• November 24, 2015

How to Find the Right Technical Cofounder

How to Find the Right Technical Cofounder

While many startups on our platform are deep in the growth stage, we’ve also helped proven and serial entrepreneurs to start building new companies from the idea stage. Specifically, we’ve helped non-technical founders who have an excellent idea make connections with savvy tech talent to get their idea off the ground.

Most institutional investors won’t back a technical startup without a technical co-founder, so finding one can be critically important. Our advice is always to secure that technical support as early as possible – and to not cut corners when it comes to the production of the product. In some edge cases, an investor might consider backing a non-technical founder with prior experience, but that founder will quickly need to determine how they are going to start building the prototype – and you don’t want to rush into that decision.

Here are some tips and best practices when building out the technical side of your startup and finding the right co-founder:

Understand your value and create your profile. Smart people come up with smart ideas every day, but a great idea won’t get very far without someone technical to guide and build it. Given that technical talent is in such high demand, it’s important to make the case for why your idea is one they should get behind, and why you are the person they should partner with. So what are your strengths? Emphasize your experiences and the success you’ve had practicing your strengths, such as managing a team, fundraising, sales, marketing, finance, etc. Provide specific examples and data to show how you’ve grown other companies and details of those exits, if possible.

Validate your idea and be ready to prove it. As soon as you approach a developer, they will want to feel confident that you’ve truly thought out the product idea and market. If you haven’t already, do all the necessary research and due-diligence that your prospective users actually need the solution you are proposing. Have a keen understanding of what it will take to get to product market fit. Further, be ready to present that research and back it up with data and concrete feedback from various influencers in your space. Don’t leave potential co-founders with any questions about the market size, the challenges you’ll face, or the risks inherent in pursuing your idea.

Understand your needs. Just because you aren’t technical doesn’t mean you can’t do your homework and have an understanding of the technical needs of your business. For instance, work with an expert to map out your technical prototype and the different technologies you anticipate needing (think different programming languages, mobile UI/UX designer skills, etc.)

Exhaust your network. If you have been involved in a startup before, or are a repeat founder, you’ve hopefully done a good job of creating a local or industry-specific profile for yourself in the  community. In doing so, you’ve likely made dozens of extremely valuable connections to professionals who are technical or are connected to technical professionals. This is a logical place to start as you can trust your network and will have a much better understanding of a potential co-founders background and experience. If your technical contacts are tied up in their own projects or happy at their jobs, don’t be afraid to ask them for introductions to other engineers that they are connected to. You can map these requests by doing research on social networks like LinkedIn or AngelList. For instance, create a wishlist of engineers that you would like to be introduced to based on their past work, and work backwards by researching how you are connected to them and ways in which you can broker an intro. Further, if you’ve had any discussions with investors – institutional or angel – and they’ve shown early interest in your idea, ask if there are any technical co-founders they know of that are looking for a new opportunity.

Look for new online networks. There are numerous online networking sites specifically focused on connecting potential founders in various industries including tech. Similar to any strategy we’ve mentioned, it’s worth testing them out and seeing what connections you can make. Examples include CofoundersLab, Founder2Be, FounderDating, TechCofounder, etc.

Attend engineer meetups. Developers and engineers that attend meetups are, at the very least, hoping to learn something new, and most likely are interested in meeting different folks in their community. If you’re lucky, you could connect with an engineer who is looking for the perfect, new opportunity to pursue. Use these public meetups/events to learn what makes engineers tick and the types of companies and technologies that excite them. The etiquette for attending such events is important too – don’t treat the meetups a place to pitch or sell your business up front. Rather, look at it as a place for relationship building, and to learn more about an aspect of the business that you’re not familiar with.

Lean on your alumni network. Your school does a lot to keep their alumni community connected, and they are especially eager to connect alumni in business. If your university is local to you, check out events at the school specific to engineers or developers. If you’ve moved away, connect with the school to see if they host events in your city, but more importantly, if they have access to alumni directories established in your city.

Demonstrate how valuable your potential co-founder candidate will be to the business. Technically, this person is bringing an invaluable component to your business and you need to determine how they will be compensated as a result. Ultimately, the final breakdown of salary, options, equity, benefits, etc. should be equal or favor the new founder to join you. If you aren’t willing to give up a significant amount of your business from an ownership perspective, you should reconsider whether you need a co-founder or just senior tech talent.  

Don’t assume you can do it yourself. Teaching yourself to code is quite the undertaking, and you will always run into issues during deployment and ongoing development. Coding is a craft and it’s impressive if you can teach yourself, but if you want to jump on a business idea quickly, you will need outside help.

Outsource only if you must. Technical entrepreneurs can outsource help on development because they understand exactly what to look for and what they need. Non-technical entrepreneurs will almost certainly run into issues, especially when knowledge and language barriers get in the way. You can quickly spend a lot of time and money getting outsourcers up to speed and on track, leaving little room for error. Finally, if you are a non-technical founder, you don’t want your technical expertise outsourced to those with little understanding and investment into your business.

Finding technical talent to lead your startup development and ongoing innovation can be extremely difficult, but invaluable once you have it. In addition to possessing an attractive business idea & model, being a solid business person and maintaining a positive reputation within your community will contribute to any success you have in attracting founder material. Technical talent is in extremely high demand for a reason – it’s hard work. Once you find a prime candidate, offer them a deal they can’t pass up, and make it a quality partnership they value.

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