Finding cofounders · Technical co-founder

Any advice on finding technical co-founder?

Logan Koshenka Entrepreneur in Residence at Draper University - Entrepreneurship Programs

August 9th, 2015

I've been working on my startup for a while now, and the big obstacle in my way is finding a technical co-founder. I come from a very small town in Ohio with no access to any tech talent, so I began traveling and attending meetups to network. Recently, I just completed Draper University, an entrepreneurship program in San Mateo, CA, and although I gained a ton of knowledge on growth, business development, fundraising, etc., I'm still struggling to find a full-stack developer to come on board as CTO. (I decided to stay in the Silicon Valley to pursue this.) Everybody wants to be paid, which is something I cannot afford to do. I have a prototype built with over 200 early adopters, connections to investors, and mockups for the beta ready! This is super frustrating because I want to get to a fully functioning beta as soon as possible to continue growing! Any advice? Right now, I'm scouring the internet, attending meetups, asking around, posting jobs. I realize this is a huge challenge in the world of entrepreneurship, but I just want some opinions on strategies you may have used, success stories, or what CTO's look for when joining someone non-technical. 

Stephen Cataldo

August 9th, 2015

To get my attention you'd need to answer this question quickly and up-front:
(1) If you can't yet convince investors who study business plans that your business is worth investing in, why should I invest myself?

Non-funded non-technical founders have a bad reputation among tech people, what makes your project different? If you're on a site like Founder Dating, you might find people who want to be founders, so:
(2) What does partnership with you look like? Do I feel like I founded a company at the end of my work-day and work-year, or do I take all those risks while feeling (no matter how the money works out) like an employee? My experiences so far have been that being in a CTO-if-we-get-funded role has felt less empowered than a regular job, the opposite of my motivation in joining startups.

And last, a lot of techies are more introverted but to the point negotiators, and a lot of MBAs are louder and also have a lot of assumptions and language that a non-Silicon-Valley-veteran (you have no money) might not be familiar with, or trust. So (to overgeneralize, but this matches what I've experienced) don't spiel and do ask questions you might not need to ask an mba that make it easy for them to negotiate: do you feel like the equity I'm offering is fair? do you see how I came up with those numbers, what do you think of that approach? what would it take to for you to take this risk?

Logan Kleier

August 9th, 2015

Experienced developers/CTOs are not likely to join a startup without much traction. In other words, you're a high risk, low reward bet for them. They've likely heard 100 different pitches about how they should join this new startup and how it's going to be the next Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.. Many developers value the stability of a paycheck and prefer to be your employee with a very small equity share, rather than be a co-founder with a large equity share and little salary. If I were you, I'd think about how you can bootstrap your way to success using contractors for the short term and then hiring someone part time once you have enough traction. Traction solves so many issues; including your ability to attract talent. Naturally, your opportunities for angel and VC money are limited if you don't have an equity partner, but perhaps you don't need that money right now.

Aaron Lim Data & Analytics | Product Management | Entrepreneur

August 11th, 2015

As a technical founder who is always surrounded by non-technical people, this is what I would personally look for.

1. Traction - as others have mentioned, traction is king (whether it be with investors, users, paying customers, or ideally all of the above). We want to know that we are joining something that is already moving at a fast pace and that we're coming in to help accelerate that / bring it to the next stage; not something that could potentially go somewhere if only there was someone to help it start. Ideas are pitched every day that are nothing more than theory and finger in the wind predictions so having something to show will really differentiate you from others. Sounds like you're already working towards this with the prototype and 200 early adopters so that is good.

2. Skillset / Experience - non techies need a CTO to code up the product. In return, show the techies why they need you. A truly compelling scenario would be one that the potential CTO can see that you have everything non-technical covered. Separating roles (e.g. the non-tech does 'sales & marketing, fundraising') is not enough, you need to show why you are an expert in those fields beyond any other non-technical founder we've talked to (e.g. you have a very specific 'in' with the market you're targeting, you've got 10 investors lined up to invest when the prototype is ready, you have hundreds of thousands of followers on <social media platform>). If we see that everything else is firing on all cylinders except the tech, then we can focus 100% on that and not have to question / worry about the rest.

3. A Compelling Story / Plan - beyond and perhaps even before telling us the actual product you're trying to create, sell us on why it is so desperately needed in the first place. Build a high level narrative around the problems that exist and why current solutions don't work, and then go into the specific solution you came up with. While we may be narrowly focused in building a single product, we also want to know where it fits in the grander scheme and how it will impact the world. Similarly, show a well thought out plan on the various stages of the company and how that will lead to inevitable success, with a large focus on the concurrent technical / non-technical timelines and how they fit together. You'll have to proactively fight the unfair (but perhaps not unfounded) perception that the non-technical guy will sit around twiddling their thumbs while we pour nights and weekends into building a product, and then get to work once it is done.

Lastly, don't position the technical work as just stuff that needs to get done so <more interesting next step> can happen. This interestingly happens quite often (e.g. "All I need is a simple iPhone app that sends messages and we'll be the next Twitter!"). It downplays our contribution to the overall company and shows naivety in how much actual work is required on all fronts for a startup to succeed.

In summary, make it apparent to the potential CTO that you've got everything not only figured out, but working in practice. Show that the technical product is just one piece of the equation and everything else is already in place, and they can rely on you 100% to deliver on all of those items (because you already have).

Aaron Lim Data & Analytics | Product Management | Entrepreneur

August 11th, 2015

Actually here is a better summary of my entire previous post:

A good technical founder knows with 99.9% certainty that they can deliver whatever you ask and need. The majority of apps/sites are actually quite simple in terms of coding and logic, though they may still take a lot of time and skill to develop. Unless you're creating a new breakthrough technology (very unlikely, especially by a non-technical founder), progress and completion is pretty much fully under the control of the CTO.

Now flip the question the other way: how certain are they that you can deliver on the "business aspects" to make the company succeed? Getting to critical mass of users/paying customers, raising funds, growing the company while fighting off competitors - these are all insanely difficult tasks that are reliant on many factors beyond your control. In all likelihood, even a generous probability of achieving those goals will be far less than 50%.

This is the crux of the issue. A good techie knows they can deliver the technology with virtually 100% certainty, while the chances of the business side holding up their end of the bargain is low at best - why would they agree to such an imbalanced expected outcome? 

Solution: show them that you're able to / have already maximized the probability of the business side delivering results, and that it is all within your control, and you've balanced the equation to make for a much more fair and compelling proposition.

ps. this may seem one-sided but it is always the burden of the first founder (technical or not) to prove themselves to anyone they are courting to join. Arguments can be made the other way as well.

Eleanor Carman Incoming BLP Sales Associate at LinkedIn

August 11th, 2015

This is an important question and there are many like it already on FD. Here is one about finding the right tech cofounder. And here is one about being approachable - both super helpful. Make sure you do a quick search before posting and follow the topics you're interested in so you receive notifications when there are any updates. 

Lane Campbell Lifelong Entrepreneur

August 9th, 2015

I found a CTO co founder but I also undertook learning to code.  If you can't sell someone on your idea then learn the skills yourself.  I highly recommend you start by picking up a copy of the book the clean coder as a starting place. 

Once you learn enough about programming to do it yourself you'll also be able to recruit other technical people into the team.



Logan Koshenka Entrepreneur in Residence at Draper University - Entrepreneurship Programs

August 9th, 2015

Thanks Stephen. 

The first question is simple: The majority of investors won't invest in sole founders. They want to see that you can build a team, which is totally understandable. It just creates a chicken-and-egg kind of ordeal. 

And yes, I understand that many non technical founders underestimate the ability of developers and try to hog equity, which is certainly not what I'm about. I think that I've gotten just about as far as possible on my own, which I thought would give me an advantage over people without a prototype or connections to investors. And I agree with being 100% transparent and communicating upfront about all issues. 

Thanks for the advice! 

Monica Borrell CEO and Founder at Cardsmith

August 9th, 2015

I would suggest focusing on finding someone who will want to work for a shared purpose with you. What need does your product fill?  How will it make the world a better place? What values and culture do you see for your team? If you have 200 early adopters that are truly getting value, that is a good start. You should try to find the right person who will share your vision, offer them a more than fair equity package, and the treat them like gold. As you know this isn't easy, and it may take time. Keep the business moving forward in any way that you can (as others here are suggesting) in the meantime.  

Valera Kushnir UI/UX - Client Relationship Manager at Dabble Lab: early stage product development, mobile apps and start ups.

August 12th, 2015

Logan, 

Is there a reason you focus so much on investors? Building a great product should be the first of your concern. The investors will come after that. 

Colm Murphy Cardiologist, Cofounder at Zen Medical Innovations

August 20th, 2015

I agree with Logan.  I've spent the last 6 months looking for a technical cofounder without much success.  I'm going the bootstrapping route and building as much of the initial product with contractors until I can gain traction in the community, with the hope the this will de-risk the proposition in the eyes of someone with CTO potential.  Best of luck!