So You Think You Found a Technical Co-founder
A friend of mine is about to launch a new startup, and thinks he found a potential technical co-founder. There’s lots of advice for what to do if you’re a non-technical person looking for a technical co-founder (earn one, stop looking, date, pay, give up and learn to code, etc.). It’s not clear, though, what you should do when you think you’ve found that special someone to share in your folie à deux.
I think there are some basic questions that you need to ask yourself and a different set of questions you should ask your new potential co-founder. As the co-founder of a current startup, these are the questions I asked of my fellow founder and that I asked myself; it’s been almost 2 years and we still haven’t killed each other, so I figure these may be a good place to start.
##For the Potential Tech Co-founder 1. How much time would he be able to devote to something he has a major stake in? 1. How long can he go at that rate without taking a paycheck? 1. What do his current obligations look like - kids? wife? parents he takes care of? Obviously, the fewer the better, though one of the most prolific engineers I know has 9 kids. 1. Will you be physically working together in the same space? If not, how often can you skype/hangout/etc, and do you already have a good working relationship? While distributed teams can certainly succeed, the process of brainstorming / creating can be much easier if you’re face to face. 1. Does he think your idea is fucking awesome and brilliant and so cool that he can’t wait to start building? 1. Can he give examples of projects (either in a company or solo) that he thought were brilliant in the start and that he eventually worked on for more than a year? How did he feel at the end of a year? Enthusiasm certainly fades, but excitement needs to have sustainable cycles to keep him (and you!) motivated in the long term. 1. How does he feel about uncertainty? Could he work on a project for a year without knowing for sure that it will ever be successful (and maintain his sanity)? 1. Has he ever had a job that lasted more than 6 months/a year/2 years where he worked with the same small group of people every day? 1. Has he failed at a startup before? A “yes” answer is better than “no” - but it should come with thoughful reasoning about why the company failed.
##For Yourself 1. Do you get along with this guy well enough that you would trust him with the details of your bank account? Your passwords to every service online? If not, what would it take to get to that point? 1. Can you communicate well enough that you both clearly understand each other (at least most of the time)? 1. Is he able to hack things together (done right now is better than perfect later) and JSIO? Bascially, is he a motherfucking programmer? Does his github account have more than 10 repositories? If not, then maybe this person would be better at a later stage (when you need a manager who knows a little about engineering). 1. Does your potential tech co-foudner have the sense to know when he’s out of his depth? Many skillsets are needed when you only have a handful (or 2!) people, but eventually specialization will be necessary (if you’re successful). Will he know when it’s time to bring in someone else to help scale your systems, for instance?
These are, of course, not exhaustive, but hopefully they provide a good starting point.