So much of investing is about evaluating team. Is this team capable of bringing a company to the promised land? In the world of technology startups, getting to the promised land requires trudging through a lot of technical swampland building and iterating on product in the pursuit of product-market fit.
No-code tools have helped non-technical founders get further on their own, but investors still prefer seeing a complementary co-founding team that includes someone who could ship product on their own…especially in the earliest days.
So, what is a non-technical, solo founder to do? How do you find a CTO for your startup?
Get to work. There is always very valuable work that can be done outside of building product. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking nothing can be done without building a product first. Ever heard of market research and customer development?
Start recruiting. Use the efforts from your market research and customer development to help attract technical talent to join you as a co-founder. Of course, this is easier said than done so we went out to ask an important question to our community…
To help you with finding a CTO for your startup, we asked successful small business owners and startup founders this question for their best insights. From hiring through word of mouth to making sure your candidate has a team-first mentality, there are several tips that may help you find your ideal CTO in the future.
The most helpful and effective advice I can offer for finding a CTO is to keep in mind at all times that this person isn't going to be just a regular employee working for you. They will work with you along the journey and ensure the business's survival and success. Employees work for you while a technical co-founder will help you make decisions and find the best direction to head the business in for maximum results. So, when looking for a CTO, make sure that they have a team-first mentality rather than a solo approach for working patterns and decision-making. They should also share the vision and the ultimate goal you have in mind; you may conflict on deciding which path is best, but the destination should be one. The individual shouldn't just be qualified but also energetic and passionate about the business and its success as you. And lastly, their strengths and capabilities should cover your weaknesses and vice versa so that you both can support each other.
Whether it's a no-code/low-code solution or even just a community/following through social media, I think it's important that you've gotten your hands dirty and can clearly articulate the
problem/solution pair you are going after. If you can build something that even a few people like with duct-tape and cardboard (so to speak), I think a future CTO will be very impressed and more inclined to want to join your cause.
My advice for finding a technical co-founder is to hang out in the online communities where indie makers and startup folks are. That could be bigger platforms like Twitter but I met [my co-founder] on Indie Hackers: https://www.indiehackers.com/
They have a whole Looking to Partner Up group:
A high percentage of these posts aren't interesting opportunities to me as a previously successful founder, but this one caught my eye. Well-written & concise post, quality website and product that solves a big problem in the SaaS world.
I reached out to him on Twitter and we chatted in the DMs there for a while getting to know each other. Mostly what I was looking for here was a strong connection. It was also important to make sure we were both on the same page when it came to not wanting to work ourselves to death and to not pursue raising funding.
Then we hopped on a call to meet each other. I made sure he gave me a walkthrough of the product and discussed the technical aspects of it so I could make sure I was confident he could handle all technical aspects of the business. We also just got along really well, which is super important for this kind of commitment.
We both took 48 hours to sleep on it and decided to give it a go!
To attract a technical co-founder to join your venture, you'll need to convince them that your idea has legs. Once you've done that, you can sell them on why they should be a part of it—and why they should work with you
on it. The first step is to show off how much traction your idea is already getting. Make sure you have a clear business plan and marketing strategy in place before approaching a potential co-founder, so that you can show the ways in which your idea has already demonstrated its potential for growth.
Then, convince them that you're the person to join up with. Demonstrate your commitment to the project, your knowledge of the hardware and software involved, and your industry connections. Make it clear how working together will benefit both of you, and what other areas of business are also covered by your expertise—and theirs!
Really take the time to evaluate what that ratio should look like. It's easy to assume that a co-founder / CTO should be heavily weighted on the technical side. However, if you're recruiting for your future, you'll realize that you'll need her/him to have the ability to lead and motivate future developers. And, you'll need her/him to develop a product that meets the end customers needs as much as it is technically sound. In fact, the act of code validation, testing, and some of the more hands-on technical roles can be fairly easily and cheaply sourced through the new gig economy even in the early days of the company. Once you find that ratio - and it could potentially be an equal 33% split, evaluate your candidates against it.
The best way to find a Chief Technical Officer is through word of mouth. I used to get my CTOs through agencies like Upwork, but I experienced high turnover. My CTOs were talented but frequently stopped responding to my email requests for help. Once I started hiring CTOs through word of mouth, my CTOs lasted a long time. In fact, my current CTO has been with my business for years. When you are breaking into a new business venture, you have enough on your mind. You shouldn't have to keep replacing your CTOs. By asking other business contacts for recommendations, you stand a strong chance of keeping your CTO for years.
A startup is very different from a well-established organization, and the best way for a startup founder to find a fitting technical co-founder or CTO is to look for the finer details in the information that reveals prior experience. Firstly, a worthy candidate’s technical and management experience should include startup experience. Moreover, this stint should match the stage at which your startup stands right now so that after the new leader jumps on board, the only thing left to do is begin implementing tried and tested solutions.
Look within your network to find a collaborative startup resource such as a CTO. My husband and I founded our company with one of our friends from grad school. He had already started a business with my husband, so we knew he would be a good fit for this new venture of ours. It's important to first look at who you know. If you can't find anyone within your network, you can always recruit in tech cities such as San Francisco, but I'd suggest first searching within your personal network of friends and acquaintances.
Some of the best people that you will work with often come to you through a rich and diverse network of connections which is why it's important to attend as many networking events as you can. Hackathons and tech meetups are perfect examples of this and a great place to get started. Even if you don't find your CTO at a recently attended event, you may just stumble across the perfect person who can introduce you to the right fit.
If you're breaking into a new venture, I would highly recommend partnering with someone who carries some clout in your industry. Speaking from personal experience, my company received a lot of positive attention when actress and activist Jaime King partnered with us. With aspirations of being the biggest company to provide all-inclusive virtual care to women with PCOS, this was a major win for us. Data shows that influences can be big adopters for market validation, so use that to your advantage.
Finding your technical co-founder/CTO takes prior internal reflection. Know your strengths, weaknesses and what holes need to be filled in your business plans before setting off in search of a partner. This rule applies to the broader tech industry and can be used to find your ideal partner and CTO. What skills and qualities are you lacking? Search for the person that can be your "better half" in the sense that the two of you together make a strong and solid foundation for a startup.
This will better align the incentives and you'll be able to find a CTO who truly loves what they do, and isn't just there for the paycheck. A CTO is such an important role in any startup and so it's worth giving up a chunk of equity to find a real rockstar CTO.