“I have a great concept but lack the skill set to build it. I am going to the OU startup program next week to find computer talent. I have also spoke with computer professors in the area. Seeking talent in this manner is new to me and I haven’t yet spoken with actual talent to be told they are not interested. So I am very excited about the next few weeks! I would appreciate any feedback on how to find partners with strong computer programming backgrounds to take a vested interest in a project outside of what I am trying. Thanks for any input!”
This is a great question, and a critical one for many startup founders. How do you find a co-founder that is both talented and committed?
Finding a technical co-founder is especially daunting, but there are some surefire ways to hedge your bets and avoid rotten apples.
1) Take your time!
Going to entrepreneurship events is a great way to meet a talented co-founder and you should mingle and collect business cards aggressively.
But treat the event like a social mixer: Don’t fall in love with any particular co-founder until you’ve had a chance to check them out, talk to people who know them and have worked with them, and until you’ve had a chance to sit down with them, one-on-one, and get to know them.
Choosing a co-founder is a little like getting married. You may end up spending a lot of your waking hours with this person and you’ll certainly be sharing the ups and downs of startup life, and might just be in a position to share the fruits of your labors if you are successful. So choose carefully!
2) You’re looking for someone who has done this before.
When you talk to a potential co-founder who needs to bring strong technical talent, they should be able to show you other things they’ve done that were similar not only in terms of the platform and technologies, but also in terms of complexity and required quality.
If they don’t have anything to show you, then this is their first rodeo. Be very wary.
You’re going to have enough challenges getting your startup off the ground without having a co-founder who is teaching themselves a whole new skillset just to get to first base.
3) Find someone who shares your sense of aesthetics, or beware!
If what they show you in their prior work has an ugly interface, know that you’re going to have to budget for design work. That might be OK, but having a co-founder who shares your aesthetic values and attention to detail might just make-or-break your little company. Have a talk about these things up front.
If you can’t get onto the same page about committment to aesthetics and basic philosophy on design, you need to consider your options carefully before committing.
4) Try to break their software.
Getting on the same page about quality of architecture, structure and build is more challenging, but necessary. Try this: Use their software. Try to break it. If you can break it with casual use, you need to stop and think. Software shouldn’t break with casual usage.
5) Talk to them about the challenges of building quality software and about what a testing and delivery process might involve.
Be honest about what you think it will take. Get detailed. If they balk at the idea of being held accountable for 99.9% reliability (or higher for some businesses), know that you probably need to look elsewhere.
6) Talk to their peers.
You’re looking for a stand-out co-founder. Their peers should be able to point at them and say they’re that stand-out person. Figure out whether they’re a technical leader who knows how to solve problems and is good at showing others, or whether they’re a technical follower who is more often asking questions in forums and almost never answers them.
Your startup may be able to survive with followers in key technical positions when it is larger, but early on, you need nothing but technical leaders who won’t back down from repeated challenges. Believe me: There will be challenges.
7) Look for passion.
There’s no substitute for raw talent, but detecting it can be hard. Degrees and certifications are important, but they don’t indicate whether a person feels that underlying, inherent thrill when they solve a difficult problem. That thrill from success is what leads to repeated success, even in the face of many obstacles.
Your co-founder is going to need passion for their art, passion for the business idea, and passion for the idea of entrepreneurship. Passion is the fuel that keeps the fires burning, even when the night of the startup is long and cold.
8) Finally, remember that there’s no perfect choice, but you are choosing someone that you have to be able to trust.
Trust is foremost, and without it, you will both be continuously distracted and much less produtive. You’ll be focused on the lack of trust, rather than solving the problems. You need some basic compatibility in order to be able to establish trust. While a lot of other issues can be sorted out over time, if you don’t start out with trust, your liklihood of success will be much lower.