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Technical co-founder

I recently wrote the following post for Startup School founders who were trying to find a technical co-founder. I’m republishing here with some minor edits:

There seem to be many founders who can’t launch because they don’t have the strong technical skills to build what they want to build and don’t know how to find a technical co-founder. So we wanted to offer some advice.

First, are you technical enough? It really depends on what you’re building. If you’re developing new cancer drugs, you better be quite technical with biology. But if you’re building an iPhone app or website, you probably don’t have to be that technical to build the first version.

For example, watch Avni Patel Thompson’s talk, specifically the part on how she built and launched Poppy before she was able to convince a programmer to join her. You should think of all the ways you can patch together an MVP with existing non-coder tools, launch and get some users. At this point, it’s much easier to convince and get someone technical excited to join you vs when you just have an idea.

If you can’t find a way like Avni did, then consider the following:

  1. You first need to understand how important it is to have a technical co-founder. How much faster you can go, and thus have runway to iterate to product market fit. And regardless what you think, know that if you plan to fundraise, any investor will think this.
  2. Make a list of everyone you know from high school, college and workplace. Who from there knows how to write code and actually enjoys it? Note that just because they’re a CTO or manage engineers, it doesn’t mean they enjoy writing code.

    Then figure out if you can work with any of them. Start spending more time with them, e.g. working on a fun side project together. It doesn’t have to involve coding; just something that builds confidence that you can work well together.

    Finally, figure out a real offer to give them, which includes salary + equity. Then pitch them your real offer, and make them say no’ to you (or ideally yes’). Don’t do the ambiguous dance a lot of people do. Make a firm offer. If you don’t have money for salary and/or that person has no outside commitments requiring salary, then propose 50/50 equity split.

  3. If you can’t think of anyone, then consider how much harder it is to do a tech startup without a strong technical co-founder and succeed. Instead of struggling for two years, it might make more sense to spend some time in industry for two years and find your technical co-founder during this time. Tradeoff struggling today for much higher success tomorrow.

    One way to do this is to find companies with strong engineering cultures (nothing outsourced, etc). Then email the CEO and tell her/him why you’re passionate about working at their company and offer to do anything to help whether it’s customer service, bizops, or whatever schlep work is available. And say - if it doesn’t work out after 3 months, then just fire me. The point is to leverage the opportunity - no matter what role you get - to become friends with engineers and figure out if you’re compatible them (same process as above). In fact, you shouldn’t care what your role is; this isn’t for resume building.

Lastly, when you identify the right person. Instead of pitching them directly your idea. Brainstorm ideas with that person so it evolves with the both of you. This will be a good start to a hopefully lasting relationship of building together.

Note: Thanks to Michael Seibel for the discussion that lead to me writing this.

Posted on 2018-09-06