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A lot of digital ink has been spilled about how startups can find a technical co-founder given the supply-demand imbalance that exists between business founders (too many) and technical co-founders (too few). So to hopefully make your life easier, we decided to distill the wisdom out there by so many others into a summary of the best strategies to find a technical co-founder. We looked at numerous posts on how to find and attract a technical co-founder made by investors or startup entrepreneurs and summarized the top ways to find a technical co-founder in this handy little graph below. As will be obvious, to make the list, a reason had to be cited by at least two people. Of course, there were numerous other methods given below which were suggested just once but that doesn’t diminish their value. Some discussion of the strategies in this graph and those that didn’t make it are given below.
Finding a technical co-founder involves two fairly distinct challenges. The first is that you need to know where these people are so that you can find them. The other part of the problem is that if you have found them, how do you get them interested in what you are doing? The tips from various folks given below address both of these challenges.
Attending tech events and becoming a key member of the tech community
The number one way folks suggest finding your entrepreneurial soulmate with requisite technical chops is by immersing yourself in the ecosystem and becoming visible. To this end, Seth Levine of the Foundry Group writes in his post “Finding Your Technical Founder” that ”Technical talent hangs out at various places in your town. New Tech Meetup in your area or Bar Camp, StartupWeekend or Open Coffee Club or some similar semi-organized event that attracts technologists and entrepreneurs alike.”
Neil Patel, co-founder of KissMetrics, in his “Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Right Business Partner” writes of these events that local networking events are an ideal place as you don’t want someone who lives far from you.
Of course, going to these events and being a wallflower won’t help. You need something interesting to say so you can make contributions that leverage your expertise. This is the part about getting them interested.
Network with classmates at school
This piece of advice doesn’t apply to everyone as it’s more appropriate for all of you business co-founders still in school. According to Seth Sternberg, CEO of Meebo, “If you happen to be in school now, you’re in the most fertile place possible to meet your co-founders. Take advantage of it!” He goes onto suggest checking out the Engineering Society’s monthly meeting and various other forums that have a lot of engineering students involved in it.
For those who aren’t in school, this doesn’t mean you cannot use this tip. Build connections with student groups, professors or even university career services (warning: career services can be very bureaucratic as they’re better equipped to work with the IBM’s of the world – not your startup). That said, in such a case, you may also be looking more for an employee than a co-founder. (See note below on ownership)
Blog and use social media platforms to propagate your idea
Unlike push strategies detailed above, Vinicius Vacanti, the co-founder of Yipit, contends in his post “Guide to Finding a Technical Co-Founder” that blogging and social media can be used to pull folks in and get them interested in what you’re doing. Vacanti states, “Your potential technical co-founder will find your blog, really like your idea and admire the way you are thinking about the problem.
Of course, similar to attending tech events above, you have to have something interesting to say and a way to have people find you. There are lots of blogs out there and hence a lot of noise. Make sure you have a strategy to stand out else your brilliant prose may not be read by your target market of technical co-founders. Beyond writing, have a strategy for where you’ll promote your work whether it be Reddit or Y Combinator’s Hacker News.
Ask for advice
Hire a Product Design Lead
Charlie O’Donnell, an entrepreneur-in-residence at First Round Capital suggests an interim step. Before going straight for the technical co-founder, he suggests hiring a product design lead who you can work with to flesh out the idea and hence attract better talent. The thinking goes that the more “buttoned up” you are, the more interested a competent technical co-founder you’ll be able to get folks interested. O’Donnell asserts the value of this strategy in his appropriately titled post “Need a Technical Co-Founder? Hire a Product Design Lead First” - ”With a good user experience designer, a business founder can wind up with a complete spec–one that has been thoroughly tested in front of users and is well thought out in terms of what it aims to get users to do.”
Offer Equal Share, i.e., Don’t Be a Pig
Entrepreneur Ryan Waggoner goes onto say in his post “How to find a technical cofounder” that “if you’re looking for a skilled developer for a software startup, consider them an equal founder and split the pie accordingly. And then work 10x as hard as them to make up for the fact that they’re probably better off without you than you are without them.”
Demonstrate that you have complimentary skills
According to Yishan Wong a former engineer at FaceBook who commented on Quora that “To convince a technical co-founder to partner you it is important demonstrate that you have a track record of providing complementary skills needed in the long slog of execution needed to bring this idea to fruition.
Many technical types know they are short on certain skills (or aren’t interested in doing certain things) and will appreciate a non-technical co-founder who is actually good in those areas. Some good examples include:
- raising money from investors
- sales, i.e. selling actual units of product.
- good at negotiating business deals (e.g. for distribution)
Learn to Code and Build Version 1.0 Yourself
Vacanti offers probably the boldest piece of advice suggesting that non-hackers “Build your own prototype” writing that “A prototype gets you traction and experience. It doesn’t cost real money to build a prototype but it helps you put substance to your idea.”
But for those romantic ideas of doing this over the weekend, he warns that “This requires the most commitment and will require you to be truly dedicated to your cause. You’ll have to quit your day job and do this full time (you’ll need savings to support yourself). If you don’t quit your day job, you’ll have to take a 9 to 5 job and spend 6 to 2 am every night and every weekend working on it.”
Other popular ways to identify your technical co-founder include:
- Search within your circle of friends, friends of friends and family
- Look at people in your workplace that you’ve worked with already that know your capabilities
Let us know what has worked for you in your own search to identify and attract a technical co-founder in the comments.