Founders · Building a team

What else can you do to be as attractive as possible to a tech CoFounder?

John Duffield

December 13th, 2013

People say if you're a non-engineer and you're still lost in the phase of 'trying to find that tech cofounder'… then you're not an entrepreneur. 'Entrepreneurs should just be able to somehow figure it out'. I  both love and hate this statement. 

As a non-engineer I discovered very quickly that a) these people are not going to come to me, b) a lot of them don't attend as many 'networking events' as you, they're either working full-time with a fat salary or working on something on the side already or c) if you find one, having an idea AND being nice still isn't enough ;-)

So what did I do about it to increase my attractiveness? The answer is EVERYTHING I POSSIBLE COULD. INCLUDING LEARNING HOW TO CODE AND USE PHOTOSHOP. And I still haven't found them yet. 

Here's some more background.. I'm a business/marketing guy (with extensive 'big agency' digital experience having held senior roles in businesses in 3 continents). I have recently acquired a new set of self-taught skills is Product and Sales. See, I wasn't going to let the fact that I couldn't find a tech cofounder get in the way of me moving forward, I set out to have them be interested in coming to me. Here's what I did:
  • I researched my market extensively
  • put all the numbers together
  • understood the competition like the back of my hand
  • wire-framed out the entire solution
  • tested it with people, refined it
  • had it designed
  • learned Photoshop so I could modify the designs to tailor it to other prospects
  • coded up a basic demo for myself
  • found someone to build off my demo resulting in a full-fledged MVP/demo product (front end and back-end)
  • compiled all the sales materials and presentation decks
  • saturated my professional and personal network asking for introductions to people who worked in this industry
  • compiled a hit list of EVERY prospect within driving distance in Los Angeles
  • made hundreds of phone calls
  • sent even more emails (tagging them with BananaTag to see who opened them) 
  • so-far secured 10 in-person meetings with executives (of which 5 have organized second and third meetings)
  • had 5 of them ask for proposals which have been delivered
  • while also playing with several different pricing strategies - including value-based pricing and 'revenue share' pricing (especially for early adopters). 
All of this is in three months. So I am really close to securing business and starting this. I really don't want to just 'contract out' someone or a small team to build this and not have them have the emotional connection. I don't have the revenues (or the long-term financial safety) just yet to 'hire' someone full-time. I'm really looking for someone who is excited by the industry, recognizes that I really mean business and who can and will put in the 'sweat equity' to create an emotional connection to the product.

I would love to hear from others to see if I am the only one who has been in this position. Or if this is a common thing. Am I just not looking in the right place? What else do people suggest I try to do to find this elusive tech cofounder now that I have something real on my hands? I was thrilled to be accepted in to FounderDating and have been really impressed with the quality of its members and how helpful they are and willing to share experiences. 

Thanks in advance.

Michael Kovacs CTO at Samsung Accelerator

December 13th, 2013

Hey John, I look for someone that brings lots of leverage that complements me. My leverage is code, your leverage has to be the ability to get paying customers. I put on the show, you sell out the theater. You're doing the right things because if you approached me and talked to me about whatever it is you're doing I'd ask what problem are you solving, why does anyone care, and who have you signed up? Have you had anyone pay you for the product before it's even built? You're addressing all of those questions which is great. The rest is just finding someone that you get along with that believes in you and you in him/her and are both committed to seeing things to some milestone. Tons of non-technical co-founders don't do anywhere near the validation you've done so far. Your only job right now is to state and validate hypotheses and do so as much as possible before having to build a real product. Approaching an engineer with "OK I have 30 customers lined up that have all paid and here's my plan to get more. Oh and here's where we can build a moat and here's where we're vulnerable", is a great way to show that you are focused, executing, have thought through the business as much as possible at this point, and have a plan. In fact I have to ask what are you doing? :-) -Michael

Dave Angelow Board Member at HAND Austin

December 13th, 2013


What you've accomplished in 3 months is very impressive; hat's off to you for setting the pace for the rest of us to try and keep up!

Finding tech resources is always a challenge and given the accomplishments you've outlined, you may consider and alternative approach - reach out to angel networks and share what you've done thus far.  Assuming that you'd be looking for financing at some point, getting exposure and feedback could be really helpful.  Also, I think the accomplishments you've done solo would get them excited - perhaps a bit of seed funding but more important they may be able to help with connections/networking to fill technical needs.

Realize this is not a direct means to get a co-founder, yet would leverage the progress you've made to date and jump-start funding

Fantastic and inspirational to read your work, keep it up!

Doug Goldie Experienced Web Developer, Architect, Consultant or Coach

December 14th, 2013

Hi John,

THis is an interesting discussion. I'm a technical guy who's built B2Bs, so I guess I'm in your target demographics. I also share your preference for finding a partner rather than contracting services.

First, let me say that this problem is true the other way around. It's hard for technical folks to find partners too!

Well, Alan just stole my thunder!
He describes the environment today for good developers very accurately, at least here in Silicon Valley.

So, I'll try to expand on his points. Mainly, that you should approach devs as investors. After all, you are asking someone to invest significant time.

1. The Idea: I like to say it needs to have "sex appeal" ...
staying with the dating metaphor.

2. More importantly, can we as a team, execute?
How would we cover the three jobs: development, design and "business"?
So, you need to show you can deliver the "business" role, which really a catch-all for everything else.
For me, an important element here is Customer Discovery. How well do you know Steven Blank's work and the Lean Startup?

Even if we like you and your idea, you may be losing people here because of something unstated but implied. As Alan describes it well, developers are often pitched sweat equity deals. Know that there is a great concern among developers of being exploited: we build the site -- while you sweep the floor -- and then get discarded.

Someone mentioned "protecting yourself". I think that's exactly the wrong way to go...
If you truly want a partnership, I think you'll have to "protect" the developer, and truly share the company.
I agree with the comment that the "right partner will want to co-create with you."
I noticed you didn't share what you're prepared to give up for the right partner.

In fact, as a thought experiment, pick numbers you're uncomfortable with. 
That's the feeling the developer while listening to your pitch. :-)

this is why you need to "date" first.
IMHO, the dating / marriage metaphor fits pretty well.

At the end of the day, I think you should be prepared to do a no-divorce, All-In, marriage.

my two cents,

ps: the other alternative works of course: keep doing what your doing; raise funding; hire the CTO with salary and a lot less equity.

Sandy Naylor Product Management and Development

December 13th, 2013

I'm a fellow business person and have not had trouble finding technical collaborators. Here are a few, possibly unconventional suggestions. 

1. Do what you love. I met an incredible technical partner through a yoga workshop. I had no idea this person was an engineer, we just enjoyed getting to know each other and then - bam. 

2. Go where engineers are. I am meeting a bunch of great technical people on Quora, for example. Many engineers are naturally more introverted (as am I) and are therefore underrepresented at networking events. 

3. Highlight your inner nerd. I say this respectfully because I'm a huge nerd too. If you have a low key, analytical side, bring that side of yourself out in conversation. The over the top hustler energy that works in some biz dev situations is not always that helpful with engineers. 

4. Move to SF. Just sayin! If you're all in, might be worth considering. 

5. Consider if you really need a technical cofounder. Is your problem that technically complex? Do you want institutional money? If the answer to both questions is no, maybe a solid contract development shop isn't that bad for now. 

6. Cede control / find a fun problem. No one will become emotionally invested so long as it's 'your idea.' The right partner will want to co-create with you. Is there a fun technical problem? Does the person long to build a lean startup? When you talk to engineers, figure out why they want to do a startup and show that you are flexible and open to allowing them to drive the areas they are passionate about. 

7. Be wary of the salaried. Engineer or businessperson, the golden handcuffs are probably locked. A good friend of mine just had a CTO flake - couldn't bear to quit the day job. 

Good luck! Looks like you're getting some interest just in the answers here :D

Matt Smith Systems Architect at Bank of America

December 13th, 2013

As technical guy, I'm impressed with your business and sales spirit. You're not just relying on emotions to your cause, but gathering real data. Have you secured any money from those you provided proposals to?

If someone comes to me and says they have customers who have already put money on the table for a product that in essence does not yet exist gets me much more excited to work on a project than someone who just has an idea.

Douglas Tarr Entrepreneur and Software Architect

December 13th, 2013

Tech guy here.   I've worked for pay, for free, for equity, and every variation in between.

I will take your word on it that you think your idea is awesome and game changing.

But, here are my red flags:

1.  You seem kind of frustrated (rather than confident)
2.  You haven't closed a deal yet.
3.  You haven't signaled that you are willing to pay money, and you don't seem that close to raising a round to pay money.

I'd suggest that you close a deal first.  That'll probably solve the rest of the issues and you'll easily find someone to help.

Hope that helps.

- Doug

Harrison Magun Digital Media & Tech / Sales and Marketing

December 14th, 2013

Few thoughts:
1. Sandy is spot on. Channel her.
2. I am a business guy, and spent two months doing the same thing. Just found my co-founder. I was taking 5 meetings a day, networking, with a singular goal in mind - to find a cofounder.  But, during that time, I was also working super hard on the business. Like you, there was no clear end in sight, and I found it easy to slip into moments of despair. What worked:
- If I am asking someone to make a huge commitment to my idea, what equal commitment am I willing to make? Like a VC not likely to fund a startup the founder has not already poured their time/$ into, I realized I would increase my likelihood if I could pay the (potential) co-founder during the dating period. That balances the risk.
- This is like dating/marriage. No self-respecting person would say "I have been looking for a wife/husband for three months, WTF??" Likewise, if you are confident in yourself (real confidence, not optics), the right person will come along eventually. There are a few things you can do do speed it up:
- You don't always get what you want in life. At least I don't. But you get what you need. What is your fallback plan, which you will need to have if you are so committed to your idea that you would ask someone else to drop what they had planned on doing for the next 3000 hours and do what you think they should do. Will you learn enough to project manage a dev shop? Will you raise $ from friends and family to pay a contractor or dev shop full time for X months to build an MVP? Remember, you are entitled to nothing as an entrepreneur, 

Reading the above, it sounds patronizing, but I'm just putting down in writing what I told myself to get myself through the "holy shit, how is this all going to work out?" Hope it helps. Oh, and finding the co-founder is probably the easiest thing you will ever do as an entrepreneur, so buckle in. 

Oh, and I am arranging a co-founder meet up (working with with folks from a local VC firm to arrange it), in January in Seattle, if you or anyone are interested, PM me. 



Kym McNicholas TV Host, Tech Jounalist, Director of Extreme Tech Challenge, Host of KDOW Radio's NewFocus On Innovation

December 13th, 2013

The best advice I've gotten is to have a technical advisor, not a tech co-founder. Mine is just as good as a co-founder and I only have up 1/4 % equity! Sent from my iPhone

Sergiy Kuzmenko

December 14th, 2013

John, one thing you could try to go to a local tech meetup in your area. There you'll find plenty of technical talent. Pick a group like rails/django etc. or generic technical gathering. I've seen a lot of very impressive technical talent at those meetings. Good luck!

Alan Peters VP Product and Technology at BusinessBlocks

December 14th, 2013

This line is brilliant: "Be flexible- If you are trying to hire the top technical person in the country while offering no or little salary, you are bound to be disappointed" I would add this color. Walk a mile in the shoes of an engineer. Often you get a spec, a bug queue, you implement, you fix. Repeat. Some developers are content with this. These are not the folks who typically become technical cofounders. Cofounders have bigger picture chops. Some vision. These are prople who are at ease at a board meeting, and excel at getting a team excited about a dream. The last thing they want is to be your oDesk. They have been pitched on countless ideas that they should get involved in for sweat equity - and odds are they have yet to say "if only I had gotten in on that". What's going to motivate this person? Specifics will vary. But in general it looks like fundraising: 1. Have a killer elevator pitch 2. Have quick credibility 3. Have it (partnership, funding) look like a good option, not desperation. Godspeed