Finding the right technical co-founder can really be a pain in the a**…
Well, let’s face it! The demand for programmers is extremely high while the supply is really low…
So what’s the big picture like?
Good programmers are so rare, that they are considered as gods…
Decent programmers are the prominent majority and they receive probably as much job offers as good programmers.
Bad programmers are unfortunately more present than good programmers… But due to a high demand they tend to also find jobs quite easily.
So now you're probably wondering how the hell you're going to find your technical co-founder?
Well... There is unfortunately no good answer to that, however I have faced quite a lot of challenges during the last year and made some mistakes so I'll share with you my experience and thoughts about that.
Fail #1: When you have no technical knowledge and you hire a bad programmer...
I joined a startup as a co-founder where the CTO was a bad programmer... At first, my other co-founder (who had hired the CTO before I joined) didn't know that he was not good...
Every single time I was doing bug reports or whenever we were trying to define a product roadmap, he was giving us the exact same answer "You know, it's all technical stuff... It's difficult to say how long it will take...It takes time..."
If you have no clue about programming it's very difficult to judge how much time a task takes to be done... However, after some time you clearly realize when someone is not good... The more you'll work in the tech space, the more you'll meet people who you'll be able to exchange with about technical topics and hence find out if a programmer is good or not.
But how do you recognize a good programmer from a bad one before hiring him?
Ideally, you have a friend that is a good programmer that can help you out with the hiring process.
If not, you should ask to check the projects the programmer has worked on before. Ask him if you can look at his Github so you can see the way he's been programming. Is the code commented? Were the project all similar or different?
After realizing that the CTO was not good enough, we had to let him go and we decided to become a growth agency. Knowing that my goal was to work on a SaaS project I decided to leave the company so I can work on something I really like.
Here comes the time where I decided to launch my own project. I didn't know any available CTO and I didn't want to spend months looking for a CTO so I decided to hire someone on UpWork.
If you don't know UpWork, it's probably the best place to hire freelancers online.
Unfortunately, this is where I made my second mistakes...
Fail #2: Hire a freelancer
I'm not saying that you shouldn't hire freelancers. I'm just saying that in my case it was a mistake and I'll explain why and also what I did wrong.
My goal was simple. Find a freelancer that was willing to get a very small salary so he can live with it and give him some shares in the company as soon as we have a beta product.
After doing some research and interviews, I found someone in Russia that was highly motivated. This guy was actually managing a team of programmers on some other projects so he has another source of income. After 1 month, the freelancer told me that he liked the project so much that he decided to make all his team work on the project.
I was super pumped!
However, in the roadmap we made when starting working together, they were supposed to develop a beta product in 4 to 6 weeks. After 6 weeks I could see that some code had been written but there was no beta version of the product as we agreed on. One more time, there was always a good reason to explain the delay...
My first mistake here, was to pay him on a weekly basis instead of paying him based on specific tasks.
But instead of giving up, I decided to book my flight tickets for 3 weeks in the middle of nowhere in Russia in order to meet with the team.
I was super excited at first...
And then I started thinking that I was a bit crazy to do this...
But I wanted to be all in!
I really wanted to build a trust relationship with the team and the best way to do it was to meet with them in person.
This time, instead of working on global tasks, I started implementing another system. We broke down each tasks into smaller tasks and assigned them to one of the team member. We also added a level of difficulty for each task so we knew more or less how long each task should take to be done.
Based on that, we had three weeks to get to a point where I could start testing the product.
The objective was very clear...
I didn't have enough money to keep paying for something that I couldn't try out and all the team was aware of it.
During the entire development of the project I also made some very simple documents about the marketing strategy so everyone could understand the market and why we where developing this project. I believe that it's really important to share your purpose when doing a project so people can be even more involved in its accomplishment.
Also, in order to keep the motivation high, I was writing on a board every day the number of sign-ups for the beta. In three weeks we went from 10 to 100 sign ups on our landing page.
On the relationship side, I really get on well with each team member, and even though some of the team member were not fully fluent in English, it was a really great experience to discover the Russian culture...
Except that one night when we came home and realized that the stairs were covered with our neighbor's blood because he just got mugged. But that's another story...
So now you're probably wondering how did it end?
Well, since I put this experience in the fail category, it didn't end up "well" unfortunately.
After the three weeks we didn't have any product and I realized that the project was technically much more complex than I thought...
I also realized that it was extremely difficult to keep people motivated if you don't give them a decent salary.
My mistake here was not only to underestimate the cost of such project but also to realize a bit too late that I was looking for a REAL partner and not an employee.
During my stay in Russia I started exchanging with a programer I met in Station F (A huge startup campus in Paris) about partnering on a new project. He and his brother were working on another project but they were open to new challenges.
So how exactly did I found my 2 tech cofounder?
Success #1: Trust The Karma
When I joined Station F last July, I saw a huge opportunity. I was in THE biggest startup campus worldwide! I was super excited! I thought that there would be a lot of events to connect, exchange, meet-up etc... However, there were none...
So in order to connect with other founders, I decided to start helping out whenever I could about topics such as Marketing, User Acquisition or Growth Hacking. By doing so, I started meeting a lot of amazing people including Vianney and his brother François 2 amazingly talented developers.
I remember when Vianney decided to reach out for some help on a side project to help the Station F community grow and exchange! I was really happy to see that I was not the only one concerned about it so I decided to help him out. For a few hours we started brainstorming about a side project we could develop so the startups could exchange and help eachother grow!
After that, I spent time helping them out with his brother on how they could acquire more users for their project. We kept exchanging on various topics and we realized that we shared the same mindset when launching a company. Since we really get on well we finally decided to launch a project together with a highly result oriented mindset.
At the beginning of this article I was mentioning the three types of programmers, however with Vianney and François I've realized that there was a fourth type.
We call them "The legends"
The legends are amazing full stack programmers that also have skills in product development. Having the chance to work with them was really a clear game changer for lemlist!
What I've learned is that your co-founder also needs to choose and trust you. In my case, Vianney and François trusted me because I already helped them on another project. They knew that I could manage the acquisition and marketing part and they also realized that I was motivated enough to go in the middle of Russia just to launch a new project.
Also, if you want to find a technical co-founder and you have no tech background, it's important to spend time understanding the basics of coding so you can speak the same language. I'm not saying that you should become a programmer but at least spend one week learning the basics.
Overall, you never know how and where you're going to meet your co-founder. The more time you spend meeting up with people and genuinely help them whenever you can, the higher the chance for you to find the right co-founder will be.
In the end, when launching a startup, I've realized that it was not only about the technical or marketing skills. It's much more about the relationship you build with others. Helping out whenever you can, and reaching out whenever you need to, is really what makes building a startup so great!
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