How to find a technical co-founder for your startup
“Finding a technical co-founder is impossible.”
That’s the complaint that Samsung NEXT Ventures Principal, Amit Garg often hears from non-technical founders searching for a brilliant, dedicated and like-minded coder who can bring their great idea to life.
A good technical co-founder, let alone one available to get started on a new project, can be hard to come by especially in established and saturated startup clusters like Silicon Valley and New York. The shortage of talented software engineers and programmers can make the candidate pool very small.
“We all know how important it is to find someone who has sharp tech skills that align with what you need,” Garg said. “But what about the will and know-how to support the company’s fundraising and hiring efforts? And synergy with you and the team? How about just being available to work on your project?”
While finding a technical partner can feel like a herculean task, Garg and three founders: Dan Weinstein (Cohero Health), David Plans (BioBeats) and Gregory Levey (Figure 1) share their advice and best practices.
1. Bring something compelling to the table
Do you have an innovative and well-formed idea? Do you have a credible background? Do you have disproportionate access to capital and/or resources given your previous experiences with startups?
“Founders need to think long and hard about the advantages they bring to the table that would compel a technical co-founder to join their startup as opposed to someone else’s,” Garg said. “These valuable assets could be their unique selling proposition and the strongest sales pitch to someone who is equally talented.”
Dan Weinstein, Co-Founder and COO of the startup Cohero Health recommends looking for technical co-founders who, instead, have something unique to offer you.
“When I was looking for a technical co-founder, I was focused on finding someone who had industry, not just functional, expertise in an area that I didn’t. In my case, it was healthcare and it was invaluable.”
2. Have a technical perspective
Pitching a startup to a potential tech partner requires more than just sharing an idea and vision. According to David Plans, CEO and Co-Founder of AI startup BioBeats, having a technical perspective on the solution and also technically formulating ideas can be helpful.
“If you aren’t able to translate business cases to technical implementations, all tech co-founders may see is a tough uphill struggle,” explained Plans. “They think they’re going to have to make the journey of getting from idea to MVP by themselves and that can be a lonely and desperate road if they can’t share the pain.”
Weinstein agreed, but noted that non-technical founders might not have to rely on their ability to translate their ideas and solution to tech-speak. They could leverage software engineers in their network or from academic institutions who could help interview potential technical partners.
“Universities and research institutions are full of smart and technical people who are often true leaders in their field,” Weinstein said. “Leveraging academia is a great way to find the talent to take the next step from a technical and credibility standpoint.”
3. Leverage your second-degree network and ask for referrals
Since finding a technical co-founder is in part a numbers game, it’s important to expand reach and widen the candidate pool. According to Garg, that’s where a second-degree network comes in.
“If you have 500+ first-degree contacts on LinkedIn, it’s safe to estimate that each of those contacts also has a network of 500+ people. While there may be overlaps, your second-degree network is likely much larger than your first-degree, and therefore provides you with a better chance of meeting a technical founder who fits your criteria.”
To help leverage your first-degree network, Garg recommends asking close contacts for introductions to people they think may be strong candidates. This helps grow the sphere of connections and the chance of meeting individuals outside of an immediate circle. Garg warns that this process takes time, determination and follow through, but pays off in long-term dividends.
4. Attend the right events
Entrepreneurs are often encouraged to attend networking events to find a technical co-founder serendipitously, but in Garg’s experience, chances are low in actually finding the right person.
“While networking events are great for mingling and catching up with friends, or engaging with thought leaders who may spark a direction you haven’t considered, these events are usually limited in depth,” Garg explained. “Founders should look for specialized and topical events that are highly targeted for the type of partners they’d like to meet.”
Gregory Levey, CEO of health-based startup Figure 1, also recommends being selective with networking events as a means to sourcing a technical co-founder. According to Levey, these types of social settings may not be the ideal environment necessary to get to know someone.
“Co-founding a company with someone is like getting married and it can be as intense sometimes,” Levey said. “I can’t imagine starting a company with someone I just met for the first time at a networking event.”
While the odds of finding a technical co-founder at a social event may not be the most favorable, it’s important to weigh the opportunity cost of attending the event then calibrate expectations accordingly.
5. Consider outsourcing
Managing a distributed workforce is easier today than ever before. While it may be difficult even to consider placing a new startup in the hands of strangers, it could be a good resort for some.
“There are very talented and technical people all over the world who may not be able to work from your workspace, but can work with you to execute your idea from wherever they are,” Garg said. You can always leave the door open to having a tech founder join your team full-time when the time is right.”