How to find a technical co-founder when you can't code
I speak to many people who have great ideas and lots of insider knowledge in their industry — they just need someone with the technical skill to implement it. It’s quite common for a startup to begin with a group of like-minded people who have this brilliant idea, but no coder among them. The next natural step is to find that coder, but it seems to be one of the most challenging tasks.
If you think about it from the perspective of talented developers who can implement almost anything, why would they stop everything they’re currently doing and work with you and not build their own thing? Keep in mind that you are also competing with well-funded startups looking for developers and large and well-established companies like Google and Facebook. Both types of companies can pay competitive salary beyond six figures without any risk and pressure.
Here are some tips on how you can find a co-founder from the startups I’ve talked to.
Show your value
Technical people are looking for the right marketing and business-versed partner too. Finding someone who has domain knowledge and knows about customer problem that can be solved for money is as hard as finding a tech co-founder. Show that you are that person and that working with you will provide long-term value. You need to show your capability to iterate over different marketing approaches and do customer development.
It would be great if you can show that you already did something valuable for a company — maybe you created a mailing list and started to do customer interviews and running pay-per-click ads to validate the idea. Developers are usually impressed by such results because that’s something they can’t do and thus value these skills a lot. It must be clear that having you as a partner is valuable not just for that specific startup company, but you are worth working with on things that will come after if current idea won’t work.
Show that you have skin in the game
If you are expecting other people to spend days sitting in front of the computer you need to show that you are investing in something too. If you have a job, show that you are ready to leave it and dedicate your time entirely. It doesn’t mean that you have to quit your job on day one (I highly recommend keeping it for a while) but you should be ready to do so when things get serious. Joining a startup in its early days brings a lot of insecurity, so you need to show that you are ready to risk.
Building the initial version of the product often takes several months. It requires plenty of time and energy for a developer to do this and showing that you did your part of the work will be very comforting. That includes preparing a roadmap, describing the features, creating mockups, talking to potential customers and investors. Knowing that they are doing something that is needed and has been well defined will speed up the work and will significantly improve the quality.
Network and travel
You probably already know that to find a co-founder you need to get out there and let as many people about your idea as possible. Ideas cost nothing so you can openly talk about it without asking for NDA. Talk about what you are trying to create and who you are looking for. Admit that your idea is not unique even if you believe that it is. All that matters is execution, so you can be completely transparent. Keeping secrets will make you miss the opportunities to create the interest.
Something that is often overlooked is the importance of travel for networking. Going to meetups in your city is not enough. Try to travel to one of the tech hubs such as Austin, Denver, Seattle, Raleigh, and others. You can ever fly to Europe if you want — the startup scene is very active there, and they have a lot of events going on. Traveling will help you tremendously to increase your circles and will make your chances to meet the right co-founder much higher.
Many factors come into play when you’re looking for a co-founder. Developers are ordinary people and usually have only a few times in their lives when they make perfect co-founders — after they gained enough experience and before they started something on their own or started climbing the corporate ladder in a large company. The odds are likely to be not on your side, and it’s easy to become desperate at some point. Being patient pays off because the right co-founder will share your passion and will be as keen to start as you are.
It’s important to do something and make progress even without the co-founder. You have plenty of options. One of the best things you can do is perform market research and run marketing experiments to make sure that customers have the problem you need to solve. It's something you can do without technical knowledge. Another thing you can do is learn to code yourself. It’s hard, but these days there are plenty of resources that allow you to learn how to code by spending just a few hours a week. It doesn’t mean you won’t need a developer, but at least you will have an understanding of how everything works and will be better at communicating with tech people.
Finding a great co-founder is as hard as finding someone to marry to. The perfect match is almost as impossible as in romantic relationships. You need to know exactly what you want and why and be ready to meet potential candidates every moment in life. Remember that there may not be the perfect person just as you imagine. It’s you who can make the match perfect by continually working together and deciding to create your own reality. Just make sure that you and the other person have a connection and have the same vision, values, and viewpoint.