A cool idea will remain just an idea if you don’t know how to implement it. Most importantly, do it without flaws, because nobody has time for countless iterations. But what if you are a non-technical entrepreneur? If you are unfamiliar with software architecture patterns, optimization techniques, or other methods, you risk facing a variety of challenges.
A technical co-founder or a chief technology officer (CTO) can change the situation. He is like a tech guru who defines the right technology stack and manages the entire development team. The thing is, the right specialist will not just make a business idea a reality, but allow you to do more and receive more.
Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin–these are the few examples of well-known ‘bingo’ choices of co-founders. In this article, I don’t promise to help you find the same tech geniuses, but I will try to make the search as effective as possible. Here is my advice on how to find a technical co-founder and make him say ‘yes’ to your offer.
Who is a Technical Co-founder?
Technical founders are not just one-sided software developers; they have a mix of technical and business expertise, enough to:
- Create development strategy;
- Choose the technology stack (tools, frameworks, languages);
- Ensure you have the right software engineers and other specialists required to implement the plan;
- Build a minimum viable product (MVP), prototype, or finished product.
The responsibilities may vary depending on the project. However, the primary goal is to help you get validation of an idea. Co-founders are the ones who strengthen your team and complement it with the necessary competencies. They perform founder-level tasks, and when they do their job well, you get the freedom to take bigger risks.
- When do you need to find a co-founder?
Not all projects require additional help. How do you know whether you need it? As practice shows, business and technical skills are two complementary parts of success. Great vision is impossible without proper implementation, and vice versa. If you do not have technical skills and experience, you will face challenges like:
- No strategy to solve a problem
- Absence of a dedicated companion
These are very common problems for non-tech people, who are frequently ‘idea generators’. They are good at communication, creativity, and analytical thinking. They see opportunities, carefully consider them, select the best ones to bring to life. No doubt, their function is equally valuable.
At the same time, they need to understand lots of technical nuances and gain that information fast. Sure, it is not that easy. In fact, it is one of the common pains for non-tech founders, and in my previous article, I uncovered all such dilemmas and suggested potential solutions. If you lack the knowledge of how to make things go smoothly in technical startups, I guess this article can be the ‘first-aid toolkit’ for you.
Let’s get back to the question of how to be sure everything is built the way you desire. If you don’t plan to dive into technical aspects by yourself, you can collaborate with an expert who possesses the essential skill set. Here is a gradation of what exactly specialists you can involve:
- Tech co-founder. This person can be seen as a product creator. He must be your closest teammate because his job is to be on the same side as you are. He oversees all technical processes and is accountable for development strategy. Furthermore, he reduces risks early on and ensures a secure future. No wonder he shares the company's profits (often on par with the founder).
- Chief Technology Officer (CTO). When you already have software engineers on your board, you can try to find a CTO to lead them. It is a hiring employee who will work specifically for a defined period. His job is to manage all processes, complete a certain amount of work, and achieve the desired goals. The downside of this option is a CTO may be less attached to the product, so he can leave a company once he decides to do so.
- Technical Leadership as a service. Another option is to hire an outsourced team to perform a certain amount of tasks within a set timeframe. It can be one individual that is a technical leader, a team of experienced executives, or both. A technical leader already has a certain mindset, so he can perform the role of an agile team facilitator. Sure, it is not so easy to find the exact service to meet all your needs. Besides, when a contractor stops working for various reasons, your project may likely be paused.
Evaluate your situation carefully prior to the choice.
What you should look for in a technical co-founder
An approach like ‘I need someone to build my app’ isn’t going to work. Your product is at stake, and literally, you put it in the hands of another person. No room for risks. That’s why it is necessary to check whether your candidate corresponds to qualities that make an excellent expert:
- Full dedication. It is not just a regular employee or a freelancer-kind of a guy who can drop projects halfway. It is a specialist to unlock your dream, so he must be fully dedicated.
- Passion. Challenges and hurdles are part of any project, and founders' conflicts are one of the most frequent causes of startup mortality. Everything changes when you have a trusting team member, especially an engineering leader, that is passionate about the joint mission. That’s why passion is supercritical for serious collaboration.
- Tech expertise. He should have significant coding experience (if more than 10 years,cool). Constant learning should be in his DNA. It will be advantageous if he has prior experience with similar projects, or has participated in the successful launch of his own projects. If you don't pay enough attention to how well he knows what he's doing, you could end up with debt, unreliable code, or bad tech stack choices.
- Alignment with your vision. It will be beneficial if your co-founder complements your vision. To identify such a person, I suggest a questionnaire prepared by Gloria Lin (CEO of SitelineHQ, formerly Stripe, Flipboard) for her The Founder Dating Playbook. This questionnaire includes 50 questions to ask a potential candidate, and if you think it is too much, here’s what Gloria says about it:
“Just like in dating, there’s an appropriate time to start tackling some tough questions: Do you want kids? Could you see yourself getting married? What’s your approach to personal finances? If you ask these on the first date, you might seem too intense. But if you date for years before ever bringing them up, that’s probably not ideal either. It’s about finding the approach that works for you and what you’re looking for in a co-founder.”
Keep in mind, the role of the co-founder is not to cheer you up by looking in the same direction, but to add something to your strengths. If you have a vision but can't supervise the work of developers, you need a systemic person who will establish the procedures and operational activities of the project.
- Chemistry. That's right, you read everything correctly. It is one of the key components of prosperous collaboration with co-founder, and I like how Antler explained it in their recent webinar How to find the ultimate co-founder (which I also recommend watching):
"If you aren't getting along with each other, or you don't have that kind of long term fit, it's just not going to work".
Short and honest. Many founders often neglect the necessity to evaluate whether there is instant chemistry between them, as well as the proof of sharing the same work ethics and values. In fact, these are decisive factors for choosing 'your' partner.
- Leadership. And the last important quality. In order to do the work successfully, your candidate must have perfect management skills. It will be great if he possesses his own network of developers, or has product expertise.
If you lack experience in hiring or have trouble with recruitment/interviewing candidates, one of my previous articles on how to hire software engineers may help you deal with this task.
Where to find a co-founder or a partner for a startup
How do you find a technical cofounder as a nontechnical founder? This question worries everyone. Because this position is quite complex and unique per each project, it is almost impossible to indicate where you will be able to find the right engineering leader who will correspond to all your criteria. It will be far more effective to try different methods and investigate what such experts do, what events they attend, and so on.
Here’s my selection of advice on where to find good-skilled specialists:
- Start with friends and co-workers.
My strong recommendation is to recall all potential people from your cycle. I like the tip that Michael Seibel shared, who is probably the most knowledgeable about the question. He suggests making a list of potential specialists that will suit you, ranking the top five among them, and only then making those people a real offer.
- Use job boards and create job openings.
You can start with the popular online workplaces or social networks like LinkedIn. It is great if you have enough time to stalk a bunch of profiles so that there will be more chances you can reach out to the right ones. I find these platforms useful to hit the target:
- Angel.co is a website for startups, angel investors, and job-seekers looking to work at startups. It allows posting various vacancies or viewing profiles and uses a convenient filter for search. In general, the audience there consists of progressive specialists, developers, engineers, and more. So it is totally a great place to find a technical cofounder.
- СoFoundersLab is another suitable platform I can recommend. Once you're registered, the system supplies you with a list of questions on what exactly you want to find. Then, it will personalize results as per your request.
- YCombinator cofounder matching platform. This is a separate platform, which was created on the basis of the famous Y Combinator accelerator, specifically to help to find a tech cofounder for business ideas. Here, everything is set up to find the people you need. First, you fill out a form about yourself, and then answer the suggested questions about your desired candidate. Next, the system sends to your email a list of potential candidates who are suitable for your parameters.
- On Deck. The platform provides different programs for anyone who wants to build their own products from scratch and advance in their career. For example, the On Deck Fellowship program usually attracts up to 150 interesting participants who are promoting their ideas, looking to join someone else's project, or simply striving for new opportunities for growth. Being a member of an impressive network of ambitious and top talent experts increases your chances of meeting a co-founder, CTO, or other employees who can assist you in resolving the core goals for your business.
- Indie Hackers is a bit different platform because it is more like a community. It allows viewing different discussions, live conversations in forums. Live dialogs will allow you to identify and catch like-minded people faster.
- Discord app and Slack channels.
One more useful way to be closer to excellent specialists is the use of co-founding threads. Typically, engineers use messengers like Discord and Slack for their work, and often they join threads they are interested in. You can find the channels by keywords and join them as well. For example, you can use /r/startups channel in Discord, and then filter search by tag #Cofounding or search request ‘find CTO’.
I also suggest checking out r/cofounder channel on Reddit. There are lots of open discussions out there, with plenty of talented people communicating with each other daily. You can find groups of developers talking about different technical issues, so you can see who has the skills you need to solve your problem. Or, you can start your own discussion, describe all business needs, and ask the audience to propose their solutions.
- Get involved in tech events.
Meetups and conferences can be an excellent place to make friends with a bunch of intelligent people and eventually meet your partner. Typically, they are attended by developers who chose to pursue their career, look for new job opportunities, and new projects to work with.
Monitor all hackathons / conferences and stay open to new acquaintances. They are helpful in observing a potential employee in action. You can understand how much value a person adds per unit of time and how well he can solve difficulties with limited resources.
How to convince someone to join your startup as a cofounder
The problem is, a skilled expert with an excellent mind may probably do his own startups or be employed somewhere else. The one who is ready to work on a new project is rare or hard to find. So when you find the right match, the next challenge is to make him say yes to your offer. In some sense, it is like asking a girl to marry you.
How do you convince a potential candidate to join you?
- Provide equity.
How much salary you can pay off and what technical cofounder equity is appropriate for you? Switch from communication to making an appealing offer. I find useful the advice shared by YC folks:
“More equity = more motivation.
Almost all startups fail. The more motivated the founders, the higher the chance of success. Getting a larger piece of the equity pie is worth nothing if the lack of motivation on your founding team leads to failure.”
Sure, while there is no revenue, there is nothing to share. In this case, don't hide the fact that you're just starting out. Be transparent with every detail, and show that you are ready to cover some risks. CTO will more likely join you if you calculate potential dangers and provide a safe environment.
- Pitch your project.
“First be convinced in yourself, be excited and obsessed with your idea”.
What makes your idea, product, and company be special? Try to explain it and make your speech attractive. Tell how exactly the project will earn and predict its payback. Also, it will be good but not necessary to build a prototype, or MVP to validate your product concept.
- List all opportunities for growth.
My final advice is to shift from 'I need you to help me with my product' to 'I offer you great career opportunities, interesting ideas to implement, a great company to work in, great colleagues, etc.'
- When is it better to cooperate with a CTO or a Tech Partner?
It may be a time-consuming process to find a proper specialist. It requires a deep understanding of human behavior, offering inspiring ideas, and developing new legal issues. So you may ask, do I really need it? Here are the reasons when it’s totally worthwhile to go for a CTO, tech cofounder, or a software development company:
- Sufficient budget
- The need for rapid value
Two heads are better than one. This is how everything works in startups, especially when one side is responsible for business vision, and other - for technical implementation. If you feel the need and can afford a reliable and intelligent partner on board, do it without any doubt.
Besides, it can be very risky and isolating to be a solo startup founder. In this case, involving a cofounder can be a good way to properly divide spheres of influence, delegate one part of the tasks, and so be calm in what you are doing.
Attracting the right experts is critical to the project's success. Don’t strive to find just a cofounder, but your business soulmate instead, a person you can trust, and rely on in any unpredictable situation.
Here’s the formula for choosing the right expert:
- Define what you are looking for;
- Use various platforms for search, ask your friends and colleagues about potential candidates, attend tech events, make friends with different people to faster reach your ‘match’;
- Filter out potential candidates;
- Define what a tech partner may look for in you;
- Attract the desired candidate, pitch your idea;
- Offer fair equity and opportunities for growth.
Every partnership is a matter of expectations. The more expectations are stated and discussed beforehand, the longer the partners will go side by side. That’s why the key is to agree on everything at the start.
Thanks for reading and Good luck!
And by the way, I’m CEO at Altigee where we help startups and tech companies build remote engineering teams or extend their existing teams with senior tech talent.
If you have a brilliant idea, we can help you with engineering leadership.