If you have an idea for a tech startup and you don’t have any technical background, then you probably know that you need a technical co-founder. I don’t think that every startup needs a technical co-founder, especially if your key product is not based on new disruptive technology. Technical co-founders are hard to find, and sometimes the best way to convince someone to join your startup is to have paying clients. There are other options that you can utilize while you are looking for a business partner like hiring a consultant or working with an experienced development team.
Be ready to spend some time on preparation if you are entirely sure you need a co-founder then be
Are you good and fundraising? Maybe you have domain knowledge and already have a list of prospective clients? Or you are a marketing and sales professional? What you will be responsible for and what do you expect your cofounder to go beyond just writing code? It’s important to understand precisely who does what in the very beginning and make sure that you both agree with those responsibilities.
Prepare your pitch
If you can’t code, it doesn’t mean you can’t create something to communicate your vision. Create a Powerpoint presentation, a mockup, maybe even an interactive prototype. Before meeting your potential partners, you need to prepare a pitch deck close to what you would typically show to a VC. You want another person to invest their most valuable asset — time.
Prepare the contract
It’s essential to have a proper contract prepared before you start looking for a co-founder. It should include adequate trial period and vesting, but more importantly a list of expectations and what happens if one of you fails to meet them. You need to describe how and when you’ll be able to buy out the equity of each other in that case. Basically, you should approach it the same way you would approach creating marriage contract. They are typically designed for a situation when things go south and willingness to sign such contract might be a good sign of a responsible person. This topic is too broad and requires a post itself, but it’s critical to have it right from the beginning.
Here’s the list of essential traits you want to look for:
You need to make sure that your idea of the future and your role in it matches. Maybe you want to build an empire and your potential cofounder dreams to work in a small team. Or you want to create a company that allows employees to work remotely and your partner wants to engage with everyone in person. If one of you believes in bootstrapping the business and the other wants to get VC funding as soon as possible then probably you’re not a good match.
Same level of commitment
Does your potential cofounder have enough time to work for your startup? Does she have a big family that takes up all her spare time while you’re ready to live at work for next few years? If your level of commitment is unbalanced, you can quickly find yourself arguing about who does and cares more. Make sure you have same priorities in the beginning but don’t expect that they won’t change over time. In that case, having the right contract helps a lot.
In the early days of your startup, you would want your cofounder to code the product. It would be great if you would be able to afford to hire a few more developers, but still, there will be much more coding work to do then anything else. That means that your co-founder should be a good developer, who can deliver working code on time and be a team leader who helps others to do that.
After you start getting some traction, you will have to hire your team. You cofounder will be responsible both for choosing and interviewing the right candidates and managing them. Communication skills are rare among developers. We tend to be introverts who like to be left alone and solve complex problems. But without a leader who can understand his team and communicate well you may have a hard time getting everybody on the same page.
Product development skills
Being a co-founder is a management role if you think about it long term. It might be better to hire a developer if all you want is someone who will write code for you in exchange for equity. Because if your co-founder has no product development skills, you will have to establish the process and manage it, which is quite time-consuming. You would want someone who worked as a team leader and was responsible for planning and estimation to a certain degree. Someone who knows that it's essential to create and update the roadmap, work in iterations, look for right solutions instead of perfect ones and so on.
It would be great if your co-founder has experience running his own business or working in a startup because it’s very different from the average 9 to 5 job. It’s easy to get overwork, get stressed out and burned out. If your co-founder can’t manage himself and can’t work predictably on his own that might cause a lot of trouble when times will be tough. It doesn’t mean you want someone who’ll work 24/7. I would say you would want someone who can run a marathon versus running a sprint. You will have lots of launches, bugs, and issues going on, so it’s essential to have enough rest and understand the importance of exercise, eating and sleeping well and taking time off.
Take your time and don’t onboard first person you thing is suitable. That may be someone you will have to work with for years so take some time and do a trial like you would do when hiring someone for a regular job. Make sure you actually need a co-founder. The rule of thumb is to never add someone as a cofounder if you can just hire them. Plan for the worst, but assume the best.