Although it is possible to build a successful startup on your own, most entrepreneurs quickly realise that it is tough to do so.
Many entrepreneurs with great business ideas for a software product or service do not have the technical skills or know-how to execute those ideas.
They need to bring on a technical team to help them build out their ideas into a minimum viable product, but if a founder has no background knowledge in software development they can often find it challenging to make the right hires and manage their technical team.
This is why it is often helpful to bring on a technical co-founder with the knowledge and skills to either build the product themselves or hire and manage a team.
If you are a startup founder looking to find a technical co-founder, you’re in the right place. In this article we will be covering:
🔹 Why should you bring on a technical co-founder?
🔹 When to bring on a technical co-founder.
🔹 What to look for in a potential co-founder.
🔹 Where to find a technical co-founder.
🔹 How to determine the equity split between you and your technical co-founder.
🔹 Alternatives to bringing on a technical co-founder.
Let’s look at how to find a technical co-founder in 2023!
What Is a Technical Co-Founder and Why Should You Bring One On?
This may seem like an obvious question, but we think it is valuable to define exactly what we mean when we are talking about co-founders generally and tech co-founders specifically.
Co-founders are the founding members of your team when you start the process of creating and building out your business. They are not employees, but partners who will share the joys and the burdens of building your business.
They will usually, though not always, be involved in the business from the very beginning. They will always have equity in the business, meaning that they have an ownership stake and a vested interest in the success of the business.
Co-founders will also help you split the workload and they will share in the risk of the business failing.
Ultimately, the co-founder relationship is one of the closest business relationships that you can have.
Apart from sharing in the workload, there are several additional reasons why it is generally a good idea to bring on a co-founder. These include:
💡 Investor Support
Venture capital firms often see a single founder as a risk and are hesitant to invest when there aren’t at least two founders.
💡 Better Decision Making
A co-founder can act as someone to bounce ideas off of, bring a different perspective, and critique your decisions.
💡 Risk Mitigation
A co-founder doesn’t just share in the profits, but also the financial risks.
Having a co-founder increases the size of your network.
Technical vs Non-Technical Co-Founders
There are broadly two different types of co-founders: technical and non-technical.
You will always want a co-founder to have complementary business skills to yours, but this skill set doesn’t necessarily need to be technical. For example, you could bring on a co-founder for their expertise in fundraising or sales and marketing.
Technical co-founders bring specific hard technical skills to the table. Typically they should have skills related to software development, software design, and software product development.
Here are some of the things that technical co-founders are often responsible for and should have the skills for.
🔹 Creating and implementing a software product development process
🔹 Hiring and managing a software development team
🔹 Building a minimum viable product (MVP)
You can read more general information about finding a co-founder in our guide on Where And How To Find Your Dream Co-Founder. To learn more about finding a technical co-founder specifically, keep reading this article.
When Do You Need a Technical Co-Founder?
Of course, if you are sufficiently technical or your startup business idea does not have technology at its core, then you likely won’t need a technical co-founder.
However, if you are facing one of the following situations, you will probably need to bring one on.
🛑 You Lack the Technical Expertise to Build Your Product
If you don’t have the technical skills to at least build a minimum viable product yourself, you probably need a technical co-founder. Without one, you risk remaining stuck in the idea phase.
There are of course other options, like hiring a freelance software developer or using no-code tools to create a prototype, but both of these have drawbacks.
With freelance software developers, there are risks around confidentiality and security and you don’t have a guarantee that their work will be of high quality.
And whilst no-code tools can seem like a good option, they still require some technical expertise to create a good product. There are also limitations to what it is possible to build, as well as potentially high costs.
In this case, bringing on a technical co-founder who has the necessary skill set to either build the product or hire and manage a development team to do so is likely your best option.
A potential co-founder will have a vested interest in building a high-quality product and be committed to the business idea.
🛑 You Have an MVP but Need to Scale
You might have enough technical knowledge to build an MVP, but not enough to develop it into a product that is ready to go to market and has the potential to scale.
In this case, you might want to bring on someone who can bring the necessary technical skills as well as long-term strategic thinking around things like scalability, cost, and security risks to the table.
You will want someone who can plan product architecture, create a tech strategy, design and implement a product roadmap, and hire and manage an efficient software development team.
What to Look for in Technical Co-Founders
It’s crucial to look for a strong technical co-founder with a skill set to help your business at your phase of its development.
You also want a co-founder with a long-term vision, as startup success doesn’t happen overnight. Ideally, you want someone who can look five to ten years ahead, but who is capable of executing that vision now.
It is very often the case that your technical co-founder will function as the business’s chief technology officer (CTO), at least during the early stages of the company, and for that reason, you should look for the same things in a technical co-founder as you would in a CTO.
You can find out more about CTOs, and how and where to hire one, in our How to Hire a CTO guide, but here are the things you should look for both in a great technical co-founder and a CTO.
🏆 Strong Technical Skills
One of the most important things to look for in a potential technical co-founder is their technical ability.
This is because they will be responsible for ensuring that the company’s products achieve strategic objectives.
The right technical co-founder should also be able to address technical issues at every stage of development.
🏆 Business Acumen
A technical co-founder should be able to understand a company and its business operations.
Strong business acumen will also allow them to predict the challenges a business will face and determine how a product can address these issues as it scales.
🏆 Interpersonal Skills
A great co-founder needs to be able to motivate and lead tech teams to stay focused.
They will most likely also have a seat at the board table, so they need solid people skills to interact with key stakeholders and executives.
Software solutions are rarely static and need to be able to scale or evolve with the companies they serve.
A good technical co-founder thinks outside the box. They will have a vision of where the product is going and how it can adapt to the changing needs of the business.
🏆 High-Impact Problem Solving
A good technical co-founder needs to have strong critical thinking skills and be a good problem solver, as they will be responsible for overcoming all technical hurdles that the company faces.
🏆 Risk Awareness
A technical co-founder needs to have a good understanding of risk, especially the security risks that technology companies face from cyber threats. It is their responsibility to protect the business by implementing effective cyber risk management strategies.
🏆 Product Vision
The right person needs to have the ability to transform business ideas into a real working product.
To do so, they need to have a strong understanding of their product sector, the problems customers have within that sector, and the ability to translate those needs into a product vision and roadmap that solves those problems.
Where to Find a Technical Co-Founder
Given that your partnership with your co-founder is such a close and important relationship, the best fit will typically be with someone you already know.
The best place to find a technical co-founder is within your existing network.
A good approach when looking for someone within your network is to make a list of everyone you know who you think you would want to have onboard as a co-founder.
Meet each of them for a coffee to discuss the project.
If they say no or the fit isn’t right, ask them if they can introduce you to two or three people who they would want as a co-founder and repeat the process.
This way, you can reach people outside of your immediate network.
If you can’t find a tech co-founder in your network don’t worry, as there are several other places to look.
Here are some of our favourites.
Startup School is a programme from Y Combinator that teaches entrepreneurs how to start a company.
They have a dedicated co-founder matching platform that matches you with potential co-founders based on your interests, skills, and location.
With over 9,000 co-founder matches made, this is a great platform for finding a tech co-founder.
StartHawk is another platform you can use to find and match with potential co-founders.
They have a large network of business professionals and a search algorithm that helps to make finding a tech co-founder easier.
CoFoundersLab claims to be the world’s largest network for entrepreneurs, so your chances of finding a co-founder here are good.
You can also find and match with mentors and investors on CoFoundersLab.
TechCofounder is also run by CoFoundersLab, but it is a specialised network for finding tech co-founders specifically.
It claims to have more than 300,000 entrepreneurs in its network, so it is a very good place to try and find tech talent.
GrowthMentor is an online mentorship community that allows startup founders and entrepreneurs to find professional mentors. These mentors can provide expert advice and assistance for startups and businesses.
However, it also has an option for you to tell the community that you are looking for a co-founder, opening up the possibility of finding a mentor who is looking for founder opportunities. You might find a co-founder for your startup, or someone who can refer you to a possible tech co-founder in their network.
Reddit is one of the largest communities on the internet. It is made up of various sub-communities called subreddits.
One of these is r/cofounder, which has more than 36,000 members and is dedicated to matching entrepreneurs with co-founders.
How to Determine the Equity Split with Your Technical Co-Founder
A co-founder should by definition have an equity stake in the business. This means that they will need to invest in the business, either financially or in the form of sweat equity.
In both cases you will need to agree on the value of the business so that you can agree to the equity split.
The equity split can be a difficult topic to discuss, but it is incredibly important to have this conversation right at the start of your co-founder relationship. This will ensure that you are both on the same page about what is expected from each of you and what you will receive in return.
He argues that doing a 50/50 split is a compromise between two co-founders and not a correct business decision. According to him:
“You need to get used to hard questions. You need to get used to trusting each other. You need to get used to the idea that you’re not all equal. You need to have the difficult discussions about responsibilities, contributions, roles, and compensation. You need to do it before you make commitments to investors and employees.”
So if doing a 50/50 split is the wrong answer, how should you split equity with your co-founder?
There is no simple answer to this, but Shapiro gives the following guidelines:
- Whoever came up with the idea gets more equity.
- Whoever provides the most funding gets more equity. Investing money in a startup right at the beginning is incredibly risky, as about 90% of startups fail. If one founder invests more money than the other, the equity split should reflect that risk.
- Full-time founders should receive more, as part-time founders make less of a commitment.
- If you’re the CEO, you’re entitled to more equity. This might seem unfair, but it is a fact of the market. CEOs earn a higher salary than CTOs and the equity split should reflect this.
- Reputation is important for equity entitlement. Having a reputation for being a successful startup founder brings value to the company and the equity split should reflect that value.
Ultimately this is something that you and your co-founder will have to negotiate to come to an agreement that is acceptable to both of you.
How to Make Your Co-Founder Partnership Work
Once you have found a potential co-founder it is important to ensure that the partnership will succeed.
This involves more than just deciding on the equity split, as you will also need to decide exactly what is expected of each partner.
Probably the most important thing needed for your partnership to work is to have a founders’ agreement.
A founders’ agreement is a legal contract between the founders which defines the roles, responsibilities, and liabilities of each partner.
At a minimum, your founders' agreement should cover the following:
🛑 Ownership structure defining the equity split
🛑 Roles and responsibilities of the founders
🛑 Voting rights
🛑 Capital contribution requirements
🛑 Conflict resolution
Founders’ agreements are legal documents, so you should seek legal counsel when drawing one up. There are some templates online that you can use to get started.
Once you have an agreement in place, you and your co-founder are ready to start building your idea into a successful business.
Alternatives to Bringing On a Tech Co-Founder
Although there are advantages to bringing a technical co-founder on board, it can also sometimes be incredibly difficult to find the right one for your business.
This means that you might have a situation where you have a great idea, but you are not able to turn the idea into a business. This might be because you can’t build it yourself, you don’t have a tech co-founder or you are having difficulty finding one which you want to work with.
If this is the case, what can you do?
Here are some alternatives to bringing a tech co-founder on board.
Learn to Code
This might seem like a daunting prospect, but the truth is that you don’t need to become a software engineer to be able to build a reasonable prototype or minimum viable product that can be tested.
In one of his blog posts Sam Altman, former president of Y Combinator, gives the following advice to non-technical founders who are struggling to find a tech co-founder:
"Why not learn to hack? Although it takes many, many years to become a great hacker, you can learn to be good enough to build your site or app in a few months. And even if you're not going to build the next version, if you're going to run a software company, it seems like a good idea to know a little bit about it.”
He makes the point that technical founders are usually willing to learn business skills for their startups, so there is no reason why non-technical founders should not also be willing to learn technical skills.
And once you have a working prototype, it might become easier to find a tech co-founder willing to join your business.
Alternatively, having learned some technical skills you will be better able to hire a CTO, hire a software development team, or work with a freelance developer.
Work with a Software Product Development Agency
Another option is to partner with a software product development agency.
A product development agency is a company that you can hire to assist you in building, testing, and refining your idea into a product or service.
Product development companies usually bring varied skills and capabilities to the table, as they will typically have cross-functional teams in place.
A product development agency with a dedicated software development team often has the necessary skills to perform the same role a tech co-founder or CTO would.
Having worked on a variety of different projects, product development agencies have already worked through many of the challenges your project is likely to face.
They will also be able to advise you on the best tech stack to use and what the best practices are for your industry.
Many product development agencies also provide you with a dedicated project management team.
These teams will be able to sort out any issues that pop up and ensure that your roadmap runs according to schedule.
The only downside to partnering with a software product development agency is that it can be expensive.
If you are a cash-strapped startup founder, this might not be a viable option for you.
Partner with MOHARA as Your Technical Co-Founder
We’re a product venture studio with over ten years of experience in developing software solutions.
Whether you’re an early-stage startup or a scale-up, we can provide expert guidance on product strategy to deliver solutions that translate into results.
We’ll manage all of the responsibilities usually handed over to a tech co-founder, from ideation to execution.
We have collectively functioned as the tech co-founder or CTO for more than 15 pioneering startup ventures. We bring a combined experience that you can leverage at the executive level and that you would not easily be able to find in a single tech co-founder.
And with our sweat equity model, we fulfil the tech co-founder role in a cost-effective way for cash-strapped startup founders.
Get in touch with us today to find out more about the MOHARA way and how we can turn your ideas into reality.
Let’s be pioneers together!