I saw this question on Quora recently, which brought me back to a couple years ago when I too was in the need of such a person. I though I might document how I was able to successfully locate my co-founder for a bootstrapped internet startup. We have now been working a project together for about 6 months on a part-time basis. We also have one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had in my working career.
I am going to focus primarily on the scenario of a non-developer (me) seeking a developer for a web startup.
1. Pay off as much debt as you can and start saving your money. Put yourself in a position to walk away from your current job. As soon as I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur I analyzed my current financial situation. I WAS F$^#*$&D!! I graduated school with a ton of debt. I bought an expensive car. I moved to the city and started spending money I didn’t have. Once I realized how screwed I was, I eliminated as much waste as I could. I sold my car, moved out of the city and started paying off debt as quickly as possible. What I realized is the more debt I had the more I was enslaved to my current status quo. Thus, I began preparing for the day when I would feel comfortable enough to quit my job and start my life as an entrepreneur. I used mint.com to get myself out of debt and to optimize my monthly budget. Read my blog post about that if you don’t use Mint.com already: http://loopswoopandpull.com/2010/10/07/mint/ . I was able to save up quite a bit of money in the matter of a couple years that would later put me in the position to make such a change in my career.
2. I started by trying to understand the tech industry. Easiest way to do this just read TechCrunch/Hacker News everyday. I realized that if was going to be the creative guy in a company I would need to stay up to date with what’s going in the startup industry. I needed to use other peoples creative ideas as inspiration for my own. I also felt as if I needed to appear like I knew what was going on in the world of tech. This would help add value since I had no real development skills. So why follow only TechCrunch and Hacker News? Because they are the New York Times and the Reddit of the tech industry. 99% of all the stuff you probably need to know will show up on either of those two sites. Usually all the major tech industry stuff is on TechCrunch. All the big developer stuff is usually on Hacker News, so it helps me stay up to date with the developer world. You’re not going to be a journalist/blogger so don’t waste too much time consuming. I see too many entrepreneurs do this stuff and it makes no sense to me. You just need to learn the lingo and learn what is going on. Spend a maximum of an hour a day doing this. Also use a tool like Quora for asking questions and finding out more detailed information about other companies. Watch any videos you can of successful entrepreneurs giving advice this is the most beneficial thing you can do. Don’t waste too much time thinking about business stuff. Instead try to figure out what made the successful companies like Facebook, Google, etc. successful. Look at their launch and their strategy, what core features did they have in their initial product? Don’t forget to read books. Books I would recommend reading are:
- Delivering Happiness
- The Art of the Start
- Getting Real
- The Lean Startup
- The Power of Positive Thinking
- The Go-Getter
- Steve Jobs Biography
- The Facebook Effect
- Anything that summarizes Lean Six Sigma.
3. I spent tons and tons of time thinking about what I wanted to build. I had lots of random ideas, but I thought to myself what was the “biggest” idea and the one that I am the most passionate about. Not necessarily from a technical standpoint, but more pertaining to how big the idea could eventually become. Make sure you pick something you’re passionate about. It’s going to be the only thing that gets you through the hard times and yes there will be hard times. Harder than you can imagine, being an entrepreneur sucks. It’s hard man, and I’m not kidding. If you choose this life, just make sure your baby (startup) is one that you love and you see yourself pursuing for a few years. A big idea to me would be something like Apple, Google, Quora, Pixar, Evernote, Facebook, Path, Groupon etc. All these companies envisioned building a community around a single product then expanding it to encompass much more. With time their products became more and more valuable. I wanted to make sure that whatever I decided to start building would fall into this category, thus I took a long time to choose an idea. After I chose my big idea, I began scaling it down to point a where I could grow it. Start thinking about verticals, key features/communities you can use to get this product off the ground. Try to think about how you can build a product that touches people on an emotional level, this is the golden key to building any great product. This is why Apple has been so successful, they build products that make people emotional (positively of course). Try to separate someone from their iPhone or iPad and see what happens. If you can’t make people feel like that about your product you will be successful.
4. Learn how to use photoshop, so you can visually represent your idea(s). Developers are just like everyone else, they like pretty pictures. It’s 10,000 times easier to pitch your idea to them if they can visually see what you want to create. If you can’t learn to use photoshop than you might as well go back to your 9 to 5 job in the cube farm because this is going to be the easiest steps in the whole process. Find some tutorials, download UI and button samples, mess around with it. It’s like MS paint but it uses layers. Most of the tools on photoshop are not even used by designers, so don’t feel overwhelmed by all the tools. To design your web/mobile app you only need the basic tools. See how similar sites are laid out and copy sections of their interfaces. Trust me everyone does this wether they like to admit it or not. You don’t need to read too many UI design forums, just use your intuition and try to make it look pretty. Start on paper then move to the computer. Or even use uber cool tool like http://gomockingbird.com although I recommend going straight to high-fidelity mockups on Photoshop. High-fidelity is little more time consuming, but its 10,000 times better, so it makes more sense to skip all the low-fidelity mockups and wire frames.
5. OK. Now you’ve got your idea and it’s drawn out. Now you need to learn how to Pitch. Pitch your ideas to your friends and families. Try to focus on the people that would potentially be your most avid users. For example: I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg didn’t waste a lot of time pitching the idea of Facebook to his grandparents during its infancy. Be smart. When you pitch this idea and people don’t like it, find out why they don’t like it. Brainstorm with them. Use this at the beginning of most sentences “What if…”. Get the pitch right to the point you’re consistently selling people on this idea. Try it with some randoms you meet at a party and see if they bite. Perfect the pitch until it feels natural.
6. Go to meetups in your city geared for developers and go to all of them. Search meetups.org for meetups pertaining to development. Usually developer meetups revolve around languages like PHP, Ruby on Rails, Java, Jquery, etc. When people ask you what the hell you’re doing there, just tell them you’re a designer and you want to stay up to date with whats going on with the development world. You’ll probably be one of the few non-technical people, which is a good thing and developers will appreciate you because you’re actively taking a step into their world. Tell them you’re clueless when it comes to development stuff, it’s ok to be clueless it’s what will make you a good leader. When you show up to these meetups, talk to people. Ask them about what they’re doing now, they’re life etc. Try to make friends with as many people as you can. What you’ll learn during this step is how to effectively network with developers and since you’re not a developer this is very important. If you want to work with a developer you need to understand their world. The things they think about and what they ultimately care about in life. If you’re looking for a co-founder you should be on the same page with this kind of stuff.
7. Keep attending developer meetups and start pitching. When I found my co-founder we had both attended a Hacker News meetup in Cologne, Germany where we briefly met each other. I then went to another meetup involving Web Performance Optimization and he was the only the person in that meetup that also attended the other Hacker News meetup. So, now that you’ve made a few friends and hopefully you bumped into a few people a couple times you can start pitching your idea to developers as I did. So Pitch away. You’re guaranteed to get shot down, but keep pitching. Pitching for me has always worked best one on one. It’s more personal and people are easier to convince when they are one their own.
8. Recruiting a technical co-founder. Try to connect with them on the internet and check out projects they’ve worked on. Use their portfolio as a screening of what they’re capabilities are. Now send them some emails suggesting you sit down and grab some beer. People like beer and beer always relaxes the situation. Don’t focus on developers that are working full-time on other projects. There are still plenty of developers out there that aren’t tied up. Since you have no experience or proof that you’re capable of launching a company you’re best bet is to stick to a developer who is a noob like yourself. Now, Boost your confidence level, believe that if you found the right co-founder you could get this thing off the ground. You need to believe this and people need to be able to feel this when you speak to them about your idea. Now once you have candidates lined up this is the hard part.
9. Choosing a technical co-founder. So now you might be thinking who is going to be the right one? The most important things you should look for in this person are:
- Are they passionate about the idea you want to build? (Rate this on a scale of 1 to 5.)
- Do they like to be challenged to do thing they’ve never done before?
- Even though they may have never built a site like what you want to build, do they know what it needs to work?
- Do they have front-end and back-end coding skills?
- Are they capable of communicating with you effectively? (Shy developers may not make good co-founders)
- Do you get a long with them? Can you joke with them?
- Are your values and goals in life on the same page as theirs? (Are you both money hungry, or are you more worried about changing the world?)
- Are they cool with you being a non-developer? (If no, ask if they would still be interested if you recruited another developer to help out)
- Look at your potential co-founders and think would I want to marry this person (non-sexual of course)? If your project becomes as successful as you hope you need to understand that this person is going to be the person you call at 3am when the servers crash and all hell breaks loose. This person must be someone who you feel very comfortable with.
10. Start off slow and test the waters. Remember your just working on a project, you’re not starting a company. Don’t make things serious until they need to be. Work part time. Plan a little bit and start building. Don’t think too far ahead. Maybe even start with a really small project. You just need to test the waters on each other. You need to begin learning about your Co-founder and what makes them tick and how they like to work. If you’re bootstrapped like we are, it can be difficult to stay motivated with no other incentives. So don’t get your partner and yourself burned out too quickly by making this project more serious than it needs to be. There is probably a high probability that your idea sucks and it’s not going to work. That’s ok and to be expected. That’s the beauty of building software, it can be quickly iterated.
11. So what is your job then? EVERYTHING ELSE. Start with designing the product. You should already have a high fidelity prototype by now. Focus religiously on your product. Test it, break it, tear it apart. Figure out ways to consolidate features. Figure out what you don’t need. You need a lot less than you think you do. Start a beta sign-up page using something like launchrock.com. Start getting people to sign-up. Start getting your first batch of beta users lined up. Start thinking about how you are going to promote your launch. Make a video, here’s the one I made. It cost us $0 and ton of work but we finished it before our official launch. I left my co-founder completely out of this one, he had enough on his plate anyways. Show your partner you’re working hard to get the product they’re building off the ground. All developers want to build products that people will use. A billion dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool? A billion users.
12. Stay focused. Try to keep yourself and your partner focused only on the most necessary features. Your main job should be the project manager, but in a cool subtle way. Usually the developer knows what to do and where to start, most of the time they just want a little bit of reassurance on your end when they ask if they should start building something. Trust them, trust that they know what they’re doing. Don’t try to control their side too much. Focus on things that add value to a users experience. Your product is the most important thing, nothing else matters that much except for your marketing strategy. Luckily with the tools we have today you can build viral loops into nearly any product that will help eliminate the need for a major marketing campaign. Examples: Pinterest, Instagram. These companies are the most effective users of Facebook Connect in my opinion. Once you have signed up for their service, you get email notifications every time one of your friends sign-up. This gives you the perception that your friends are now beginning to use this service and if you’re friends think something is cool than so will you (most likely). It’s not in your face marketing either. It’s made both of these companies hugely successful.
This is how I found my technical co-founder. By no means have I built a successful startup of my own yet (I’m still 26), but I would say I have been very successful in finding the appropriate technical co-founder and we have developed a very successful working relationship. It took me nearly 2 years, but I did it. This was a post I wrote on Hacker News nearly two years ago when I had just started searching. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1919583