A bit of a harsh title but perfectly justified. As I’ve previously written and routinely highlight every time the conversation is about entrepreneurship: this is a team sport. The value of a good team is priceless. Perhaps that value is nowhere near as recognized as with a co-founder, your veritable extension in business and vice versa.
Before I get into it, let’s answer one important question:
Do I need a technical cofounder?
For a variety of reasons, yes.
Many say that founding a startup is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. I don’t think so. It’s fairly easy to build a startup – it’s making it successful that’s the truly hard part. By going at it alone, you are already at a disadvantage. You need someone to brainstorm with, someone to reason with you when you’re about to do something crazy or stupid (or both), to be that beacon of light in times of darkness because things are likely to go wrong at some point.
And when that someone has a proficient technical background, he/she becomes all the more important. As an entrepreneur oriented to the business side of things and not code, you need someone who will take your clever idea and tech it out to stardom. The majority of startups are innately technical so you need someone to set your technology direction and be that superstar engineering lead that complements your skills.
So, now the question is:
how to find a CTO co-founder that you’ll want to stick with through thick and thin?
Start with your friends that write code
A lot of great startups were founded by friends: Airbnb, Warby Parker, and Sprout Social come to mind. It makes sense – having a friend join in for the ride is an instant vote of confidence as those are the people that know you best. You share most of the same interests and beliefs, possibly even have the same taste and traits, plus it reduces the risk of taking on a candidate who is largely unknown.
Enticing a friend depends a lot on your offer. This holds true even if the person in question isn’t your buddy or an acquaintance. People with good technical expertise usually have a few ideas of their own and are often very excited about seeing them through. Working with someone who is non-technical (to say the least) or isn’t cognizant of the time and efforts needed can be a huge step back.
You should offer your CTO co-founder equity or money in a commensurate amount. Remember that you need them more than they need you at this stage. Treat them as a commodity unless you want to undervalue them from a partnership or ownership standpoint.
Scour among your coworkers
The advantage here is that these are the people that know you so there’s already a warm connection established and there’s little to no learning curve. Go through the same process as you did with your friends: filter the people you like and get along with, who share similar work habits and your expectations of work-life balance. Familiarity helps move things faster and allows for trustworthy cooperation. If there’s a need, get to know them better and make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Frequent local events and online communities
The idea is to make yourself available by attending events and meetups and engaging in active communities. Local tech meetups like Startup Weekend and Startup Grind or hackathons like TechCrunch Disrupt are great because they offer an easier way to initiate contact, build a tight relationship, and interact in different scenarios within the same geographical area. Plus, these also attract investors so with a bit of luck, you just might kill two birds with one stone.
Check for local accelerator programs where you may meet a mentor or other startup founder in the program that would be a great fit for you.
If the local scene has slim pickings, there are plenty of online places where you can look for the right person to jointly execute your startup idea, such as:
- Founders Nation
- Indie Hackers
- Co-Founder subreddit
- Slack groups and Discordapp channels
- Github communities
Bottom line: network your ass off until you become visible to the right tech co-founder.
Improve yourself to meet high standards
Remember what I said about the lack of inclination of technical founders to work with non-technical people? That doesn’t have to be you. You can learn to code to gain a solid understanding of how software is built and works. Everything is readily available these days and you can learn so much in just a few months. The other side of that coin is that you will likely empathize with your prospective co-founder while they, on the other hand, will appreciate your technical craft and understanding of the development process.
Learn how to speak the language so that you can not only properly communicate your needs but also frame your pitch the right way so that your CTO co-founder can provide valuable feedback. If you’re not fond of programming of any sort, check out tools like Balsamiq and Axure RP 9 that create mockups without any form of coding.
Let it happen organically if you have the time
Figuring out how to find a tech co-founder also means you can let the forces of nature make it happen. For instance, if you have already had some success, you might be approached by some investors who are keen on your former success. You can also hire someone and leverage the partnership to develop a rapport and slowly turn a partnership into a co-founding relationship while simultaneously building your startup’s value. Additionally, you can join a co-working space and just hang out with people.
You can always outsource
This option is particularly valuable if the technology you need isn’t particularly complicated. Your funding is the primary factor and hiring a contractor can be very expensive. If this is a viable method for you, take the time to know your options. It’s not a long-term solution for a technical co-founder by any means, but it can be a very good way to gain some traction in the meantime. And – if you can pay to have an MVP developed, it shows you’ve already put your money where your mouth is and that definitely makes you more serious in the eyes of potential co-founders.
Do note that finding a technical co-founder doesn’t solve all your problems or even most of them. Solving the ‘how to find a CTO co-founder’ puzzle is a long process in most cases. Someone will still have to build a solution you want to sell; there may be disagreements, even discordance of vision and interests. You have to build a relationship and ease into it so that you can expect absolute commitment in your journey from thereon.
As a fellow entrepreneur, I can tell you it’s absolutely worth it, if not only, for the emotional support of having someone along for the ride.