Please, please, please stop asking how to find a technical co-founder.

Listen guys, I'm sorry.  But, I just can't do it anymore.  I can't keep having this conversation with every non-tech founder.  It's just too painful.  On you, on me, and everyone else that you've approached.  I was once on the search for a technical co-founder, so I can empathize.  

But, seriously, Please stop.   

Back in the day, I remember going to my favorite startup mentor, Gregg Fairbrothers, and asking him for help finding a technical co-founder.  Here's what he said:

I can't help you with that, but all the good entrepreneurs seem to figure it out.  Hopefully you will too.

Man, I still love that answer.  That's being a founder.  If you have a problem, go figure out a way to solve it.  As a professor, Gregg was always teaching me larger lessons instead of just answering my question directly.  The cynic might say that he was punting because he didn't have advice to give.  However, he helped me on hundreds of other startup questions.  I believe he was communicating to me that putting together my team was solely on me.  No additional instruction required...or possible.  That's why I love going back to him for life advice.

But I digress, back to you.  You have a very specific problem which you need solved.  You need to find technical co-founder.  This post is my very best effort to help you think through your problem (and by selfish extension, hopefully to never have to answer this question again).

So, here's the really big mental leap that everyone seems to forget:

You don't find a technical cofounder, you earn one.


And that right there is why I get so bored of this question.  It's not like I can really help you 'find' a technical co-founder.  You have to earn a technical co-founder.  And until you realize that, no one will want to work with you.  

So now I ask you, what have you done to earn a technical co-founder?

And don't say that you're the idea guy. Having an idea is one piece, but it's a very, very small piece.  In fact, it's so small that it's actually better to earn a technical co-founder without the idea in place so that you guys come up with it together.  When neither person has an idea prepackaged with some degree of emotional attachment, it becomes far easier to engage in honest customer development, rapid iteration, and all the other lean processes that will eventually help you find product-market fit.  And more importantly, earning a technical co-founder without resting on the merits of your idea forces you to prove yourself in other ways.  And that's good for everyone involved.

So, here's the deal.  Go out and do all of those things that people always do to find talent.  Talk to friends, talk to friends of friends, go to conferences and meetups, etc. Check out the websites that are always popping up (though they don't generally attract quality).

When you meet people through all these various ways, realize that every technical person has one of three options:

A.) Partner with you.
B.) Recommend you to a friend.
C.) Forget about you.

Your goal is to not continually hit Outcome C.  And the way to do that is to earn their respect. The following is not a recipe you can follow that magically produces a technical co-founder in the end.  However, do a bunch of this stuff and the odds that someone recommends you to a friend becomes much higher.  And each of these steps will both make you a better entrepreneur and move your startup along.

How to Earn a Co-Founder

Learn to Code
Stop everything else that you're doing right now for your startup and learn to code.  If you take the time to learn enough to build some small project, you'll learn the language of talking to hackers, and you'll earn some respect.  99% of non-technical guys looking for a technical co-founder won't put in the effort.   This is your single best way of standing out.  You'll learn to naturally see the value of Hacker News and Stack Overflow.  You'll learn to appreciate how things work.  And hopefully you'll enjoy it, which will allow you to have real conversations with hackers about what they do.  Will Miceli wrote the best blog post I've ever read on exactly this strategy, including awesome links for getting started.  Don't know where to start?  Zed Shaw will get you started.

Build the Front-End
What's to stop you from building the front end of your site right now?  You could get design done with 99 Designs, send it off to PSD2HTML, throw it up on Wordpress, and SHABOW! you've got a website.  Of course, there's no backend, no data, none of the special sauce that'll make your concept work...BUT, you'll have proved that you know how to market your idea and build a beautiful product.  Hopefully, you'll learn a ton about your product, but at the very least you can show an interested hacker more than a napkin business plan.

Throw up a Trial Balloon
I'm sure if you think really hard about it, you can come up with some real things that you can do to test your concept hypothesis.  And I'm not talking about more MBA-type research.  Hopefully, you already know the importance of customer development.  Find a way to fake your concept so that users don't know it's not actually built yet.  Take that front-end you built and funnel interested users into a beta waiting list.  Having real users on a waiting list will help you earn a high quality technical co-founder because you'll be pre-empting his biggest fear: that his work will be a waste of his time.

Build a following
Let's say you're building, for example, an automotive parts marketplace.  Go start a blog serving the automotive community.  They are your future users anyway, and you're going to have to figure out a way to market to them.  What better way than earning them now as readers and later converting them to users?  And use Twitter to your advantage.  Building up a following north of a 1000 people is hard because that's more than just your friends.  Which means you have to say interesting things and share helpful links.  It's marketing yourself.  It'll prove your intelligence and your marketing abilities to your future co-founder.

Spend Some Money
When a hacker joins an unproven, non-technical entrepreneur, he's risking his most important asset: his time.  Yes, you're also risking your time, but you have different risk profiles.  While he already knows he can code, neither of you knows whether you'll be able to deliver as the business co-founder.  You need to prove that you've got your proverbial skin in the game too.  Go spend some money on offshore coders and get a prototype built.  Or offer to pay a salary to your technical partner.  My first technical co-founders started as employees.  I paid them cash from day one using credit card debt.  Over time, I earned their trust, and we became equal co-founders.

If you're a hacker in need of some startup advice, ping me anytime—we'll grab a beer and chat startups.  And if you're a business guy that earned a technical co-founder by learning to code, please tell me about it!  I'll buy you a beer...you've earned it.

Find discussion of this post on Hacker News

******************
I'm Jason Freedman.  I co-founded FlightCaster.  
You can, if you like, follow me on Twitter: @JasonFreedman.
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103 responses
Jason,

Great post. I found that even if you don't learn to actually write lines of code, speaking the language of code and understanding data flow can be equally valuable. The reality is, for the type of technology the business co-founder is thinking about creating, being able to write a few lines of python will help gain credibility; but a working knowledge of how the data is stored and transferred, and knowledge of the real limitations and challenges of coding any particular feature, will get you much farther. Hackers are frustrated with the "business person" who just wants features. Being able to communicate a feature, with a level of knowledge for the level of effort, has proven to be a great way to make in-roads to expanding the network of technical professionals who are also interested in starting something new.

Thanks for sharing, I thought this was a great summary.

I think the old adage of learning to code is alright for getting them to understand the technical side but what they really should learn is real business skills, the things that would make them a valuable business founder. Such as not assuming they understand product development but actually learn product development. Don't assume they know how to attract customers but actually learn how to. Know how to do actual SEM and not just theorize how it works. Etc etc etc...
Good advice. When you're a former technical-founder type whose 9-5 has bled you so dry that your programming skills are perfectly suitable for NN4 and IE3, you *still* need to earn the technical co-founder. The task might simply be a bit easier since you can at least "sound" like you know what you're talking about.
Absolutely agree on the "Spend some money" advice! What the business entrepreneur forgets is that they need to prove their commitment to the idea to their tech co-founder and being ready to put money on the table is a great way of doing that. Offering equity really means nothing.
I found this entire article and POV enlightening. I *am* a tech / geek with a 6 year old company of my own looking to find a business partner - and every single one of your suggestions is dead-on. I can't waste time spinning my wheels with someone when they come to me with an 'idea' that they need me to put sweat or cash into - unproven. Show me you understand how my world works... show me your brilliant automagical glitter completely original idea has legs and teeth. Put skin and cash of your own in the game - meet me half way.
Oh, and something else that just popped into my head - not every tech or coder is a great fit for a co-founder. Don't get enamored by the fact they can crank out code or back end, but they also need to know how to run a lean and mean business, obtain clients, drive the vision and goals of the company, etc. as well as have a broad and deep understanding of architecture and not just code in PHP/HTML. Having a resident code monkey on your founders board doesn't guarantee cr@p.
You said having an idea is a very, very small piece. I beg to differ. The hard part is figuring out what to build, what people want. It always has been.

My position goes against the grain of the tech industry. However, it appears attitudes in are changing, because ideas alone are now worth $150K: http://bit.ly/lLBSKq

It's funny, I was going to write some thoughts on this exactly.

I actually think you can apply the same principles to finding investors.

I think the main thing my CTO told me was that he knew I was legit because I was willing to put in the sweat to do all the other things I can't do (like seriously code).

The goal isn't to become a master of x,y and z - it's to make shit happen and move things forward.

There's a huge echo-chamber in the startup world about "hustling" and sometimes people equate that to "networking."

Hustling is getting shit done (sometimes that is networking).

Please please please don't recommend 99designs. I understand you're just trying to get a basic first draft completed but it's an insult to designers.
Also, don't call them a "technical co-founder" unless you're willing to be called "business co-founder."

Having a "founder" and a "technical co-founder" is insulting to the technical person if you were both there from the beginning.

I agree that showing commitment is key. However, learning to code to any level beyond beginner is a waste of time.

Learning how to code, when you are not a coder may not be the best use of your time. You are the business guy, and you need to drum up business. That's your specialty. The tech co-founder is the coder. You need to understand tech enough to talk intelligently, plus you need to be able to mock stuff up to get customer feedback.

Sure, if you have loads of time, learn how to code, but the chances are you are super busy, and you need to focus on customers and product.

Would you really be more interested in a tech-cofounder if they were spending time working out how accounting in quickbooks works? No, thought not, so you should not partner with people who will be more impressed if you can code. It's a different skill.

Play your position, but be aware of what is going on on the field.

Great article, I wrote a blog post called "Be the Cofounder You're Looking For", should just link here instead!

I pointed people to Zed Shaw also, but I think that you make a compelling argument that front end work could be done too - depending on the person they might be able to make some well thought out wireframes that would attract talent.

Disagree with the 99designs comment, do what you need to do to get something up and working quickly and inexpensively, nothing like paying a designer at a fair rate to build exactly what you have in mind - which on day one looks or feels nothing like what the final product will be.

+19, thank you.
I guess I did it the hard way. I'm the technical co-founder kind of guy, and I didn't like any of the business guys I was meeting, so I went off and learned enough of the business side to do both ends myself.

Then I brought on other technical guys who are my peers and didn't need hard pitches. What I was working on sold itself, because I'd already done the prototyping and concept proofs.

Now I get to be both business and technical and argue with myself ;)

Christopher Ambler
Insider House, LLC

Jason your points on earning a co-founder are solid (although I disagree on learning software, more to come on that). However, your mentor's idea/approach is weak at best and ironic considering he's a professor.

What would it be like if we all had to re-derive physics equations instead of learning from a teacher? Or a better analogy (and random example), when I was learning to use FOP a friend advised me but in the end it took lots of trial and error to get enough experience for me to be effective. However, at that moment all his advice really paid off. The world would kind of suck if everyone followed the "go figure it out" approach; and anyway, "figure it out" and "let me help you" are not mutually exclusive.

Moreover, he's also wrong on the second point: not all successful founders figured it out on their own. Many have had lots of help finding technical counterparts, I have first-hand examples.

Back to your ideas on "earning a partner," they're all solid and great indicators to look for. The abstract is no one should be more invested than the original founder (at least at the beginning). If someone is seeking a technical counterpart who will do more work than the founder, who in many cases just had an idea, that partnership is DOA.

My only disagreement is with your first point on learning to code. There are some (rare) cases where this is useful, such as if the original founder wants to start a software business. Otherwise, the "business" founder should focus on their primary goals: business strategy, business goals (start achieving some immediately), i.e. get things going. Mocking up screens is a great first step if critical to the business, but the cost-benefit of learning to code is just not there when every second counts.

Jason,

Great post, as usual. I would like to think that I "earned" a technical co-founder, and that the two of us managed to do the only thing harder, to "earn" a design/ux co-founder.

As I have said to the cartloads of non-technical founders looking to identify a technical co-founder, the art of startups is to find ways to build incredible value out of zero resources. If you "just need a co-founder" or "just need to raise some capital" to build value, you're DOA. Finding a co-founder should make you be 100x more productive, and the same goes for raising capital.

But you need to demonstrate that you personally can build outsized value out of nothing. Most technical co-founders I know are looking for that. If you can make it rain, it should already be raining.

Pretty much the most spot-on commentary on this subject I've seen. Have been asking folks around town the same question, and have gotten the same answers. Wish I had read this first instead of wasting their time!

One question:

When you offered cash to your technical co-founders, was it in addition to the equity share they would have received if there was no salary involved? Or did the salary affect that equity share?

Also, there are so many tools out there now for cheap (read: free) market validation, Launchrock, free forms like Wufoo, SnapEngage to talk to potential customers, etc.
Learning to code? Not a chance. I'm quite new to this and I don't say that you are wrong, but I would rather spend 6 months finding the one technical co-founder that will have the ability to make me understand the potential and limitations of his craft through good old dialog than learning how to code.

To me, it sounds like you need to be able to do everything yourself in order to stand a chance. Well I look at many apps out there and you can tell that the technical founder of it did not have a good designer to help him. Many of them fix problems that only programmers will ever have and can't be scaled.

Yet nobody expects the programmer to mock up a slick looking front end with legible type.

I think not knowing how to code will be perceived as an asset once you meet the right technical person to team up with. It gives you two different points of view. Teams are great when people from the team complete each other, not overlap.

I do agree that you need to earn their attention though. That's a given. Give before you ask for anything.

I'm a non-technical founder developing a web app for nonprofits (we're a for profit launching next month to the public). I have 2 full time technical guys working for me (one front-end, one a hybrid of front-end and Rails) and another guy who works the majority of the week on me and is essentially a senior Rails developer. I'm bootstrapped and have some money from a past business to allow me to hire.

I didn't know anything about web development but I had what I thought was a good idea. I didn't know the difference between a web designer and a web developer. I didn't know what CSS was. I didn't know what Rails was. So, I started reading a ton of books about development - both front end and back end. I started reading a ton online - HN, tons of blogs, etc. Even though I couldn't really develop, I could at least ask decent questions. I then had a basic idea of what I was looking for. I decided to start with a front-end guy. I found a young guy about a year out of college who was new to the area and looking. I found him on Craigslist - one of the only good stories I've heard from hiring on Craigslist. I followed some of 37signals advice in posting jobs.

Then I started looking for a Rails guy. At this point we had a logo, some stuff designed/mockedup/wireframes, and the basics of some of our front end stuff together. We went to a regional conference with some cool folks. I met a Rails/front end guy at an after party who lived in my city. I was able to show him what we had worked on, he liked it, and was OK with moving from doing freelance to working for a startup. A few months later, we needed some more deep knowledge of Rails so I talked to a freelancer in my city. He's been working for me for a while now and if we get some traction, we've both talked about him coming on full time. Right now he's so legit that I feel like he can get done in 3 - 3.5 days a week what a "good" Rails guy could get done in a week and a half. He's also saved our butts a couple of time when we were thinking of going down certain paths.

So, I would say that even if a non-technical founder isn't thinking of actually coding, at least read up on it a lot and get seriously interested. And then get something that you can show people so that you can show progress. Then start talking to people at conferences, to friends, etc.

Also, it really, really helps if you can pay people instead of just offering equity in something that's worthless at the time.

Nice to read this post.

As a business guy, who had to learn to Code (Java, to a low-mid level grade) and manage the Code others wrote (while waiting for money to pay more freelancers), I appreciate the offer of a beer.

The other side of being forced to learn to Code is it's like owning a restaurant -- You don't want to be wholly dependent on your Chef - otherwise it's his/her restaurant. You need to allow them to quit and not threaten you. You need to be able to walk into the kitchen and at least get through the evening, serving customers, until you can find another Chef.

I'm not as great a Chef as people I hire. But, I'm better at hiring great Chefs now.

Am I ready to take on a technical (late to the game) co-founder who hasn't gone through the pain and suffering of the early days? Sure. Just don't try to BS me on the tech stuff, 'cause I can sniff that out far better now. Ideally, it means there will be more respectful relations all around.

I'm a tech guy and it could sound strange, but find a business co-founder is hard issue too. So I got couple of ideas in different state of developing, but have no idea how to find a business guy. I may suppose you say - just go directly to the nest of biz people like conferences and exhibitions and talk, talk, talk...
But it's the same as study programming for business guy. It's hard and it's opposite to nature )
So, guys, if you know post like Jason's article but for tech guys - please point me on it.
If I were to do the "find a co-founder" dance again I'd still go looking for a Technical co-founder. I found a technical co-founder once, and the project did OK, but not great, learned a lot, yadda yadda.

Since then I've taught myself a bunch of Rails, identified about ten things technologically that we did WAY wrong that last time, and realized that I'd much much rather HIRE a technical guy once I've gotten an MVP and some $$, by myself. Prototyping out a web app in Rails is so easy it's funny.

I gave away 50% equity for something that, nowadays, I could have built in a month and a half. Seems a lot better to skip the whole process and just teach yourself to code.

Jason - I think you capture the essence of this topic so well and take it way beyond "understanding how a developer thinks." A big takeaway for me was for people to stop talking about an idea and actually do some hard work. Once you've taken the concept to a certain point that your network and other mentors you talk to believe in you, they will help you find the co-founder. The other major theme in your post which is spot-on is to "earn" it. Networking and building relationships for tech or business folks are so important and they take time. Its like dating or making friends, you have to invest the time, but the reward can be awesome and mutually beneficial.

Great title for you blog post, you must be a marketing person :-). Let me know if you're in Seattle and want to grab a beer.

Jason - great post first off. Second, be a little gentle on us business founders. We do have to do our job and that's what I think you are saying. Do your job as a founder, get done what you can without coding. As for learning how to code, great suggestion. I would say hang out with coders is even better. They are basically cool people and if you don't try to come off as a tech then you are usually cool with them. They do love to talk about what they are working on and that's where I usually start the conversation. I now have a ton of coder friends who I can send a quick question to and they give me a ton of knowledge. Most like beer too!
Why are there so many stupid posts like this?
I'm confused. I just don't know what I am.

I have an EE degree, but since i'm an older guy, I haven't written a C program in 20 years. I also have an executive MBA. At this point in my career I have no intention of learning to code again. I was an OK coder but not a gifted one. I've lead large software projects as a project manager so I get the process from need, to requirements, to system spec, yadda yadda which allowed me to get a prototype of Dialflow built with contractors. The engineer in me still knows how to get things done in a technical environment. But the new MBA side of me (2006 grad) simply loves the business challenge of solving a real problem, and actually starting a business that makes-get this- MONEY.

BUT I JUST DON'T KNOW WHAT I AM. A technical founder or business founder? The engineer in me hates "idea guys", the business man in me hates businesses that come up with cute apps that no one really wants.

I'm having fun here. But I actually am a bit confused. I certainly need a young, hungry tech guy up on the latest architectures in order to move forward. Hopefully I get a little respect having an outdated engineering degree. Knowing who Tesla, Maxwell, and Kirchhoff are still carries weight right?

Curtis

I guess I'm in the the opposite boat (like Oleg above). I'm more of a technical founder looking to work with a more business/marketing founder. I think the most difficult part is probably matching up personalities and ideas. If only there were a site for that...
Amazing arrogance. The world is full of failed companies with "technical co-founders" and there are countless success stories of non techie founders who have build major businesses. Besides, you attract a technical person with the right incentives - just like you would for any other talent. A word for entrepreneurs, techie or "business" (as if those are the only types of people in business): don't fall for this type of self-aggrandizing article. Just go for it. You'll find that everything you need is actually findable.
@humbledMBA. This post sounds very familiar. Thanks for taking the time to chat the other day. Glad I could inspire a blog post.
Check out "WeekendHacker" - http://bit.ly/WeekendHacker - it may be a good way to "micro-engage" potential technical co-founders. It's a nifty little side project of his that's tracking fast. Few weeks old & 5000+ hackers strong!

It was launched by a friend out of Copenhagen Thomas Petersen (@Hello_World), founder of the design agency HELLO BRAND www.hellobrand.com

loved this post. thank you for writing it.

back in the day ages of writing early HTML in notepad pre-WYSIWYG we remember the faint flutter of excitement at doing a tiny (we admit, TINY) piece of VB Script - the bit that translates into "hello world"

and the world opened up.

@teamgloria_

I like the post, but title is bit confusing or contradictory to what Jason talked in the post. How to earn a co-founder would probably be a betters title.

I second with "Spent some money" advise. Business people should also prove that they have a skin in the game by some way. Obviously it varies depending upon what else you are brining on table, and what has been done before.

Here's a way to prove your business skills:

Artists (musicians, filmmakers, painters, etc) are always looking for business help in the same way that "idea guys" are always looking for technical help. Go find one that you think is awesome, and spend a few weeks of your time giving their career a boost. This is essentially what you are asking your technical co-founder to do: spend their time implementing your idea.

Doing this for an artist can fairly quickly prove that you can do the business/marketing part and will give you a sense for what the tech co-founder experience is when meeting with you. For example, you might meet with a bunch of musicians (idea guys) based on their music (idea), and decide which one to work with based on how well you think they can deliver on their part (the music/showmanship or business/customer development).

Once you've done that with some success, you can use these as examples of your business savvy, and you'll have great, unique stories for the potential tech co-founders you meet.

Does the idea of spending weeks or months of your time working on some random artists career sound too risky? As an iPhone app developer I can say that that's exactly what it feels like when "idea guys" ask me to spend months of my life on some niche iPhone/iPad app.

You hear similar advice for getting both venture capital and tech co-founders. Build the brand, build the community, and get the business going as best you can. That's the only way anyone will take you seriously.

We're actually currently looking for a Tech Co-Founder. But the good thing is, by tinkering with CMS platforms over the last year, we know exactly what we want. And what we need. (We're building a network for artists of all kinds to connect, interact, and sell in a reliable way.) Not only that, but we have an awesome community built mainly through events (multimedia art events where creatives collaborate and network). Why not offer what you say your going to offer before the technology is built?

Our next step is just emailing friends in the know, hitting up meetups, and crashing conferences ;)

In conclusion, I think learning code sounds fun. Anyone who says no way to that is probably stuck in the past. Tech folks have to learn business. Business folks should at least learn the language they are trying to benefit from.

Thanks and Cheers!

Great post Jason, I spread it around sharring throught Twitter and LinkedIn. Thanks for answering this question for me. So many people also ask me this. And most of them only have an idea, no business model or briefing or plan, generally they only knows how to use Web 2.0 tools but don´t have any idea how to do it, how to code, build and deliver any prototype.

But I think before learn how to code, they must understand how these things works, they must read about Business Model Generation, Customer Development, Ágile product development methodologies like SCRUM, and other IT best practices like ITIL, and basic business fundamentals, mainly about how to deal with people: Co-founders, Colaborators, Partners, Customers, ...

Att. @neigrando

Excellent post,
I wanted to write about this topic before.
Technical people are busy working on there own projects, so don't wast your time looking for a co-founder, learn to code and start working the first version of your product right now.
Great post - especially the part about figuring it out yourself.

If you can't convince someone to build your idea, then how are you going to get people to use it or solve other problems ?

Interesting post, I never saw it that way since I never had a technical co-founder, I just hired the technical guy. Never saw the need for a technical co-founder.
You see, I don't code and I really don't need to because I know what "can be done" in coding. And that's the only thing that is really relevant IMO. Of course I wish I could code but when you are +50, it gets a bit uphill.
Forgot to mention:
I have a friend who has a technical cofounder at www.datosperu.org
the problem is he understands coding but the technical guy doesn't understand business!
So it can happen the other way around too!
Great post. And you know what? It works both ways! I am a *technical* founder, and I've been looking for a "designer"-ish co-founder for months and months for my startup... And its exactly the same - your advice works. "Learn to code" becomes "Learn to design", "Build the front-end" becomes "build the backend" etc etc
Great post. And you know what? It works both ways! I am a *technical* founder, and I've been looking for a "designer"-ish co-founder for months and months for my startup... And its exactly the same - your advice works. "Learn to code" becomes "Learn to design", "Build the front-end" becomes "build the backend" etc etc
I don't think a non-coder needs to learn to code in order to show commitment to a project/business/idea. I DO think whoever is supposed to be running the technical side of things needs to make sure they understand what good code is, good architecture is, how to hire and direct good coders, etc. I cannot code, but I know how to find and vet good programmers. I am *technical* for sure, but I can't code. There is more to being *tech* than being a code monkey.
Yu also bought this back to basics. I think so many people just get confused because there is so much to think about and do that their little brains expire. But what you are saying here is just go one step at a time, take your time and younwill get there.

Nice post

Brilliant post... the constant question you speak of is what led us to found KAYWEB Angels - angel investment by way of development and mentoring instead of cash. We are tech co-founders in three startups so far, and about to add another 3 or 4 to our portfolio in July! See www.kaywebangels.com if interested!
I've been taking the first steps to teach myself to code. To make that process easier I've also joined the exec team at my school's startup society which has helped me meet like-minded individuals, consisting of both hackers and non-hackers, who I can have more insightful and meaningful conversations . Earning your technical co-founder, versus "finding them" is the way to go. Thanks Mr. Jason Freedman.
This post is great advice - frank and to the point.

I see startups in NYC who's entire product is 100% software and they don't even think to ask how to find a technical cofounder but rather prefer to "outsource all that pesky software stuff".

It makes me wonder about trying to startup an architecture or law firm with botanists or circus performers.

It doesn't make any sense at all, but outside the valley, this practice of ignoring the question entirely seems just as common as asking the question posed in this article.

Awesome post that really hits home. It's a refreshing change from the "go to meetups" answer! It's a real call to action. Fundamentally, this isn't just good advice for finding a technical co-founder, it's good advice for being a damn good founder and CEO. If you're too uninteresting to have anything to tweet about, too risk averse to put in your own money, or too incompetent or uncreative to at least make something for early customers to throw rocks at, you have bigger problems.

Thanks for the tough love Jason!

Here's a learn to code anecdote for you:
I had a college buddy come out for a three day weekend (Friday to Sunday) to help me out with an "idea" (that is being generous given the state of the concept back then). This guy was a 7 year veteran of Google search and infrastructure teams. Mid-day Sunday when it became clear that he wasn't ready to leave Google for my amazing new startup idea, I switched tack. I dug an old Dell compute tower out from under my bed, we went to Best Buy to buy the cheapest mouse and keyboard we could find, and I had him show me how to set up ubuntu on the machine. We installed python, he got me set up with an X-Windows server on my laptop and taught me how to ssh in and generally get around using the shell (all the old muscles from the MIT Athena clusters started to get back into shape). From about 5 pm until I took him to the airport at 11 pm, he gave me crash course in python, parsing mbox files, making http post requests, and regexes. When i got home from the airport I started coding, and by 7 am on Monday (just in time to shower and go to work) I had a working demo that parsed my entire email inbox that I had downloaded with Thunderbird into an mbox file (~23,000 emails) and used our text analysis engine to rate my relationship with every person I had corresponded with. It even got it mostly right!

Even more than the cred this might get me when I talk to engineers, my ability to talk to them in detail about the workings of the technology and the implementation has been a huge advantage. Fundamentally, I won't be a good founder/CEO in a company that's so tech heavy if I can't talk about it in a real way.

Great article, your words could not be more true.

The technology that we have developed has much greater potential than the niche we had carved out in the Australian marketplace, so one month ago I made the move to San Francisco to pursue the bigger dream.

My first goal was to find a team. The first event I went to was a networking event. 10 or so people got up at the event and said they were 'hiring' - I think there was one engineer in the room. It was a little embarrassing and I must admit, slightly unnerving, if this was to be an accurate reflection of the ratio of engineers to recruiters. Luckily it's not. Strangely enough, engineers don't tend to hang out at these 'networking' events.

Next, someone suggested going to a hackathon. It was a little intimidating, the only time I had heard of a hackathon was on the Social Network. I took the plunge and it was well worth it. Over the last month I have been having a crash cause in coding, I have gone to hackathons, coding courses, learnt online, bought books, started a micro website. It has been such an enlightening experience, after working with engineers and writing technical specifications for the last 5 years, to actually write a line of code myself and see it appear on the web or give me the required output is an incredible experience.

It is very unlikely that I would write a line of code on our web app as the level of code we require is pushing the frontier of development and is even beyond the scope of most 'real' engineers. However as we are going to be having some of the world's best engineers in my office, I think it is a small courtesy to be able to speak their language.  

We have been very fortunate to have already  found some great team members and technical advisors. It hasn't been purely from the coding itself, but I think learning to code has helped to prove to myself and others my commitment to learn, to take on challenges and go outside my comfort zone and perhaps most importantly it helps to show I respect the incredible people that have the capacity to turn my dream into a reality.

I've been attending startup events in the Boston area and it seems like everyone is looking for a technical cofounder. When someone tells me they're looking for a technical co-founder I'll ask if they've tried oDesk or similar and I seem to get the same response back - "Well I really want someone who's committed and blah blah blah..."

If you're not committed enough to find a few thousand dollars to pay a contractor for a first pass at your idea how could you possibly ask someone else to get on board? Crazy.

As to learning to code, I say thank you for this timely post it validates a decision I made not 1 week ago. I was torn, my thoughts were

"I'm the business side of this, I'm wasting time if I'm learning to code, I should be on the phone."

juxtaposed with

"I am not in control of my own projects, really, because I don't know enough to take over if I had to, AND I'm not getting to market fast enough"

With some hesitation I decided I'd dive into learning with an understanding that I'll probably never be the BEST but if I could get at least functional there's some security in that and moreover maybe I get my ideas out the door quicker (after they've been validated) and save some money while I'm at it. (I have 1 moderately successful saas business and another I'm working on, I'm 85% on the business side)

I'm currently working my way through Chris Pine's book (for the past week). http://pine.fm/LearnToProgram/ and of all my attempts at learning over the years it has been the best book I've found to get started, I highly recommend it.

Thanks again for the post.

Don't try to teach yourself technical chops. It's a waste of time, because whatever you cobble together w/o any training will be awful.

A better approach is to throw yourself out there and meet people, keep going back again and again until you get the right introduction. It's that simple, personality and perseverance will find you a co-founder, not sitting at home on the computer trying to do something you've never done before.

http://gigaom.com/cloud/facebook-trapped-in-mysql-fate-worse-than-death/ This article really makes you think what happens when you build a startup tech product on a piece of tech that won't scale. Do't try to teach yourself code or take shortcuts.
As a founder that does not have technical expertise I have found that I often have something to offer, in return, to our technical partners. As long as you respect the relationship as one that must be mutually beneficial, I think you can get past most, if not all hurdles.

Ultimately it's all about finding the right match. You have to both be on the same page and personally we refer to our Founders as just that...Founders. Co-Founder just sounds non-commital right from the start.

Great post...

Yep - If you need a technical co-founder, you are doing it wrong. 99.9% of projects I would prefer to be paid than be your partner. That 1 in 1000 - I'll talk to you about a partnership.
@LynetteRadio: And your argument against learning how to code is to cite the "failure" of Facebook??? Umm, OK, looks like we've just entered the twilight zone. I 'm no FB fan, but I think citing the most highly valued startup in the world as an example of what "not to do" is a a little odd, wouldn't you agree?

(BTW, on the db-related technical issues the article brings up I am in total agreement - I'm just saying that this technical mistake obviously hasn't hurt FB fatally and if anything reinforces Jason's point about learning to code).

To see this advice in action, take a look at Instagram's history:
http://www.quora.com/Instagram/What-is-the-history-of-Instagram
We had some seed capital but it wasn't enough to just hire anyone we wanted, so I opted for looking for a technical co-founder that could accept a very basic salary and shares. We found him! We developed http://www.guiafono.com , a phone book directory that is acquiring lots of users.
I must be clear on something though: We operate from Spain and here it is easier to find good technical guys when compared to Northern Europe for example.
I've read through some of the comments to this post (which I thought was great!), and I see that there're people advocating both sides of the coin (at least in part to some of your assertions - specifically the need to learn programming). I agree with you... on most everything.

Now, I do believe it's useful to have help or guidance when a startup, so as to minimize the severity of mistakes made. Part of that equation is directly related to finding a co-founder (tech or otherwise). Even though, this post was an attempt to free yourself from having to help those in search of a tech co-founder in the future... I believe it turned out to be quite insightful and helpful. I wish I had found this a couple years ago.

Just recently (a few months ago), I switched from trying to find a tech co-founder, to earning one. First, I combined several projects together (idea wise), and spent months doing nothing but sales, market research, and talking to future customers. I know their need and pain points like the back of my hand (don't worry... I still talk to them daily, lol). Now things are getting serious (I have a couple paying customers (all done without a website, logo, or business card), and am having to forgo opportunities to get my other 'ducks in a line'). I've now put up a splash page (shoddy at best), am having my logo and business cards designed, and am now in the process of building a Magento site with some hired help from India.

True - I'm still in need of a tech guy.. but I'm not so worried about finding one. When the time's right, and the person who shares my vision comes along... things will work themselves out. In the meantime, I'm learning to program... at least the basics. Not because I will be the one doing the coding, but because I want to have a basic conceptual understanding of the process, so that I can better communicate my thoughts to the person that fills the CTO role.

It seems to me, that everyone above who disagrees with you about the need to learn some coding... takes your advise to be indicative of a huge time-suck. True you said: "Stop everything else that you're doing right now for your startup and learn to code." However, I don't take this so literally as I feel many have. Taking an hour or two a day isn't too much to ask... and I feel definitely worth the time.

Besides... I do feel it demonstrates to a tech founder one's desire to compromise, collborate, learn, and grow -- as a team. I mean... hell -- the reality of the situation is, most business co-founders, are most likely going to require the tech guy to learn something about his proposed industry and market. Not so sure why this has to be one sided.

Any way... thanks for the post. I appreciate the insight, and will recommend this article to others.

Realy great post! And this should be translated to Russia, cause ther is also the same problem. Thanks!
Excellent post. Just a quick note to let you know I've referred to it in my blog post on the subject. :-)
really interesting post, but seems like it caters to the "i want my cake and to eat it too" instinct of techies in a market where their skills are valuable. i don't disagree that there are thousands of bad, silly, or marginal-value ideas out there. On the other hand, I'm no coder, but i bring technical expertise in a complex market and a solution that would never have come out of a coder's head.

Plus, I've learned that trying to find a tech co-founder who I'd work well with, who would generously forgive my technical weakness, and who would embrace an idea that goes against a lot of conventional thinking was kind of like trying to find a soulmate.

This is a very interesting article. I think anything you do you need to earn however you should stick with what you are good at. Putting everything on pause to learn to code could be a serious setback. Great article though!
So, am I to understand that a biz guy has no right to ask a tech guy to "put some skin in the game"? I like the article and it is thoughtful but one-sided. It makes me glad that when I asked my dad to teach me to drive he didn't just throw me the keys and say, "go figure it out son! If you kill someone at least you might learn something!". Are all techies so wary of "idea" or "biz" guys? We have put years into learning our craft as you have yours. Both sides of the same coin and they should strive to come together instead of make unreasonable demands of the other. A "biz" guy knows how to SELL the product and get funding while the TECH guy knows how to build it and make it shine!. They both have to work together on communicating each side so both will have SOME understanding of the other person''s demands, needs and goals. It doesn't mean they both need to be able to do the other person's job. They simply need to be able to communicate where the other one is and how it affects the overall project. Should I infer that if I find a tech co-founder that he should take valuable time away from coding to learn accounting and human resources just so I feel he has some "skin in the game"? No, because it is an unreasonable waste of his valuable time. Also, if two people agree on equity vs. pay both are putting something into the project. The coder his/her time and the biz guy spending his/her time to fly, cab, eat, meet, pitch, cab and fly. Why are those expenses and outputs less valuable to that of a coder who, yes, puts in time, but is not out $$$$'s?

There seems to be a pride in knowing one can code and that trumps everything and anything the other has to offer is worthless. One can't survive without the other. Without the screen bling the "biz" guy can't sell the project and without the meet-n-greet bling the "tech" guy is busy trying to come up with a project. Both should work for free for each other to get the project off the ground to show they have both bled for the greater good. Besides, both can always make some side cash In their current life until the project is ready. That way the "biz" guy doesn't resent the "tech" guy for taking money if it fails. If both work pro bono in the begining they will have an urgency to work together to get the project off the ground and both will feel they contributed equally to building something important. In the end, I bet the end product will be better quality. OTOH, both might just find they wasted some time but probably learned something important and made a good friend in the process. Who knows, mutual respect and understanding is more productive than, "don't show up with out offering pay". Skin is skin, no matter how it's put into the business.

So, how do you flip this concept, when you're a hacker trying to earn yourself the next Steve Ballmer for a sidekick?

BTW, @Ghardin, I guess a leftover from my Rugby days, I have always put all my skin in every "game" I've been part of - can show the scars. Been taken for a ride too many times to count, and now becoming maybe too careful...

Right now I am trying to learn startup business skills w/Chuck Essley c/o venture-lab.org, so I guess I am /already/ flipping prescription #1...

I definitely agree with the "earn vs find" side of the article but I think some of the recommendations from how to do so are a bit off base.

I'm in the fortunate position of having a CS degree from a top UK university and also having studied some business modules, along with some pretty wide ranging reading along the way. So when I founded my company two years ago I didn't need to find my other half.

But that said, if I were to throw away my business knowledge and want to find someone to take an equity stake and hack on their ideas I sure as hell wouldn't want them to have wasted a bunch of time learning to code.

Put yourself in the hacker's shoes. You're at a cocktail party and two potential business partners pitch you on joining them to work on their idea. Which of them are you going to go with...

Guy A: Hey guy, I have 12 pre-paid customers and 34 letters of intent to order. I need someone to be the technical brains of the outfit and I'm willing to give up an equity stake to get it.

Guy B: Hey guy, I've just spent the last 6 months learning to code so I can talk to you about my great idea.

There are two things that matter in the start up world. Making product and sell product (or just straight user acquisition if you want to be an over valued social network IPO). By the very nature of seeking a technical cofounder you're admitting you can't be the "making product" guy. That means being the "selling product" guy ... so get your ass out there and sell.

And for all the "enterpreneurs" in the room hiding behind "I can't sell it until it's built right?" excuses, go watch this Mixergy interview with Sam Ovens -

http://mixergy.com/sam-ovens-snapinspect-interview/

He had $5,000 of customers' money in his bank account before he even engaged a development house to build it. And he didn't stop selling the whole time it was in development.

Making product or selling product.

thanks for such a wonderful article. you briefly define technical partner . really article worth it .
Let me get something off my chest. Learning to code is not as important as knowing what technologies are the "best practice" for your business. I recently studied up on sql and found nosql more promising for our database intensive site. My lead tech (who is highly talented) was not aware of this trend. Leadership goes both ways. You say learning to code is important. Well, I am looking for techs with visionary prowess, forward observation of trends, and the skill to see proper value generation, AKA business modeling. For the past six months I have seen very talented techs get sucked up into some truly bad ideas. There is an assumption that techs are kind of godlike. Well, they are not. For every ten hours a tech puts into coding and developing, I put in three times that in marketing, modeling, research and more. And as for earning a tech cofounder, I agree you need to get out. And I am doing just this. Those interested are welcome to attend... http://www.meetup.com/Tech-Business-Cofounder-Salt-Lake/
I am trying to create value and attract a tech co-founder. What are your thoughts on having an MVP done through a small dev shop and then be able to present that to a potential co-founder? I feel like he will respect the initiative. Thoughts?
I have he opposite problem. I'm technology, looking for a start up team that will bring in investors. I can make ordinary plastic biodegrade, for a fraction of the cost of bioplastic, and without using food for non-food uses. See: http://earthnurture to learn more about the technology. Oh, and I started a Linkedin group to help potential team members in the Seattle area find each other. See: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Startup-Team-Finder-Seattle-4739715
Am the founder of a tech company called bankbook. this is our vision.To bring a new approach of business interaction to the world. This is how it works. we plan to build an application where stock brokers and investors can meet and interact with the stock brokers explaining online to their investors how and why to trade. where companies and clients can meet and clients could ask and like and purchase products directly from companies, where companies could place their price list for goods and services, where business men and women and friends can meet and friend one another and know much in interaction, and airlines could sell business tickets to people willing to go on trips , where banks could give their clients a monthly report of their accounts and where clients could contact their banks and talk with them whats on their mind, and we are still thinking more possibilities. these application , am working it out with my partner in India. but presently am in Cameroon, seeking these fund to come and start up with these company in new york.many have called these idea a masterpiece and i know you will love to be the ones that started up with this idea. presently I will be needing a seed funding to start up . lets talk on how to move forward. we are already on the project and need these funds to go through. there are many ways we will be getting money from these application. just too many. please give these mail to the appropriate office. thanks for your interest. am open to get great programmers in the USA.
around.
Realy great post! And this should be translated to Russia, cause ther is also the same problem. Thanks!
Thank you, finally a decent website with good information in it.
Very useful reading.
Thanks for this stuff, It's really help.
http://www.htmlguys.com.

Cheers,
Sassie Porche

nice post
Good article, and bang on about "earning" a technical co-founder. I'd say though that for a tech startup, the business co-founder's main priority is quite often to focus on funding the project. This involves selling the idea to investors, building a team, working out the business models, marketing, finding customers, learning enough about the tech side of things to ensure the project is viable, and yes, possibly some coding. No two startups are the same though, and I agree with the person who advised Jason in the first place. "you have to figure it out".

Ultimately, as Jason suggests, it's about meeting people and finding the best fit, where everyone concerned recognises and respects the contributions of everyone else.

Best of the best !!
I've learned that trying to find a tech co-founder who I'd work well with, who would generously forgive my technical weakness, and who would embrace an idea that goes against a lot of conventional thinking was kind of like trying to find a soulmate.
I've got a question that is a slight variation on this. I am just starting this process of forming a start-up and it's only me as a founder. I've had a small website design business (focusing on Drupal) and mostly have been servicing small business owners. At one point I brought in several contractors which I have been using on oDesk so I can do more work and do more complex jobs (custom coding). And with this same team of contractors I have been, part-time, having my guys work on my tech start-up idea (Built in Drupal) and I've gotten a good bit of work done on it with me managing ever step of the way. Here's my question: I am a technical guy, obviously. I know HTML, CSS and I much about the elements of building sites in Drupal, and I am familiar with php code, but I am not a php programmer. I also have design skills, but not perhaps to the level of some graphic designers who I use. I am also a person of ideas and I know how to manage people, plan, etc and I have a clear vision of the company, from it's organization to how we will market and to whom. I realize I'll need to hire guys in-house once things get rolling to handle my code needs. But am I sufficiently a technical founder that I don't necessarily need another technical co-founder? I mean since I can't do IT ALL, does that mean I still need a technical guy to be a founder who can dig into every corner of the code easily? I've come this far without one. What do you think?
there is also a question of whether you need a tech co-founder at all, that depends on what business you are trying to build, more on this matter - http://www.bekitzur.com/article/startups/startu...
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What about the other side? I meet many "non-technical" people but they don't have any business credentials I.e., they have never written business plans or sold anything or raised money, just because you have an idea and non technical, doesn't make you a viable "business co-founder". In my opinion, if you have an idea and passion, go ahead and hire the business, technical, marketing talent as you would for any position. Whether any of them become your cofounders is based on the equity+salary combination and their commitment to your idea.
Hi, great article! I've actually found it because I'm looking for people who ARE looking for a technical co-founder... :)
It's so true! Learning to code the basic app is not so difficult, but I would add that the great thing that anybody can do is to create a prototype/mockups/wireframes and think about the logic of an app! Here I share my 11 crucial things about finding a technical co-founder and where to find one based on my experience: https://brainhub.eu/blog/2016/09/29/11-valuable...
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