Most of the $1 billion ‘unicorn’ startups had a few cofounders, according to Business Insider. Usually two.
By VITALI KUPRENKO
Probably that’s why 37 of the 39 successful startups had at least one founder with a tech background. Even if you’ve got a brilliant idea but no tech experience, it would be too hard to launch a software-based startup.
So if you want to work on a software product (87% of all $1B startups focus on software) but are not tech-savvy yourself, the reasonable choice is to find someone who is.
Who’s a tech cofounder, where to find them, and when it’s better to work with a CTO instead—explained in this guide.
What Is a Tech CoFounder Responsible For?
A tech co-founder is not just a programmer or an employee with some coding skills. First of all, a tech cofounder is a cofounder — a partner who puts a significant amount of time and effort into the startup. You need a person with a mix of tech & business background, not a regular coder.
A tech cofounder can be responsible for:
— Organizing a development team
— Shaping the development strategy
— The project’s MVP
— The project’s tech stack
— Dealing with other business-related tasks
Cofounders put a lot into the project and usually ask for a fair amount of equity. If you’re starting out and need much support, be ready to part with a sizable amount of equity (up to 50%).
Still, the amount of equity a cofounder gets depends on the person you’re working with.
Here’s who can be a tech cofounder:
Senior programmer. A person with 5+ years of programming experience (including managing a dev team), many completed projects, and knows the industry.
CTO. A much-evolved version of a senior developer. CTOs are more skilled at seeing the full picture, have both business & tech background. And they used to be fantastic programmers, too. Worth hiring if you can afford a tech salary and willing to share a fair amount of equity.
Already a tech cofounder. The next level after a CTO: they have the same fantastic programming and management skills but are more invested in the company. Cofounders have a voice in the company and are compensated with equity.
Or may you also need to compensate your cofounder’s time and skills with salary. According to Glassdoor, it’ll cost you ~$102,055/yr on average if you live in the US.
In a perfect world, a tech cofounder is a person you already know and can trust. Maybe a school or college friend or a colleague from your previous job.
But if you have no tech & business-savvy guys among your childhood friends, that doesn’t mean you won’t find a partner.
When to Start Looking for a Tech CoFounder?
Let’s see the most popular cases when you may need a tech cofounder.
You Need a Tech Strategy
To back your idea up with some real tech strategy (or even an MVP), you need to be into tech aspects. Or find a person who is.
As I’ve said, a technical cofounder shouldn’t be a one-sided programmer. It’s rather a partner who understands the business requirements and can help build a tech strategy for your startup.
Need a Reliable Companion
The cheapest way to find a person with a tech background is to co-operate with freelancers. But there’s a catch.
Though freelancers may be great developers, usually, they’re more concerned about finishing the project and getting the paycheck than about the product’s success. Or they may even quit your project and go silent forever.
A cofounder isn’t the guy who does all the tech-related jobs for you. Yep, tech people may lack marketing or sales skills (that’s where you can be useful for your partner), but they shouldn’t focus solely on tech tasks.
Have a Fantastic Idea
The idea matters a lot. But the idea won’t help your cofounder to pay for rent and groceries, so people won’t work on a blurry idea that doesn’t inspire them. Or has no real background.
Tech cofounders have their preferences and won’t work on a project that doesn’t match their interests. Especially when they can have a good salary somewhere in Google or Facebook.
If you have trouble with attracting a tech cofounder and no one responds to your idea, start out without them. You can hire a CTO or a software dev company for a start: write documentation, create an MVP — something to get people interested in your project.
In this case, you should have a basic budget to cover software development costs.
Ready to Deal with the Paperwork
Founding a company with cofounders implies more paperwork and higher risks. Especially if you’re starting a company with a few cofounders and splitting equity becomes an issue.
If your startup has a bunch of cofounders, you may become a victim of crooked partners. A few colleagues may unite to overthrow your position. After the initial investment round, your sponsors may take their places on the board of directors, leaving you with even less equity.
Anything can happen, so you have to choose both tech-founders and investors wisely. Just to avoid being removed from your own project.
That’s why some people prefer to work with CTOs who are regular employees of the company. They don’t make life-changing decisions concerning your business, and they’re less headache to fire.
Where to Look for a Tech CoFounder?
Looking for a tech cofounder could take months. Of course, if you don’t have a bunch of tech-savvy friends with a business background who are ready to step in.
There’s a bunch of things to check, including cofounders portfolio, expertise in business, and communication skills.
So to find the right person, you need to spend lots of time and effort. Here are some popular ways to do that.
Start with people you already know. It may be your colleagues, school or university pals, or even family members.
There’s a chance to find the right person among the guys you already know, and social networks are great for contacting them. If you have a vast network of people on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, maybe it’s time to look through your contacts.
If you don’t have a vast network, it’s time to correct this—you’re going to need social presence soon enough.
Hackathons and Conferences
If you want to meet some real people, events, meetups, and hackathons are your best friends. You meet like-minded folk, see how they communicate, how they solve tech-related challenges, and whether you match them on a personal level.
If you’re fine working with younger specialists, try attending university events. In some top-rated universities, you can find students with enough tech background to work on your project.
Students may not have the experience, but they’re loyal, hard-working, and passionate. Plus, you’d more likely ask for a lower salary and less equity.
These are numerous events like Startup Weekend, Startup Grind, Slingshot, Startup Salad, and many more geared towards meeting other founders.
Startup Incubators or Accelerators
Incubators like Y Combinator and 500 Startups help startuppers find like-minded people and raise investments. They take inexperienced startuppers with great ideas and turn them into mature entrepreneurs—in exchange for a small amount of equity.
If you’re ready to look for a tech partner online, here are a few platforms that can help:
CoFoundersLab. During sign-up, you specify the skills you have, your country, and the startup’s current stage. Then an AI-based algorithm shows you the best choices among 400,000+ entrepreneurs from 140+ countries.
Angellist. A large startup community for founders, angel investors, and job-seekers that want to work in a startup. Over 100,000 startups, including successful Twitch and Stripe, are using the platform to look for employees.
By the way, if you’re thinking about equity splits, you can use AngelList’s Startup Salary & Equity calculator. It’ll give you the general idea of how much equity you should give to the tech partner.
Founders Nation. Another platform for connecting startups with future tech and non-tech partners. Startup owners need to post a detailed description of their projects—including a raw idea, business plan, a prototype, etc.
As I’ve mentioned, if you have doubts about whether you need a tech cofounder, or don’t want to split equity, or no one answers to your call, hiring a tech vendor may be enough just for a start.
Of course, if you have enough money you can buy software development services or hire a CTO.
In case you need additional investments or require a partner and are ready to reckon with their decisions, be patient, and don’t stop the hunt.
Vitaly Kuprenko is a technical writer at Cleveroad, a web and mobile application development company in Ukraine. He enjoys telling about tech innovations and digital ways to boost businesses.