Founders · Building a team

What else can you do to be as attractive as possible to a tech CoFounder?

John Duffield

December 13th, 2013

People say if you're a non-engineer and you're still lost in the phase of 'trying to find that tech cofounder'… then you're not an entrepreneur. 'Entrepreneurs should just be able to somehow figure it out'. I  both love and hate this statement. 

As a non-engineer I discovered very quickly that a) these people are not going to come to me, b) a lot of them don't attend as many 'networking events' as you, they're either working full-time with a fat salary or working on something on the side already or c) if you find one, having an idea AND being nice still isn't enough ;-)

So what did I do about it to increase my attractiveness? The answer is EVERYTHING I POSSIBLE COULD. INCLUDING LEARNING HOW TO CODE AND USE PHOTOSHOP. And I still haven't found them yet. 

Here's some more background.. I'm a business/marketing guy (with extensive 'big agency' digital experience having held senior roles in businesses in 3 continents). I have recently acquired a new set of self-taught skills is Product and Sales. See, I wasn't going to let the fact that I couldn't find a tech cofounder get in the way of me moving forward, I set out to have them be interested in coming to me. Here's what I did:
  • I researched my market extensively
  • put all the numbers together
  • understood the competition like the back of my hand
  • wire-framed out the entire solution
  • tested it with people, refined it
  • had it designed
  • learned Photoshop so I could modify the designs to tailor it to other prospects
  • coded up a basic demo for myself
  • found someone to build off my demo resulting in a full-fledged MVP/demo product (front end and back-end)
  • compiled all the sales materials and presentation decks
  • saturated my professional and personal network asking for introductions to people who worked in this industry
  • compiled a hit list of EVERY prospect within driving distance in Los Angeles
  • made hundreds of phone calls
  • sent even more emails (tagging them with BananaTag to see who opened them) 
  • so-far secured 10 in-person meetings with executives (of which 5 have organized second and third meetings)
  • had 5 of them ask for proposals which have been delivered
  • while also playing with several different pricing strategies - including value-based pricing and 'revenue share' pricing (especially for early adopters). 
All of this is in three months. So I am really close to securing business and starting this. I really don't want to just 'contract out' someone or a small team to build this and not have them have the emotional connection. I don't have the revenues (or the long-term financial safety) just yet to 'hire' someone full-time. I'm really looking for someone who is excited by the industry, recognizes that I really mean business and who can and will put in the 'sweat equity' to create an emotional connection to the product.

I would love to hear from others to see if I am the only one who has been in this position. Or if this is a common thing. Am I just not looking in the right place? What else do people suggest I try to do to find this elusive tech cofounder now that I have something real on my hands? I was thrilled to be accepted in to FounderDating and have been really impressed with the quality of its members and how helpful they are and willing to share experiences. 

Thanks in advance.

Matt Smith Systems Architect at Bank of America

December 13th, 2013

As technical guy, I'm impressed with your business and sales spirit. You're not just relying on emotions to your cause, but gathering real data. Have you secured any money from those you provided proposals to?

If someone comes to me and says they have customers who have already put money on the table for a product that in essence does not yet exist gets me much more excited to work on a project than someone who just has an idea.

Dave Angelow Board Member at HAND Austin

December 13th, 2013

John

What you've accomplished in 3 months is very impressive; hat's off to you for setting the pace for the rest of us to try and keep up!

Finding tech resources is always a challenge and given the accomplishments you've outlined, you may consider and alternative approach - reach out to angel networks and share what you've done thus far.  Assuming that you'd be looking for financing at some point, getting exposure and feedback could be really helpful.  Also, I think the accomplishments you've done solo would get them excited - perhaps a bit of seed funding but more important they may be able to help with connections/networking to fill technical needs.

Realize this is not a direct means to get a co-founder, yet would leverage the progress you've made to date and jump-start funding

Fantastic and inspirational to read your work, keep it up!

Anonymous

December 16th, 2013

Rob, I certainly see the wisdom in what you write (even though you're not talking to me, I know ;-) ), but my feelings are mixed towards creating an uber-compelling situation.

If you get a co-founder in an uber-compelling situation where you already have customers and are able to pay salaries, are you really getting a co-founder or an employee who happens to also have a large chunk of equity? From my perspective, being able to get a salary from the company should not be a pre-requisite to join a company as a co-founder. I would typically want to get a co-founder when I'm not in such a comfortable situation that everyone and everybody wants to apply to get a job at your company and tell you how great your company is and how excited they are to work for/with you.

On a side note, I really believe in dynamic equity splits when it comes to bringing a co-founder, even after you've started building a business. Mike Moyer has nicely popularized the concept with his Slicing Pie book (www.slicingpie.com) and the concept of Grunt Funds. If I had to take a co-founder, I would definitely want to have him on board with that type of equity split scheme, and I no longer want to hear about 1-year cliffs and vesting schedules and all that type of stuff that's just distracting from building the business. So, if things don't work out, the co-founder can leave while retaining some right to equity and without feeling disgruntled.

Also, because you've already started the business, you would get to have more equity at the very start although that equity will most likely decrease as the co-founder put in some time and efforts into the business. Obviously, the key is not to get a lion's share of the business when you start your Grunt Fund in order not to discourage your co-founder. But I see this as the fairest possible way to allocate equity to a co-founder who's not someone you've already worked with and/or know for a while (and even in those cases, I believe it's a good model anyway, as Mike Moyer points out in his first chapter).

My 2 cents,

R.

Douglas Tarr Entrepreneur and Software Architect

December 13th, 2013

Tech guy here.   I've worked for pay, for free, for equity, and every variation in between.

I will take your word on it that you think your idea is awesome and game changing.

But, here are my red flags:

1.  You seem kind of frustrated (rather than confident)
2.  You haven't closed a deal yet.
3.  You haven't signaled that you are willing to pay money, and you don't seem that close to raising a round to pay money.

I'd suggest that you close a deal first.  That'll probably solve the rest of the issues and you'll easily find someone to help.

Hope that helps.

- Doug

Sergiy Kuzmenko

December 14th, 2013

John, one thing you could try to go to a local tech meetup in your area. There you'll find plenty of technical talent. Pick a group like rails/django etc. or generic technical gathering. I've seen a lot of very impressive technical talent at those meetings. Good luck!

Harrison Magun Digital Media & Tech / Sales and Marketing

December 14th, 2013

Few thoughts:
1. Sandy is spot on. Channel her.
2. I am a business guy, and spent two months doing the same thing. Just found my co-founder. I was taking 5 meetings a day, networking, with a singular goal in mind - to find a cofounder.  But, during that time, I was also working super hard on the business. Like you, there was no clear end in sight, and I found it easy to slip into moments of despair. What worked:
- If I am asking someone to make a huge commitment to my idea, what equal commitment am I willing to make? Like a VC not likely to fund a startup the founder has not already poured their time/$ into, I realized I would increase my likelihood if I could pay the (potential) co-founder during the dating period. That balances the risk.
- This is like dating/marriage. No self-respecting person would say "I have been looking for a wife/husband for three months, WTF??" Likewise, if you are confident in yourself (real confidence, not optics), the right person will come along eventually. There are a few things you can do do speed it up:
- You don't always get what you want in life. At least I don't. But you get what you need. What is your fallback plan, which you will need to have if you are so committed to your idea that you would ask someone else to drop what they had planned on doing for the next 3000 hours and do what you think they should do. Will you learn enough to project manage a dev shop? Will you raise $ from friends and family to pay a contractor or dev shop full time for X months to build an MVP? Remember, you are entitled to nothing as an entrepreneur, 

Reading the above, it sounds patronizing, but I'm just putting down in writing what I told myself to get myself through the "holy shit, how is this all going to work out?" Hope it helps. Oh, and finding the co-founder is probably the easiest thing you will ever do as an entrepreneur, so buckle in. 

Oh, and I am arranging a co-founder meet up (working with with folks from a local VC firm to arrange it), in January in Seattle, if you or anyone are interested, PM me. 

And: GOOD LUCK! FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT OUT THERE. 

h

Alan Peters VP Product and Technology at BusinessBlocks

December 14th, 2013

This line is brilliant: "Be flexible- If you are trying to hire the top technical person in the country while offering no or little salary, you are bound to be disappointed" I would add this color. Walk a mile in the shoes of an engineer. Often you get a spec, a bug queue, you implement, you fix. Repeat. Some developers are content with this. These are not the folks who typically become technical cofounders. Cofounders have bigger picture chops. Some vision. These are prople who are at ease at a board meeting, and excel at getting a team excited about a dream. The last thing they want is to be your oDesk. They have been pitched on countless ideas that they should get involved in for sweat equity - and odds are they have yet to say "if only I had gotten in on that". What's going to motivate this person? Specifics will vary. But in general it looks like fundraising: 1. Have a killer elevator pitch 2. Have quick credibility 3. Have it (partnership, funding) look like a good option, not desperation. Godspeed

Michael Kovacs CTO at Samsung Accelerator

December 13th, 2013

Hey John, I look for someone that brings lots of leverage that complements me. My leverage is code, your leverage has to be the ability to get paying customers. I put on the show, you sell out the theater. You're doing the right things because if you approached me and talked to me about whatever it is you're doing I'd ask what problem are you solving, why does anyone care, and who have you signed up? Have you had anyone pay you for the product before it's even built? You're addressing all of those questions which is great. The rest is just finding someone that you get along with that believes in you and you in him/her and are both committed to seeing things to some milestone. Tons of non-technical co-founders don't do anywhere near the validation you've done so far. Your only job right now is to state and validate hypotheses and do so as much as possible before having to build a real product. Approaching an engineer with "OK I have 30 customers lined up that have all paid and here's my plan to get more. Oh and here's where we can build a moat and here's where we're vulnerable", is a great way to show that you are focused, executing, have thought through the business as much as possible at this point, and have a plan. In fact I have to ask what are you doing? :-) -Michael

Graeham Ford-Feliz CEO at Emergent Coast

December 15th, 2013

I agree with a lot of what has been already said, but would add something I recently started in my quest to find a cofounder:

Go to *domain* related events. Not just entrepreneur, or tech, (or yoga ;)) but events centered around your problem domain. If a technical cofounder type is going to those events, they will most likely already have the passion for the space/market. Showing your passion + business accomplishments to technical people (and a little inner nerd if you have one) would be very attractive to the techies. 

If a domain event doesn't exist, create one. 

Best of luck! :) 

Kym McNicholas TV Host, Tech Jounalist, Director of Extreme Tech Challenge, Host of KDOW Radio's NewFocus On Innovation

December 13th, 2013

The best advice I've gotten is to have a technical advisor, not a tech co-founder. Mine is just as good as a co-founder and I only have up 1/4 % equity! Sent from my iPhone