3 workarounds when you don’t have a tech cofounder

As a startup founder, you’re anxious to get your business up and running. You’ve got great ideas, but you have a major stumbling block when it comes to turning them into reality: You don’t have a technical cofounder.

Since you’re a savvy businessperson, you realize you don’t have the knowledge to bring your app or website to life on your own. You also recognize that finding the right cofounder is a process you shouldn’t rush. Launching a startup is hard work, and you don’t want yours to suffer or fail because you rushed into a cofounder situation only to find you made a bad decision.

Taking your time with this critical decision needn’t stop you from moving forward. Here are three options to consider as you begin the process of developing a minimum viable product while you search for a tech cofounder in parallel.

Learn to Code, and create the MVP yourself

Learning how to code might be the solution for you. The key downside being the time this can take. Two common paths taken are either the self-study route, or a coding bootcamp.

Learning to code takes both time and money. Online resources like Codeacademy are free to use, but you could easily spend six months to a year learning the skill.

Dedicated bootcamps let you can move faster but you will have to shell out approximately $15,000 for the coursework not to mention the opportunity cost and lost income from doing it full time.

Completion rates are typically very low – only about 10% of students finish the paid online courses. Do-it-yourself learners using free resources are even less likely to complete the program. Given the attrition rates in startups in general this shouldn’t be too surprising.

Whether or not you plan to build the first version of your product directly the hands-on learning will help you understand and manage technical hires along with gauging the ability of potential tech cofounders.

Outsource your product development

Management provided

Contracting an outside firm can be a cost-effective and quick way to get your prototype developed. Many now-successful tech companies used this method of product development during their startup phase, and some continue to do so.

This method is not without disadvantages, particularly for non-tech founders. Teams located in other countries may be hard to manage, and exceptionally low-cost contractors may not deliver the quality you specify. Strategies to alleviate this problem include using a Product Manager and management techniques like Scrums.

Solutions closer to home will cost more and works well if you have the budget. They also help you maintain momentum so that every time you check in with a your growing network of technical people you can show progress. That massively increases your likelihood of attracting a great technical cofounder (not to mention media, investors, customers and so on.)

Lastly, having a management layer provided frees up your time to keep recruiting, speaking to customer and so on.

Self managed

An alternative to overseas outsourcing is to hire a freelance developer that you’ll manage directly. While this approach will be more expensive than outsourcing, you will have more control over your MVP, and the person or people working on your project.

How much might this cost? We’re a little biased but our pricing tool works well for getting a ballpark estimate for a fixed price project. In terms of hourly rates the range is broad and goes from $25 per hour up to $500 an hour depending on a lot of variables.

Hire an in-house developer

Having a dedicated inhouse developer is the most expensive option, but it also allows you the most control over your product development. The median annual pay for developers in 2015 was $100,690, not including benefits – and the number of new jobs is increasing each year. You will be entering into a very competitive hiring environment, often going up against companies with deeper pockets than you.

Being able to judge talent could be problematic for the non-tech founder. Without the appropriate background, choosing the best developer or programmer will be difficult. Making a bad decision in this area is a true “startup killer,” according to Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Don’t rush the process

Start the search process early enough so you don’t feel pushed into making a snap decision. Talk to friends who are tech-oriented or hire a consultant, so you know what questions to ask prospective hires.

Get help

Find a technical person who is willing to help you screen candidates. If you don’t know anyone in your network then make a point of networking with technical people in your area. You should do this anyway as you search for technical cofounders.

Let’s say you find the right person, how do you now get them to want to work with you?

Sell the vision

As a startup, your funds are limited, but that’s ok — money isn’t always a driving force for developers. Given they can work anywhere they tend to be more interested in a challenging and creative work environment. Being a founder is about doing hard things. One of those key hard things is inspiring people to choose to work for you when they have other interesting options.

Sell yourself

Top developers want to work with people who are excellent in their own field. If they believe in the space and have the skills to build the solution then why do they need you? Developers are also used to people approaching them with a ‘I just need a minion to build this’ mentality which, unsurprisingly, isn’t too exciting for the would-be ‘minion’, especially when they often bring more value to the project than someone who just has an idea.


Your startup won’t be in a position to offer a full benefit package, but offering smaller perks can also be attractive. Free lunches and shortened workweeks are little extras that can mean a lot to employees without breaking your budget.

This flow chart is full of creative ideas founders can implement as they move through the steps of searching for, interviewing, and hiring the perfect developer.