Technical co-founders are in high demand for people wanting to start a tech startup. At least once a week, I am pitched an idea and invited to join someone’s team. So far, I’ve always declined. This is largely because I have my own business to run, but also because I haven’t heard a pitch compelling enough to get me to leave my company and pursue someone else’s idea. However, based on the pitches I hear, these are some tips I’d suggest for folks looking for tech co-founders:
1. Validate your business idea
When someone approaches me with their pitch, I almost always try to understand the problem they’re trying to solve, who would care, how the business would make money, and how much it could make. But, like most people, my judgments about these topics are merely conjecture. The best way to overcome this conjecture is through validating the idea through a series of customer development experiments targeted at finding the perfect startup customer. In many cases, advanced technical skills are not required to carry these experiments out. Approaching a tech co-founder with a value proposition that has actual data about the opportunity can help to increase the likelihood that person gets excited about the idea.
2. Have Something to Offer Besides Equity
Offering equity to the person who will be responsible for building the first iteration of the product, as well as managing the initial tech team when the company grows, is a no-brainer. But it may not be enough, especially with a weak value proposition. Instead, try and find other things to offer: a challenging technical problem, for instance. If the opportunity fails, but the developer has developed his own competency, that could offset some risk. Every person will be different, but it’s important to ask what else would be appealing or attractive to the technical co-founder being recruited in the event the startup fails.
3. Be Prepared to Carry Your Weight
Product development is only one part of building a startup. There is a lot of other work that needs to happen – and can often happen in advance of – product development. Sales, marketing, financing, and networking are essential business functions. In many cases, they don’t really require a product: just a vision, a value proposition, and clear messaging. For as many hours as a technical co-founder is expected to spend developing software, the business co-founder should spend an equal (and probably greater!) number of hours building the business infrastructure. At a minimum, they should be building marketing channels, finding financing, and refining the value proposition.
4. Learn Something About Technology
While it’s not essential for both founders to be technological experts, the business co-founder should at least know something about how software works. He or she should understand the underlying infrastructure and what inputs go into product development, conceptually. I recommend going through something like Michael Hartl’s Rails tutorial all the way through to get a sense for important concepts: databases, views, routing, servers, testing, and so forth. All of these things will have to be managed as the company grows and a good understanding of how systems plug together can help ask the right questions as the business grows.
5. Hang out at local meetups
Starting in January, Lansing will have Tech Tuesday – a different tech meetup every Tuesday at the Technology Innovation Center in East Lansing. Come check them out. And check out meetup.com to find other tech meetups. Meetups can be a good place to meet developers and get to know them. You may even find a kindred spirit who shares a passion for the problem you’re trying to solve. In fact, Driver on Tap, a local Lansing startup, started out of a team of people who met at our local Ruby meetup.
6. Hangout at local tech centers
In Lansing, the Technology Innovation Center, the 300 Room, and the Hatch are full of sharp people; many with some level of technical skills. And now, the 300 Room is open to the public as a place to hang out and work during the day, provided there isn’t another previously scheduled event happening at that time. Hanging out at these places, or events hosted at these places, can increase your chances of finding a technical co-founder.
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