Technical co-founders are a scarce resource. Over the past several months, I have met quite a few good entrepreneurs with a business background who were desperately seeking a solid co-founder to join them and get the venture going. When you go to industry events that enable entrepreneurs to ‘voice what it is that they need help with’, you constantly hear of people on the lookout for developers, co-founders, and pretty much anyone who can write code. It has become a huge challenge to build that initial technical team, especially if you want your first hire or co-founder to be a rockstar.
So I spent some time thinking about how can entrepreneurs be creative and get access to strong co-founders? If I was in their shoes, what would be the first few things I would do? And in the spirit of sharing the wealth, here is what I came up with:
1. Rockstars have rockstar friends - it’s often relatively easy to identify strong technical leaders ‘after the fact’ - they are usually in a leadership role within a successful startup. So you should seek them out and talk to them - talk to VP R&Ds and CTOs of leading startups - they are usually relatively accessible. No, you probably won’t be able to hire them, nor should you try. But they have developer friends, some of which are probably also very good. It’s true that a VP R&D will do everything in his or her power to hire their rockstar friends themselves, but some of those friends will want a lot of equity (which already isn’t available), or will want to build a company of their own - and that’s where you come in. If you impress the VP R&D, he just might send his friend your way.
2. Has retention bonus kicked in yet? - an entrepreneur stays an entrepreneur. And after his startup gets acquired, he or she gets to spend the next couple of years in a big corporate office, learning about bureaucracy, enterprise politics, and how to move like a giant tortoise, while waiting for the retention bonus to kick in. It usually does after ~2 years. In the meantime, they think about what’s next, and often hop on the next great train leaving the station as soon as they can. So as an entrepreneur, I encourage you to take a look at the companies that got acquired 1-2 years ago - find out who were their tech superstars, and approach them. They are very likely to already be at their tipping point when it comes to their current job - and approachable to hear a pitch about the next big thing.
3. Go hardcore! - the most trivial thing when looking for a co-founder is going to industry events. But that rarely works - because most industry events just don’t interest good developers. If you’re going to an event that has an agenda around war stories from successful entrepreneurs, startups pitching, or key figures sharing their wisdom you might get great leads and insights, but you are unlikely to find a tech co-founder. Roll up your sleeves, put your geek hat on, and attend a Ruby ‘how-to’ session, or a Django developer gathering. Go to a data scalability session or a security hack marathon. You might not understand a word being said, but you just might meet your tech co-founder while chowing down on pizza and diet soda.
4. Identify entrepreneurial growing grounds - there are very specific locations where technical skills are being learned. Some are in the events I mentioned in my previous point. Some are in computer science classes. In Israel, it is often in specific units of the military. Find people who attended those, and ask them about who they attended with. Ask for intros. Find out what they’re doing. You will be surprised - your startup might be just what they are looking for.
5. Rob Big Corp - If none of the above work, you can always resort to stealing. What’s the big corp in your industry? Try to identify their rockstars - through friends and acquaintances working in those organizations of course. Then, lure them with what you’ve got - equity, interest, flexibility and fun. People get tired of Big Corp. When they do, you should be there.
That’s my 5 tips. Some may work more than other for you. Put your entrepreneur hat on, and be creative - there are many more ways out there - in this market, only the creative survive!
If you have a standout idea (and you’re willing to keep it not only to yourself), would love to see you share it in the comments below.