| ||Posted by Philip Camilleri on February 4, 2020. Last updated 3 months ago.|
Finding a tech cofounder seems to be a very common problem amongst startup founders (or aspiring founders). As many angel investors and VC's love to say: "ideas are a dime-a-dozen", and probably so. Coming up with an idea is the "easy" part, so to speak (although coming up with a workable, feasible or possibly brilliant idea is a whole other story).
But executing that idea, and building a business around it — now that's the real challenge. And the first obstacle to overcoming that challenge is finding the right individual (or group of individuals) to help bring your idea to reality.
The problems though, are many; especially when it comes to finding the right technical cofounder. Firstly, you need to ask yourself whether your business/idea really does need a tech cofounder (but that's an entirely separate discussion). Let's assume you've done that analysis and definitely need a tech cofounder: what next? Well, then the work starts...
To give you some background on my "credentials", I am a "generalist" techie myself (been tearing computers apart and coding since I was around 12, working across web, desktop and mobile systems; developing online services, networking systems, banking/trading platforms, and mobile-messaging networks). I cofounded SmartAsset.com in late 2011 — one of the most popular B2C fintech startups (if I may say so myself; and a Y-Combinator S12 company), reaching over 40mm users/month, raising north of $50mm in VC funding, and now with a team of almost 180 people. So I have a tiny bit of experience in the space.
Of course, my experience is from the tech founder side of the table, but hopefully I can give a view on why finding tech cofounders is so hard, and what you might be able to do to convince one to join your team.
So turning back to the issue at hand, let's start with the basic scenario for techies:
So what can you do to pitch a techie, or convince a technical person to join as your cofounder?
Firstly, be realistic about your idea, the market, users/customers, and the general risks of this startup (or any startup for that matter). Also, be realistic about the objectives of the product you're trying to build and the complexity that might entail. I'm always astonished when I hear founders set ridiculous targets: we want to build a self-driving vehicle (but we have no experience doing that, and we want you, the tech cofounder, to build it all from scratch. Alone!) Or others making spurious claims: we don't have any funding yet, but once we have a prototype, we'll raise a few million $ within a few weeks. Every startup is high-risk, particularly for first-time or inexperienced founders.
While you certainly need to make sure you've found the right tech cofounder, with the necessary skills to build your product and get it to market, you also need to prove you have the requisite skills to execute and build a company. And that's a lot: can you fundraise, do you have the investor contacts? Can you recruit the right people and build out a team? Can you market and sell the product? Of course, as the team grows, you can hire the right people to get things done. But being a startup founder (or a startup CEO) means you'll have tons to deal with.
Be conscious of the fact that most techies have stable, well-paid jobs — and probably other offers or options to consider. For them to take the leap and work on an idea with little to no salary, in exchange for some equity, is asking for a lot . Worse yet, I see so many startup founders with an idea in mind, expecting to offer a tech founder some low-ball figure of equity to build things from scratch. Be realistic about the amount of time and effort required to build certain products. Also bear in mind that techies have the luxury of choice. If you need a techie on your team, be willing to offer them a compelling deal.
All too many folks simply seem to be looking around for a generic "tech cofounder". But the reality is rather different. Firstly, not all "techies" are cofounder material. A tech cofounder needs to build (or at least start building/architecting) your product, sure. But they will also need to be able to recruit and build out the tech teams in the future. They need to be good techies and good managers. They may also need to sit alongside investor or VC pitches. For very small early stage startups, your tech cofounder is generally also going to be your product manager, designer and tester. More importantly, your tech cofounder needs to understand the nuances of building products within an early stage startup — you're always running against the clock, on a tight budget with limited resources. Some techies just aren't accustomed to that, and I've seen way too many startups fail because of over-engineering or lack of technical "leanness".
Any tech founder willing to take the risk on a new startup/idea is always going to look at the level of commitment and dedication of the other founders. This is particularly true when a startup founder expects the techie to work on the new product/idea full-time, but is only committing a few hours a week to their own startup. If you're asking someone with a good job to take a huge risk on your idea, you should expect to be fully committed and dedicated to the startup.
Startups are generally also long-term commitments: you're not in this for a few months, or even a few years. Most founders I speak with expect to spend 5-7 years building up their companies. If you, as a founder, are not ready to make the long-term commitment, you're going to have trouble getting others to join your team.
Finally, I would say think of your cofounders (tech or otherwise) as you would investors — you need to convince them you've got the skills, the background, the experience, the commitment and the dedication to take this idea to market and build a company around it. Remember that your potential cofounders have other options and are weighing all the pros/cons and risks, so it is up to you to convince them that they want to join you for the ride, or lose out.