Looking for a technical cofounder? I recently found someone who's interested in being the technical cofounder for one of my projects. The truth is I got lucky. But in the process, I did a lot of research.
For those who aren't waiting on luck, here's a step-by-step approach that is very likely to get you shaking (virtual) hands with the right technical cofounder.
Most of the time, to land yourself a really capable technical cofounder, you've got to be waaay past the "I have a good idea" stage.
I took a random sample of 50 people looking for cofounders on the Looking to partner up group of Indie Hackers, and 39 (78%) needed technical cofounders. Only 11 were looking for non-technical cofounders. That means the ball is in the techies' court. If you're a non-technical founder looking for the right partner you've got to come prepared. And you've got to know your stuff.
Here are the bare bones of what you'll need to check off your list before even thinking about pursuing a technical cofounder:
If you're already tech-savvy and you've got an MVP in your pocket, skip steps 2 and 3.
I'll keep this section brief because this is not an article about how to start up. But if you haven't already, you should buy a domain name through a service like NameCheap and set up a landing page using something like Launchrock (for a quick and dirty landing page) or Squarespace (for something a bit more robust).
Then start getting the word out to grow your waitlist. Building in public is a great way to do this, and it can put you on the radars of potential cofounders. You should also start contributing to relevant forums and communities — particularly if these will become acquisition channels. Good options include Indie Hackers, reddit, Facebook groups, and so forth.
Then, (cue scary music) you'll need to get started on the MVP.
According to a meta-analysis done by Stephen Turban and Daniel Wu, one of the most important things a non-technical cofounder can do to find a technical cofounder is to become… more technically proficient.
Why? Because it means you won't be that non-technical cofounder demanding something in half the time it takes to do it. Or suggesting a "minor" change that is actually a complete overhaul. These things matter. A lot.
And the easiest way to become more technically proficient is to begin building your MVP. (Gulp! You can do it!)
You might be thinking, "But don't I need a technical cofounder to build an MVP?" Actually, no. You really don't.
Non-technical founders do it all the time. And not only will it give you some tech chops, but it'll show them off to potential technical cofounders too. And even if you don't end up doing it yourself, having an MVP ready will at least show that you have experience working alongside developers.
If you aren't already convinced that you should get to work on your MVP, here's another thing to consider. If you do manage to convince someone to be your technical cofounder without an MVP, they may not be the caliber programmer you're seeking. A good candidate for a technical cofounder is likely someone who is busy already (AKA talented and in-demand). And that person may not be excited about starting from scratch on some random person's idea, likely for little pay.
So what do you need to do? Strip your idea down to the bare bones — what is absolutely critical? Like, it-wouldn't-be-anything-without-it critical. Build that.
How do you build it? I've seen MVPs made out of spreadsheets, so you really don't have to get fancy here. Keep it stupid simple.
One option that is becoming popular for non-technical founders is nocode. People are building robust products with this (like Lambda School which raised $4MM in seed capital), so it can probably handle your MVP without breaking a sweat. Not only that, but it's sure to give you some technical literacy along the way, without requiring a deep dive into programming. For more on nocode, check out the nocode group on IH or dig into some tools like these:
If you're feeling adventurous, you can also learn how to code. You don't need to become a prodigy — you just need to learn enough to get the MVP done. Here are a few free resources to get you started:
And, if building the MVP solo just isn't for you, then go the freelancer route. That will allow you to flex your idea, make changes, and get your hands dirty without the trouble of doing it yourself. In the end, you'll (hopefully) walk away with an MVP to give to the technical cofounder of your dreams. And heck, maybe that freelancer will want to become a cofounder.
Upwork and Fiverr are good places to start looking. The former tends to be higher-quality, while the latter is a bit cheaper. Freelancer rates will vary widely according to experience, tech stack, and location.
When you’re ready to find your technical cofounder, here's something obvious that bears mentioning, nonetheless: Friends, family, and acquaintances who code are probably your best bet. That's how I found mine.
And while we're talking about humans that we know IRL, it's also worth looking at meetups, hackathons, conferences, and so forth.
But for many of us, meeting cofounders online is going to be the way to go — especially now. So here’s a list of places you might want to check out when you're looking to partner up.
Don't just jump right into bed with the first candidate you find. Before reaching out (or responding) to a potential tech cofounder, it's important to evaluate not only their talent, but also your chemistry with them. Business partners spend a lot of time together, after all.
Check out their LinkedIn. Have they worked for notable tech companies? Take a look at their previous projects. Do the products function well? Are they user-friendly? How are the designs? How impressive are the technologies? You should be able to get a good idea of their abilities just by doing that.
Get a feel for them as people by checking out their socials. Do their values align with yours? Do you think you would get along? And while you're at it, take a look at their audience. Do they have a decent following? How is their blog doing? An audience isn't necessary, but it's definitely helpful.
Still not sure? Don't worry, you can keep feeling into it after you reach out.
Whether you DM them on Twitter or email them, you'll want to clearly and concisely explain the idea. Think "elevator pitch." The same meta-analysis that I mentioned earlier by Stephen Turban and Daniel Wu identified three components as vitally important to hooking a promising tech partner. You should be able to readily do the following:
Hopefully, by conveying the above and linking to your MVP (and any other materials), you’ll have intrigued the candidate enough for them to jump on Zoom or a phone call.
At this point, consider taking a tone that allows for open communication. Rather than just telling the developer what you would like from them, or what your hopes are, ask them how they imagine themselves contributing. After all, you’re looking for someone who will genuinely care about what you're creating, and that means giving them space to imagine it as their own.
Once the enthusiasm is flowing, get back to the nuts and bolts. Get clear about expectations around things like how much time each of you has to contribute to this project and how you’d each like to be compensated.
Once you've contacted the programmer, keep feeling them out. If checking their LinkedIn didn't give you adequate work history, ask for a resume. Ask them about their connection to your market to ensure that there is founder-market fit. And talk shop with them — at this point you should be tech-savvy enough to do this, right?
But if you're still not sure, ask a techie friend (or hire someone) to jump on a call with you both for a low-key interview. That friend could even do a code review on one of the prospect's previous projects. Be careful with that, though, because it could turn some people off.
So, by this point, your conversations should already be giving you a feel for their character. But it's also important to explicitly discuss your values, goals, work styles, pet peeves, and so forth to make sure you align with each other.
Do a gut check. Tune into your center. Are there any warning bells going off that you've ignored because they don't necessarily make logical "sense"? Don't overlook subtle signs that something isn't quite right. You're looking for a full-body yes on this one.
And one thing you MUST discuss: If the programmer is currently employed, make sure they haven't signed a contract that says their employer owns anything they make. This is more common than you'd think.
Sometimes cofounders will be open to doing a trial run for a month or two, just to see if you're a good match. That's what I agreed to with my (potential) technical cofounder. It protects both of us from getting into something that we'll regret later. And I'm not alone in this — it worked for @5harath too. He suggests giving a module to build with a specific time target. And make sure to discuss terms, as it's likely that you'll want to pay them during the trial.
Once you've made up your mind, and if they're on board, it's time to make it official. Make the announcement on your socials. Celebrate! Then create a founder's agreement. That's beyond the scope of this article, but here's a solid post to get you started.
The amount of equity you offer will be influenced by things like how complex the technology is, how experienced the candidate is, how much time they plan to contribute, and whether you can offer them a salary as well as equity. All things being equal, I'm for equal ownership — I like the idea of everyone being in it together (and fully committed). But there are as many ways to do this as there are founders — take your time and do your research before setting anything in stone.
Hope this was helpful! Here's to fulfilling journeys with solid cofounders. 🚀