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Finding a technical co-founder

A smart friend recently emailed me about a business idea, and asked for my advice. I realised the reply I sent would be equally helpful (or unhelpful!) to anyone in a similar situation, so here it is:

Glad to hear you’ve found something you want to work on! Exciting times ahead.

I’ve written some initial thoughts and included some links below. But it’s probably best if we find some time to talk. My calendar is here.

Regarding finding a technical co-founder, a few immediate thoughts:

  1. There are many more people who have an idea but little/no ability to execute independently, than there are engineers who lack an idea. So you will need luck and/or a compelling pitch.
  2. When you say ‘technical co-founder’, I assume you mean ‘engineer willing to work with zero cash compensation’. (Maybe I’m mistaken, but this is usually what people mean.) Given that good engineers are in high demand (at least here in North America), the opportunity cost needs to be worthwhile. So you need to be willing to see them as a partner, with a decent chunk of equity. Many people think that just by bringing an idea, they should have 95% of the initial equity, whilst the technical co-founder (whose skills are equally, if not more, valuable) should get 5%. So it’s important to be realistic about this. When you co-found a company with people, it’s important for founders’ equity to vest. Otherwise, if one person leaves, they have a large chunk of equity even though most of the work is still to be done.
  3. The most impactful things you might do to to attract and close a co-founder:

    • have committed seed money (either your own, or from an angel or VC)
    • have built a prototype of the thing that you can shop around to potential customers
    • have several years of domain experience in the specific industry or problem space, and a network of people you can tap for learning about customer needs, or sales pitches
    • have some potential customers who have signed letters of intent, or have given you money

The more of the items in #3 you have, the higher chance that someone good would agree to be a co-founder with you. Those things will appear valuable to a potential co-founder exactly because they’re valuable to the business (i.e. increase the chance of the business succeeding).

As far as sourcing people, I don’t know anyone who’s looking for an opportunity like this right now. One good place to find people is Hacker News (​, a discussion forum for startup/engineer folks. It’s worth spending an hour reading:

  • how other people have pitched when looking for technical co-founders
  • how engineers have reacted
  • how (some) engineers think about the decision

You can search previous discussions here:​dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=​false&query=Technical%20co-​founder&sort=byPopularity&​type=story

and here:​dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=​false&query=Technical%20co-​founder&sort=byPopularity&​type=comment

Some common perspectives worth reading:

Understanding your target co-founder profile better will help you refine your pitch, anticipate objections and, most importantly, help focus your current effort on things that are most valuable. Those things will be valuable to a potential co-founder precisely because they’re valuable for your startup.