Everything you need to know about finding a technical cofounder

5 min read
25 Mar 2019

hether you’re a business professional with entrepreneurial flair or a first-time founder, finding a cofounder with technical expertise can really help to accelerate your business idea. Berlin-based business consultant, Peggy Lee, offers some advice for how to find and select the right partner.

With 500 new tech startups being built every year in Berlin, demand for tech cofounders in the German capital is high.

Whether you’re looking to build a software or IoT hardware device, having a partner with a technical background and experience in the startup space can help you manage the process of developing a scalable product – especially if you aren't an expert when it comes to tech.

While identifying the key qualities of your ideal partner is a good place to start, you should also consider what skills you can bring to the table. As the other side of the relationship, there are things that you could be doing to help your business along, such as proving that your idea has traction and working on your own technical skills.

If you’re a non-technical founder looking for a technical partner, here are a few key steps you can take to find the perfect match.

💡 Before you start

Before getting started on your business idea, it’s wise to speak to veterans of the sectors that you are interested in, especially if the industry is new to you. These specialists will be able to offer rich industry knowledge, provide helpful feedback and give you access to a network of people who could be suitable tech cofounder candidates.

💡 Identify the qualities of your ideal technical cofounder

Before you dive into your search for a cofounder, it’s important to identify exactly what you’re looking for. Making a wish list for your ideal tech cofounder can be a useful tool to help you do this.

Some typical skills and qualities to look for include the following:

  • Track record of completing projects and building things, big or small
  • Ability to explain technology and what needs to be done in layman’s terms
  • Ability to identify how the product/service they are building can help customers and how it will impact a startup’s resources  
  • Experience in managing a team
  • Expertise in a specific coding language
  • Experience in the industry domain of your startup idea
  • Ability to meet deadlines
  • Passion and a history of building things for fun

For an example of questions you could ask a potential cofounder in an interview, the Founder Institute is a helpful resource. Remember to select the questions that are appropriate for your stage of interaction. For example, it might be too early to have an equity discussion in your first meeting!

💡 How to meet the right people

Now that you’ve identified the kind of person you’d like to work with, the next step is to think about the best way to meet them. Here are a few approaches:

Assuming you want experienced and top notch developers to help build your company, you need to give them compelling reasons to do so.

From technical freelancer to cofounder: One way could be to hire an experienced consultant to work on your startup idea, even if it has a higher upfront cost, and see how well you work together.

The bachelor way: If you are determined to meet the one, you may consider applying for an accelerator program such as Entrepreneur First (EF) in Berlin, where half of the people in the cohort meet and choose their cofounder within two weeks. A significant amount of participants are from tech backgrounds and are seasoned software engineers or academics.

The Tinder approach: For something a little less formal, use online founder dating platforms such as founderio and startupsucht.

The good old-fashioned meet: Some entrepreneurs may approach selecting a cofounder in a similar way to finding a life-long partner. They might prefer for the relationship to grow naturally and accept that this comes with an investment in time. It’s important to identify potential cofounders who have complementary skills to your own.

Possible ways in which you can go about meeting your perfect cofounder in Berlin include attending events held by accelerators such as APX, going to meetups, participating in pitching competitions like betapitch, and attending hackathons.

Photo: Nicole Honeywill/Unsplash

Connecting with technical team leads and startup founders

It’s a good idea to try and meet with technical team leads of startups and corporations through events and meetups of a specific industry.

If appropriate, you may be able to ask them for a few minutes of their time where you can share your business idea with them, ask for feedback and receive guidance about the type of technical cofounders that might be suitable.

If this goes well, you could also ask them to keep you in mind if they see any suitable candidates arise within their network.

When it comes to finding industry experts, founders or people within a specific organization that you would like to speak to, LinkedIn is a great tool. Be sure to craft a tailored message that is sincere and straight to the point, as this can help generate a greater request acceptance rate.

One more thing: remember to keep a record of the people you connect with and the details of what you have learned from them as this information might help you in the future.

💡 Tips on getting organized

Creating three spreadsheets with the following titles may help you keep track of the people you have already met, and the people you would like to meet in the future:

  • Directory - Note down the people you have met or spoken to, the date and the occasion, highlights of your conversation and required follow up actions. For example, sending out a thank you note or asking for an introduction or referral.
  • 100 Questions - Jot down any questions you might have with regards to your startup idea and categorize them. Make a habit of selecting suitable questions to ask whomever you come across that might be able to answer them, and write down their answers.
  • People I would love to meet - Keep this list updated and carry it with you everywhere. If a networking meeting goes well, ask the people with whom you are connecting with if they know any of the people on your list. If so, ask for an introduction.

💡 Preparing to partner with a technical cofounder

As a non-technical entrepreneur, there are a few things that you can do before and during the process of finding a cofounder to prepare yourself for a potential partnership.

Prototype your mobile application

For founders looking to start a B2C business, building a mobile app can help to communicate your envisioned product to potential cofounders, early users or investors and give your idea more credibility.

Before discussing your plans for a mobile app with a UI designer or developer, it helps to present a concrete concept in wireframe (a skeleton plan of your mobile design layout or a visual representation of the interface that uses different shape representations). This can also help you to save money.

Remember to keep a record of the people you connect with and the details of what you learn from them. This info might help you in the future.

Matt Warcholinski, COO of Brainhub, has shared tips on various mediums when it comes to prototyping a mobile app for those who aren’t designers.

Build your technology knowledge and credibility

As a non-technical founder, it’s a good idea to try and build up your technical skills that may come in handy when you start to develop your product.

  • Computer Science 101 by Stanford School of Engineering is a free online course designed to help people learn at their own pace.
  • Codecademy is a free, beginner-friendly tool to help kickstart your entry into coding. It enables you to learn the syntax of up to twelve programming languages interactively through your own web browser, without the usual complications of installing software on your computer. Coders can also receive support and engage in discussions via its forum.

Photo: Robin Worrall/Unsplash

Create traction for your business idea

When you are approaching a cofounder with your business idea, you need to provide a proof of concept. This can be as basic as showing them a mailing list or a Facebook group that demonstrates that your business hypothesis has been validated and that there’s a demand for your product or service.

Assuming you want experienced and top notch developers to help build your company, you need to give them compelling reasons to do so. Remember that you will be competing for their attention with tech behemoths like Google, or fashion e-commerce retailers like Zalando.

Take stock of your core values, strengths and weaknesses

Begin by writing down your core values. What do you stand for or what do you want to stand for? (e.g. transparency, integrity, humility)

Commit yourself to these values in every big and small decision you make. Your startup will be operating based on you and your team’s values, whether you like it or not. Regardless of a company’s mission statement and its focus, its principles start from the top.

It’s also important to identify what you as a leader bring to the table. What are your qualities? (e.g. persistence, optimism, focus) What specific skills do you have? (e.g. selling, financial modeling, networking, UX design)

This will help a potential cofounder understand you as a professional and envision what role they could take in your entrepreneurial journey.

Main image and all illustrations: Startup Guide