When you’re building a startup, you know that the people you gather around you matter more than almost anything else. If you’re launching a tech company and you don’t have a programming background yourself, that becomes particularly important.
That’s why a lot of founders have partnered with people who can develop their vision into a reality. Called technical founders, these engineers have the specialized expertise to figure out how the product needs to work. In a lot of cases, they end up becoming the company’s CTO.
The right technical founder can play a critical role in your startup’s success, but the wrong one can spell your demise. Bringing on a co-founder means handing over the keys to your kingdom, and you shouldn’t take that lightly.
So, does your burgeoning company need a technical founder? Let’s look at the arguments for and against adding this specialized co-founder.
The case for a technical founder
Building a company doesn’t just require a lot of work. It also requires a lot of focus. Countless businesses have failed because their founder got distracted by a new, shiny idea or too into the weeds with unimportant details.
As the founder, it’s up to you to determine what merits your attention and what doesn’t. But when you don’t have a technical background, that gets challenging. As you build your product or service, you might not have the know-how required to differentiate the meaningful from the mundane.
You shouldn’t have to, either. You want to be able to keep your vision clear to focus on the core work. And when you bring in a technical co-founder, you get someone with the right level of expertise to guide the ship as they develop whatever you plan to bring to market.
Now, an argument can be made that you could meet this need by hiring a high-level programmer. But bringing someone on as a co-founder creates a level of buy-in that you can’t otherwise match. As a co-founder, your technical specialist will be as invested as you are in building the best product possible. Plus, they’ll have the expertise to actually make that happen.
Beyond that, a good technical co-founder will deliver some push and pull that can help your company scale successfully. They’ll be able to tell you what’s realistic, what things will cost, what skills your new hires should have, and what tools they need. This can help you plan better, tempering the over-optimism that comes with a lot of entrepreneurial tech founders.
Your technical founder doesn’t just keep your balloon tethered to the ground, ruining your fun. Because their expertise supports more accurate goal-setting and planning, it helps you manage early rounds of funding more effectively. And that can be the key to securing the future rounds your startup will need to scale.
Arguments against a technical co-founder
While there is a lot of brass tacks-type reasons to bring in a technical co-founder, there’s also the human element to consider. Many a startup has failed because its co-founders couldn’t find a way to see eye to eye.
You shouldn’t take hiring a technical founder lightly. This person will be ingrained in your business — and in your life — for the foreseeable future. You need to have a compatible vision, plus compatible personalities. All told, finding the right co-founder might require more time and emotional energy than you’re able to spend right now.
You have two options here. First, as we mentioned earlier, you can hire someone to your team to spearhead engineering (e.g., a senior programmer). The trick here is that someone with the expertise you need probably requires a pretty hefty salary. With a co-founder, you can divvy up equity. A senior-level programmer might not be as willing to take that gamble.
Your second option is to choose a third-party partner to build your product. If you do end up moving forward with this route, two things can help you be successful here.
First, break development into bite-sized pieces. You have a vision for your company, and this is not the time to hand it over. While a lot of tech partners will want to take a big chunk of your money in exchange for one big deliverable, don’t let that happen. Set development benchmarks, and don’t move forward until you’re happy at each one.
Secondly, start testing early and often. Your startup is going to need a proof of concept, a minimum viable product (MVP), and, eventually, a functioning beta to show to investors and start bringing on users. Scaling successfully means staying involved in those three critical processes. Doing so will help you better understand the value-add of what you’re building, along with its potential drawbacks. You’ll be able to pivot and finesse as needed rather than finding out your finished product has some major kinks you now need to backtrack and iron out.
What to look for in a technical founder
Did you decide a technical co-founder is the right call for your startup? Now it’s time to find them.
As we touched on before, the ideal technical co-founder will bring two things to the table: the right level of programming expertise and a shared vision. While it’s not as critical, you also want to consider how their personality meshes with yours, too.
Once you find someone with the resume you need, make sure you sit down with them. Generally, it’s more successful to present a rough outline of your idea and see what they propose rather than to provide a laundry list of things you want to accomplish. You want to see if their vision aligns with yours.
Remember, finding the right co-founder will probably take some time. Don’t be afraid to take meetings with lots of people. Stay involved in networking, and that person might pop up out of the blue. You can also explore founder-matching tools like the one from Y Combinator. All told, you’ve got options when it comes to pinpointing the best co-founder for your startup.
While we can’t pair you with the perfect person, we can make it easier to scale your startup. To move time-sucking bookkeeping tasks off your desk, explore serious tax credit for your R&D, or get help from a team of accountants that specializes in serving tech startups, contact us at ShayCPA.