3 Secrets to Finding (and Being) a Great Co-founder
When I arrived in Chicago almost two years ago, the pain point I heard aspiring entrepreneurs talk about most was their inability to find someone to help them build out their visions. Depending on who you asked they were either looking for a technical co-founder, a VP of engineering, or simply “people to code.” Two years later, it’s still the number one complaint I hear.
When I arrived in Chicago, I was one of the many entrepreneurs who didn’t know how to build my solutions and who didn’t have anyone to help me do so. Now, I can build my solutions AND I’ve partnered with an exceptionally talented technical co-founder. How did I manage in 18 months to acquire such a powerful perfecta? Well, now that I’m feeling the fortune only a newly empowered business builder can feel, I’ll let you in on the three secrets that helped me get here.
Secret #1: Learn while you look
This is the most important thing to realize as an entrepreneur looking for a software engineer to partner with: you are severely handicapped in your search for talented developers if you aren’t simultaneously developing your own working knowledge of coding and design. By learning to code, build web sites, and now create mobile applications (even very basic ones), I acquired the perspective I needed to understand developers and the language necessary to communicate with them.
The more I learned about making software solutions, the more comfortably I could engage with software craftsmen. The more I engaged with developers and designers, the better I became at building my own prototypes. Once you’ve spent some time trying to construct your big ideas, you will have a much easier time trying to tell potential partners what you’re doing, as well as listen to their thoughts and suggestions. Which brings us to…
Secret #2: LISTEN to technologists
When you sit down with someone you may eventually try to recruit, leave your pitch at home. Remember, that person is not focused on your business model, the VC possibilities, or anything having to do with whatever you’re calling your “secret sauce.” Technologists care about the technical challenges and how they might solve them. They want to be intrigued by a tough puzzle, excited to hack on it themselves, and eventually lead a team of people to a robust solution that they can proudly show to their peers.
When I tried to tell developers and designers what I was excited about building, they would quickly tune me out. But when I started asking them for their opinion on the technical hurdles I would face while building it, they immediately perked up. Ask the technologists you know what challenges they are working on that have got them so hooked on their current projects. Then listen intently to their answers. If they can’t give you one, they may be ready for something new.
Secret #3: Offer skills beyond business, demand skills beyond tech
If all you have are ideas, go back to secret #1. If all you have are ideas and business skills, go back to secret #2. If you have ideas, business skills,and domain expertise, then you are probably ready to be (and find) a great startup partner. While meeting with potential partners, including the one with whom I eventually teamed up, the feedback I got most was: “I like that you’re not just a business guy.” I have a rich background in learning and education. I’m starting an education technology company. It made sense to them that I offer domain expertise in learning just as they offered domain expertise in engineering.
I also inquired about their backgrounds outside of tech. Did they have the business acumen to manage a team, present to investors, or promote their solutions? Did they have other skills that would make them more partner than employee? If you’re offering a lot, make sure they are too. Whatever you do, don’t get desperate enough to settle. Demand the most from yourself and your co-founders. The right kind of partner will perceive this as a strength and will be more apt to join you.
My partner joined me because I learned enough to be effective at communicating the technological challenges of my vision, useful enough to help build it, and experienced enough to augment his already robust skill set. Now we feel unstoppable together. It’s a great feeling to have as an entrepreneur, and I wish it for everyone. So take my secrets, go find the right partner, and let me know when you’ve succeeded.
* Adam’s column, Mission Control, is about launching a startup and tracking its rise. From overcoming setbacks to ultimately (fingers crossed) fulfilling his mission, Adam Lupu offers his inner thoughts and outer workings while building a company. Read more of Adam’s “Mission Control” column here. *