How to find the right tech co-founder

Paul Johnston
Feb 11, 2016 · 3 min read

For some reason, I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past few days with people who have an idea, but no tech co-founder to build it for them.

I’ve heard the stories of finding “agencies” to build the first version (or MVP or prototype or whatever) and of finding a great “CTO” who only wants to work part time and of finding “graduates” who are obviously tech talented, but not experienced in any real world scenario.

I’ve also seen events where it’s like “speed dating” for co-founders. Which scares me even more.

Simply put, finding a tech co-founder is hard. Really hard. Unless you already have one. In which case, you’re stuck with that person whether they are good or bad.

So how do you do it?

It’s a recruitment process, and quite a specialised one.

Unfortunately, the number of candidates out there who believe they can do the role of tech co-founder, far outweighs the actual number of those that actually can do that role.

Why do I say this?

Because tech co-founder (often called CTO in early stage startups) is a difficult role that spans multiple facets of the business. It’s not a purely technical role.

You need someone who can have a reasonable conversation, can speak tech, finance, product, business and someone who is capable of both pragmatism with delivery and forcefully holding a position as well.

You can learn all these skills, but it’s really not very easy, and takes years of working in certain types of scenario.

Practically speaking, you need to find a friend to go on this journey. Someone who will commit, who you will enjoy spending time with (either remotely or in person) because it’s far more like a contractual marriage than it is like an 18–30s holiday.

It’s a long term commitment.

So don’t rush it

And get some commitment up front

And get it written down

And don’t imagine you’re different than all the other startups

CAUTION!

Every startup believes they are going to be the next big thing. If you don’t, then you probably have scuppered your business from being anything more than a lifestyle business anyway.

But pretty much every startup fails. Statistically, those that get Series A (a second round of major funding) are in a small minority.

Your business needs help to succeed, and money, and quite a massive amount of luck and advice from experienced people.

To find a good tech co-founder…

Look for experienced people who have done startups before (massively increases chances of success).

Working for Google, or Facebook or somesuch other “name” or a big corporate managing massive budgets does not make you a good tech co-founder.

What makes you a good tech co-founder is that you are technically capable and aware of evolving trends (e.g. right now it might be serverless cloud setups), a pragmatist and a realist, and you can impact every part of the business.

So…

Don’t pick the guy who’s just out of University (unless they are brilliant)…

Don’t pick the girl who has worked for Facebook/Google/Twitter for 4 years (unless they are brilliant)…

Don’t pick the guy who has been developing in PHP for 10 years (because it’s rubbish)…

Maybe pick the girl who’s had 4 startup failures (because they know what doesn’t work better than you do)…

Unless they are the right person for you.

Think of your choice more like picking a marriage partner, in a marriage that has a less than 3% chance of even maybe succeeding.

You don’t have much chance of succeeding, so pick really well and take your time.

Paul Johnston

Written by

ServerlessDays CoFounder (Jeff), ex AWS Serverless Snr DA, experienced CTO/Interim, Startups, Entrepreneur, Techie, Geek and Christian