Technical co-founder · Outsourcing

Looking for guidance re: when to find a technical cofounder & when to hire a 3rd-party developer?

Nora Kelleher Culture junkie, problem-solver, & innovative marketer with a passion for people, technology, & design.

December 9th, 2015

I have a business idea that I'm passionate about, but as a first-time entrepreneur with a limited tech network, I'm unsure how to approach getting my tech startup off the ground. I've got the business side covered, paper prototypes and initial testing done, but I'd like to hear your opinions regarding whether it's best to find a technical cofounder or hire a third-party developer to build it at this stage. If you think finding a cofounder is best, any advice for doing so? And on the flip side, any suggestions for finding and managing the right development team?

Really appreciate your insight!

Rob G

December 9th, 2015

nora, do both.  the most important goal at this point is traction - building a product and getting users and/or paying customers.  That's not easy.  before you build anything you should sell it - find a way to get committed customers.  There's nothing worse than spending your time, sweat and money to build a product only to learn that the market doesn't want it.  Only once you know without question that customers will buy what you want to build should you then build.  Build an MVP first and go back and triple confirm that the market wants it. then sell some more and build some more.  While you are doing this you can be vetting resources to build it and fund it.  Each bit of traction shows investors (and co-founders are investors) that you can execute.  there are several posts on this subject already on FD so do some homework.  My suggestion is to pursue both a cofounder and a 3rd party developer. You could spend 3 months, a year... 3 years searching for and vetting co-founders.  Even when you've found one there's no guarantee things will work out.  While it is easier/faster to find 3rd-party developers you still need to vet them, manage them and pay them. Some may work for partial equity.  My point is, don't let your search for a cofounder get in the way of building traction.   

Simon Effing Technical Advisor and Scala Developer. I build sustainable MVPs for lean B2B startups.

December 20th, 2015

You are very lucky if you find a technical co-founder who joins in just for equity. And if you find somebody, it's a very critical commitment from your side, it's much easier to replace a hired person if things go wrong. 

Either way, find a technical partner who shows interest in your business and listens to you. Especially a lean development process requires a very tight feedback loop between business and tech. You will be surprised how much your own view of your business idea changes once you can touch the first button of your developing MVP. (very exciting moment, btw ;-) 
Look for somebody who is prepared for an extremely agile process where the product has to be changed more than once a day.

And don't be surprised if every candidate suggests a completely different way to approach the solution. The number of possible solutions to a given problem is infinite, and they all have their pros and cons. What matters most is that your technical partner masters the technology of her choice, understands your goals and gets along with you well.


Tom Jay

December 16th, 2015

If you can find someone that has the same level of passion that you do for a technical co-founder then there is no question, get them involved.

Remember this is a partnership not having them work cheap, if its not a 50/50 partnership then you might be better off paying for development, there are lots of places that can help with that.

Don't worry about NDA's, if the idea is strong enough to stand on its own, you need to support it with all the business components needed like marketing and fully execution to get it into the market.

Nothing says the first product in the market it the winner but it helps.

Find someone that has the same passion, if not DO NOT think they will work on the project for no pay and be happy with a small percentage, it just will not happen.

DO NOT hire a cheap college student part time unless this is a part time project.

Do hire someone with experience and lots of references and pay them a fair price. Remember that products need changes and maintenance over time to it may be a long term releationship.

Good Luck.

Faisal Memon iOS Department Technical Lead at Citrix ShareFile Quick Edit

December 20th, 2015

You have made a good first start by elaborating your ideas and seeing them form together at least on paper first.

The next step is to talk to people in your immediate family and friends, not necessarily tech, and show them what you have.  They are the best people because they ask the why, how, and what is xxxx questions.  So obvious holes get spotted first.  Plus you already trust them.

After that, talk to people who are offering their services as an advisor, maybe more than one.  There should be a logical progression now from your friends/family discussions.  So you can start to pick up who has sensible advice and can help you.

Once you have advisors in place you then start getting active in the specialist groups that tend to have people who are candidate CTOs and potential hired hands for your project.

I see most success coming from a solid two person partnership.  Otherwise there is too much work or stress, and motivation hurdles.  Your CTO is not just a employee for equity, he or she is a partner on the road trip for the emotional, technical, and practical aspects going forwards.

Between you and the CTO, you can get an MVP together (you both need to share core knowledge) and then plug gaps with hired hands.

If you want advice, I can do video conference and email (along the guidelines for

Rahul Moghe Group Manager - Shared Services at InfoCepts

December 19th, 2015

You can do both, depending on your situation. Comparison below.

Co-founder : Usually the initial hard work is carried out by the co-founders - that's the time and effort investment they make to take the idea off the ground. This investment does not typically have an immediate cash impact. But the co-founders must share the same vision, passion and values to make the venture successful, not just financially, but also culturally.

Developer : Third-party developers won't do the work for free. So it's cost and cash outgo. You need to conserve cash initially. But, you don't need to worry about splitting your ownership. And the developer will not share your vision, challenges and difficulties to take you through the rough times.

So, if the effort in developing is prolonged, and the post-development/supply support is high, I'd say that a co-founder is preferred. If the initial developmental effort is less, go for a developer.

It might also help to look at both options together depending on where you would want to take your venture over a period of time. It's hard to do all the initial work alone.

Corey Schwartz President at

December 10th, 2015

In our case we did both.  Finding either was an arduous task.  First we looked for someone that would build some sophisticated landing pages to get us a little traction.  We went through dozens of developers before finding the right one.  We waste an incredible amount of time and money getting to something that hit my vision of what the functionality should be.  I have a strong technical background, but, haven't actively programmed in 20 years.  It was still touch to vet developers and CTOs.  Sophisticated investors all wanted to see a CTO in place before they would invest.  They also want to invest in cream of the crop CTOs, even where it made more sense to go with lower cost/more experienced people.  Product/Market fit is huge as Rob pointed out.  Without traction you're probably stuck with friends and family investors or those that have specific expertise in the area.

Igor Moliver CEO @ OnePlayce; Head of Product & Strategy @ Remedy Point Solutions

December 17th, 2015

Hi Nora,
I originally searched and searched for a technical co-founder for my startup. After a while it felt like I was banging my head against a wall. 

A friend who is a CTO at a large startup in NYC introduced me to a company that was doing part of their development. I have used them and have been very happy. I referred them a few friends who have also been very happy with their work. 

I've since started consulting for that product development company, while they continue to build my product. If you're interested in the intro, let me know.


Matt Zuern Founder of Lizard Breath

December 17th, 2015

Nora, I love that you are passionate about this. Is it possible you would share the idea? I'll sign an NDA, but maybe I can help you. Connect with me any time

Md. Shihab Uddin

December 17th, 2015

Ping me in linkedin, we are top-notch offshore software development service providers.

Federico Ramallo

December 16th, 2015

I would recommend you to watch this episode of This week in startups where Roger Dickey says most startups should outsource their software development