How to find a Technical Co-Founder

Last week, I wrote an article where I argued that it might be easier to learn programming yourself rather than search for a technical co-founder. I received a lot of feedback on that article across the whole spectrum, but one question stood out: “What if I want to find a technical co-founder anyway? How do I go about doing that?”

I still maintain that it is going to be very hard to find a technical co-founder that works well with you. Mainly because all the potential technical co-founders out there have ideas of their own that they want to work on, and for those that don’t have a good idea yet, they can work at a Google or Microsoft or Facebook and get paid tons of money while they wait around for that good idea.

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So, it is going to be hard. I recently read somewhere that the question “How do I find a technical co-founder?” is a lot like “How do I get a hot girlfriend?” – There’s no real good answer to that question, but you can do some things to improve your chances. So, what are the things you can do to help with the search?

Passive Job Seekers

The first thing to remember is that the people you want are not actively looking for jobs – and almost certainly not looking to be a “technical co-founder”. These are the people that have spent some years in the corporate world coding and building products, and they’re vaguely interested in the idea of doing a startup in a particular area, but haven’t made that jump yet. You’re looking for the person that has the same interests as you do, and your goal is to convince that person to join your startup rather than continue at the corporate job.

“Weak Links”

Mark Granovetter, a brilliant researcher, discovered that most people land jobs through “weak ties” - through acquaintances and distant friends rather than from their close circle of “everyday” friends. The same applies to looking for technical co-founders as well. You need to look way beyond your immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, and start exploring those “weak-ties”. Maybe it is the guy you knew from school that was really into computers back then. Maybe it is the distant cousin that you know is doing well at a tech company. You need to start exploring there –  discuss your idea with these people, and they are likely to point you to other technical people they know that are interested in ideas like yours and may be looking to work at a startup.

Learn to speak “techie”

Before you can discuss your idea and pitch to these technical people, you first need to learn how to speak “techie”. I think the biggest problem lies here – there is a large communication gap between the business/product people and the hard-core technical people. I have a somewhat unique perspective on this – At Google, I was first an engineer and later a business/product guy (I collected both a CS Engineering degree and an MBA). The main issue is that the technical people don’t understand what the business guys do (“If I’m going to build the whole product, what’s the business guy going to do?”) and the business guys don’t understand why the technical guys don’t get simple things like marketing and sales.

One way to overcome this gap is for you to learn how to speak “techie”. If you’re looking for a technical co-founder, you need an appreciation of technology. You need to learn how to talk in functional terms, how to explain your idea in terms of features and use cases, and how to communicate technical requirements. And the best way to learn how to do all this is for you to learn how to code yourself.

You don’t have to become a code ninja or even write your own app – But learning what code does and having a general familiarity with how programs are written is a very huge asset for every entrepreneur. Even writing a very simple program – Like writing a calculator app in Javascript – will give you great insight into how programs are built and how to translate your 10,000-feet-level ideas into on-the-ground requirements. And there is no better way to communicate an idea than with a working prototype.

As you can see, there is no easy answer. But doing these things – Seeking out technical people through your weak-links and learning how to communicate effectively with them – can improve your chances of finding a technical co-founder that you can work well with. Good luck with the hunt!

And in case you’re looking to expand your team, do post on out job-board

Aditya Kulkarni

Aditya Kulkarni

Aditya Kulkarni is a technologist and blogger with over a decade of experience with software products. He has a degree in Computer Science and an MBA from ISB. Most recently, he was a Product Manager at Google, managing some of their enterprise products. You can reach him on Twitter @adityapk