Finding cofounders · Software Engineering

How to determine possible tech co-founder capability if you don't code?

Christopher Wilson Tech product manager, Infusionsoft expert, process automation fanatic, veteran startup exec, & seasoned pitch man.

February 4th, 2015

We are a team of 2 business co-founders looking for a technical co-founder and we think we found one... however how do you determine if the person is worth their salt technically?  They are a good cultural fit and we have worked out a vesting deal that only begins if they can complete the beta version and it works well, however if we make the wrong choice, we are set back many months. 

We have an MVP built by low cost contractors to show viability, so next step is a private beta to build and get out to users by utilizing this person's tech skills. 

  • Do you hire someone who has a deep background in the technology stack to interview?
  • Do you allow them a trial to see if they can pull it off (like we have arranged)?
  • Any other suggestions?

We have all the business and contract side covered, but the tech side is our biggest hole in the team and we want to fill it well the first time if possible. 

Corey Blaser Sailor. Mormon. Entrepreneur.

February 4th, 2015

Do you know any other senior devs personally?

If not, then yeah, my suggestion is to find a CTO or senior dev with domain experience from another non-competing company that your respect and ask them if they would help you determine their skills. Most startup founders are willing to lend the occasional hand. (Someone helped them at some point too.)

But regardless, you need to have a trial period. Our policy is at least 12 weeks, but I know some companies do 6 months or more. We believe that we can judge someone within 12 weeks to determine if they are the right person in the right job. They may not work out in the position you need filled, they may not fit the culture like you expect, etc. etc. Just be upfront about the trial and have reviews of both performance and code every few weeks by someone you trust.

Oswaldo Alvarez Experienced CTO. Helping startups build engineering teams

February 4th, 2015

Is very common this problem. Many people find a friend with IT background and together interview candidates. I recommend create a 1 month experiment and if you are happy you can continue. Other very good thing is try to find an Technological entrepreneur more than a simple software developer, there are a lot software developer without passion about being an entrepreneur and that can be a problem later.

Joshua Greenwald

February 4th, 2015

Great question. I recommend getting a tech advisor whose salt you already know - and having them input on the interviewing and check of their work routinely to see what they think. It's ok you yourself might not have the qualification, but find someone who incontrovertibly does. Also, curious, how did you solve the contract side? What kinds of vesting legal markers do you use? Curious to talk more if you can share those aspects, as I am trying to workout similar right now in a different space.

Kendrick Taylor Founder at Curious Inc.

February 4th, 2015

Find a CTO / Director of Engineering in your network and ask them to interview the candidate. The interviewer should be technically competent, and people competent, because they'll be checking for technical chops as well as technical culture chops. I do this a few times a year for people in my networks. I usually do it for free, it's good karma, not to mention it's not worth the hassle of billing the 30/60 minutes. It's how all the nontechnical people I know have vetted their first technical hires. Everyone I know that's handled it this way has been happy. This piece of advice isn't relevant to you, but since others may read it: anyone you would want to interview your candidate is going to be very busy, don't waste their time, and make sure you're going to hire this person if they give the ok. They should be the last check in your hiring process. The person you hire should be able to take over these responsibilities for all your future technical hires, so you should only have to ask once if it goes well.

Christopher Wilson Tech product manager, Infusionsoft expert, process automation fanatic, veteran startup exec, & seasoned pitch man.

February 4th, 2015

He has agreed to work on the project for 25-30 hours a week after his "regular" job to finish a beta dev. 

Here is what we worked out as a win/win regardless of what happens: 
  • Equity = Possible 20% as a Co-Founder

  • Successful Beta = 25% vesting of his agreed upon equity, 4 year vesting thereafter

  • Unsuccessful Beta  or late delivery of milestones = 0% equity and no future opportunity

  • Cultural Fit + Successful Beta = Yes - We as founders will invite him as a full Co-Founder to the team

  • Not a Good Cultural Fit + Successful Beta = Founders will pay for code based on hours worked and pre-determined rate.  0% equity

  • Code Ownership - He retains code while on trial basis as we build trust (non compete and NDA signed)  If accepted (see above cultural + functional code ) he moves forward with equity and company owns code.  If founders pay for functional code, he walks with cash and no equity. 

Sridhar Rajagopal

February 4th, 2015

> Unsuccessful Beta or late delivery of milestones = 0% equity and no future opportunity

I would be cautious about this - there is a difference between late delivery of milestones because of ineptitude vs. because of the uncertainties involved with a startup endeavor.

As a non-technical founder, there is a tendency to not appreciate the amount of effort involved in getting the coding and other work done.

I second the points made by Corey Blaser - it would be helpful for you to get some technical advisor (or advisors) who can help with the interview/hiring process, as well as reality checks with regards to the development efforts themselves.

Tom Maiaroto Full Stack Consultant

February 4th, 2015

I suspect you can answer the cultural fit parts...But when it comes to assessing technical skill, this kinda goes back to that other discussion about programmer tests. 

My position of course is that they don't work. I always suggest asking other people for opinions when you don't know yourself. You'll also get a really good impartial assessment this way. I agree with what Corey has said here.

Corey Blaser Sailor. Mormon. Entrepreneur.

February 4th, 2015

Yeah, don't waste your time and money on tests. As a non-tech person, you would not really be able to read what you need to from them anyway. And having general knowledge about coding is completely different than the ability to architect and execute like an entrepreneur. Only a real person with foresight and experience can help you with that.


February 4th, 2015

So, a couple things:
1. I strongly suggest you find a technical advisor asap - it's much easier than finding a technical cofounder (NOT a replacement) they will help with big decisions, help you avoid mistakes and be a great resource for whomever you do eventually find. If you haven't search on FounderDating there are tons of really awesome technical advisors. You should 1M% start there. Even the best technical people have great tech advisors.
2. Remember you're not "hiring" you're looking for a partner. Just the way you tagged this discussion is a with "hiring" and it's different. 
3. With #2 in mind read this

Brian York Founder/CEO at Bliss

February 5th, 2015

This problem we are solving at Bliss:

We give real-time visibility into the code for business-side founders so you don't waste time & money on engineering resources that aren't going to work out.
Our tool provides automated audits to review code quality, code value, and technical debt -- all easily digestible for the non-technical entrepreneur.

Also, we have a blog about best practices for non-technical entrepreneurs:
It's a new blog (last week) and our second topic covered 'code tests' as a simple step for a non-techie to evaluate a potential CTO/tech lead.

Feel free to message me if you need additional help.