If we can find credible quality access to developers that can help build these products for them, it’s really building the community. It’s the access to human resources that we just don’t have on the ground. It’s hard enough for funded startups, much less early stage ones.

At Gigster, so many of these guys just want to code, they just want to build stuff. They don’t want to jump ship from startup to startup; they don’t want to be the thinkers coming up with the ideas. So they say, we’ll do the hunting and you guys just build. They want to be the world’s engineering team. They are doing stuff at significantly cheaper cost.

X: How did this come about?

A.S.: This summer I was about to sign a contract with a dev shop for $100,000 but I thought, let me call these guys. For the same product, the process was night and day — these are really high-end developers they’ve recruited for their network. I got a quote within a few minutes; more traditional dev shops took weeks. It was $20,000 (compared to $100,000.) I said, OK, let’s go. I gotta try this. It’s worth the gamble.

There are a lot of entrepreneurs here who just to get to a (minimally viable product) to see if this thing will stick or not. I told (Dickey) we need someone like you in the Houston ecosystem. I just called him and said we’re involved in the startup community and I’d like to talk to you. We’d already referred them a handful of people.

X: How will this work with Start Houston members?

A.S.: We want to give the ecosystem as many resources as it needs. The long-term goal for us and Gigster is I want somebody locally in our space that’s just working for Start Houston startups. That would be a huge value-add for us, and it won’t just be limited to our members. We want to be able to show the ecosystem that we’ve got the resources that you need.

Instead of them (entrepreneurs) just contacting Gigster directly, it’s like a nice warm hand-off. We get people walking into our doors for all the stuff that we do, and we can make the introduction. If they haven’t really thought through their idea, Start mentorship and demo days makes sure there’s real meat to their idea. We never said we were an incubator but, fundamentally, that’s what we do. We help these businesses along.

Our rationale is we can build stronger companies. If we can get this early funnel going, it adds value to our space.


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