How to Recruit a Technical Co-Founder for Your Startup

The LA startup scene is fascinating, having lived and worked in it for a year now - it's a scene teeming with brillaint people with big ideas, and it's starting to attract some major capital from the Bay Area. It has one major issue: a big shortage of technical co-founders.

As a result, people like me get approached fairly regularly by companies that are either trying to recruit me or recruit through me - the vast majority of the time it's a pair of non-technical co-founders looking to third founder aboard, a technical cofounder, to build the MVP prior to raising some money. In my personal experience, the majority of pitches I've received have been poorly calculated and in need of much improvement.

Speaking as a former and future technical founder, I wanted to share my perspective on what non-technical (and technical, for that matter) founders could do differently to try to bring an early tech guy / gal onboard.

Don't Pitch Airtight Ideas; Start a Conversation

The last pitch most technical people entrepreneurial enough to leave a well-compensated job for a startup with no income want hear is one where a product-oriented founder presents an airtight idea that has no room for discussion whatsoever; every single pixel and user interaction has been planned, as has the business model and everything else. They just need a code monkey to build it.

If this sounds like you, start over or hire an outsourcing firm. Founders want to leave their mark on the the business itself and that means all aspects of it, whether it's the branding, the commercial model, or the product's implementation. Sure, a technical co-founder will defer to a commerce person on the specifics of the customer acquisition strategy or the product person on the details of the UX, but that doesn't mean that they want to sit out of those conversations in their entirety.

Any technical co-founder who's willing to take the risk to leave a high-paying job where they do someone else's bidding isn't going to take a not-yet-paying job to do someone else's bidding. They want intellectual co-ownership as much as any of the other founders.

A better way to do this is to start a conversation about a business idea in general, get the people you want as technical co-founders to buy-in and contribute their own ideas into the business, and let them take some degree of intellectual ownership over the project. Don't pitch! Ask questions - get the people you want to co-found with you involved. The amount of work someone like me will do without cashmoney for a project that we "co-own" is dramatically higher than if we were working on "someone else's project" under the same conditions. Read Leadership is an Art and remember what Max Depree says about letting your creative giants roam free; that applies here!

If you're not comfortable letting a geek (or anyone other than yourself) into the idea ownership fold, you're probably not mature enough to found a company.

Build a Demo Yourself

You know what impresses the hell out of me? When a non-technical person has the drive to build an early prototype or a set of wireframes themselves to help illustrate the concept and what they ultimately want to do.

There's still room in the business model and product idea for me to get some mindshare (see point #1,) but the fact that the person was passionate and humble enough to build a cludgy demo that doesn't work quite right tells me that they're not going to flake out and move onto something else while I'm left holding the bag.

A demo is also a great way to get a tech co-founder to buy in, see where improvements can be made, and help them understand the business.

Prove Your Worth

I know I can code, and I can prove it with my Github profile or my portfolio - how do I know that you can aquire customers or design a truly usuable prodct? Go out of your way to demonstrate that you've got skills - get some early partners signed up early; build a blog and a following around whatever idea you have; get some user testominals; do some UX testing; and so forth.

Present an Interesting Challenge

You know what intrigues me, as a developer? Solving big problems and helping a business grow. You know what doesn't? Modifying a WordPress blog for a lame-assed content play. Give me (and other technical types) something big we can chew on - we dig that. It's not that we're looking for overly-complicated solutions for simple problems - we're looking for interesting problems.

Here's how you can tell if your problem is interesting or not: is there an off-the-shelf product that does this? If the answer is "yes," you probably don't need a techincal co-founder.

If you need some advice, swing by Coloft and I'd be happy to talk with you. I'm usually there ;)


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I'm the CTO and founder of Petabridge, where I'm making distributed programming for .NET developers easy by working on Akka.NET, Phobos, and more..