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So you’ve got a great idea. Maybe you’re a freshly-minted MBA. Maybe you’re a tech junkie with expertise in marketing, sales, and finance ready to strike out on your own. But these days, almost any new venture requires serious technical expertise.
Think about it. Uber. BirchBox. Zappos. Fisker. All of these companies deal with other areas of life — transportation, retail, automotive. But each of them has a significant online presence, with e-commerce and user experience becoming a large part of the strategy. Perhaps the most salient example is Netflix. The company started as a DVD mail service. Could you imagine anything more analog? Today, it’s fully switched to streaming media. Only top-notch tech savvy could have made this pivot possible.
As a result, more and more startups begin with a business founder and a technical founder. This is so common that many incoming Stanford MBA students make it their mission to meet their engineering and CS peers for some professional matchmaking. But there’s a more skillful way to go about this.
Here are three tips for finding the ideal technical founder. Hint: It’s not unlike dating.
1. It’s a numbers game.
This is common sense in the dating world — the more people you meet, the greater the chance of meeting someone you like who, in turn, likes you. The same goes for technical cofounders. For a lot of non-technical founders, speed is of the essence, and there’s a lot of impetus to settle for the first person who seems interested and has the skills you’re looking for. But as your business grows, these needs will evolve. You need someone who will remain on the same page.
So how do you meet a lot of people in this area? Of course, within the coddling confines of business school — depending on where you go — there are often crossover programs between business and engineering where the goal is to develop startup ideas. Even if programs like this don’t exist on your campus, you can seek out, advertise for, or make it a point to meet technical talent.
Let’s say you’ve already had some success attracting angel investing or support from family and friends. These people become your backers with a vested interest in your success. They all have networks of their own that you can tap in order to find the technical expertise you’re looking for. Asking for introductions is easy and could yield great results — especially since these supporters know you and who might work well.
Starting from scratch? Don’t worry. Tech meetups are common occurrences in almost all major cities. Developers frequent these events. So if you go to several of them, armed with information on the type of development you’re looking to do and a good pitch (more on this later), you have a good chance of finding a match.
2. Invest in success.
Developers are in very high demand these days. You might have seen a few stories in the news about how base salaries for developers are now astronomically high based on the sheer number of opportunities they have to choose from — especially mobile developers who can make several hundred thousand dollars and still require perks.
Does this mean that you’re out of luck if you’re just starting out? Or that you’re going to need to forgo a salary yourself to pay your awesome technical cofounder? Not necessarily. Keep in mind this other person is also a founder — which is still a remarkable opportunity — and they should also be concerned with the fiscal health of your venture without expecting too much. That said, you want to make sure this person feels valued.
Equity is one way to invest in tech talent on your team. Upfront, you’ll have a lot of it to play with, and if someone is in the market to become a cofounder, they’re probably willing to accept the risk that comes with it. The key here is not to be stingy based on the amount of equity you want to keep for yourself. Your technical cofounder will be the key to success, and the right candidate will work hard enough to earn a significant investment.
3. Make your pitch different.
In this crazy market for hiring developers, it’s easy for the whole process to become about money. Tech talent can often go to the highest bidder — but this is less true of people looking to be cofounders. In order to come in on the ground floor and make a difference for a startup, you have to believe in the idea — and beyond that, believe that the problem the company is addressing is significant and important.
In order to find someone who will share these beliefs with you, you need to make sure your pitch to prospective cofounders gets these ideas across. What makes your idea different? If you’re tapping an existing market, then why will your startup be the category’s winner? You need to have good answers to all these questions. On top of that — even if you’re the least technical person in the world — you need to be familiar with the code you’re looking for: PHP? Python? Make sure you don’t sound like an idiot throwing these terms around.
The right technical cofounder will be the one that can take the ideas in your head, solve key problems, and present a final product to you. You’re looking for a rich conversation to start with. More than ever, people are looking to have ‘cofounder’ on their resume. So you need to be careful that whoever you work with isn’t chasing title and equity, but is actually invested in bringing your idea to life.
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