Hi - I'm the guy bringing the concept, market access, sales, etc to the table. How do I go about assessing the skills of the main technical hire, when my own knowledge in this space is mediocre?
I think the best way is to work with them for some pre-defined period to understand their working style and their commitment towards the Idea.
If you feel no value is being added you can part ways.
Maybe it's a little time taking process but I think its the best even we follow a similar process at my company where we provide idea refinement and technical POC for free and if we feel the idea is good and the founder has the potential to make it a success we get into an agreement.
I see a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with this question, perhaps this will help.
You can't evaluate them any more than if you were to try and evaluate Elevator Mechanics, Food Scientists and Funeral Service Managers.
This is equally difficult for any party to a co-foundership. (No, having an "idea" does not make you "good" or "useful" in the eyes of a technical cofounder...you equally must sell yourself as the best person to partner with.)
This response comes in two parts.
One is how does one identify talent and abilities that are critical to your business and Two is how does one ensure cofounders are fully trusted to engage the best of their abilities.
Firstly, it is true, you can't evaluate them so don't even try. Of course talk to them, call references if you like, but you are seeking a peer, a co-founder, a partner and co-equal owner of responsibility. A creator. You must find a person who you trust but is also very different than you (contrary to popular belief you don't actually even have to like your cofounders).
The second, short answer is Equity. Equity is the binder that aligns your values with those who work independently of your understanding. Those with a complimentary expertise who must be equally responsible for critical parts of building something new.
So, assign Equity as if it what it is: responsibility. If their contribution is indeed critical? Equity should show it.
Shout out your idea to find people passionate enough and straightforward enough for you to find success as a team and most of all -- DOT IT.
There is no try.
Dig into their past experience. For example ask them what they have they worked on that was similar to your product concept. How many were on the team, what was their role, how long did it take, what features did they work on etc etc. Get them to explain the architecture in layman's terms. What were the challenges, how did they resolve them. How many users were there, and how did they support it. Ask them how they would approach building your product, what framework/language/cloud services they would use and why - you’re not looking for a right/wrong answer, just if they have thought about it and can explain it to you.
You will get a good feel for someone with these types of questions. When you find someone you like then of course check the references. If you have any tech friends then you could also ask them to do a final interview when you find someone you like.
Patrick, you ask a great question and one that is at the core of what this site, and any "cofounder" relationship, is about. Your question has several layers to it which I would like to unpack.
First of all it presupposes that the way to launch a startup is to partner with an individual as a technical co-founder. Second, it presupposes that when you do find the right "person" you should give them equity. Then your question is "How do I assess this technical individual to whom I'm expecting to give equity?". You ask this question acknowledging that you're not technical and in your opinion not qualified to properly assess such a person.
I would strongly propose that your first two presuppositions are faulty and not at all required to accomplish your goal.
First, what is needed to launch a startup from a technical point of view is not the domain of a single technical individual. You could find the world's best technical person but the technical requirements in launching a modern app-based startup require a team, not a single superstar. That is why any well-successful startup hires an initial leader and then that person hires the technical team. So what you really need is a team, not an individual, with the blend of skillsets that are required to get an idea off the ground technically.
Second, it is not at all required to give equity to a technical resource to help you get your product to launch. Giving equity is like getting married and it is a decision that carries a lot of entanglements. Get into bed with the wrong person and it can be extremely difficult to untangle yourself. This can seriously impede the forward momentum of your new venture and it is not something that you have to do. Nobody wise would get married on a whim without first getting to know their future lifelong partner. So it is in business. You can absolutely engage a skilled technical person or team and work on delivering milestones and then reassess at that point once you have some working history together. The right technical resource will not be hungry for early equity. They will want to scope you out and determine whether you're worth partnering with as much as you do with them.
The point here is that you can hire a team, not an individual, pay them to provide a specific deliverable. Once you have that, you can determine whether you want to keep working with them on a straight paid basis or whether you want to offer additional incentive in the form of equity, profit-sharing, royalties etc.
Third, you can absolutely assess a technical partner without being technical yourself. How can I say this? I can say this because at the end of the day a technical resource has to deliver something. If they can't articulate that ahead of time, lay out a logical plan free of technical gobbledygook and show you how that accomplishes your goals, then they're not the right person/team for you.
That is what a technical partner should be able to provide you and you don't need any technical understanding to vet that. That is just simple business. The right technical person should actually do the opposite of what everyone usually thinks they should do. They should actually make it very simple and able to be communicated in plain English. Once that makes sense, you can easily approach knowledgeable technical people and vet their technical plan to ensure it passes the sniff and sanity tests. But the most important thing is the approach, the thinking, the plan, the ability to reduce technical risks and a clear understanding of the business goals. Most technical people don't have these skills and that is why you shouldn't hire most people. There are people and teams with these skillsets and they are the ONLY people you should hire at any point in your growth. There is much more I could say on this but let me keep it simple for now.
So how can you as a non-technical person vet a potential technical partner? There are a number of ways to do this. First and foremost, talk to them and see how well they can communicate. Can they convey technical concepts in plain English? Are they logical? Do they think clearly? Do you they demonstrate the confidence and the ability to challenge assumptions in order to arrive at the optimal solution? Do they have command of their area of expertise? Can they show you their approach and the roadmap they would follow to build your product? Can they articulate what your business goals are and how they would achieve those with their technical solution? Can they lay out a strategy for creating a prototype and a functional specification that will allow you to see your end product before you build it? Can they articulate the technology they would choose and how that would support your business objectives and minimize your risk?
So in conclusion I am saying that:
1. You are looking for a team that you will hire, not a single individual
2. You do not need to give them equity now, or perhaps ever, to keep them interested and get a quality output
3. You can absolutely do most of the vetting yourself with the tools I have provided in this post.
If you would like to discuss this in more detail, feel free to reach out and connect with me on here. I would be happy to speak with you. I'm in Ottawa and for over 20 years I have been helping startups like yourself all across North America bring products successfully to market.
Ask another technical founder, CTO of another startup probably to interview them. I can help you with that if you want.
are you not able to tap into your past experience working with people? (as your profile says experience with design and launch products)
You just hire a senior developer at this stage, or work with IT companies providing solutions to start with
This question has been plauging myself for the past couple of years now and haven't been able to find a Tech guy whom i can trust and who is in sync with my vision and thought process. Am still looking for the same and hope to find someone soon!
The same you would with any hire - but with a bigger implication.
Ask for references and call them.
You can’t review technical things, but you can discuss solutions created in the past by your esteemed co-founder, review statistics, performance, perform, end-user experience etc., Assign some problem-solving tasks/discussion within your ideas, verify though consultant.
You , Can't