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The Secret Sauce to Finding a Technical Co-founder

by Tricia Whitlock

Starting a company entails a number of challenges, some of them easier than others. For most of you, the toughest task is finding a technical co-founder.

I’m one of the lucky few that’s been a technical co-founder for a few startups and I know just how difficult it is to get people like me fired up about your company. So fired up that we quit good, stable jobs to go and work late nights, for little money, eating Top Ramen and PB&J sandwiches on the regular. I’m asked this question all the time — how does one go about finding a good technical co-founder? Here are a few thoughts:

You need a developer, not a CTO
I see this all the time. People come to me and tell me they’re talking to Blah-blah big pants from Such-and-such fancy company to be their CTO.

If you’re trying to hire a “CTO” stop right now. You don’t need a CTO, you need a developer.

More often than not, CTOs from big corporations are big thinkers. They set the technology vision for large organizations. In your startup, you’re years away from this kind of thinking. Hiring a CTO who doesn’t build means you’ll then need to hire a coder to execute on your vision. You’ll essentially have a C-level person sitting between you and the person making something. This kind of inefficiency just doesn’t fly.

Attract a technical co-founder by building something
But wait, I’m looking for a co-founder so they can build it for me. Yeah, I hear ya. But necessity is the mother of invention, right? There’s square space, wordpress, wix, drupal and a million other tools designed for the non technical crowd to build something lightweight.

The thing is that technical co-founders tend to be engineers (or come from an engineering background). And engineers aren’t always the best at understanding vision. They love to see something real. Something that activates their imagination. By spending time taking your idea and implementing a low fidelity prototype, you’re more likely to attract the right kind of co-founder.

Learn to code
Hopefully you’re noticing a trend here. The best way to attract a coder is to immerse yourself in technology. You’re starting a technology company; why not empower yourself to work on, build, and fix things yourself? Get familiar with Github, the coding meetups that happen every night around our city, and the kinds of places coders hang out: Octane coffee and skating rinks (OK maybe that’s just a dream of mine). By learning to code and learning the culture, either through a coder bootcamp or online, you’ll be surrounding yourself by the kind of people who can help you start your company.

About the author: TJ Muehleman is co-founder of We&Co, a mobile hiring solution for restaurants, as well as Standard Code, a digital product factory.

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