7 Mistakes People Make Trying to Find Technical Co-Founders
Finding a technical co-founder is hard, and every startup is different, so it’s difficult to say what you should do to recruit one (although we’ll be trying in a different article). On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to say what you shouldn’t do. Here’s our list of 7 mistakes people make when looking for a technical co-founder.
1. Ask them to “build it for you”
This is the most widespread and pernicious of mistakes, and easily takes our top spot. And it betrays a fundamentally insulting way of looking at your relationship with a developer.
If you’re looking for a technical co-founder (which you are, even if you’re just looking for someone who will build the product for equity), then you need to treat them like a partner. They have a valuable skill that you don’t, and their experience will allow you to not just create the product in the first place, but create a better product than you would on your own. You can’t treat them as though they are a completely interchangeable code monkey and expect to get a loyal, passionate partner out of it.
If you just want someone to ‘build it for you,’ then you’re not looking for a technical co-founder – you’re looking for a hired gun. Unfortunately, hired guns don’t work for free, and you need to be prepared to shell out a fair amount of money to have someone execute on your vision. There’s nothing wrong with that approach – it’s a large part of Thryv’s business – but it’s a mistake to treat a potential partner like a freelancer sans monetary compensation. Developers aren’t dumb, and, by and large, you won’t be able to just trick ‘some dev’ into making you rich in return for scraps (which is exactly how it can sound when you take this approach).
2. Ask for an NDA before talking about your idea
There’s nothing that screams ‘novice’ like asking for an NDA before talking about the idea.
It’s not that NDAs aren’t important – they are – but they are generally only relevant once you have a product, not when you’re still in the ideation phase.
When all you have is an idea you want the opposite of an NDA. You should be shouting your idea from the rooftops asking for feedback. You need feedback, you need people with experience to tell you what they think. Is it feasible? What do I need to build it? What haven’t I thought about? What problems am I likely to encounter? Are there competitors I don’t know about? What kind of timeline should I expect? These are all questions you’ll want to answer before attacking the problem in earnest, and if you demand an NDA before asking, you’re never going to get the answers.
“But isn’t that dangerous?” you ask. “Won’t someone steal my idea?”
No, and no. There is almost a 0 percent chance your idea will be stolen, even if it’s amazing. Why? Because the idea is one of the least important factors in success – and it’s important for you to come to terms with that. The execution, the team, the timing, the advisors are ALL more important than the idea itself. Those things also happen to be the hardest parts to get right, so until you show that you have gotten them right, no one will try to steal your company.
3. Over hype your idea
Inspiring the people around you is a vital part of business success. Over hyping, though, will actively repel potential partners.
No one is inspired by someone saying ‘this is a billion dollar idea!’ or ‘this will change the world!’ They become inspired when you tell them why – and when you show them it’s possible.
As an example: the concept of high speed transit between large cities has been around for a long time. So why was the Hyperloop so interesting? Because Elon Musk and his team wrote a whole report on how it could be done, along with realistic estimates of what sort of impact and possibilities it might entail. Strive to do the same with your own ideas.
4. Expect them to work for free
The key word here is ‘expect.’
When you’re starting out, you will almost certainly be cash strapped. You want to find someone who will help you make your idea into reality, and you can’t afford much at this point. Moreover, you want to work with someone who is as excited to work on the idea as you are. What are you to do?
Well one thing you mustn’t do is go to a developer and expect them to work for nothing. Any experienced developer has 1.2% of some failed company in their back pocket – adding another chunk of worthless equity has exactly zero appeal. It’s your job to draw them in over time, and one meeting where you tell them the idea won’t do it. A great way to get them to fall in love with the idea is give them exposure to it, with a monetary incentive to get them in the door. If, once they’ve seen the potential by working on it a bit, they want to join as a partner, then you can talk about equity only compensation – but no experienced developer will commit to something unproven, free of charge, after one conversation.
5. Act like your idea is unique
…because it almost certainly isn’t. Perhaps a part of it is, but that’s not the point, and it’s not what makes it valuable. Ideas are a dime a dozen; there are lots of ways to solve any single problem. What you need to do is show that the way you’re going about it is viable, and that you have the wherewithal to get it done. Moreover, thinking your idea is the only one in this space is almost always naive, and pegs you as a beginner – no one wants to work with a beginner.
Work hard to find other examples of similar ideas succeeding, or if they failed, find out why – and explain how you’ll avoid the same pitfalls.
6. Not doing research
If you’re looking for a technical co-founder, there are tons of questions that you need to answer. Even if you’re not technical, you need to have done some research about what you need to bring your idea to fruition – and be able to speak intelligently about your thought process.
This may sound like a chicken/egg sort of situation – if you need technical expertise to attract a technical co-founder, how are you ever supposed to do so in the first place? One way is to find a technical advisor who, while they’re not going to build your product, can point you in the right direction. Ask them what the critical decisions are, and what the trade offs are for different approaches. Consider your options, do your research, make some tentative decisions, and use that as a foundation on which to build your search for a partner.
7. String meaningless buzzwords together
No one is impressed with buzzwords. Buzzword salad immediately identifies poor partnership choices for many developers.
The most important part of any business is the problem it’s solving. Start with the problem, and build from there. If new technologies have enabled a novel solution to an old problem, all the better! But keep the problem at the center, and don’t use buzzwords if possible. People who know them will pick up on it and get a bad taste in their mouths, which makes for an uphill battle when trying to recruit them.
What do you think?
Anything we missed? Leave it in the comments. Have an idea you’d like to discuss with us, or need some advice? Contact us!