Finding a Technical Co-Founder: An Intro to Networking
For more up to date info on this topic, check out this series of posts I wrote for my business, 612 Software Foundry, here in 2019.
Alternate title 1: Finding My People
Alternate title 2: Finding a Job in Tech/Startups
Alternate title 3: Finding People to Work for My Startup
As I chat with new startup founders and budding entrepreneurs, especially those who are not of technical backgrounds, I find that they are quick to ask “hey i have this idea. want to be my developer?” or “hey i’m looking for a technical co-founder. interested?”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: finding a technical co-founder, and even hiring a technical someone, requires building a relationship with them first. And I’m not the only one who’s saying it.
You wouldn’t buy the car before test driving it would you? Or would you?
Face it: It’s going to take a bit of hustle, some networking, and some relationship building.
Here are some thoughts:
Insert yourself fully into the startup community
Whether you do it full-time during the day or start at night and on weekends by attending events, do whatever you can to become a part of the community. Attend events, join a co-working space, become active in a Slack team.
Talk about your idea
Generate buzz. While what you’re working on may be super secret, if you can’t talk about it at some level at an event or over coffee, it will be hard to generate any interest. The person you hire or who becomes your co-founder will be as interested and invested in this as you are.
Show your idea has legs
Ever heard the phrase “Ideas are cheap, execution is everything.”? It’s going to be difficult to convince someone to latch on to your idea if it’s only an idea. But if you can show that it has legs, if you can show that there is value in your idea, people (and not only potential co-founders and employees, but customers, investors, and partners) will be able to understand it better. If you can show that customers value your idea and will pay real money for your solution, you have an idea with legs. Start by building your community of people who will give you feedback. Find customers who want to use your solution and get signups and pre-orders before building. Start by building out mockups or a non-functional prototype to further prove out your idea. You can do all of this without a technical co-founder or even a technical someone.
Talk to people
Seriously. No joke. Get out there and talk with people. And not just about your idea.
Attend meetups that technical people attend and just listen and learn.
Attend meetups that are specifically designed for tech people and founders to meet and network.
If you’re in a position to, sponsor events. Mingle. Talk to people. With no expectations.
Buy someone coffee and have a chat with no expectations for the end of the conversation. It might end in a business marriage, it might end in a referral TO you, it might end in a referral FROM you, it might end in you meeting again in a week or a month to continue the conversation, it might end in the two of you parting ways and never speaking again.
Network with other founders (yes, I said founders). For many of them, this is not their first rodeo. They may not be able to give you the answers to your problems, but they can share their experiences. And they may eventually share referrals.
Join a Slack team and talk shop. Don’t just sit there and listen (that’s ok for a bit to figure out what the conventions are) — start a conversation. Join channels that are interesting to you. Ask questions, throw out your favorite cat gif or emoji, but be real with people and talk to them.
Engage in conversation with technical people on twitter. They are real people by the way, with real interests outside of writing code. Do you like biking? I bet they do too! Do you like long walks on the beach at sunset? They do too! Oops… wrong blog post.
Try before you buy
Hire someone on a contract basis at 10–20 hours week or a month. See if they are a good fit technically, culturally, and whether you can even stand to be in the same room for more than a full day. Know that this ‘try before you buy’ goes both ways: this person will be trying you out as well. Are you an effective communicator? Are you fair? Are you fun? Are you intelligent? Do you get shit done? Or do you just talk big?
Be respectful of people’s time
If you are asking for a meeting, know that this person quite possibly has a lot of meetings and they are taking time out of their day for you. They likely don’t see this as an interview but as a way to learn more about you and your startup so they can help your networking efforts. Diving deep into their technical skills on the first date is probably going to be a huge turn off (unless you are both nerds and like to talk tech). The more you share, the better they can help you. Do them a favor, whether it’s now or in the future by way of an introduction, new business, sharing your product, or promotion.
Also note that the above applies for technical people looking to partner up with non-technical founders. If you’re looking to BE a technical co-founder, you have to put in some hustle too. Go to the events. Meet the people. Build your network. Consider building your own product for the experience.
Just know that this relationship building process, as with any relationship building process, takes time and effort, but it pays off. Also know that if the first (or second or third) person doesn’t work out to be THE ONE, it just wasn’t meant to be and it’s for the best.
Now I’m starting to sound like a relationship counselor. Maybe that’s why people liken finding a co-founder to dating.