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

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I'm Jason Freedman.  I co-founded FlightCaster.  
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