Do I need a technical co-founder?

This post is part of the Nontechnical Founders Series – a set of posts aimed at helping would be nontechnical startup founders get answers to their questions around the technology side of starting a company.

Do you need a technical co-founder? The short answer is yes.


If I have one piece of advice for an aspiring nontechnical startup founder, it would be to find yourself a technical partner. Nothing will accelerate the process of getting your product built, shipped, iterated on, and improved than having core technical talent within the founding team. This is hardly an original idea, and it is often preached around the tech community these days.

But why is this so important? Can’t you just hire a technical employee or outsource development?

You can, but it will be slower, more expensive, and far more unreliable than having a partner who has the knowledge, drive, and incentive (being a partner in the company) to put out the best product possible. 

As an early stage founder, presumably on a tight budget, your goal should be to get version one of your minimum viable product (to be discussed later), launched as quickly and cheaply as possible. Until your product is out in the open and you’re getting feedback from your users, you don’t even know whether you’ve build the right product. Sure you could get an agency to build your prototype within your budget, but after you get feedback and need to make changes, the bills will start to add up. It often takes many iterations to get the product on the right course, and iterating on a per-hour or per-project budget is not the way you want to preserve capital in the early stage. For this reason, I’d advise that outsourcing your product to an agency is the worst way to launch a business.

Hiring a technical lead, who’s not a partner/co-founder, is a slightly better alternative. If you have the funding to do so, and you find the right candidate who’s willing to be incentivized by salary instead of equity, then this can work. There are at least three reasons I can think of why this is subpar to having a technical cofounder. It’s going to be more expensive cash wise, the employee won’t be as incentivized to work above and beyond their expectations of what they consider standard, and they’ll be far more likely to leave when a better offer comes around.

But having that right technical partner will pay dividends many times over in the early stage when your product gets prototyped, released, and iterated on a daily basis. When you want to test something out or try a different direction, your co-founder will say “can-do” and you won’t have to worry about making the stressful decision about whether to put another 5-10K against an agency developed prototype feature. Imagine this scenario playing itself over time-and-time-again in the early days of your company, and trust me, you’ll be glad that you have a technical partner to go to battle with.

Of course it’s important to find the right partner, and not just settle for the first one that comes your way. What should you look for in a partner and how will you know when you’ve found the right one? More on that in the next post.

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