With most live events closed due to Covid related restrictions, I've found it quite hard to find a technical co-founder. Of course, sites like CFL provide a great solution but it seems to me that finding a really good technical co-founder here is quite hard (because of huge demand and lower supply?).
I've been working full time for a few years to save up some money and start for myself eventually. I took the last few weeks to finalize a business plan about an idea I am really enthusiastic about and practice my pitch to friends and family. I feel like I'm comfortable enough to invest a bit in this business idea, but I'm not sure whether it is smart to just hire some freelancers or something like a remote team without technical expertise onboard.
What do you guys think? Is it essential to have a technical co-founder in the team, or is it OK to hire one or two technical guys to build the mvp/mlp/product for you? Do you have any experience with such? And what are good ways to find a good and trustworthy partner/freelancer?
Looking forward to your responses!
If it's a technical product you definitely need an experienced technical co-founder. A lot of non-techies seem to think that the 'idea' is worth much more than it is. In reality it is the execution of the idea that counts and there are plenty of ideas everywhere and every technical person have many ideas they'd like to persue. If you don't have a technical co-founder then how do you know if the people you are hiring are delivering a quality product? How do you convert your vision into something the coders can use/understand? who decides the underlying tech stack? Who will be the 'inventor' of a clever architecture (the hired coders wont)? How will investors have any faith that you can deliver the product?
As an example of what not to do: I was recently offered 10% of a pre-seed startup with two other partners, and although they eventually increased it somewhat I had to decline. My starting point was 33%, i.e. equal share to the 3 founders. Why would I join two non-tech founders with me having to build everything from scratch and then only receive 10%? With ideas being plenty, I could also just start building my own idea and keep 100%, or bring in a CEO/fundraiser and still keep 50+%
A single full-stack tech-co-founder can likely create a MVP and save you from having to hire: a frontend coder, backend coder, system engineer, database specialist and an architect as well as a manager to manage them all.
So my advice to a non-tech co-founder would be to find an experienced full-stack person (really full-stack who also knows about hardware) and offer them 50% or at minimum equal share but maybe even with a larger share than the person with the idea. I would look for System Engineers who have also frontend/app coding experience as well as prior business experience.
I think at some point it becomes essential to have an experienced technical co-founder. But there are things you can do, and I think you should do, to make it more attractive for technical founders to join your team. See my reply to another question how I think you can attract tech co-founders: https://cofounderslab.com/discuss/what-can-a-non-technical-co-founder-do-before-approaching-a-possible-technical-co-founder
In short, learn the Lean Startup Methodology and try to validate the problem, customers, and the solution as much as you can before starting to build a product (and keep practicing it after you are ready to build the product).
It does really work and you will easily find a tech founder willing to jump onboard purely on equity. In fact, they might agree to put in some cash into the company with you to grow it (good technical people are rich these days, believe me!)
This was exactly the situation when I co-founded my first startup, not only I didn't want a salary, I did put in cash from my savings into the company because the sales and marketing side of the business was so validated (e.g. we had 100k social media followers before writing a line of code) that all I wanted was to grow the business as fast as possible and as much as possible before the first round to help founders dilute the least possible.
If you still think you cannot get traction and validation without a CTO, hiring an experienced part-time CTO on a contract basis (even if it is a few hours per month) to help you pick the right people and build the right product is much better than spending money without a CTO.
Others mentioned investors want to see a technical co-founder, I agree, it's preferred to see a founder CTO, but a part-time CTO is much better than no CTO in your pitch deck. I have been on startup pitches as a part-time CTO and they raised capital successfully.
It's pretty tough to run a tech biz without a tech guy with skin in the game. That said, be sure to not rush into it. If it works, you could be together a long time. Make sure it's someone you like being around or it'll get a bit long....
With a technical founder on board, you should be able to make anything happen quickly in-house at a low cost - the sacrifice being equity obviously
I didn't realise their was a high demand for us techy types :D
If your product or service is made of software, any experienced investor would want an experienced tech resource on the team. To get something started, students from a local university may be willing to offer help in exchange for a line on their blank resume.
I am really thrilled and thankful for all your responses. Thanks a lot for taking so much time for the questions I posed.
I think most of the advice given here and also what I read on other similar threads boils down to the following: do everything within your power to define the problem, show that others experience the issue as well and are willing to pay for a fitting solution. So that's what I'll do even more, thanks.
I also became quite convinced that having a tech savvy co-founder is crucial, whether that is a technical co-founder or a (fractional) CTO. So I'll take some more time to find the right guy (or girl!) for the job. I don't think it would be a great idea to just hire an external team or freelancers to do the (technical) job, and I think most of you would agree.
I'm very happy with the suggestion to learn the Lean Startup Methodology. I think that's a very good suggestion and will follow up to it.
So again, thanks a lot for your replies. It really helped me!
While it is certainly a good idea to get some devs in to develop an MVP to get a product out to get traction, be careful of spending a lot of time and money on it while you're still looking for a CTO co-founder. The chances are a new tech lead may have very different views on the tech stack and approach you're taking and it can be very costly in time and money to re-build a product on a different stack. It's just something to be aware of.
I've been on both sides of this dilemma, first as a non-technical founder looking for a CTO. That was a long road and the project ended up being put on hold.
After that experience I learned to code and I was the initial developer on my next project, for which I was easily able to find co-founders and actually get the product off the ground.
The most frequent insecurity about hiring an external team is spending too much money on something that will then have to be discarded because it's not built so that it can scale, so my advice would be the following: find a tech advisor or fractional CTO who understands your business and can help you plan out the architecture for your app, and reduce it to an MVP. With that information at hand you can hire a small team to build your MVP and consult with your tech advisor along the way.
This way you can get started quickly, search for a permanent CTO and funding using your MVP, and know that that app is a base on which you can scale in the future instead of having to discard it to build something again from scratch.
If you're building a product that solves some business problem (find a bakery near you, help toddlers count to 1000) rather than a technological/scientific one (blockchain protocol from scratch, deep space asteroid mining done right) there is likely a click-point tool you can use to quickly bang out a product you can show people. The term for these types of tools is "low code" or "no code". A list for example: https://hackernoon.com/10-low-code-and-no-code-application-development-platforms-ew513y8q
Sure, you will likely have to build it from scratch with a tech co-founder; however, nowadays software is a very much living thing and you will not be able to architect and build today the things you don't know you'll need tomorrow. Even with a tech co-founder on board, you'll build things that don't scale, trash them and build more things that don't scale many times over until you arrive at a solution that works well (until the next time you need to scale.)
Thanks Nando, I think the idea of a fractional CTO/advisor might also be interesting. Do you have any suggestions for good platforms or methods to find a good advisor?