Updated: Jun 23, 2019
Founding a tech startup is all the rage these days, but how do you build an awesome tech product, if you don’t have technical skills? There seems to be a growing number of founders who can’t launch their idea because they don’t have the technical expertise to do so or can’t find a co-founder with those skills. The Harvard Business Review suggests that your startup is more likely to succeed, if your founding team has the requisite technical skills. So, how do you find a technical co-founder for your tech startup?
Who is a Technical Co-Founder?
A technical founder/ co-founder plays a key role in any startup. They’re the person on the founding team responsible for all tech related processes, and as a cofounder, they’re entitled to a share of the profits. Generally, they’re someone you already know. You’ve either worked with them at a prior company, or you went to University with them, or have some other longer-standing relationship.
Why you might need one
First of all, it’s entirely possible to build a successful tech start-up without a technical co-founder. Airbnb’s Brian Chesky was a designer and Pandora Radio CEO Tim Westergren was a musician.
Alternatives to getting a technical co-founder include:
Learn how to code: Pick up coding. It’s not that hard, and it pays off. How are you hoping to manage a technical team if you don’t understand what they do? MBTN Startup School is a point for would-be coders, to learn a versatile language like Python.
Outsource your tech: Hire an external company to build your tech product (think CTO as a service provider). An outsourced team that will care about all your development processes — not as just a contractor but as an extension of your own internal team.
Hire a CTO: A CTO is similar to your tech co-founder in terms of day-to-day responsibilities, but different, primarily in how you go about finding them and their relative stake in the company. A CTO is someone you find after the idea is well-formed and you need the skills of a senior technologist. They are one of the first, if not THE first, employee of the company.
However, you need to understand how important it is to have a co-founder in this role. Think about how much faster you can go, and thus, how much runway you will have to iterate to product market fit. Regardless of what you think, know that if you plan to fundraise, any investor will think this.
How to Find a Technical Co-Founder
One you’ve decided to go down this route, here are some tried and tested tactics to finding your perfect tech co-founder:
Start with a friend: Make a list of everyone you know, who writes code, and actually enjoys it. Then figure out if you can work with them. Hang out more, work on a mini side project, and see how you get on. Once you’ve found the person who is a good fit, make them an offer. An offer would typically include a salary and some equity. If you don’t have the budget to offer a salary, then you would want to offer a significant enough amount of equity to make it worth their while (think 50/ 50 split).
Online Platforms: Such as СoFoundersLab, a platform that helps entrepreneurial-minded people access the resources they need to thrive. It’s one of the best options to find a technical co-founder for a start-up. Another is Founders Nation, a platform with similar options to CoFoundersLab. It was built to connect dreamers who wish to make the world a better place through innovation and technology. Last but not least, Angel.co, a popular platform created for start-ups, investors, and professionals to find each other. Here, you can find a technical co-founder, a CTO or experienced developers. All you need to do is to register as a recruiter and post the vacancy. Also, there are filters available to navigate through the professionals’ profiles.
Work at a Tech Startup: You’re probably shaking your head reading this. If you’re planning to build your own startup, you might be wondering why you would “waste” one or two years of your time working somewhere else, simply to meet a potential co-founder? You have to remember that building a successful company could take your entire career to achieve (think 10 – 20 years), so if it will cost you 2 years of your time, that’s a small price to pay. Also, notice I have suggested you should work at a tech startup, and not a big tech company. If you don’t have technical skills, working at Google or Facebook will place you in a non-technical role, which doesn’t make it any easier for you to build meaningful relationships with software engineers.
How to protect yourself if things go wrong
What if you fall out with your co-founder and they wake up one day and walk away with all of your code, what do you do then? Well this is why it’s important to have some key legal protections, from the get-go.
IP Assignments: An agreement that states all work (Intellectual property/ IP) produced by employees, founders, consultants etc of the company is automatically transferred to (owned by) the company.
Vesting Schedules: A process by which the parties (founders, employees etc) in the start-up accrue shares over a period of time, typically 4 years. In this case, for example, after 2 years, you would have accrued 50% of the shares allocated to you.
While there are success stories from tech startups with non-technical founders, I would strongly advise your founding team is set up with a good mix of requisite skills (including technical), if you want to build the right foundations for long-term success. Hopefully, this post has given you some useful tips on how to find a technical co-founder for your tech start-up. With this in mind, I wish you every success as you go out to build your venture.