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 a great startup idea for a software product or service do not have the technical skills or know-how to execute those ideas.
A non-technical co-founder will need to bring on a technical team to help them build out their ideas into a minimum viable product (MVP). If they have no background knowledge in software development, they 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 for ways to find a technical co-founder, you’re at 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 co-founder in 2023!
What Is a Technical Co-Founder and Why Should You Bring One on Board?
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)
Read on to find out everything you need to know about finding a technical co-founder!
When Do You Need a Technical Co-Founder?
Of course, if you are sufficiently technically inclined 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 board:
🛑 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. You are likely to face limitations to what these tools can build and you’ll potentially deal with 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 scenario, you might want to bring on someone who can provide the necessary technical skills, as well as long-term strategic thinking around aspects like scalability, cost, and security risks.
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 each phase of its development.
You also want potential candidates 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 technical officer (CTO), at least during the early stages of forming 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 tech expertise. Their past work should show that they are capable of bringing vision to life.
This is because they will need to ensure that the company’s products achieve strategic objectives in line with your business vision.
The right technical cofounder should also be able to address technical issues at every stage of development.
🏆 Shared vision
You need to know from the start whether you and your co-founder have the same long-term vision for the company and that both of you are aligned with your business strategy.
Your co-founder needs to bring the same passion to the business and have the same goals for your startup as you do.
🏆 Business acumen
The right 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
Technical ability is not the only thing tech partners bring to the table. A great co-founder needs to be able to motivate and lead tech teams to stay focused when the chips are down. They essentially need to be a technical person with great communication skills!
Technical cofounders also need to be empathetic. Company culture starts at the top. Most successful startups have founders that understand the feelings and perspectives of others.
Also, they will likely have a seat at the board table, so they need solid people- and leadership 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 changing needs, resulting in business success.
🏆 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 cyberthreats. It is their responsibility to protect the business by implementing effective cyber risk management strategies.
Your co-founder is not an employee but a managing partner in your business, so they need to be self-sufficient, reliable, and able to function without your input.
🏆 Product vision
The right person needs to be able 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 solve 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 on board as a co-founder.
Meet with each of them 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 could recommend 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 for one.
Here are some of our favourites:
1. Startup School’s Co-Founder Matching
Startup School is a programme managed by 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 thus far, 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.
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 provide expert advice and assistance for startups and businesses.
More importantly, it also has an option for you to inform 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 in this way, or at least 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.
7. Indie Hackers
Indie Hackers is a little bit like Reddit or Twitter in that users are able to create and comment on posts to connect with other members.
So, if you are looking for a good co-founder you could create a post describing a bit about your company/idea and the type of business partner you’re looking for to try and find a match among Indie Hacker’s 16,000-strong community.
FoundersList is another platform that can help you connect with a technical founder. Through this platform, you can find your co-founder, connect with other entrepreneurs, join discussion groups, and get deals.
To find the ideal co-founder, create a profile and go to its Co-founders page. Your profile will be featured on a list of people looking for co-founders, along with descriptions of their startups and requirements. One can refine the results by location, business stage, and co-founder type.
9. The Founder Institute
Serial entrepreneurs Adeo Ressi and Jonathan Greechan established the Founder Institute in 2009. The institute has been instrumental in helping entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life and connect co-founders. It has facilitated the initiation of more than 6,500 businesses in over 200 cities worldwide, spanning six continents.
The Founder Institute provides the necessary structure, feedback, and support network during the early phases of business establishment. The founders' experience with TheFunded.com led them to recognise and address a resource deficit for entrepreneurs in the ideation and launch stages.
How to Determine the Equity Split with Your Technical Co-Founder
Once you have found your dream co-founder, the next question is how much equity should they get? 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.
There are various ways in which you can decide to split the equity, but according to Dan Shapiro, CEO of Glowforge, the only wrong answer is to do a 50/50 split.
He argues that doing a 50/50 split is a compromise between two co-founders and therefore not a correct business decision. In his words, “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 accordingly.
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 in place.
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
🛑 Vesting schedules
🛑 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 successful 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 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 to succeed, 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 recognise an accomplished CTO, hire a software development team, or work with a freelance developer.
There are a lot of free resources available online that can help you learn sufficient technical skills to build a working MVP for your startup business, including freeCodeCamp and Codecademy.
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 your industry’s best practices are.
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 the responsibilities usually handed over to a tech co-founder, from ideation to execution.
We have collectively functioned as tech co-founder or CTO for more than 15 pioneering startup ventures. We bring you our combined experience that you can leverage at the executive level, which is something that you would not easily 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!
What role does a technical co-founder play in a startup?
The technical co-founder usually handles the technical aspects of the startup. This includes developing and managing the product or service, assembling and leading a technical team, and making key strategic and technical infrastructure decisions.
Where can I find a technical co-founder?
Networking events, startup incubators, social media, and online platforms like Start Hawk, CoFoundersLab, Reddit, Indie Hacker, or tech meetups are common places to find potential technical co-founders. You could also look within your existing network on LinkedIn or Twitter.
What skills should a technical co-founder possess?
A technical co-founder should have deep technical skills in areas relevant to your startup (e.g., software development, machine learning, data science), the ability to make important technical decisions, project management skills, and, ideally, experience building and scaling tech products.
Additionally, on the business side, they should know enough to understand and contribute to strategic decisions.
What qualities should I look for in a technical co-founder?
Besides technical skills, look for qualities such as a passion for your startup's vision, resilience, adaptability, problem-solving abilities, strong communication skills, and a willingness to assess and take risks. You should also consider their leadership ability as they'll likely manage a team.
How can I ensure the technical co-founder fits my startup well?
Start by clearly defining your startup's vision and the role you want the technical co-founder to play. During your discussions, ensure they are passionate about your idea, have the necessary skills, and can work effectively with you.
You might also want to consider a trial period where you collaborate on a small project to see whether you work together well. A startup’s co-founders are partners in achieving a successful business marriage!