Technical co-founder · Technical Recruiting

Experience or youth--who is a more "fundable" technical co-founder?

Alex Lerza Co-Founder at The Recovery Tribe Inc.

November 24th, 2015

My team has several candidates interviewing for technical cofounder. Two of them have director level experience at the top tier Silicon Valley companies--Google, Yahoo, Facebook. One candidate is a recent grad from a top tier school with not as much experience but could his youth be an edge? My team is trying to figure out what type of tech cofounder would be best, especially from the perspective of Angel investors.

I think there is some concern that if we don't involve the younger guy that we may not end up with anyone sometime in the next 4 months. However, that we have gotten some sincere interest from experienced developers seems like a good sign.

With time being a scarce commodity who should we focus on?

Background on our company: we are creating a addiction recovery platform (web/app) and already have an app in the marketplace with some solid partnerships in the piloting stage.

Gabor Nagy Founder / Chief architect at Skyline Robotics

November 24th, 2015

Portfolio will always beat degrees for me.
Show me stuff you've done and if it impresses me, I won't care if you got all Ds in school, or if you dropped out.
And portfolio / projects done "on the side" will always beat projects done while working for someone else.
The former will prove not just that you can do it, but that you are excited about doing it.

Jason Graves Software Architect - Nokia Bell Labs

November 24th, 2015

Experience vs. Education only matters on paper. This is similar to asking what's better, being book-smart or street-smart? The answer will aways be "well, it depends."

My assumption here is that your candidates are all qualified for the role. So I suggest getting to know them on a more personal level to determine which candidate will fit in the best with you and your team.

To be clear, I think experience wins this argument 9/10 times.  However, I think we can all name a few "experienced" CTOs that should not have been given that title.

Janine Davis President & Co-Founder Fetch Recruiting & Fetch Advisors

November 25th, 2015

Without a question, experience. Being an ex-technologist, I can say first hand that the way you learn how to do things right is by doing it wrong, and then fixing it. No matter how smart you are, you can't learn how to architect something to scale until you've architected something to scale, and had it fail (and then figured out how to remedy the situation).

I also speak to countless founders looking for a tech co-founder who face the catch-22 of not being able to get funding w/out a proven CTO, and not being able to attract/hire a proven CTO without the funding. So if you have the means and the right candidate(s), you are in a very enviable position. Good luck!

Shivi Aggarwal

November 24th, 2015

Remember, co-founder *should know* how to code. He isn't expected to do so. Why? He is usually a CTO of the company. He is expected to architect the software and define all the integrations. It comes through experience playing with many softwares in the space, writing code, working on various frameworks and especially, making mistakes and see others make them!

So, the expectation should be an experienced developer who is abreast with latest technologies, frameworks and paradigms. Such a person with managerial experience is a must. Remember, a CTO is also expected to hire developers and manage them. So, HR and good communication skills are somewhat important too.

Talent in writing code and experience in choosing the best mix and architecting softwares are two different things. Choose wisely!

P.S.: Please upvote this answer and any other answer too, if it helped. Thanks!

Jake Carlson Software Development Manager at Oracle

November 24th, 2015

There is no substitute for experience. All things being equal, I would not hire a green, unproven CTO just out of school to get an 'edge.' If he has a proven (and verified) track record, that's one thing. But if all he has is youth and confidence, I'd opt for someone with more experience as your chief technical person.

If this guy just out of school is oh so good you could always bring him on provisionally without a 'CTO' title until he proves himself. By that time you'll know whether he was all flash or not and the other more experienced folks will have become available.

That being said, I don't know what other factors come into play (difference in compensation, size of company, etc).

Karen Leventhal

November 26th, 2015

I would agree with David in the sense that are you needing to get a demo out to market quickly? In that case you need someone who codes, but that person may not end up being a CTO, in doesn't mean they wouldn't get equity. Perhaps you don't need a high level CTO until later?  It all depends on what you really need make it to next benchmark. And agreed, I've seen (and personally experienced) teams implode due to founder disagreements, so find someone you can work with successfully. And as a non technical founder, who has talked to lots of non technical founders, you want to find someone who is motivated to stick it out and finish out the priority goals. I know founders who have gone through 8 or more technical partners, just to get a demo up. The "young inexperienced" ones may not have the technical expertise to efficiently solve the problems. And the "experienced" ones may have mouths to feed at home, and get offered shiny high paid paid jobs and decide they don't want to continue to risk on a start up.  I've personally experienced these situations often, and they are not uncommon, just wanted you to be prepared. Find someone that is committed to sticking it out because the cost of starting again after someone drops out is high. 

David Schreiber Founder

November 26th, 2015

In a cofounder, you should ask yourself: is this someone who you could work with, as a partner (i.e. an equal) for the next ten years? One of the major causes of startup failure is fights between cofounders, so you want someone you can work with.

And then: technical competence, passion, grit, and a dedication to do what it takes to make the company successful. I would strongly disagree with the previous comment that a CTO shouldn't be coding. For a pre-investment company with just a handful of people in the very early stages, there's no room for a pure manager CTO. Or indeed, a pure manager of any sort: every person in the company needs to be willing (and eager) to get their hands dirty.  So if you go for the more experienced person, make sure they understand that while they will architect and set the technical vision, they also need to be willing (and capable) of implementing as well.

Rob G

November 25th, 2015

proven experience wins every time in your situation.  no question. Funding tilts toward traction. OK, more than 'tilts' - your life depends on it.  Traction hinges on product and sales.  presumably you've already proven product/market fit.   Now getting a product built as quickly as possible that you can deliver to those customers who are waiting (and support them) needs to be your top priority.  If you can build your product right the first time and scale it all the better - that tilts toward experience.  If your product can be architected and built by your technical co-founder who also has the experience to screen, hire, manage and mentor younger/less experienced developers as you grow all the better. Again, this leans toward experience. 

Gray Holland founder / director at UX-FLO

November 29th, 2015

"Youth" is the red herring here..... Youth is in itself not a better attribute, it is just a fact of relative age. Better to compare the pertinent attributes experience and lack there of from an investor POV. 

I think its clear that Experience as real value, but the trade offs are potentially as follows:
-- expert blindness, a lack of open mindedness to alternative or new ways of thinking. Very smart, well seasoned people come with both experience and baggage about what can and cannot be done. This is where the phrase "Generals fighting the last war" comes from. Why established business has so much trouble innovating. As we gain knowledge we also start to protect it. Here is where youths blindness of "how things are done" is an advantage. 
-- financial, family, and flexibility -- the ability to commit to working long hours, eat top ramen and work for low to minimum wages until the product gets traction. This is obvious something a person out of college can do easier than a person with a family and a mortgage can easily handle. 

Bottomline, you NEED both. Together you have an ecosystem of fresh unfettered ideas and sage wisdom and expertise. It is the best when both are open and willing to see the advantages of each levels value and role in bringing about the best... Here like most applications of diversity, the sum truly outweighs the parts. 

Vinayak R

November 29th, 2015

My choice would be for an Experienced person than a Fresher for a role of CTO / Cofounder.  Though Fresher may have high energy levels than a senior guy, he would lack when it comes to real work, team management and getting things done.

Startup is a long journey and one needs immense life skills mainly Handling failures, setbacks, resilience, commitment, wisdom, etc.,  It comes only with time.  No offence to the fresher, If you find him to be extremely talented, ask him to be part of the team as key employee offering ESOPs.

Laslty, chemistry between cofounders is extremely important.  From that standpoint, age difference between cofounders should not be large.  Other point, if your product / service is targeted to users of his age group, he could add value in understanding their mindsets.  But being a CTO, do you want him to focus on market other than technology ?