🧑‍💻 How to find a technical cofounder

6 tips and examples from real stories about finding cofounders

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Hey readers!

Dave here — let’s address a hot button topic in entrepreneurship.

Finding a technical cofounder is arguably one of the hardest challenges of building a startup.

“In YC’s case, the number one cause of early death for startups is cofounder blowups.”

Sam Altman, 2014

I’ve worked with a number of technical cofounders across several startups, ranging from side projects to billion dollar companies.

Everyone’s situation is unique, but cofounders can make or break your sanity and/or business — Sam Altman is right.

So, to help you tackle this, here are a few ways to find a technical cofounder in 2024.

But first, a brutal truth:

In most cases, technical cofounders don’t need a nontechnical cofounder as much as nontechnical cofounders need a technical cofounder.

The reason is simple: it’s easier for engineers to learn to sell (or hire, or build PLG into their product) than it is for business guys/gals to learn to code.

Sam Altman said about cofounding, “If you can do the job of your cofounder, it’s probably not going to work out.”

As the nontechnical cofounder, you need to have assets that your technical cofounder doesn’t have. This could be

  • Years of experience and marketing skills

  • A large network or expertise in your target industry

  • Relentless hustle 70-80 hours per week (and be good at it)

This truth is humbling, especially since you’re probably a great storyteller and have the persona that fills up a room, but the harsh reality of building software is if you can’t code, you have nothing.

Caveats - see points 5 and 6 below for exceptions.

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6 ways to find your technical cofounder

Two cofounders building a ship at sea

1. Be the first power user who loves the product

After an email introduction and months of feedback and developing a remote friendship, I ended up running the first ever virtual event on the Hopin platform in 2019 and two things happened:

  1. I became a natural evangelist for the product as I had to explain it over and over to my audience, creating guides and videos about the product and how it works.

  2. My eyes were opened to the value proposition before anyone else.

So when the founder asked me if I wanted to join full-time to work on marketing, customer support, and sales, I jumped in with two feet, quit my six-figure consulting gig, and took at $28k/year salary.

Power users have a genuine passion for the product. They love it, tell everyone about it, and use it every day. Even when there are bugs.

Find beta products. Give feedback on the product, it’s the thing builders love to hear, and you’ll naturally build a friendship with the founder, to the point where it may make sense to work together as cofounders.

2. Tap your college and university networks

My cofounder for my conversation starter app business was my college buddy — we lived in the same housing group and stayed in touch over the years. Eight years ago, we decided to launch a simple questions app. Today, we’re both full-time on other startups, but give our extra time to the app as 50-50 partners. He runs the code and I do everything else (business, marketing, app content). We’re very happy together 😄 

If you’re still in school, meet friends with engineering degrees or get involved in entrepreneurship programs, elevator pitch challenges and business plan competitions.

If you’re not in school, but live in an area with one that offers an engineering department, contact the dean or faculty and ask about mentorship or internships. Put your idea into a doc that outlines the business and technical tasks as clearly as possible and see if any students would be willing to work with you, for the experience and for the credits.

My tip here is stay in touch with engineers you meet in school. You never know when you’ll want to run something by them, even if it’s on the side.

3. Publish actively on social networks and publications

“For startups, development is easy, distribution is hard.”

My friend Davis Baer found his cofounder Vishal Kumar on Indie Hackers and grew the business to $600,000 ARR without ever meeting each other in person.

Vishal Kumar and Davis Baer, cofounders of OneUp

Davis did it by being active on social, especially X, and demonstrating he had the ability to capture attention and market a product, something Vishal knew he needed.

Medium did this for me, too. I was a writer for Inc.com and Axios and others. Entrepreneurship Handbook reached 230k followers and has been a major door opener and marketing kickstarter for all of my businesses.

If you can bring distribution to a technical cofounder, chances are they’ll want to work with you.

If you don’t have an ability to distribute awareness and capture attention, now’s the time to start posting and publishing.

Start a podcast, YouTube channel, email newsletter — something that shows your technical cofounder you can take their product to market.

4. Stay in touch with previous team mates

I haven’t shared this publicly yet, but I’m starting a new company with two engineers from my previous company. For almost 5 years, I was known as the zero-to-one launch guy, who did the early GTM for new product offerings and ran marketing and PR.

When my cofounders were wondering who they should talk to about a new startup idea in my field, they were pointed in my direction. We had a few conversations and now we are three cofounders.

If you are in sales or on the GTM side with a previous employer, you probably knew some of the engineers — try reaching out to them and check in. If you have an idea, see if they’re willing to work with you on a part-time or contract basis.

Note, you’ll definitely have to pay them something if you don’t have proven traction or distribution yet — but that’s part of the risk of starting a business — once you do, then you can offer them equity and kick off the company.

5. Stay solo — just hire a strong early team

Zoom was founded by solo founder Eric Yuan, who left Cisco in April 2011 and brought over 40 engineers to start a new company, originally named Saasbee, Inc.

I built my first tech startup Efographic (inactive) with just me, $5k, and an overseas contractor. It got us to an MVP and launch, but failed due to business model problems (my fault) and I didn’t have the money to pivot.

Nonetheless, Yuan, along with other solo founders like Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Craig Newmark (Craigslist), are examples of how you don’t need cofounders to build a successful business. You just need a strong early team.

6. Learn to code yourself

It’s easier than ever today to build software. OpenAI will write the code for you. There are also enough nocode tools that you can ship an MVP on your own in very little time. You’ll still need to learn how to manage the app development process, but given the free resources and tools today — it might be worth teaching yourself to be technical. Read: Stop Looking for a Technical Cofounder.

Here are a few nocode tools I recommend to get started:

In the end, finding a technical cofounder can be a challenge but don’t let it stop you. Start building and writing, share your work in public, be in a place where you are you seen, and be open to whomever the Internet might send your way.

Other resources:

Bonus! Our top read from Entrepreneurship Handbook on Medium:

Before Starting Your Online Business, Read This

Photo by Harris Vo on Unsplash

This is a great story from EH writer Smoul about harsh truths no one tells you about being a solopreneur:

  1. Research Before You Start

  2. Take Their Advice, Not Their Course (Yet)

  3. You’ll Get Lonely, A Lot

  4. Motivation is a Challenge

  5. Decision Fatigue Is Real

  6. Work-Life Balance? What’s That?

See you soon,

Dave

PS. I mentioned I was working on a new company. If you work in marketing, I’d love to show you. Hit reply to say hi and we’ll find a time.