How to find a technical co-founder

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As a business person with zero education or experience with software engineering if I was to start YASU (Yet Another Start Up) tomorrow I would be in need of a technical
co-founder. So I read the article 3 strategies to find your next technical co-founder without looking like an idiot by By Daniel Wu and Stephen Turban on Hackernoon with interest.   The sub-title tells you the takeaway: Develop expertise, traction, and technical proficiency. There’s no “business side” — you do what it takes to build a viable business now.

Brian Chesky of AirBnB, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, and Ben Silberman of Pinterest are all examples of highly successful non-technical co-founders. The authors conducted an informal research project spanning 50+ technical and non-technical co-founders. Their conclusion was that the old model of dividing responsibilities between co-founders as “the tech side” and “the bus side” is obsolete. Companies need to meld expertise, traction and technical skills. 

Tech co-founders are a very small group in inversely high demand. You will be competing with other business co-founders, startups with plenty of traction, big tech, and even their own startup ideas. So the lesson is don’t start out looking for a technical co-founder. Get started building the business – now.

If you are a non-technical co-founder here’s what you need to do to find a tech co-founder:

  1. Expertise — Show that (only) you can grow and sell the idea;
  2. Traction for your idea — Prove that your idea is valuable and has traction; and
  3. Technical proficiency — Develop the technical skills you need.

Here’s a great quote from the article: To attract a technical co-founder, you should show that you are the connecting glue between them and the problem.

The best way to do that is to have an idea that already has traction. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what investors are looking for as well. As I’ve written previously, startups are scientific experiments; you need to test your hypothesis, track the results and use clear metrics for the data your experiment delivers, and most important translate that data into at least a small set of customers. Here’s a chart that shows how you can go from a “low-fidelity” to “high-fidelity” proto-business.

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As a business type you need to climb the tech ladder. The best place to start is the front-end, the UI/UX. Ben Silberman is a designer, so he had a real head start there.  And that’s how I started Throughline, Inc. – I designed a prototype which I had a friend code for me. And a prototype is worth a thousand pitch decks when it comes to gathering that necessary and sufficient set of customers. The authors also recommend learning some back end tech as well, though I disagree. Better to have deeper expertise in the front end – which sorry, engineers, but many of you lack design skills – and no back end skills than be “a mile wide and an inch deep” by trying to learn back end as well.

According to the authors’ survey, what founders agreed upon was that having technical skills is about developing empathy and credibility. Developing products involves trade-offs and the  more technical you are the better qualified you are and the more value you bring to the table when you and your technical founder sit down to make those trade-offs.When you propose a strategic move – and you will – your co-founder knows that you’re coming from a place of understanding. Credibility builds trust – and invaluable ingredient in a startup.

The bottom line: if you have an idea, and better yet a solution to a real problem, start building your tech chops and get user traction immediately. Tech co-founders, like investors, are looking for value add. The more tech expertise you can add to your customer traction the better your chances of landing that technical founder to help you make the leap from a prototype to a real product.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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