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How to Find and Recruit a Technical Cofounder for Your Startup

How to Find and Recruit a Technical Cofounder for Your Startup

So… you have a great idea for a tech-oriented business and maybe an MBA to go along with it. But if you don’t have strong technical skills, then you’re going to need to fill that gap. That’s where a technical co-founder comes in.

The fact is, no responsible investor will back a tech startup that lacks tech talent. It’s simply too risky. And even if you’re not looking for funding right now, you’re going to need in-house technical expertise sooner rather than later. No doubt about it: Having a CTO type as part of your founding team is essential.

The challenge is that qualified candidates — experienced developers and software engineers with strong project management skills — are in high demand and have their pick of career opportunities. So what does it take to find and successfully recruit a technical co-founder?

What not to do

First of all, let’s dispel the notion that you can take shortcuts rather than bring on a technical co-founder. Learning to code yourself? If you even have the stomach for that, it would take you years and prevent you from focusing on your business. Outsourcing development to India or hiring a freelancer or college kid? That might be fine for developing a minimum viable product (MVP), but not nearly enough for the long term.

Sell the opportunity

A potential technical cofounder will want to know why joining your startup is such a great opportunity. Having an MVP to share can help. So can the perspective that comes with “talking to potential customers, gathering requirements, researching competition and comparable companies in adjacent areas, testing your assumptions, gathering market feedback, and drumming up interest and momentum around what you are trying to do,” writes RunKeeper founder Jason Jacobs. Ultimately, you have to prove there’s demand for what you’re offering — and that the market is willing to pay for it.

Sell yourself

Potential technical cofounders will be evaluating you, too. What exactly do you bring to the table? You must make a compelling case that your experience, skills, connections, and vision will help make your startup a success. Also, even though you’re not a professional coder, you should be tech-savvy enough to be able to ask good questions and engage in a reasonably intelligent conversation.

Conduct the search

When it comes to finding qualified candidates, the possibilities are endless. You can use sites that match entrepreneurs and technical talent such as CoFoundersLab or leverage your LinkedIn network. But you should also get out there and meet people through community events, hackathons, startup weekends, industry conferences, etc.

Evaluate candidates

There’s a lot to consider when evaluating candidates. Are they a good fit in terms of work ethic, vision, and commitment? Do you trust them? How strong are their technical skills? Hiring a recruiter can help you sort it all out, but can also be cost-prohibitive. Instead, find a technical advisor — someone with the right experience who is willing to work for a small piece of equity — to help with initial interviews and make recommendations.

Define roles & compensation

Before you commit to a candidate — and a candidate commits to you — everyone’s roles must be clearly defined. As Marty Zwilling wrote on our blog in 2011, “Agree on role assignments early. The last thing you need after all this work is partners stepping on your toes. Make sure you all agree on what you know, what you are good at, and what responsibilities are assigned to each. Get this in writing as a standard prenuptial.”

As for compensation, remember that you’re bringing on a partner, not a salaried employee. Compensation must reflect the high demand for his or her services, so be prepared to make a reasonable offer that includes equity. Yes, you need to keep costs under control — but making a lowball offer isn’t going to land you a rock-star cofounder.

Do you have any lessons to share about finding and recruiting a technical co-founder? Please chime in below.

Avatar for Akira Hirai

Akira Hirai

Akira is the Founder & CEO of Cayenne Consulting. He has over 30 years of experience both as an entrepreneur and helping other entrepreneurs succeed. Akira earned his BA in Engineering Sciences from Harvard University. View details.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. It’s becoming easier and easier to build tech and product without technical skills. General-purpose programming tools are emerging recently (like Visual Basic in the 90s, see Chris Dixon’s post… ). Soon, people won’t need a tech cofounder to build tech-enabled startups (Airbnb being a perfect example).

    So this is auto-promotion, but Bubble ( is one of them (I’m a cofounder). You can build your product without code on Bubble. There is a learning curve, as it’s programming, but this is with a visual interface that gets rid of the coding aspect. Our users have build crowdfunding platforms, marketplaces, all starting from a white page (no template) and without code.

    There are more and more tools like these and they’re actually getting to a position that enables people to really build things without code. If you have the wireframe, you pretty much have all it takes to use Bubble.

    1. I agree that there are a lot of great visual development tools out there; they’re great for prototyping and building a minimum viable product (MVP). And, in some cases, even a complete product. But ease of use often come with trade-offs in terms of flexibility, performance, security, scalability, and stability. Tech companies still need in-house tech talent in order to be a viable venture.

      1. Sure, tools are always less flexible than code. However, they can still do the job. Higher level tools and frameworks always have that issue, but some still succeed at replacing lower level stuff. For instance, Ruby-on-rails comes with a lot of trade-offs in terms of flexibility, but it works… It’s all about building tools that can offer flexibility, but there is not theoretical reasons why that shouldn’t be possible.

    2. If software is only 20% of your business, it might be okay to go ahead without a Technical co-founder (I’d still prefer a Tech Co-Founder) but in all other cases, a Tech Co-Founder is a must. Building a product within the constraints of web development platforms, restricts you from making the best product. Infact, it’ll be an average product at best with bunch of lookalikes everywhere. and in the startup world, you really will not be able to sell something that is not up to your own standards. You will also make trade-offs on the user experience that won’t be worth it.

      If you aspire to build a very successful product, you got to push the best (to your capabilities) V1 out and it all starts from thinking from the user requirements without any constraints.

      1. Yeah, for technology startups, you should do everything in house. But for a tech-enabled startup, it’s a bit different. And there are plenty of these, some of them being huge (Airbnb…). I would argue that if Airbnb is successful, it’s not because of it’s code (it’s just good enough), but more because of it’s strategy, UX, branding, etc. For these, using a web development framework that offers more speed/ease of development with slightly less customization can be a win I think

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