This article originally appeared on the Firehawk Creative blog.
I've developed this uncanny ability to correctly identify a first-time founder with pinpoint accuracy based on one question. It's quite simple. I ask the same question to almost everyone I meet, and there's one response that immediately raises the first-time founder flag.
To be clear, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a first-time founder. In fact, I think it's amazing that you're making the leap to entrepreneurship. It's just that sometimes you can be a little naive, and you're always looking for the same thing.
Don't worry though. Not only am I going to reveal the secret to my detective skills, but I'm also going to help you solve your biggest problem with a 100% chance of success.
Here's my super top secret question that instantly reveals so much about you without you even knowing it:
"What do you need help with right now?"
And the most common answer I hear…
"I'm looking for a technical cofounder."
That response is doomed from the start. Cofounders aren't found. They are earned.
With that being said, I'm going to help you EARN your technical cofounder. I've found / earned / partnered with two technical cofounders myself, and we've built some incredible things. This stuff works. Here are the 5 things I would do right now if I were struggling to find a technical cofounder:
1. Become a world-class complementarian
Developers want to work with people who complement their skillset. That means you need to be as good or better at something than they are as a developer. No one wants to date below their league. You should be thinking product management, design, sales / biz dev / marketing or something totally unique to what makes you a dynamic duo. Notice I didn't say visionary, idea person or CEO. Coming up with an idea doesn't entitle you to be useless at your startup.
You'll never attract a talented developer if you are just mediocre.
2. Build the next Skillshare
I heard Mike tell the story of how he and Malcolm founded Skillshare several years ago, and it really stuck with me. He came up with a list of over 100 ideas. Mike and Malcolm then went through extensive efforts to understand the opportunities before they decided to build Skillshare TOGETHER. Notice: Mike didn't go to Malcolm and say, "I have this great idea. Want to build it for me?" This is what so many of you are doing, and it's clearly not working. These guys identified something they were both very passionate about and then built it.
Focus on building a relationship with a developer first, then figure out what you both want to build.
3. Live where developers live
Do you know where developers hang out when they are not at work? Do you know what events they go to? Where they get coffee? Pizza? Beers? Burritos? What things they are passionate about? What new technologies they are excited about? Where they go when they are looking for a new job?
If I were looking for a technical cofounder, I'd certainly try to figure out the answers to these questions.
I'll let you in on a little (not so secret) secret. The best developers out there aren't searching Craigslist all day looking for their next opportunity. You need to go to events at Pivotal Labs and other super technical events where you'll have no idea what they are talking about. Go to the Cofounder's Labs events. Participate in hackathons. Drink the same kind of beer they drink.
If you want to attract an amazing developer, you have to be fishing in the right pond.
4. Hire someone to build Version 1
I realize this isn't a reality for some people, but I have to mention it because it works. If you want to attract a technical cofounder, sometimes you need to show them the path.
We've worked with several entrepreneurs who struggled to find a technical lead to build their startup. Instead of giving up on their idea or becoming paralyzed, they hired us to build out the first version. They then used this to recruit their development team or get into an accelerator. Version 1 shows traction, progress and your ability to execute. That's a lot better than talking about your idea for the next 12 months.
If you're looking to hire a development partner, I'd love to grab a coffee and chat it, but there are clearly many options out there. We're not always the right fit for certain projects, and I'll be the first to tell you when we are not. It's the same as any new relationship though, make sure you really know what you're getting yourself into before you put a ring on it.
Show developers you're serious by getting something built and gaining some traction.
5. Learn how to code
If you are truly committed to building your startup, you will do whatever it takes and do things that no one else on the planet will do. Sometimes that means teaching yourself to code and building the first version yourself.
The goal isn't to become a senior software engineer. That takes years and years to accomplish. You need to launch something quickly, and a few months of dedicated learning can get you there.
If you have the time, dedication and persistency to learn to code, one of two things will happen. You'll either (a) become your own technical cofounder or (b) attract a tech cofounder who is impressed by your sharp new skills. Either way, you win.
Teaching yourself to code and building the first version might be the best career decision you'll ever make.
I don't want to mislead you here. Attracting your technical cofounder is incredibly difficult. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that you are both better by joining forces than you would be own your own. It could take over 5 years until you are ready to make it happen as it did for Mike and Malcolm. It could take a lot of resources, venturing out of your comfort zone, or learning things you'd never dreamed of, but I guarantee that if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen.