To find a technical cofounder, start building and prove that your idea is inevitable
Hi, I’m Taylor Hughes. I’m the technical cofounder of Hypernatural, the most amazing short-form video generator. I have shipped apps and built teams at Facebook, Google, Clubhouse, and a bunch of start-ups in between.
I’ve had a few people ask me recently about how to find a technical cofounder. These people are usually nontechnical folks who have a unique insight into an interesting market — but they don’t know how to build it.
In real life, I know of exactly two options for convincing a technical cofounder to join you: Either you already know a technical cofounder, ideally from working at a small-to-midsize startup where you worked directly together before. Lucky ducks! Go ship together.
Or you don’t already know a technical cofounder, and you have to find one somewhere and convince them to join you. This case is a long road! Technical cofounders have a ton of options, including working for large companies that pay them vast sums of money — or just working on their own ideas instead.
So what you actually need to do is build a compelling case for a technical cofounder to want to join you. You have to show that you and your idea will succeed, and that it’s inevitable.¹
A compelling case to join you consists of two things:
- Proof that the idea or product itself will work, and, maybe more importantly:
- Validation of you, yourself! — as a person who can ship this, even without waiting for a magic coder person to help. You’re going to be successful bringing this idea to life, no matter what.
Let’s dig into both:
Proof of your idea’s product-market fit potential
Most people I meet have a product idea and want to build it. Great; great ideas are great. The problem is that everyone has a great idea.
To get a potential technical cofounder interested in your idea, what you need is proof that your idea will scale. So you have to build it, or some part of it, in order to generate that proof. (That’s truly the only way to know.™)
Proof of inevitability can take several forms:
As a nerdy software engineer, the idea of asking a potential customer for thousands of dollars in exchange for my code is very scary! But if you can line up five customers who each want to pay you (and me, by proxy) $10,000 for some specific solution to their problems? Guess what, I need you.
You can have potential clients sign actual letters of intent before your product exists. You can have customers lined up asking for something and handshake-committing to buy it for some large amount of money. You can even have potential customers write angel checks.
A potential cofounder meeting that starts with, “Hey, this bigtime client just gave me a check for $25K and I desperately need your help to deliver for them” — now that’s a good pitch.
Go-to-market wedge validation.
Nontechnical folks with an idea usually think they have a wedge: A unique way to get customers to use their product, which will cause the product to grow in a specific market. One way to validate that is to build a waitlist, or some other channel that proves there are thousands of people who want this thing that might not exist yet.
One way to do this is to put together product UI mocks, literal images of what the product could look like — like maybe by using Figma directly—and building a marketing website using those mocks to sell your idea.
The holy grail: Product prototype validation.
Many ideas today can be built with a combination of no-code or low-code tools. You can even build entire product prototypes with tools like Keynote, and have real people try these products to see how desperately they want your solution.
But there’s nothing stopping you from setting up a website with Webflow, Framer, Shopify, or WordPress and just building something simple that is useful for your customers. You don’t need an engineer for that! Just start.
If you’re offering a service for people, start with a website and a signup form (using Typeform or Google Forms!) — then provide the service manually or semi-manually at first. Try to build a repeatable set of manual work that can be automated with software once you know it’s something people want to pay for. Copy-paste people’s form inputs into ChatGPT yourself and pretend that it’s working automatically. Whatever it takes.
Proof that you’re worth it
Boom, you’ve got people beating down your door for this thing. You have hundreds of waitlist signups. You are doing so many manual things yourself, you can’t keep up! Now you need to get a software engineer onboard to make this scale.
Having this proof really shows that you’re a hustler. You’re worth following into the arena. You’re not dependent on anybody else to make this idea into a reality, but you know someone else will help you move faster.
This shows that you can pull your weight in a partnership with a technical cofounder. The technical cofounder can take over product execution and hopefully automate the parts you’ve already proven should exist.
So, once you’ve proven out the idea, it’s just the simple matter of finding a living, breathing engineer who buys into the story.
Maybe founder dating can somehow work, but I’m wary. Rather, I’d take the approach you probably used for finding your initial customers: Traverse your network in order to draw out the right people.
You might even find your technical cofounder by using the customers you’ve already lined up. Who better to find an interested technical cofounder than 25 friendlies who desperately want your thing to exist?
In the end, it’s about driving the idea forward at any cost, and then building your team outward at each step of the way.
Once you build something and show it to real people, you’ll quickly discover that you haven’t built the right thing on the first go. People react differently to the idea than you expected. You need to iterate to make it more compelling.
This is very hard, and it’s a slog. Your beautiful idea probably isn’t so beautiful when the rubber meets the road, and you’ll figure that out quickly by trying to get it started.
So, my main takeaway for nontechnical founders: Don’t wait. Start that iteration cycle now, and someone will inevitably be excited to join you when it starts working.
- Building this case is extremely similar to building a case for a pre-seed or seed investor to give you money! Hustle and go get that money.