Finding cofounders

How to find an accomplished entrepreneur to join (tech-co founder's prespective)?


May 2nd, 2016

When a tech person is looking for an entrepreneur to join as a tech co-founder, The entrepreneur's experience and accomplishments might matter more than their new startup idea, no matter how impressive it is.

However, such entrepreneurs have already built a solid network of potential tech co-founders.

What is the best practice find the quality entrepreneurs who are in need for a tech co-founder and filter them from the less experienced and 'idea people'?

What is the top level of accomplishment to expect?
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Rob G

May 2nd, 2016

i think you eluded to the primary issue in your question:  "find the quality entrepreneurs who are in need for a tech co-founder and filter them from the less experienced and 'idea people'?"  If you are looking for "quality" and "experience" then I think the top-level filter should be quality and experience - in both startups, relevant markets and mature companies.  Experience buys a lot of things. I think it's best if that experience spans both startups and mature companies and both failure and success. with startups you want to clearly understand what roll they played (just along for the ride or were they responsible for meeting payroll?).  If mature company experience where did they start, how and why were they promoted, where did they end up and why and why did they leave?  Another important filter is breadth of experience - is their experience narrowly focused or have they succeeded at a variety of roles, especially the critical skills needed for a startup - technical/product and revenue (sales/marketing), even design and legal.  that will be important in their startup ventures.  That would be my first-level set of filters.  Also be sure you understand how to evaluate these experiences - "i did biz dev for a startup" is very different than "i personally did x and y and z and then i was asked to build a team to do this and my team generated $xx million in revenue for this company in this market over this time and then i was promoted again and I accomplished this and this".  Someone who has some relevant education, was continually promoted through various levels at (more) mature companies with a broad variety of assignments and successes (this indicates that management was grooming them for growth AND they have experience across more than one skill set needed for a startup to succeed - learning how to hire (evaluate people), fire (make hard decisions), manage people (organize and lead), products (ship things), tech (build things), P&L responsibility (manage revenues and expenses), budgeting (forecasting), etc..  Started a company or 2 who has perhaps failed and also succeeded at startups. Having succeeded and failed at startups is invaluable experience too - just knowing what it means to make payroll each moth is huge. 

Sam McAfee Building Popup Incubators for Corporate Innovation Programs

May 3rd, 2016

I love this question!

You don't see this side too often. The emphasis on Q&A sites, particularly this one, is "I am an accomplished business person, and having trouble sorting through all the wanna-be tech co-founders out there." Certainly a valid perspective. There are a lot of unqualified yahoos masquerading as capable CTOs.

But what about the smart, capable, engineering leader who is likewise wading through a sea of unqualified "idea people"?

I give advice regularly to non-technical cofounders about how they can best position themselves to attract the right technical cofounder. These are things I tell them we are looking for:
  • If the technical founders' job is to assume the lion's share of technical risk, then your job is to assume the lion's share of market risk. How are you doing that? Market risk includes above all knowing your customer and the problem you are proposing to solve for them. Can you illustrate evidence that you have already done work to identify and quantify customers? Have you conducted dozens of customer interviews before deciding you need a tech cofounder to build something? If you are searching for someone to build your prototype so that you can start pitching the idea to customers, you're already doing it wrong.
  • Do you have a realistic business model (however flaky and paper-thin) that shows you have actually thought about the market size, the unit economics, and the competition? Can you show me a spreadsheet that contains believable numbers backed by data or research, that together form a picture of a business that could actually work?
  • Do you have any experience recruiting and managing people? The non-technical founders' (CEO's) second most important job, after connecting with and understanding customers, is hiring the talent necessary to execute on the vision, setting their objectives and constraints, and then getting the hell out of their way. Have you ever successfully hired anyone? Have you managed groups of people? Can you provide references to former employees or subordinates who can vouch for your leadership abilities?
If any one of these three properties is missing in the non-technical founder you are having coffee with, I would politely pay for their drink, thank them for their time, and make it your next appointment on time. If they scored 2/3, make a connection on LinkedIn and keep in touch. Maybe they'll come around?

[Small, gentle relevant plug for myself: I am experimenting with a coaching program for non-tech founders. Would love this community's feedback on it. Trying to be non-spammy about this. It's relevant to the discussion. Hit me up over email or LI with your comments, rather than polluting this thread ;-)]

Jim Falvey General Counsel & Advisory Board Member at Green Key Technologies

May 2nd, 2016

Hello, Anonymous.  I think the replies provide some excellent insights.  I don't have much to add to their already well thought-out responses.  However, if you would like to chat briefly, please feel free to call me at: 312-404-5839 or email me at:

Good luck!


Chicke Fitzgerald

May 2nd, 2016

Don't assume that we all have tech co-founders, as that is not the case or we would not be here.

I believe that you must vet both the person and the idea. That is done through taking a long look at their last few ventures/projects and understanding what went wrong (or right) and why. Ask for references and do your homework.

Ideally FD will provide you with enough references just through the platform that you can get a preliminary comfort level. Then you MUST meet face to face, even if not in the same city. If you are going to be connected at the hip, then you have to be willing to make that investment of time and money to travel.

On the idea side, if it is out of your domain expertise, you will have to rely on the work that they have done in putting the business plan down on paper. Look at competitors in the space. See what you would be up against and whether the idea is truly game changing or just incrementally better than what is out there. See how big the competitive field is and who the major players are.

You also must decide what stage is ideal for you to get involved in the project:

1. IDEA stage - you have more chance of influencing the technical direction and the product roadmap, but will have to wait longer to see a return from your investment of time. Your equity would be greater if you come in at this stage.

2. MVP already done - Even if the MVP is already in place (as mine is), there is still an opportunity to influence the long term architecture and the product roadmap. Often, the base MVP will have to be rewritten, but due to market success with the product (or some level of failure), you will be able to do so quickly and with much more intelligence and insight than the original speculative MVP. There will be less equity at this juncture, depending on how close to break even the venture is, but it can still be worth your while. If there is already revenue, while it may not be enough to pay a salary, you may be able to do a revenue share deal in addition to milestone equity to accomplish the specific elements of the plan to move things forward.

That is my preferred method and I am currently seeking a tech co-founder. I'm in the second scenario.

As to the "top level of accomplishment to expect", I'm not sure what you are referring to.  If you are talking about the track record of the entrepreneur, don't be put off by failure.  Failure is the best teacher.  Those that have successfully built and flipped their companies likely already have the tech co-founder network to draw from.  If you are referring to their experience in their field, I happen to think that this is essential.  If they have been an executive in their field on the corporate side, that can mean that they have a strong network to sell to with their idea/product.

Shobhit Verma

May 2nd, 2016

This is actually one of the easier problems to solve.
If you are really good in technology then you should be able to impress some good *technical* founders (most of them go to various tech events or contribute to some popular library on github, you will need to tailor your strategy based on the kind of tech cofounder you idolise ). If you are genuine and useful, they will try to hire you at first and you can mention that you are looking for early stage startups.
Most of these guys get asked to be cofounders by strong business cofounders on a monthly basis. If they like you, they can do the introductions.

Brett Gardner

May 2nd, 2016

Age 16, Aborn Lawn Management, eventually selling at the age of 19 to focus on school. Attended University of Houston Main at the Bowers School of Business for a Business Management degree until 2009 when I had to leave the school behind to pursue a plant electrician position to gain capital to fund my next company. At age 24 I Co-Founded PMT Productions, a Houston based Theater Company, with good friend Eduardo Guzman which is currently producing over 6+ shows a year in the new Midtown Arts Center. PMT Productions has been featured in Broadway World, Houstonia Magazine, Houston Chronicle and more.  Age 26 (this year) I've opened had opened 3 companies, Amworx Inc. a (holding firm), Instrument Controls LP (a Electrical Engineering firm) and FoodRoll (a mobile app development firm,)

I have never owned a development company and we have tons of projects lined up. We do have a CDO who is handling the design/marketing for the company and each project already. We still need someone with technical know-how. I've been interviewing programmers locally and even poaching college students/CS clubs.. no luck. If you (or anyone reputable you could refer) are looking for a entrepreneur that has experience and looking for a CTO then you should defiantly send me a message. We are looking for someone with high level of mobile application programming experiance as well as be able to set up our servers. Knowlege of data usage for mobile apps would help us with our cost analysis as well.

We are also looking for a skilled Algorithmic Engineer.

Randar Puust

May 16th, 2016

I'm in this exact position right now, filtering out non-technical co-founders and it's a lot of work.  Sam McAfee has the right idea.  It is unfortunately a bit of a numbers game.  You have go wide, but filter early and fast if they are not prepared or experienced enough.

One story that I keep in the back of my mind is about a technical friend of mine who went through the same process 4 years ago.  He met with somebody who he was sure "was a waste of time".  But he ended up being convinced of the idea, they partnered up and are now a highly successful FinTech company.