I’ve hired several different developers during my career.
Some were cheap and okay.
Some were expensive and just okay.
Some quit responding to me after the project was launched, leaving me in the dark when I had a problem. Making me email them in desperation with subject lines like “I will pay you to fix this, please reply!” Because I was so desperate to get them to come back and fix what they built.
Some were good, but with terrible English.
Some were incredibly slow, with amazingly high rates. And fired quickly.
Fiverr, Odesk, Elance, whatever, I used it to find developers, with different success rate.
I’ve met developers in person and decided to hire them, figuring that going local, surely that will have good results! I can meet with them in person.
Hiring a developer can suck, and if you’ve read this far, you may have also experienced it.
But it’s not all bad.
This is going to be my totally honest review of Toptal, a service you’ve probably heard of that connects you with vetted developers for your project.
(Toptal also has an awesome referral program, and if you decide to try them, please do so through my link.)
I’ve worked with Toptal off and on since 2014, with two different developers, across two different projects, just to give you a sense of history…
One time I came in with an existing project and had someone at Toptal fix it for me, after the original developer (from Odesk) disappeared.
Later, I came back with a different version of the same project after a local developer started to rebuild it but stopped really doing anything for the project when it was 80% done. My new Toptal developer then finished the project quickly.
And then later I hired that second Toptal developer to build a project from scratch.
How the process works
It’s been a while since I applied to work with Toptal, so some of this may be outdated now, but I assume it’s about the same.
You visit Toptal and fill out a form about your project, then you get contacted by a project manager type, who can help you figure out what tech is needed for the project (or if you know, you can tell them) and they connect you with possible candidates.
Then you interview them via video chat. This is a working relationship, so it’s good to make sure you would actually like working with the person.
Lots of the developers are outside of America. Probably most.
The first time I worked with Toptal, I interviewed two people before finding someone to work with. The first developer was fine, and from China, but he simply did not have a personality, and I thought he would not be that fun to work with, plus the time difference was pretty crazy.
The next interviewee was from Argentina, which has a much better time difference for me, considering I’m in America. His English was good, and he actually had a personality, so I worked with him to fix my first project up.
When I sought out someone from Toptal to finish a project that a local dev company started, I found a developer I liked on the first try, and he was awesome. Also in Argentina. I still work with him to this day, and he’s a pleasure to chat with and figure out issues together with.
In my experience, Toptal developers are awesome at following suggestions and guidelines and requests (not all developers are like that!), but they’re also innovative and can come up with better solutions for some problems than I can.
Once you find someone you like, you can start a two week trial period to work with them and see how you mesh. If you find that you don’t like the developer or the quality of work, you won’t get charged, and they’ll find someone else for you. I never had to do that, but it’s nice to know that that sort of guarantee exists, just to reduce your risk.
Toptal Review: The good
Free trial - Like I said, the two week period reduces your risk. If you don’t like the developer or the work, find someone else or don’t pay anything.
If your dev quits working, they can find someone else - Since Toptal itself would have some history of what your project is built on, you don’t have to know what you’re talking about technically. I’m not a technical founder, and while I know what languages my apps are built in, it’s okay if you don’t know that, because Toptal can help you find someone else. So there’s a reassurance there that you’ll be able to get more help for your project no matter what. This helps too if you build something, finish it, then realize you want to further improve it.
Project manager - You’ll have a contact at Toptal other than your developer, who can help you with your project or hiring in the future
More than just developers now - Toptal has been expanding, and now offers graphic designers too, which could be awesome to combine with one of their developers so that your project looks and works beautifully. They also have project managers, product managers, and finance experts too.
Flexible work load - Need a developer only for 8 weeks? Need someone only 10 hours a week? They can work with you to find the right amount of dev muscle for your project.
Developer has been great to work with - In my experience, my developer is awesome, and funny too. He’s quick to respond, and always happy to help.
Toptal Review: The bad
They take a big cut - Toptal takes about 50% of the gross that you pay them for the development work, which feels a little steep, but they have marketing and overhead to cover, so it’s understandable. Knowing that your dev gets half of what you pay for their work kind of stinks though.
Some developers may not be a good fit - Like I said earlier, one of the devs I interviewed just didn’t seem fun, but it was really easy to get a new one to interview, who I then hired.
Costs - What is Toptal pricing like?
This would vary a ton I’m sure, but I paid $55 an hour for my developer. For him to build out my startup was about $7000. I reduced the cost though by designing and building the front end myself, and having him just automate it and build the backend and the administration panels etc.
It’s like hiring someone to build a house. You could pay a ton to get a big mansion built, or something reasonable to build a moderate house, or maybe something small for just a really nice shed. Costs vary depending on size and scope.
That $55 an hour seems pretty fair and pretty average. I’ve hired a developer in Russia for really small jobs for only $20 an hour from Upwork, but I wouldn’t expect him to be around in the future. And I’ve paid $75 an hour for local developers in my town. So $55 is fine.
Give Toptal a shot
So yeah, if you’re thinking about trying Toptal to build an entire project, or fix up a project after your previous developer let you down, I can honestly recommend them.
If you have any questions about working with them, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to answer them.