So You Think You Found a Technical Co-founder

Posted 18 Feb 2014 to business, startups, opbandit, not science and has Comments

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 they be able to devote to something they has a major stake in?
  2. How long can they go at that rate without taking a paycheck?
  3. What do his current obligations look like - kids? significant other? parents they takes care of? Obviously, the fewer the better, though one of the most prolific engineers I know has 9 kids.
  4. 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.
  5. Does they think your idea is fucking awesome and brilliant and so cool that they can’t wait to start building?
  6. Can they give examples of projects (either in a company or solo) that they thought were brilliant in the start and that they eventually worked on for more than a year? How did they 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.
  7. How does they feel about uncertainty? Could they work on a project for a year without knowing for sure that it will ever be successful (and maintain his sanity)?
  8. Has they ever had a job that lasted more than 6 months/a year/2 years where they worked with the same small group of people every day?
  9. Has they 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 person 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?
  2. Can you communicate well enough that you both clearly understand each other (at least most of the time)?
  3. Is they able to hack things together (done right now is better than perfect later) and JSIO? Bascially, is they 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).
  4. 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 they 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.

Good luck!