When technical founders comes up with a product idea, they often begin building it right away. It’s quite easy for them since they don’t have to spend a lot of money building the product. But a solo non-technical founder doesn’t have that luxury. So, the first question they ask is “How can I find a technical co-founder and bring my ideas into reality.”
There is another question to consider: is it necessary for them to have a technical co-founder? Couldn’t they just hire a CTO or outsource the software development and do what they do best? Why should they give away a significant portion of their capital for work they could outsource?
Well, things are not that simple. After 11 years in the industry, founding 4 startups (including one that failed), and working with 4 co-founders, I now know all of those answers.
In this article, I will share my insights on this matter. Keep reading if you want to know why and when you should add a technical co-founder to your company, how to find a technical co-founder, and what your alternative is if you can’t find one.
You Can Go Solo, But Should You?
There was a time when founding a tech startup without co-founders was nearly impossible. Today, even non-technical founders can go it solo as they can hire CTOs for technical leadership, marketing experts to sell the product, or any other staff as per their needs. In fact, a study conducted on 7,348 startups that have raised $10 million+ each shows 45.9% of them were founded by solo founders, 31.9% had only 2 co-founders, 15% had 3 co-founders.
So you don’t really need a co-founder to start a successful tech startup. Yet, if you pitch to an investor or VC firm with no co-founder, chances are “you’re going to get turned down right away.” Why is that?
That’s because in order to start and run a tech startup business, Leaders need to have a set of core skills. For example, to run a tech product startup, the core skills required are technical skills, marketing skills, leadership skills, etc. Only a small percentage of the people in this world have all of those abilities together, and every seasoned investor and VCs knows this fact.
Another significant aspect of having a co-founder is sharing a common vision. In reality, if the concept of it is promising, it will likely face competition. The vision of the founders distinguishes one technological product from another and keeps it ahead of its competitors. Collaborating with a technical co-founder means sharing a vision with someone who shares similar values, which cannot be acquired through monetary means.
Also, in the world of startups, where 90% of ventures fail, it’s too big of a risk to spend all your savings on an unproven idea. Having one or two co-founders may reduce that risk. However, it’s not always suitable for everyone to have a co-founder, and instead, they should consider hiring a CTO.
Technical Co-Founder or CTO, Which One is Right for You?
Let’s say you already have a preference, whether you want a tech co-founder or hire a CTO. Whichever your preference is, it will depend on a few main factors, such as having enough financial backing, networks, core skills (like leadership skills, marketing skills, etc.), technical skills, and, interestingly enough, “how controlling you are.”
I know the question, “How controlling are you?” It doesn’t give off much of a positive vibe, but it’s neither positive nor negative. Some of us believe in our own way of working and want to do things precisely according to our own plans, and some are more accepting of other people’s plans and ways of working.
To keep things simple, we refer to it as the “control factor.” However, keep in mind that this factor alone does not determine one’s success as a founder. In fact, many of the successful founders possessed a controlling personality. However, it can still affect one’s ability to collaborate with a co-founder.
If we ignore all the other common factors, such as financial backing, basic skills, networks, etc., the decision between a Technical Co-Founder and a CTO depends on two primary factors: technical expertise and control. Let’s discuss this with a 2/2 matrix where the x-axis represents technical skills, and the y-axis represents control factors.
By utilizing this 2×2 matrix, we can identify four distinct types of founders.
Founder Type A: Loves to be in a controlling position of every decision-making but does not have Technical skills. If you are among them, then it may be difficult for you to fully embrace all the ideas brought forth by your technical co-founder.
As you won’t have much technical background or skills to prove your standing right, such a situation may escalate into a co-founder dispute. As the conflict between co-founders fails 65% of high-potential companies, you might want to hire a skilled CTO to manage the technical aspects of your start-up.
If you’re willing to be more open-minded about unfamiliar topics and find a trustworthy technical person, you may want to consider partnering with a technical co-founder.
Founder Type B: Founders with high-tech skills who wants control over everything. In this case, things become simple, don’t bring a technical co-founder. Since you’re already knowledgeable in the tech side, it wouldn’t make sense to duplicate your skill set. Furthermore, your controlling nature can escalate the co-founders’ dispute and lead to the failure of your startup. A better option may be to hire a CTO who can manage the project and execute your vision.
Founder Type C: Founders with technical skills and willingness to accept other people’s ideas. For them, both are good options. It’s always good to have co-founders who share your vision, and since you can work seamlessly with others, there’s no risk in taking one. We suggest that instead of having a co-founder with similar skills, you take on a co-founder who brings a new skill set to the table.
Founder Type D: Founders with no technical and no control factors. If you are one of them, then the decision is quite simple. Bring in a technical co-founder who can work with you, share your vision, and bring your idea to life.
Now, the question that arises is: “How can you find a technical co-founder who shares your vision? What is the right way?” Let’s discuss:
How to Find a Technical Co-Founder Who Aligns with Your Vision
The real challenge of finding a technical co-founder begins once you are certain that you need one.
Understand Your Vision, Needs and Prepare for Co-Founder Search
If you look at successful startups, you’ll find one thing in common. Everyone has a clear vision for their startup. This is what keeps them motivated through the tough journey of running a startup. Certainly, money is one of the biggest motivations, but that is not enough. You need to figure out what purpose you want to serve and what change you want to bring about. And you need to figure this out before you add anyone else to your company.
Also, make a list of the skills and qualities you want from your tech co-founders. In fact, he/she’ll be your first CTO, so it’s not that hard to figure out what qualities they should have. Just learn the roles CTOs play at the different stages of a startup, and make a list of the skills you need.
Finally, make sure to adequately prepare yourself for your entrepreneurial journey. Even though you will be bringing on a tech co-founder, it’s always beneficial to have some knowledge in the field. Take some time to educate yourself on the fundamental aspects of software development before embarking on your search for a co-founder.
Search for Potential Co-Founders and Make a List
Explore your existing network first
If you’re in the professional world, you’ve probably seen people who are highly qualified but terrible to work with. Trust me when I say this, this is a condition you want to avoid. So, start by looking for technical co-founders among your acquaintances. They could be your colleagues, college buddies, or even school friends who code.
Starting a partnership with someone you already know reduces uncertainty about your ability to work together and communicate. Founders are often hesitant to ask friends and family to be a part of their company. Mainly because they think it’s unlikely for someone to leave their secure job and join an uncertain journey. Let me tell you something, many of them are one hello away from joining you.
Approach the friend who you think is perfect for this partnership and share your idea and vision. Don’t directly ask them to join; instead, brainstorm the project and see how interested they are. If they seem interested, that’s great; add them to your list of potential candidates. Otherwise, you will get to know what they think about your venture. They may even recommend a potential candidate or two.
Attend developer, technology, and start-up events
These events are great places to meet like-minded people. Especially in developer and startup events, people like to share their thoughts on upcoming technology, new ideas, problems, and solutions. Meet and talk to as many people as possible. Listen to their thought, and share your thoughts. But remember, don’t be too descriptive about your idea without knowing the person. You never know if there’s any Mark Zuckerberg to still your big idea. If you find any like-minded and skillful person, then be their friend. Hang out again if possible, and if they seem trustworthy, brainstorm with them if they seem interested, then add them to your list.
Explore the online platforms
Luckily we live in an era where talented tech entrepreneurs try to solve every problem we face with technology. As finding a technical co-founder is a common problem in the startup world, many try to solve it using technology. Even established platforms like Y-combinator, CoFoundersLab initiated their co-founder matching program. Here are some of these solutions you may have a look at to find your technical co-founder.
CoFoundersLab: It is an excellent platform for finding a promising tech cofounder. With over 400,000 registered users, CoFoundersLab provides an extensive pool of potential co-founders to choose from. In addition, CoFoundersLab has acquired Tech Co-founder, FounderMatchup, and FounderDating to expand its user base. This platform assists startups in finding co-founders, team members, and advisors.
Founders Nation: This innovative technology platform connects individuals with the aim of transforming the world. By using this platform, you can identify yourself as a co-founder seeker. Potential investors and co-founders can evaluate each other’s qualifications through this platform.
Founder2be: Founder2be is a platform that operates similarly to CoFoundersLab and boasts a user base of 90,000. It offers services for startup development and connecting with potential investors. The platform is particularly useful for individuals seeking to find a co-founder in fields such as marketing, design, development, and business, but you can find a technical co-founder as well.
Y-Combinator: This prominent startup accelerator has recently launched a platform for matching co-founders. It enables you to effortlessly discover potential technical co-founders.
Evaluate Again and Make a Short Choice List Potential Candidates
At this point, you should have a list of potential candidates, but ultimately, you only need to choose one. I’m suggesting that you create a list of potential candidates since many of them may decline your offer. It’s important not to take any rejections personally, as tech leaders often receive offers to become co-founders. In fact, even I have received more than 25 offers in the past decade.
Take the time to reassess them, and create a choice list based on your specific needs and criteria. Check their technical skills first, because it’s easy to do. Most tech people share their portfolio or past work online, which can help if they’ve produced something comparable. Get an Expert Opinion If you lack the technical knowledge to assess a candidate’s skills.
It is important to carefully observe their personality to determine if you will be able to establish a long-term working relationship. You may also use the 2×2 matrix to determine this fact.
Approach and Convince Them to Be Your Partner
Once you’ve determined your list of preferred technical co-founders, the next step is to persuade them to become your partners. It may get easier as you engage in conversation with them for a while, but it’s important to follow certain steps.
Figure out what you want to offer
Before you approach potential co-founders, it’s important to consider what you can offer them. Keep in mind that they may need to leave their current steady jobs or businesses to join you. Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge their sacrifice and be fair in your proposal.
It is crucial to determine the value that potential candidates can bring to your startup. This can be a complex task, as we tend to focus on the immediate value they offer rather than the value they can add in the long term. Therefore, it is important to assess its potential lifetime value and adjust your offer accordingly.
Approach in descending order and be direct
When reaching out to potential candidates, it’s best to prioritize your top choice first, followed by your second and third choices. This approach allows you to focus on one conversation at a time rather than overwhelming yourself with multiple conversations simultaneously.
Since you’ve already shared details about your project with them, they know your intentions. Therefore, it is advisable to be direct when asking them to become your co-founders.
Share your detailed concept
I’m assuming you have only discussed the abstract of your project thus far. This is a crucial moment for you to share all details, including the business potential, market research findings, potential investors, and any other relevant details. It would be wise to consider signing an NDA before sharing the finer details of your idea.
Show your good, bad, and ugly
When convincing, it’s important to be clear and concise. Take the time to explain your ideas thoroughly. Additionally, it’s essential, to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.
Remember, it’s a partnership, much like a business marriage. So, don’t hesitate to share both your positive and negative qualities with your potential partner.
Discuss what you are offering and convince
Now is the opportune moment to inform your potential partner about the benefits of the partnership. Consider offering a fair amount of equity and decision-making power. I have observed that some founders tend to have an “I want it all” attitude. I advise you to avoid adopting that mentality.
Additionally, you can persuade them by highlighting the long-term advantages of collaborating with you.
If they try to negotiate, listen carefully. It is better to be clear about the expectations of others from the beginning.
If both parties agree to the terms, congratulations, you’ve found your tech co-founder. If not, move on to your second candidate and repeat.
Short out Legal Issues and make a contract
Once you’ve successfully convinced your desired candidate, the next step is to address any legal issues and create a written contract. This will ensure clarity and protection for both parties involved in the agreement.
When starting a company with a co-founder, there are increased paperwork and risks for both parties involved. It is crucial to establish yourself as the primary voice on the board, as investors may fill board seats after the seed funding round, potentially leaving you with less capital.
To avoid being fired from your own project (it happens), ensure that all legal paperwork is completed upfront. It is important to have a good understanding of legal contract features and stakes, and seeking advice from lawyers and legal experts is recommended.
Lastly, create a comprehensive contract that addresses all concerns of both parties, such as equality, salary, stakes, and shares.
Is there any Alternative?
In case you can’t find any suitable technical co-founder and don’t have enough financial backing to hire a CTO, what can you do?
Well, it’s quite expected as you do not have anything to show yet. In such cases, the first thing you need to do is secure the financial backup.
You can go to investors or VCs for that, but they won’t fund you either without an MVP. So, the first thing you need is to develop an MVP.
To do so within a short budget, you can go for CTO as a Service to create the development plan and develop the MVP. Then go to investors with the MVP, manage to fund, and hire a full-time CTO. If the hired CTO proves his quality, you may ask him to be your technical co-founder.
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