I've written this post in response to the assertion that a business/product person trying to find a technical co-founder is next to impossible. If this is your issue, I feel compelled to preface this post by saying: There are much bigger hurdles ahead.
Maybe I lucked out. Maybe it doesn't scale. Regardless, here is what I did...
First – Get into the middle of the circle. Stop standing on the perimeter.
Show up at technical events – ask what you think are stupid questions. Don’t try and memorize database types and programming languages – just work to understand the variables at play and the frameworks for making technical decisions. When do you need a Document Database? When do you need to layer an indexing engine? What languages have strong developement communities? How much work is involved in porting an app after 1 year? 2 years? Ask someone about code debt.
Second – Go where the smart people are. Shut up and listen.
I read Hacker News everyday. I pay attention to who posts, who comments and who I find myself nodding along with or, at least, respectfully disagreeing with. Sure, this isn’t a perfect representation of the offline world, but it’s a pretty cultivated community. Did you know that Hacker News has a google spreadsheet of contractors and also a list of co-founders seeking co-founders?
Whatever you do – don’t go messing it up for the people there currently. You can listen, but if you’re going to contribute, raise your personal filter two full orders of magnitude. My HN account is 1322 days old (Paul Graham’s is 1490), but I’ve only ever made 3 submissions. [I suppose it’s equally likely that I’m either a very good listener, or an overly timid non-contributor.]
Third – Look for a curious mind.
I’m big on curiosity. Curious people enjoy exploring and solving problems. The people that immediately rose to the top of my list had spent hours experimenting with problems that were tangential, or related to the crux of my idea (this post is not about the app). If you’ve never explored a github account, you should probably get acquainted. What are you looking for on github? Contributions. What languages/libraries are they contributing to, or watching? Is there a pattern? Do they have a personal website that hosts their projects as well? A stackoverflow account?
Fourth – Meet in person.
Two reasons: a) if they’re not up for a one hour coffee, they won’t be up for the thralls of a startup, and b) you’ll never successfully explain your bigger picture by email. You also need to be able to articulate your bigger picture in a competent manner. Don’t go in guns-a-blazin’ about how you plan on de-throning Google or Facebook. You need to strategically demonstrate your ability to roadmap, your market entry wedge, and how you intend to position the product against a specific customer. I met a dozen developers in my search, all of whom wanted to know, “what’s the use case?” Make sure you have one – they’ve seen what happens when you don’t.
Fifth – Convince somebody first.
It helps if you’ve convinced someone (anyone) beforehand. I was lucky – I had the Jet Cooper team behind me. That was huge. It added a legitimate design arm and enough of a runway for me to prove or disprove the merits of the idea. I had also assembled a technically exceptional Advisory Board from places like the University of Toronto’s CS Dept., Mozilla, and a highly regarded Toronto startup. Each advisor brought a specific technical expertise to the table and could support my co-founder on everything from building out the API and its ecosystem, to managing scale. Most importantly, these advisors were doing this as a labour of love. They believed in the idea and were curious minds themselves.
Sixth – Start small. You are, after all, strangers.
Pay them. With money. Decide on an objective and get out your cheque book. Nothing speaks louder than you having your own skin in the game.
Total credit goes to the person this post is about (my co-founder in the making). It was their idea. I had a plan to release a public beta 90 days after we began writing code. They countered with 30 days to build a product that could be released to a select group of beta-testers in a controlled, watchful environment. We were getting along already. This person had challenged my ability to strip away scope and test the core hypothesis. In doing so, they had created a sprint-like environment from which we would emerge either as co-founders, or utterly sick of each other.
This is also great way to uncover everyone’s tolerance for risk. Some people can throw all caution to the wind off of one good observation – others need to see a couple variables played out before mortgaging their future.
Seventh (Bonus) – Look for the ‘X’ factor.
The fact that I’m not technically trained has always pushed me to work a little harder. It’s like this challenge I carry with me in my back pocket. When I met Jen, she was this incredibly curious and intelligent person. She knew what she knew, but could put aside her ego if the situation required it. I love that about her. We share the desire to produce the best possible product (as does the rest of the Jet Cooper team) – regardless of whose feelings get hurt. And while I can’t speak for Jen, I have to imagine that being a woman in tech also comes with a little extra motivation too.
So there you have it. A less little difficult than previously imagined.
If you’re trying to start a startup and you can’t code yourself out of a paper bag, drop me a line and I’d be happy to help where I can.