What do you do when have an idea for a web-based business but don’t know how to get started? Do you need to learn to go unicorn hunting, I mean, go find a technical co-founder? Finding a technical co-founder has become part of the start-up vernacular in recent years as events like co-founder dating have popped up to connect entrepreneurs with their technical soul mates to create businesses. However, success from these events generally requires months of courtship to get to know one another. This courtship takes time, critical time that could be spent building your product, testing it out with customers and learning about your business. So while the decision to find a technical co-founder likely depends on the type of business that you want to build, it’s important to consider whether or not you want to go unicorn hunting very seriously.
Do you need a CTO to start?
Many business people assume that they need a senior level, technology professional to lead their development efforts from the beginning of their project. This may be the case, especially if the business idea requires a complex architecture and high scalability from at the beginning of the product launch. However, finding, attracting and paying an experienced CTO is most likely a frustrating experience for a start-up. In most cases, startups simply can’t afford to hire a qualified CTO.
The good news is that you likely don’t need an expensive CTO when you start your business. This is because your most important task in the beginning is to find a product/market fit. You do not need to worry about scaling your product to handle a billion concurrent users (at least not at the beginning). Instead, you want to hire someone or someones who can help you test your assumptions about the business and iterate as fast as possible to learn the drivers of your business. Over time, as your business evolves, you will need different levels of technical leadership (many successful companies have CTOs who were not there in the beginning). But in the beginning, you do not need to pay for the managerial chops that a CTO brings to the table.
What are the options?
Hire a developer
Hiring a developer can be a little easier than finding a technical co-founder. While the pool of candidates is likely larger and the cost may not be as high, there are several things to keep in mind when hiring a developer. First, come up with a compelling job description to use on job sites (as well as university boards). Technical people want to solve interesting problems so it’s important to explain the technical challenge in your job post. If you are struggling with how to frame the technical piece, go find a technical adviser to help you with the hiring. Tap your network for people working in technology jobs. The adviser can not only help you frame the technical problem but may be able to help with interviewing. In your job posting, you will want your enthusiasm and hustle to come though. Explain how the idea came to be and why you are doing the business (not just to make a billion dollars). Explain that this is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a business (because everyone wants to make a billion dollars). Don’t forget to talk about what you bring to the table, explain your background and context for the business.
When you have your candidate pool, you are looking for three things. First, you want to validate the technical aptitude and you may need to rely on a technical adviser for this. Second you want to find a good communicator. Go on a few dates, talk about your lives outside of work. Look for someone who can explain themselves as well as understand your communication style. You don’t need to share all of your interests but it’s important to establish that you can both effectively convey your ideas to one another. It sounds more simple than it is in reality so talk about things that require both a detailed and conceptual explanation. Lastly, you want to hire someone who is adaptable. The technical needs of the business will change as you work your way to product market fit. If possible, start working on a 1-3 month contract to see how well you work together before committing to a salary and equity.
Hire a development shop
Hiring a development shop can be a great step towards recruiting technical talent. The fact that you have a product to show, demonstrates a commitment to the business. Further, you are likely to learn something about development as a client, improving your understanding of technology and the challenges that come with it.
To find a development shop, first tap your network for people with experience working with development teams. Ask for recommendations. Next, do these four steps to be as prepared as possible to talk to development companies.
Hiring a development shop is similar in some ways to hiring a developer. Your ability to communicate with the company is critical for your projects success so invest time in getting to know the top 2-3 companies that you are considering working with. Ask them what types of clients are they most successful working with and which types of clients cause challenges for them. Ask to talk to references and ask the references what the companies did well and didn’t do well. Look for openness in communication and a verifiable track record of building applications similar to yours (or at least with the same technical stack).
In the end, there are many paths a non-technical founder can take to find the team to build their product. Whether the ultimate direction is hiring a lead developer or a development shop, the key is to get started. Answer questions for yourself about why the project is worth working for and what your initial product must look like in order to test your riskiest assumption(s). You will be well on your way to a job post to find your developer or hiring a development team to build your product.
For further reading, check out these posts;