With Silicon Valley partying like it's 1999, it's no surprise that everyone wants to be entrepreneur.

Maybe you have a great idea for an app, or know precisely how to disrupt a big industry with a new cloud-based software offering. Unfortunately, if you weren't born writing Ruby on Rails applications and Python scripts, the only thing standing between you and a $1bn acquisition is having a real product.

And so it goes that Silicon Valley is filled with two groups of entrepreneurs today: the cool kids who have the chops to build stuff and the non-technical entrepreneurs who want to team up with them.

Apparently, the desire of the latter to find so called "technical co-founders" is driving the geeks crazy. Need evidence? Look no further than Alexey Komissarouk, a computer science student, who penned a rant on TechCrunch entitled "Stop Looking For A Technical Co-founder."

Although much of his reasoning and advice to non-technical founders (like "learn to code") is misguided, his point ("stop looking for a technical co-founder") isn't that far off.

So what are non-technical entrepreneurs who think one is the loneliest number supposed to do to court a companion for their ventures? Here are five tips.

Know what you need.

Many entrepreneurs believe they need a co-founder, but they haven't really thought through what that co-founder needs to do. A person who can write a quality specification for a software application may not necessarily be the person to build it, the person who can develop an awesome prototype may not be capable of building and growing a technology organisation, your rockstar coder probably isn't a rockstar UI designer, and so on and so forth.

The devil is in the details and if you're truly looking to partner with somebody else to launch a business, it's important to consider that a single co-founder probably isn't going to be able to solve all of your immediate needs (technical or otherwise), and more importantly, may not have the potential to contribute as much as you would like them to long-term.

Bring something to the table.

If you want other people (again technical or not) to embark on an entrepreneurial venture with you, it helps if you have more than just a business idea. After all, ideas don't build businesses; people do.

For example, if you're looking to build a new digital advertising platform and you're not technical, it would probably be easier to attract individuals who can help if you have a track record in the advertising world. While you wouldn't need to be a 20 year veteran of Madison Avenue, chances are others will take you more seriously if they know you have some domain experience, if not expertise.

Build relationships before you need them.

Starting a business with another person is a lot like getting married. While we've all heard stories about couples who married after a few weeks of dating, the reality is that most couples usually don't get engaged after a few dates - for obvious reasons.

Unfortunately, what seems like relationship common sense often gets thrown out the window when it comes to co-founder relationships. Overeager entrepreneurs assume that a few conversations with a person they just met is enough to lay the foundation for a solid co-founder relationship, even though it's not.

The better approach: network and build industry relationships well before you start a company. If you're truly going to start a company with a partner, chances are you're going to do so with someone you already have a strong relationship with, not someone you met last night at a mixer.

Offer a salary.

In many cases, entrepreneurs looking for a 'co-founder' aren't really looking for a co-founder; they're looking for an employee (full-time or part-time) who they don't have to pay. When it comes right down to it, this is why so many entrepreneurs struggle to find a 'co-founder'.

Starting a business is risky, and there are countless reasons why someone you don't really know is going to be skeptical about throwing caution to the wind and working with you on an equity-only basis. On the other hand, if you can offer your first employee a reasonable (read: not-too-disconnected-from-market) salary in combination with equity, you'll have a much easier time attracting quality candidates.

What about founders who don't have the money to pay for assistance? Undercapitalisation is an often-fatal but unfortunately common characteristic of new businesses and would-be entrepreneurs should be honest with themselves if they can't get going without finding someone willing to work for free.

Get over the concept of a 'co-founder'

It's not surprising that you won't encounter too many savvy, experienced entrepreneurs speed dating for a co-founder. At the end of the day, you either have a partner or you don't.

The good news is that once you move beyond the 'co-founder' moniker, things get a lot easier.

Contrary to what entitled twenty-something developers caught in Silicon Valley's latest bubble will tell you, there are plenty of talented techies out there who will want to work with you, and for you, if you know what you need, have some credibility, and are prepared to compensate them fairly for their time and skill.

Patricio Robles

Published 16 April, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (7)

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Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

Interesting article.

I think the main point is that if you are non-technical and you have a great idea for a business that requires somebody to code you need to know even what type of technical expertise you need before looking for a co-founder or "tech" person.

There are companies like Decoded which run one day workshops in London where they take you from nothing to a decent understanding of the world of code. I see these types of services invaluable for helping more commercially minded people figure out which direction they need to go in.

over 6 years ago


Clyde Smith

The "learn to code" advice at TechCrunch was kind of ridiculous but I like the idea of Decoded that Justin Rees mentions in his comment.

This post reminded me that there seems to be a bit of prejudice against nontechnical cofounders in technical settings.

For example, I've been seeing some ads for Udemy courses on tech blogs:

When they feature a tech guy, they pitch business classes as something that might be interesting.

When they feature a biz guy, they pitch tech classes as if the biz guy was a total loser and this was his salvation.

Honestly, I think that's kind of insulting. But it helps explain some of the missing chunks of business knowledge shown even by such well-known VCs as Fred Wilson who blogged the advice that startups shouldn't worry about marketing, instead they should focus on a list of things he provided, most of which were forms of marketing.

over 6 years ago

Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

Decoded was featured on BBC website today http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17726085

over 6 years ago


Andrew Seel, Managing Director at Qube Media

For me, success comes out of understanding all the skills required to make it as a business, and all the key players recognising what skills they have and which they lack.

If everyone thinks they can do everything, or thinks their particular skill is the only important one – the end result is often failure.

over 6 years ago


Peter van Aasen

I completely agree with Andrew, co-founders should be adding value to your startup in areas you are not good enough. You can't be techie and be successful at starting up a new company, neither you can be a "business person" and be successful - you need both ... and more! A business person who has no clue of the tech side is as much useful as techie who has nothing but technical skills. My experience is that you need to be balanced...

over 6 years ago



Rather than learn to code, learn to manage a project. I know nothing of code, but I can test a site, upload work in pivotal, design rough mock ups in adobe, communicate specific builds without difficulty, and more. I am the project manager and founder, you need to toss yourself into the mix some how and you will see the entire vision collapse. As for tech co-founders, there are too many with skill and too many real dumb ideas out there. I do not think that those with tech skills look at the human equation as much as they do the supposed business idea. The leadership, experience, and determination of the principal founder can actually make or break any new idea. Tech people lack human relation skills to properly read these qualities and so bad ideas well drafted and professionally doctored come along and they are swooned into a terrible leadership prison.

over 6 years ago


Sudarshan Narayan

I think one can really go on and on about whether one should get co founders, tech founder v/s biz founder. Point is one must introspect whether one is built for a team or not. Else disaster. Some people are better as lone rangers - they don't work well in a team - such people should bring on core teams. Others work well in a team but take charge - ideal kinda folks to bring on co founders. But it's obvious you can't shop for co founders. I think well organised co founder meets are a good place to start. It's a long process and you can't marry your dream co founder after the first date. One option is to get family members (provided they have the skills and the bent of mind) as a co founder. Generally no trust issues, most likely they'll believe in your dreams and obviously there's good chemistry. Folks, just thinking out loud.

about 6 years ago

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