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The answer to the eternal question: “Where do I find a technical cofounder?” (hailpixel.com)
95 points by hailpixel 1028 days ago | hide | past | web | 89 comments | favorite



You don't. They find you.

Technical co-founders are necessarily naïve.

Why?

Because once they've been one once, they don't want to be one again. The only "serial" technical co-founders I've encountered have usually failed to get to the MVP stage of any of the companies they've founded, and thus don't know the hell their path leads to.

I speak from first-hand experience. I would sooner chew my own legs off than do this again. Not because I dislike my company, or don't like what I do today, but because it's traumatic, and I've no desire to go through it again.

It costs you years of your life, you don't get sleep, or friends, and at the end of it all, nobody will thank you, they'll just resent you, as those that were there from the start never realised just how much the technical co-founder did to make things work in the early days (not so fond memories of not leaving my desk for 9 grim, sticky days), and those that started later don't see the technical co-founder getting as involved in the technology as much, and thus view them as disconnected.

Damned either way.

If you get someone in with experience, they'll tell you to get bent, won't do the death-marches that you often need to get the ball rolling, and will want to be paid their worth, rather than nothing.

So yeah - your only hope is to get to know technical folks while they're still learning, and get them in then - otherwise they'll know better and will refuse your poisoned chalice.


I agree.

> From the founder’s perspective this is a very sweet deal. “All the hard work is done,” they proclaim, “All the tech person has to do is build it.” Ultimately, the sole founder becomes increasingly frustrated when every potential tech lead they speak with says “no thanks”.

I can't tell you how many times I've said "no thanks"--though it was probably more along the lines of "hell no!" I love it when a "business" person approaches me with their Great Idea™ and they're like, "I have the program all figured out, all I need is someone to code it." My response: "Then learn how to code."

Right now I'm working on a project with a non-programmer co-founder and the only reasons I agreed to it was 1) he's a longtime friend and I trust him, 2) he has expertise that I lack in the domain space (chemistry), 3) it was my idea in the first place and I have control over the development/vision. It still doesn't feel nice to have the weight of ALL THE PROGRAMMING on your shoulders.


Lately I've been getting lots of people who ARE learning how to code, and they come to me to describe their project and get advice. Their explanation always ends with "So it doesn't seem like that's very complicated, it's really simple software I need, right? Even though I'm just learning, I should be able to do it in a few weeks?"

I have begun to hear it, and try to explain it as:

"Okay, so I want to build a house, but it's just a SMALL house, we're talking just one room on the first floor and one on the second, and it only needs ONE toilet and ONE electrical outlet. And I've already spent a few weeks learning how to use a hammer and am pretty damn comfortable with hammers now -- and getting there with a drill too! So this should be pretty straightforward right? I just have one question that maybe you can help me with, something I've been confused about: Do electrical outlets and toilets use the same kind of tubing to connect them, or different kinds of tubing?"

I usually don't even know where to begin. I can give advice on how to learn how to write software, but they're gonna have to start from the basics, it's gonna take em a while (months at least, of constant work) until they get to the point where they know enough to build what they want, they may not get there at all if they find they don't actually enjoy programming or have no aptitude for it, and once they DO get there, THEN they can start actually building what they want to build -- which will take 3x as long as predicted even by someone who knows what they're talking about (which they don't yet), because that's how it is. They don't want to hear that and think I'm being 'elitist'.


Your story reminds me as a freelancer telling the customer: you are "basically" asking me to hit your finger with a hammer.. that said, it is your finger an your hammer.. say the word and I'll hit !


I love the house metaphor. I'm going to use it. Thanks.


That metaphor just made me cry.


I commented below, but personally every time someone comes to me with an idea I ask for 75% equity. Usually people scoff and walk away, but sometimes people are willing to negotiate.

To me it's always amazing how little equity some technical cofounders obtain. Ideas, like talk, is pretty cheap. Coding for years is pretty damn expensive.


Maybe I'm being naive, but there can be something else that the non-technical founder brings that is equally valuable to the tech stuff: paying customers. If they have actual customers that are ready to pay, then the deal may be worth it even for less than equal share of equity. Another is cash investment (not relationships with investors, real cash of their own that they are willing to invest).

I think most of these non-technical founders just have a fantasy about a product idea and it really is worthless. But if they have a good network of contacts and people ringing their phone for whatever they want you to build then that is some value.

If these idea people are so sure of their ideas, they can finance development using freelancers and they don't need a technical cofounder. If technical cofounder is just doublespeak for programmer willing to work for free + equity, only someone very naive will take it.


Yes, people with money or people who already sold their (non-existing) product are indeed a good match and as scarce as good co-founders.


If you think that you realistically would require more than 50% of the equity to make it worth your time then you are better off politely declining and walking away.


Eh, it's the start of a negotiation. It "gets the mule's attention", and if they were thinking of giving you single digits of equity as I gather is not uncommon you've saved yourself time.

It also demands respect. They may not give it to you, but if something actually happens you'll be starting on the right foot, and the author claims this does not turn everyone who approaches him off.

It also gets the big issues right out there: how much is an idea and anything else they're bringing to the table worth vs. how much is the technical effort to make it live.


My point was that if you feel like your value as a technical person is worth more than the business person who has approached you (>50%) then you shouldn't bother. Between their experience, their idea, their connections, their money, etc. they should at least equal your value or you are in trouble regardless of how the equity breaks down. Negotiations are a different topic.


The negotiation only started when one party said "no".


> Because once they've been one once, they don't want to be one again.

Well crap, I'm in my second go-around as startup CTO (and I definitely want to do more), so I guess I'm doing something wrong because I've loved every minute of each startup.

I think the big thing that makes all the work and stress worth it for me is that these are projects I would volunteer for with or without pay. Last time it was a fitness network that helped people develop a sustainable healthy lifestyle. This time it is shaving 10-20% off the installed price of distributed solar. Got way past the MVP stage last time (over a million users), and close to getting there this time (more business LOIs coming in every day).

I love being a technical cofounder. My skills are technical, so I can contribute the most in that role. But the startup has to be something I would volunteer for. So I guess you're right, startups don't find me. I find them.


Volunteering for a volunteer project is noble. Volunteering so that someone else can take your fair share of profit is not so much. If you are taking a hit in salary for society at large then I would compliment you on your generosity. If you are taking a hit so that someone else in your company can take more money I would suggest you reevaluate your decision


Heh, oh don't worry. I get a very large equity stake and take my fair share of the profit. The great thing about doing these sorts of projects over straight volunteering is that the positive impact on society comes with a business model and large financial incentives.


Also because if you have to ask, you aren't going to make it. The only way to pull your weight as a non-technical co-founder is to already have lots of connections with money, and if you have that, engineers will already be beating a path to your door. If you don't, you're going to fail anyway, and your inability to find an engineer to co-found your company is the least of your problems.

There are really only two jobs in an early-stage startup: engineer and money man. If you're not building the product, and you're not bringing money in the door either, you're not helping. "Idea guy" is not a job.


This idea that only the tech matters and you can't pull weight without being on the tech side irks me to no end. Sales, marketing, product positioning, feedback gathering, and investor relations are all often more valuable than whatever the tech team is up to. That programmers so often shrug this off is simple arrogance.


> Sales, marketing, product positioning, feedback gathering, and investor relations are all often more valuable

I think you're absolutely right. But so is the person you were replying to. Becuase you know what _isn't_ as valuable as any of those things? "Having a really good idea that I think could make a lot of money."

And that's what a lot of people think, I have a great idea, all I need is someone who knows how to program to implement it (shouldn't take very long), and we're gonna make lots of money!

(Actually, I'd challenge the 'product positioning' as a useful thing to bring, because it is too easily confused with "Having a great idea." But sales, marketting, investor relations, actual market research, actual evidence-based feedback gathering -- sure.)


I'm not saying that only the tech matters. I'm saying that in an early-stage startup, only the product and the money matter. The tech only matters to the extent that it enables building the product. Sales, marketing, product positioning, feedback gathering, and investor relations can all be separate jobs later, after you have enough money coming in to support that specialization. In an early stage startup, if you're not building the product, you need to be the money person, so you should be doing all of that, and you need connections to do it well.

If you're a non-technical co-founder, the primary value you bring to the business is the people you already know, who have money. It's not your ideas and it's also not your visual design taste.


> The only way to pull your weight as a non-technical co-founder is to already have lots of connections with money,

Is this really true? Hustling is a valuable skill, too. If you're bootstrapping, you don't need endless connections to people with money, you just need customers. So a non-technical business guy, in theory, just needs to be willing to hustle in order to contribute to certain kinds of enterprise.


How would you even bootstrap without a product to sell? If you have actual paying customers, that means you at least have an MVP built. A list of leads doesn't count, you have to convert them to bootstrap, and to convert them you need an MVP. If you're a non-technical bootstrapper you should probably be looking at an employee or freelancer rather than a co-founder to build your MVP.

In other words, "it's the money, stupid." If you're a non-technical founder with just an idea and no existing funding or paying customers yet, that is why you can't find a technical co-founder. No good tech talent is going to work for equity in a bootstrapped business, because equity is worthless without the "hockey stick" growth trajectory you're shooting for when you take funding.


Groupon was started with a one - page wordpress blog. Now they have around a thousand engineers. You don't HAVE to have a tech co - founder to build a startup.


You don't have to have a tech co-founder to build a startup if you can build the MVP yourself. I'd go as far as to say that if the technology component of your MVP is just a Wordpress site, then you probably shouldn't have a tech co-founder.


I met a business guy who explained his attitude to tech guys to me, over a number of meeting about starting a venture.

- Tech guys can just sit back once the website is built and cash in forever, while the marketing and business guys have to keep on the ball. - You can rent an army of developers in Eastern Europe for no money at all. He had 30 guys doing his one-pager color split testing for him. - All the value is in the marketing and supply chain. He's 80% of the value and feels screwed giving the tech people 25%.

Funnily enough we never got that one launched.


The sad reality is that the "business" guys are often clueless because they don't understand the ecosystem in which their technology functions - note that I'm not saying they're clueless because they don't understand the technology - rather that they're clueless because they don't understand technical sales, or the cost and benefit of development decisions - and if they view technologists as "a bunch of nerds who know nothing about business" - they're in trouble. Technologists don't need to know much about business to be able to provide valuable information that should sculpt your decision-making.

A good business guy realises that the right technical backing and understanding is essential in today's world - if you don't understand the technology, or the impact that your business decisions have on your development - i.e. the costs they incur vs. the marginal benefit - and you're not prepared to talk to your technology team because you view them as valueless... you are unequivocally screwed, because you'll end up coded into a corner with your development staff walking out on you, your customers let down, and you on the hook.


There are also plenty of "business guys" who know very little about business


Flip side is most tech guys think the business guy is an idiot. people suck at realizing other disciplines have worth.


Many (most?) of the business guys who you end up talking with in those situations are idiots. The ones that can execute often already are, and aren't wasting their time doing cofounder dating.

Likewise by the time you're scrounging around looking for technical cofounders, you're at meetups and startup weekends, and most capable technical folks never end up going to those - they're either happy in their current situation, or working on something of their own.


Two economists are walking down the sidewalk. One looks down and sees a 100 dollar bill on the ground in front of them.

"Look," he exclaims to his friend, "a $100 bill!"

"Nonsense," remarks the other, "if there was a $100 on the sidewalk, someone would have already seen it and picked it up."


>The ones that can execute often already are, and aren't wasting their time doing cofounder dating.

The same can be said about programmers, I guess. What a horrible attitude.

FYI: many startups fail because the founders don't have a clue that a business involves far more than writing code. Sometimes you need "people skills", and when you think you're God's gift to a business, you're probably lacking there.


I thought I'd addressed that with "Likewise by the time you're scrounging around looking for technical cofounders, you're at meetups and startup weekends, and most capable technical folks never end up going to those".

I'm not at all saying everyone who is at every networking even is a total loser. Far from it. I've met some interesting folks at events over the years (cofounder dating, meetups, startup weekends, etc). But I also tend to meet a disproportionate number of "idea folks" who try to push NDAs before telling you about their next "big idea".

And on the tech side, there's usually a few tech god/wizard folks who can literally do almost anything with a few keystrokes, and other people who are just getting started, have a lynda.com or treehouse account, and want to hack away. It's not necessarily a bad attitude to have, but usually the skills aren't enough to execute enough to get traction.

I'm sometimes surprised at how far people get with so little, and those are the people I tend to want to work with or help out in some way - regardless of the industry/work/project. I like working with people who can get stuff done. It's just harder to do that at many networking events, because the people who are 'getting stuff done' usually don't have time for those events because they're getting stuff done.

Couldn't tell if you meant "horrible attitude" at me directly because of the comment or what.??


> you're at meetups and startup weekends, and most capable technical folks never end up going to those

You mean there isn't something wrong with me for not being in a constant networking-extrovert mode? :p


I think where you really want to work is a team where nobody considers anyone else surplus to requirements. Everyone has an understanding of the other fields, even if they are not directly involved.

With this particular guy, I don't think his shop relied much on tech excellence. He talked a lot about how to show people ads that were against the ToS for various platforms. Of course if you're doing that, you won't think that tech is providing any value.


True. The technical person can always claim that SEO and call-calling is easy and one can hire an army of cheap labor to do that once the product is ready.


Everyone thinking every other kind of role is worthless is one of the things I've persistently seen ruin and even kill companies.


As a supporting anecdote, I'd like to share the story of how my non-technical cofounder found/"grew" me (or rather, grew the relationship), and why I think it worked.

Last year I was in my final year of university. The school I graduated from, BYU, has a strong business program and a culture of entrepreneurship. A number of my friends and acquaintances contacted me with ideas for tech-empowered businesses they wanted to form, but I had the sense to stay away from anything that sounded like "I had this great idea for a business last week, why don't you build it for me and we'll see what happens."

When my now-cofounder Sam approached me, it was a very different experience. It was obvious that he had put months of work into developing his idea on his own time, with mockups and tons of user testing of various ideas, and literally had gone as far as he could without actually building the product. Even after we decided to start working together, we spent several months contracting together for a 3rd party, before we finally decided to strike out on our own. When we eventually did form a startup, we split the equity 50-50 and we've both been working 110% since day 1.

In retrospect, I didn't end up joining with Sam because the idea was much better than the other ones I'd heard about, or because he had access to connections or capital that I couldn't easily find myself. It was because he demonstrated clearly that he didn't consider the idea alone to be 80% of the value, respected what I brought to the table, and worked hard enough to bring his half to the table too.

I guess my best advice to the non-technical looking for a cofounder (beyond learning as much as you can about the tech side of the business on your own) would be to try to find ways to demonstrate, through your actions, that you have what it takes to push a new company forward. The actions Sam took on his own, and when we first started working together, demonstrated that to my satisfaction, which is why I was more than happy to sign on as a cofounder.


I'd add that calling Sam "non-technical" stretches the definition a bit. Sure, he wasn't cutting code, but the sort of design work he did to prove and evolve his idea is also the sort of work a lot of us "technical" people do at various times.

Sounds like he had a bucket-full of clues, including the equity distribution, which doesn't sound like it was hard to negotiate.


I am running multiple eCommerce businesses as a tech guy where I provide a platform that can be plugged straight to another business area with minimal costs - to take care of those areas I usually find a business person and offer a generous 50/50 split in equity and rights as I want everyone to feel useful and in control.

What I noticed from some bad examples of business guys I tried something with is that some of them 1) don't have a clue nor willingness to improve 2) are very frustrated they don't own the additional 1% to be completely in charge 3) try to restrict the flow of business information towards me 4) treat tech as an easy thing that must work 100% on autopilot while they don't do much at all.

Whenever this happens I give those persons an out; we can shut the business down immediately (for me it's just another business test that didn't go well and it needs to be resolved ASAP as I don't like to waste time) or those things must change.

It's difficult to find a business person that doesn't want to become super rich in like one year and that really wants to treat the business as an equal partnership and have fun growing it. If you find one, stick with them, it's pure gold.


Here are my observations as an initially non-technical person working on a relatively technical side-project that requires the help of others:

1. Non-technical people (myself included) often have a bit of a complex about being non-technical. They are well-steeped in the YC/Stanford/Valley zeitgeist and believe their project won't be taken seriously if it doesn't have legitimate engineering talent on the founding team. Depending on the product and the team's growth strategy, this may or may not actually be true.

2. I would posit that fear of not finding a technical cofounder (FONFATC, I just coined an acronym) is really three related, but distinct fears: a. Fear of not being able to get the MVP / beta / 1.0 versions built. b. Fear of not being able to raise money to grow because VC's won't take your team seriously if you don't have a technical cofounder. c. Fear of not being able to recruit good engineers as you scale from, say, 3 people to 15 people. (The reasoning being, good engineers are going to have doubts about working for an organization that doesn't have a technical cofounder; both in terms of not wanting to be supervised by people who don't understand the technical fundamentals and in terms of working in a non-engineer-centric culture).

3. Non-technical people in some cases spend more time trying to find/recruit a technical cofounder than they would have to spend to learn the necessary technical skills to build a basic MVP. Not 1.0, ready-to-ship-to-paying-customers product, but MVP. Getting technical people to join your project is a less painful proposition once you have a product, even a crappy one.

4. Technical friends might not be willing to join your project as a cofounder, for reasons including: you can't pay them the salary they want/need; they're working on their own thing; they don't want to quit their sweet job; they think your idea is dumb. Even in these cases, you can get a lot of help from them if they are in fact your friends. They may not be interested in getting on your cap table, but they'll probably do a monthly code review with you if you ask nicely.


I've got a different question: "Where do I find a non-technical cofounder?" It seems people that understand tech but also have sales/management skills are a rare scarcity.


They're like unicorns, and the only way you usually end up with these folks is by having them start in tech, and then end up doing business.

I'm a technologist (developer), but over the years have morphed into doing sales and strategic direction for our platform. Sales and technology are a seriously winning combination that most folks seem to shun - but if you look at successful startups, again and again, you'll see that the "technical co-founder" does as much sales and speaky-speak as his non-technical counterparts.

Having someone that actually knows what they're talking about sell a product can be a boon.

It can also be a boondoggle, as unfortunately the words "yes, that is in theory possible", which you will hear from technologists frequently, are taken by pure business folks as "yes, this is possible and can be done yesterday, at no cost". Bitten me in the ass more times than I care to admit, and I'm now very careful with how I state things, but it's still a winning combo.


100% agree. So many of the great tech success stories have started with someone deeply technical who knows how to sell. And not just to customers -- also to talent. Ventures with that kind of person at the helm are the ones worth joining.

Networking is important. IMO it's very hard to identify those people without a sufficiently large sample size.


what are you going to do with a non-technical cofounder that has "sales/management" skills? That implies that you already have a product built.

A truly valuable non-technical cofounder will be a product developer, not a sales/management guy. The most valuable type of marketing is baked into product development.


A truly valuable sales leader is contributing to the product development, not by committing actual code, but by identifying what needs to be built to bring in revenue (and more importantly, what doesn't need to be developed any time soon despite all those superficially positive feedback meetings, and which possible markets to develop into are a total waste of time)

And there's no shortage of B2B markets where the tech takes as long to sell into enterprise as to build.


Funny you say this.

All the non-technical cofounders told me, they didn't build a product but the product idea, business plan and marketing strategy are already done. Now they just need a dev to implement the software and they are good to go.


>product idea, business plan and marketing strategy are already done

If they say this, their failure probability is too damn high. What many first time founders don't understand is that startup is a search process in the outlandishly uncertain world. You can't "do" the product idea and strategy before you iterated on your initial hypothesis and verified/discarded/revised it.

This is like startups 101, explained in the basic level entrepreneurship courses on edx/coursera and founder must read books like "lean marketing for startups" and "startup's owner manual".

If a business-side guy or girl doesn't know that, disregard them.


Oh, I do :)

> You can't "do" the product idea and strategy

Most of them tell me, they did marked research as a proof for their idea.


A sales/management type can work on developing and qualifying leads; communicating with legal, accounting, and insurance consultants; and raising outside investment to the extent these are appropriate to the business model.

Even more importantly they add slack. This means there's someone to take out the trash and stock the refrigerator with Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Coke, and almond milk.


Of course a large fraction of these types are too proud to do that.

One thing I always look for, in every member of a startup, is that they aren't too proud "to sweep the floors" if needed.


The idea of slack entails the possibility that a programming ninja can wash the coffee mugs while the sales/administrative person is head down in payables for last month.

Above jumping into the dumpster to retrieve a dollar isn't limited to one skill set.


Absolutely.

Also "slack" might be a useful concept here. E.g. I frequently ended up doing the backups at the startups I worked for, because it's one of my specialties and I really care about avoiding data loss. And after doing the setup, "turning the crank" each day was some non-intense work to do, a welcome break from the 7 hours of heads down programming that's always been my max of "real work".


I had the same problem. This must happen all the time. It just isn't complained about as prominently. It's always a bad idea to found alone. I knew that going in...


When I meet such people in meetups, all I hear is "I am the next Zuckerberg but I have no idea how things work. Where do I find someone to do the work for me?"


That would be an easy one to answer - Zuckerberg did all the coding and hired a non-technical founder.

More aggravating are the ones who think they're the next Steve Jobs and just need their Woz.


It's always strange to me (or sad, I guess) to me when people with ideas want to start businesses without being terrified by their own incompetence and ignorance. I think that's usually a sign that a person doesn't actually feel very strongly about the problem they're solving, and that's a red flag.

If you really, truly care about solving some problem, it should drive you crazy that there's something that you have no idea anything about. IMHO.


I so often have "I have this idea X, blah blah, what should I do?!?!"

And my response, every time is : "Stop talking about it and do it - or don't."

I mean, if you're not prepared to knuckle down and do the work yourself - do you actually believe in what you're doing?

These words were said to a very drunk me in a bar in London some 12 years ago, while I was fucking about with my first botched trainer-wheels startup (social networking for the elite - got serious traction, but we lost interest), and was garrulously asking some poor fucker what he thought I should do about idea X. That was his off-the-cuff response, but I've lived by it since.


Same here unfortunately.

Most people I heard asking that question had no clue about technology, and more importantly, never showed interest in understanding the basics.

My feeling was that they thought of such partnership as a way to get someone work for free.


Having spoken to 10 - 20 of these people myself (business majors at my University always tried to convince CS majors to do their ideas). Some of the post was decent advice, you have to befriend technical cofounders first (i.e. grow).

Something I would add though, if you are a non-technical cofounder it needs to be either equal equity footing (if you are bringing a fair amount of sales/marketing). Otherwise, forget it, I would want 60 - 70% equity. Without my ability to code, you've got nothing. It seems a lot of technical founders sell themselves short in this regard.

Finally, for me, it's always been hell finding a decent designer. The two I talk with regularly are outrageously busy, but usually they can help out. It took me a year or two to find these guys and now we have some synergy, but finding a designer is hell.


Sounds about right for what I would ask for, and I have never found a company. Crunch time is already bad enough at a lot of companies, but an extended one to get the first product even out is probably the worst of them all - the compensation needs to reflect that value.


I'm not a founder, only a developer, but non-technical people asked me if I want to be their cofounder.

Most of the time they are teams of a few business people who do marketing and biz-dev.

When they tell me about their idea, I often think that the only bad thing about their idea is the part, where the company has to supply 4 people, where only one of them can build something.

Also they often see a technical cofounder as a work-horse and not a partner...


Almost inevitably, there will be 3-4 people vying for their ideas to be implemented, sometimes conflicting with each other, sometimes conflicting with what's actually possible technically, and the sole dev guy will end up caught in the middle of all this - not unlike corp work, really. And yeah, they'll almost never see you as an actual CO-founder or equal in any way. I've seen that happen (equality) but more often than not, the situation you described.

If you can't "sell" something until every single pixel is perfect and it scales up to instagram levels on day one and everything else is in place because you "only get one shot at impressing person X (or... first customer)"... you're doing something wrong.


I can't seem to load the page...

That said while we're on this topic, I've always enjoyed Drew Houston's take on it:http://www.quora.com/How-do-I-find-good-technical-co-founder...

"Unfortunately this is a classic problem. "How do I find a really hot single girl to go out with?"

* Good technical people will have ideas of their own that they're excited about, and working for a non-technical founder who, by the way, doesn't know or appreciate the difficulty or time it takes to make something well-engineered and undervalues you from an ownership standpoint, gets old quickly.

* People who are not hands-on building the product at the very early stage of the startup are usually not terribly useful until later, because building the product is most of the real work early on.

* Good engineers have a wealth of compelling opportunities at any given time, so it gets even worse if the non-technical founder is inexperienced, or hasn't already brought a lot to the table (funding, etc.) See, for example, http://www.cs.uni.edu/~wallingf/blog/archives/monthly/2010-1... one view of how technical people perceive "idea guys" who "just need a programmer."

So, what can you do?

* One is look for a technical cofounder, not just an early employee, and give commensurate equity. Again, bear in mind that frankly he or she will be more valuable than you at this phase.

* Two is learn to code enough to bang out a prototype -- this will also make you a better engineering manager if you can appreciate the technical craft and can empathize with engineers. And there are tools like Balsamiq that can help create reasonable mockups that can convey your idea without writing code.

* Three, search the far corners of the earth for talent -- maybe you'll get lucky and find a CS student who hasn't been jaded by bad experiences with arrangements like this. Or, if the technology you need developed isn't rocket science, you can try outsourcing, which is its own Pandora's box. Derek Sivers has a good post on managing that: http://sivers.org/how2hire

Good times, but this is what business cofounders bring to the table, right? They figure shit out, and it's hard work. Hiring the early team is just the beginning."


"* Two is learn to code enough to bang out a prototype -- this will also make you a better engineering manager if you can appreciate the technical craft and can empathize with engineers. And there are tools like Balsamiq that can help create reasonable mockups that can convey your idea without writing code."

I've always been confused by how this is meant to help - could you explain further? I've always been a technical founder, but I've never had any idea how to find a technical co-founder - as you correctly say, good technical people will have their idea they're excited about! So I'm always skeptical that "make a prototype" would work to convince anyone, but perhaps it would - is there some hidden pool of good engineers who exist in some weird fugue state of "show me a cool semi-working website and I'm on-board", outside of, like, 1st year CS?


I can talk about something completely different– I'm a writer, and I work with visual designers. They much, much prefer it when I can give them a terrible sketch of an idea rather than a lengthy diatribe about what I want. Because it's far easier for them to apply their design sensibilities to a crappy sketch than to a cloud of words.

Similarly- I don't think it's "show me a cool semi-working website and I'm on-board", but more of- "Show me something that I recognize immediately as a really good idea, even though it's kind of crappy in execution."

I'm reminded of what Jong-Moon Kim wrote about Pixar movies: http://jiggity.com/kitchen.html

> Pixar uses a structure known as a braintrust to delicately examine works-in-progress. The braintrust is composed of some of the best storytellers of our generation who take a supreme effort in understanding the director's intent before offering suggestions.

> What's most incredible is that this feedback from the world-class cabal is merely suggestive and the director has the power to reject changes. The braintrust is aware of the danger of heavy-handed feedback squashing the soul of the product.

> New ideas are delicate and brittle. What starts off as a ugly, tangential feature later grows up to become a fundamental part of the final product.


That way you can demonstrate that you at least know what you want a finished product to roughly look like and do.


They're all reasonable points, however the big idea in the article is that cofounders are grown from relationships rather than found via a search analogous to hiring. They're more akin to high-school sweethearts than mail-order brides.

The second big idea of the article is that a technical cofounder may be unnecessary in some technology enabled companies because technical employees or freelancers can build the system in exchange for cash.

Finally, and perhaps most usefully, the article suggests that when the resources for a particular business model are unavailable, the business model is not viable despite its feasibility. Technical talent within a business model should be considered a resource. Find a business model based on available resources.


Yup, agreed completely on all counts.

I think Drew's advice is a sort of last-ditch, "you shouldn't have to be asking this, but if you're asking... these are probably your best shots..." sorta POV. Cofounders should have deep friendships and a lot of common understanding, etc.

I'm not qualified to talk about technical cofounders or freelancers, but as a writer/marketer I can tell you that a freelance marketer, however good, will never CARE about your product the way a founding team member will. And I'm guessing building a product is even more complex (it is to my eyes, at least) and hard to do justice to with freelancers.

It could work for say, gimmicky little games that make a surprising amount of money on the side (I have a friend who commissioned freelancers to build him a sort of spot-the-difference game, and he continues to make residual income on it), but it definitely won't work if you're trying to build a "Big Serious Product". In my opinion!


Sorry about the page timeout, I'm sorting about that out now.


Which could explain why they're looking for a technical cofounder..



> A close friend once said that, in order of seriousness, relationships go “business partners, spouses, cats & dog.”

Prioritizing cofounders over spouses surrenders Silicon Valley's moral authority and undermines its cultural leadership.[1]

I've always found prioritizing cofounder over spouse a sad depressing commentary on priority of money over change by bad actors. Innumerable colleagues and VCs have quoted me unprompted, "You can divorce a wife, but you can't divorce a cofounder," leading me to doubt their integrity; It's only true if you prioritize your business over your vows.

It is far more difficult to succeed when prioritizing family, but such is the burden of leadership. Moral authority, a prerequisite of true leadership, derives from such commitments.

[1] Power derived when a leader embodies the values of their followers.


The biggest problem I have with getting an offer to be a technical co-founder is that if this person's main interest is in business, why are the not already rich? A developer's main area of focus is not money so they are less apt to accumulate much, but if your central focus in life is business, then I can't really have a good feeling about your skills if you are not currently rich or have built a successful company. It's like saying you are a great developer but you don't have any software or code to show for it.


I know this is a bit snarky, but honestly: ask.

It is the startup world, there's risks everywhere. Find someone, and if you kick off well with them, then go ahead and try.

If you spend too much time bothering about details like the perfect technical cofounder or non-technical cofounder... chances are you're not putting your time and effort into your actual startup.

In my experience, it's simply been the potential of something that attracts people who actually have a passionate interest. They're the best people. Technical or not.


Two remarks:

First, for non-technical founders, get technical yourself or at least get started: Get a computer, settle on Linux or Windows, get documentation, read, type in code, get it to work, and then build at least something simple.

Second, for technical people considering being a technical co-founder, here are is a threat you should watch for: Basically, the people in the start up, especially the non-technical people, may believe that it is in their interest to block your entering the company or, if you enter, throttle or block your contributions and push you out of the company.

Here those people may understand that what they are doing is bad for the company but believe that it is, still, good for them in the company. In the B-school subject organizational behavior, such behavior is called goal subordination because the person places the good of the company lower (subordinates it) to what they see as their own good.

In particular, a non-technical person, might work hard to hire a technical person with the intention that the technical person will fail so that, then, the non-technical person can have an excuse for not being more technical themselves.

Can such wacko things actually happen? Heck yes.


How to attract a technical cofounder? Have several of the following... 1. Previous success at starting a company 2. A budget 3. Previous success at raising funds 4. If it's B2B, have industry connections and sales experience 5. If it's B2C, some serious expertise in the field 6. Some sort of evidence that you are a true hustler and not starting a company because you are bored with your day job


Seems like good advice.

I'm in the fortunate position of being on the technical side and, I suspect like a lot of technical people, I've turned down plenty of 'opportunities' from ideas people. If you were coming to me hoping to get me on board with your idea, offering anything other than equal footing on the equity side would be a total non-starter. In the majority of cases even that would probably be a crappy deal.

One thing with this:

"If you just need someone who can understand your vision and create the software which allows it to function, you are searching for an employee."

I guess it depends on how technical your product is but I think in the beginning you need to have serious commitment from the technical team. They really need to care about getting the product right or dropping what they're doing on the weekend to deal with a support request. It could mean the difference between life and death for your company.


And the answer to the eternal question: “Where do I find a salesperson cofounder?” ? :-/


or alternatively, "where do I find a good marketing/bus dev co-founder?"


I'm the technical co-founder. My bizdev/sales co-founder found me when he read an article about my product. He'd considered building a business in the same market space, but lacked the technical resources, so when he discovered my fledgeling but ramen-profitable product, it was a natural fit.

In the two years after we started working together, we grew our customer base about 40x.

I'm not sure if this is a scaleable answer to the "where do I find a technical co-founder" question, but it has worked at least once. :) If you're a non-technical person looking for a startup opportunity, I'd recommend it.


May I also ask: how do I get a paycheck, w/o working?

Also, how do I get someone to work for me for free, and I'll mange the cap table?

And last: is it possible in non fantasy world to be gainfully employed, but not even know HTML?


Easy, pay me more than the competition (big corporates, public sector etc) Because of the increased risk of default, you have to offer more. So convince seed/angel funders and then seek me


On the other side of it, what's the best way for a technical founder to find a sales/business guy? (Has HN discussed that before?)


You grow them, just like the article says. I think this applies as much or even more to sales and/or bizdev than to technical co-founders.


You become one yourself.


Ideas are worthless, its all in the execution. If all you have is cute ideas go scam people on the Kickstarter.


Tech cofounders might be in a state of frictional shortage. Before people argue with me (it's rare that I'd call engineering talent in a state of "shortage") I think it's important to note that fault lies with the business co-founders. By "frictional shortage", I mean that cultural factors (low social status of technical people, due to a half-century of us selling ourselves poorly) prevent the market (with equity a larger factor in this market than salaries, because tech base salaries are quite reasonable) from clearing.

Right now, business co-founders trade 2-4 points higher on a 10-point scale. I'm a Tech 8, and a Biz 8 wouldn't, realistically speaking, mix with me. A Biz 6 would try to push me down to 5-10% equity, with the cliff and vesting that would make me more of an employee than co-founder anyway, and take the CEO job.

A Biz 6 can deliver Sequoia on an idea, and a Biz 8 is turning away executive-level offers and board positions and 11-to-3, 7-figure jobs at VC funds. A Tech 8 is happy to break $140k and get interesting projects. I've written at length about this skew: https://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/an-insight-o... . Biz 8 have other, very lucrative, options. A Tech 8 who is objectively just as good at his job (and a harder job) doesn't have the same.

The Tech 8+ drop out of the co-founder market around age 30 (and it's rare that someone even gets to Tech 8 before that age) because they get used to Biz 5's offering 2.5% equity to work on someone else's idea (as opposed to a shared idea with hard technical problems at the core).

See, too many business co-founders want to charge so much for the investor-level contacts, like they're Marlo fucking Stanfield charging $10 million for "a connect", that people usually trickle out before they even get to the Tech 6+ (much less Tech 8+) level. Jeff Dean stays in-house at Google for a reason.

Technical co-founders wouldn't be hard to find if the market could clear. They're hard to find because, while early-stage startups can't pay market salaries for understandable reasons, sociological factors keep equity amounts at shortage prices for good tech talent.


This depends highly on whether the company is funded or not.


Ask them: how much time do you waste endlessly commenting on ridiculous articles on Hacker News?

If it's anything more than zero, they are a poser and fake.




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