Finding a tech co-founder is like trying to get married

26 Sep

Keep CalmBeing the “business guy” trying to find a tech co-founder is tough, that’s well known. However, I think I underestimated just how tough it really is in practice until I began to try and find someone myself.

Ever since I was a Seedcamp finalist, the main feedback I’ve had for my startup, Satago, when I’ve been talking to investors, has been “it looks very interesting, but we wouldn’t invest unless you have a technical co-founder”.

I don’t blame them. The argument of course is that you would be wary to invest in a technology-based company where nobody in the company knows the code. You need to have someone in the team that can fix a crashed server at 3am, or burn the midnight oil to hit a new feature deadline.

To date I have been using a contractor to build Satago, and whilst he is very good (one of the best developers I’ve worked with to be honest, but sadly based very far away from me in Russia) the fear is that without the large chunk of equity that a co-founder would be working towards, he could just down tools, and then Satago would grind to a halt.

To everyone that asks me how the cofounder search is going, I tell them it is like deciding you need to get married in the next few months, but you’re still single. One probably could find a mail-order bride quite quickly, but it would most likely be an unhappy marriage and end badly. Instead I need to try and do some high-throughput dating (slutty much?), and find someone that I can have a lasting relationship with (well, at least for the next 3-5 years).

So far I have been jilted at the altar a few times. I have very high standards, and so the potential co-founders that I am attracted to, and want to get on-board, are of course very high-calibre. When you’re a talented tech guy, you’re never short on offers and so far my almost-co-founders have decided each time the other iron in their fire is hotter for them. It’s starting to hurt my feelings.

I'm a guy, but you get my point...

I’m a guy, but you get my point…

Asides from reaching out to my own network, which includes some very talented technical guys, and networking my ass off, I have also listed my “co-founder wanted” plea on a couple of UK/European websites, including WorkinStartups. What’s been encouraging, is that the people that have got back to me have have usually said that I am about the most credible startup that they have seen on there.

So what are my and Satago’s credentials?

Raised £30k on Seedrs (60 investors!) to build my MVP.

Have a working MVP with beta-testers using it, and very good feedback from them.

Finalist at Seedcamp in Berlin (this has been the main filter for people that have contacted me – if it’s good enough for Seedcamp to look at it’s good enough for them to look at too).

Interest in Satago at Government-level (two meetings at Downing Street to-date).

Downing Street

Me at Downing Street to discuss Satago and late-payment to small businesses.

I just got very close to a term-sheet from a Tier 1 VC fund for a seed-investment, but after many meetings with them they decided I was too high-risk as a solo non-tech guy. That I got so far with these guys was great validation in my mind.

Lastly, some really cool top-secret things coming next month!

I worked for Rocket Internet for 2 years (that’s either, “nice, he’ll be good at business execution” or “herp, derp, evil German cloners! Fetch the pitchforks!”) and an MBA from Oxford University (that’s either “cool, useful degree from a good university”, or “begone foul-MBA, for ye are pure evil and do not know what a startup is”). I also have a PhD in Genetics, and while not especially useful for a internet startup, it does mean I too can hack code, just not computer code (ok, really I’m hoping it appeals at an intellectual nerd-to-nerd level). Also, I’m fairly certain I’m not an obnoxious guy, so hopefully it’s not my personality putting people off!

I’ve looked at a couple of these founder-matching websites, but they seem to be a bit US-focussed, and of course I seem not to have made the grade for the..uhhh…. “illustrious” FounderDating.com.

I do have a few good networking opportunities in the next couple of months so maybe something will come from that. I’m also thinking about organising a couple of founder speed-dating events in London and Berlin next month. I’d select 10 high-quality, credible “non-tech founders” with more than just an idea in their head and invite any tech guys that are looking for interesting co-founder opportunities.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this and you’re interested in helping me tackle the problem of late-payment to freelancers and small businesses, please get in touch (Berlin, London, Oxford or Scotland – all good to me). Satago is built with Java, with Tapestry framework and PostgreSQL database. Of course one thing I have found (and I expected anyway) is that most of the young, entrepreneurial developers are PhP or Ruby guys. Most Java experts (at least the ones I’ve spoken to) are from banking and already very well paid, so it’s quite a leap for them to consider a startup. I’m not committed to staying with Java – I’d prefer to stick with it since it’s already working well, but for the right co-founder of course we could move to any language.

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17 Responses to “Finding a tech co-founder is like trying to get married”

  1. Oras September 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Well written article mate. I’ve noticed recently that startups started to “hire” developers rather than offering equity or shares. I’m sure you’ve put yourself in the developer shoe, why a highly paid developer will leave his job to work on a startup? I’ll list some points from a developer point of view:
    1. Highly paid also means many years of experience. Working with a startup in early stage is risk for a developer as 98% of startups fail during the first 3 years. So this adds nothing to developer’s CV.
    2. Startups environment is so stressful comparing to well established companies.
    3. Less team collaboration, how many devs can a startup have? 3 or 4 at most?
    4. Fast pace changing, so there will be lack of well structured systems. (you mentioned you’re able to change to PHP/ruby so this is a good example).

    Good luck

  2. Matt Auckland September 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    Great article, very interesting. I’ve been building a social media/blogging platform, and I’m in a similar position to yourself, but in my case as a technical founder I’ve built the project single handed, and bootstrapped it from idea to beta. My challenge though is once I enter a public launch, is to seek invest and build a team.

  3. Preet January 10, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    Nice article, I am also developing a web application. My colleague and I, both are non technical. I am in testing domain and my colleague is in Senior Networ Engineer who is cisco certified. I am doing the coding part using javascript and php and first phase of the application will be ready in another 4 months. After launching the product we will promote the application by word of mouth and using social networking sites. If we will be able to get a good customer base (we are expecting around 100k in 6 months), we will try to get initial funding which we will use for second phase development and marketing. we have three phases in our planning as of now.

    What do you say, how much is chances to get initial funding we both of us are non technical as i mentioned above.

    • Matt Auckland (@mattauckland) January 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

      Since making my last comment on this post in September, I’ve decided to soft-launch my start-up in the next 4-6 months, then refine and add more features as users come on-board. I was originally going to launch once all major features had been completed, but I feel as a single tech founder it will take too long to build everything out, and I should just go for it, I’ve even got a test blog running on the system at http://hello.djbook.co

      • Steven January 13, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

        well they do say the MVP can be as little as a signup webpage to see if anyone is even interested in your idea.

    • Steven January 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      If you’re doing coding, then you’re not non-technical. I don’t understand why you say that. If you get 100k users in any market I’m pretty sure you’ll get investment!

      • Preet January 20, 2014 at 10:19 am #

        Thanks Steven. Actually i am doing coding just after reading the tutorials. code is not enough clean i guess but not very poor 😉 . Let see first i am planning to launch my app in India and den we will move further internationally. And population in India is around 1.25b, so i think i should be able to fetch atleast 100k users after the first phase. This is my power of positive thinking because if i had any negativity about my plan and idea, i wouldn’t be able take an initiate as most of people do.

        we are making a rood map for all the phases and activities that at which point what we should hit. can you please give me some idea how to approach for the funding and the transparency level while show casing the idea and reports to investors?

  4. Moritz February 5, 2014 at 1:09 am #

    Hi Steven,
    I’m relieved to have found your blog entry. Now I have some ideas about how to find a technical co-founder. I feel like I need one for some time already. Just like you, I’ve been a loner building stuff with externals from Russia. Last year, my company made around €250k profits – 3x more than the previous year. Can you imagine the equity talk being hard, if the company is already making money like that…? It will be hard for me to find someone who is like-minded, someone that will just fit, as you said. But if it would be a technical me I would find, I wouldn’t give up whatever I’m doing right now, if I don’t get 50% equity in whatever I’ll do next.

    • Matt Auckland (@mattauckland) February 14, 2014 at 1:22 am #

      Depends really, if the business continues to grown, then a, say 30% stake wouldn’t seem so bad. You could even go as far as doing a part wage, part equity deal. That can look inviting for someone joining a start-up venture, as they have a guaranteed wage, but also a stake in something that can grow.

      What is more important is finding a candidate that work for you. Someone who is passionate about your businesses sector as you are, and perhaps can bring something new to the table.

      I’ve worked as a freelance developer helping build out early stage products, but in my case I was paid for my part, instead of equity, and to be honest that was better for me.

      Good luck!

  5. Tom Lewis February 24, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    My father is a Java expert (many years training staff in Java and previously C++), and also an Oxford man! I am sure he would be interested in hearing from you. If you want to get in touch then drop me an email. Thanks, Tom.

  6. Erik November 1, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    Hi Steven,
    Totally agree that finding a technical cofounder takes a lot of patience and time to develop that relationship with a partner.

    I ended up just learning to code, and incredibly happy with that decision (both my partner and I can code).

    I recently shared my thoughts behind my process as well: http://blog.angelbacker.co/2014/11/best-place-to-find-a-technical-cofounder/

    • Steven November 7, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

      I would have lover to have learned to code, my only problem was that I never had enough time to put the 8-9 weeks hard learning it would have required. I did try once to learn some Ruby, but did not get far. I have to disagree with your out-sourcing comment – it’s what I did and it got me pretty far.

  7. Saurabh Hooda September 9, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    Great article Steven!
    I am also looking for a Tech Cofounder for my already launched and well-received startup, Lenro. Here is my tech co-founder requirement on Angellist: https://angel.co/lenro/jobs/77320-technical-cofounder
    I came here for tips. Posting the requirement here to reach right folks. Thanks 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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