For the last 2 months, I have had my head down building the first start-up in which I was one of the founders. While I spent time coming up with the idea, figuring out how to make money with it, and deciding what it would do, I knew that I needed technical expertise. I started to spend time searching for a technical co-founder, because it is one of the most crucial hires that a new start-up needs. Here are some tips that I have compiled after spending time in search.
1. Run your search in parallel with all other activities – The search for a good technical co-founder can take weeks or months. Don’t try to get a bunch of other tasks done first before you begin your search. The best recommendation I can give is to run the processes in parallel. It will not only save you time, but you might get some fantastic advice along the way to help you further refine your idea. Also if the first person you find isn’t the right person, you might get some leads from them to send you in the right direction.
2. Know what skills you possess and vice versa – Mapping skills and deficiencies of you and your potential co-founder is essential. There is nothing worse than not admitting where your strong and weak traits lie. Do yourself a favor – be upfront with them and encourage them to be upfront with you. What this will do is foster trust and remove any ugly surprises later on in the process. There is nothing worse than assuming on either side you are good at everything. Once you have an idea what you both do well and what you suck at, you can begin to start mapping out additional hires or contractors to fill those potential holes. If you map everything out and find there are some pretty glaring holes, you have to take a long look in the mirror and figure out whether both sides are bringing enough to the table.
3. Skills don’t always equal a good technical co-founder – The person might have the skills that pay the bills, but does that mean they are a good technical co-founder? I would say definitely not. Beyond having the technical acumen to get you to MVP, does that person have the temperament to grow and scale a business? How would they react to a massive changes? When you hit a bump in the road, are they going to rise to the challenge or run for the hills? As much as they need the ability to write lines of code, their ability to handle different situations is also crucial. With that in mind, you need to make sure that person can grow. If they are technically strong but business weak, they should be willing to learn that side of the business.
4. Build a good external vetting system for this individual – You may be an excellent business professional, but the reality is that you probably don’t have the skills or ability to properly vet any individual you want to be your technical co-founder. If you did, you probably wouldn’t need a technical co-founder. This vetting system is invaluable. Developer communities know who has the goods and which people are pretenders. A person with some technical acumen can help sniff these things out pretty quick. In my case, I brought on a high calibre, well regarded technologist and former CTO as my ace in the hole for my board of directors. Having this vetting system is also helpful to find and build talent required to get to the next level.
5. Once they have signed on don’t suddenly turn into a prick – You probably spent weeks or months looking for this person, don’t turn around and become a prick. As one of the founders of the company you set the tone for how your company will operate. If you pattern a good relationship with your technical co-founder it will translate positively as you grow your company. Employees see how you interact with your co-founder – it can be either a source of re-assurance or it can frankly scare the crap out of them. It is also important to establish a style for working together and a relationship. Understand boundaries and how you want things to flow and it will only pay dividends as the company grows.
This isn’t a definitive list, but 5 tips that I have found handy through my process of trying to find a technical co-founder. I hope this is helpful not only for business founders but for technical talent as well. Sometimes I have seen a misalignment in expectations entering into a relationship. I think both the tech and business talents need to have a better respect for their abilities and what they bring to the equation. Without quality tech talent, there is no product, but conversely without a good business plan or marketing talent the chances of it catching on are much lower. You need both flour and sugar to bake a cake.
I am happy to report that after a long search I have brought on a technical co-founder. I will be sharing a lot more information in the coming weeks and months, but I wanted to pass on some wisdom from my search.