Sometimes the search for your startup’s technical co-founder can feel like an uphill battle. Sometimes it can be so disheartening that you even become convinced that you’ll be able to teach yourself how to code before you find your entrepreneurial soulmate. One founder has even compared the experience to trying to get married within a few months when you’re currently single and can’t get a mail-order bride.
But don’t give up! Choosing a good co-founder is an incredibly important step toward determining the viability of your startup, and you shouldn’t have to settle for second best. That said, here are five places you may not be looking deep enough into where you might find your more technical half.
In a world where people like Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs can find success without advanced degrees, you definitely shouldn’t underestimate the skills, prowess, and passion that students have. Even just tapping into a small portion of a student network can provide you with an array of recruiting options, since many students are eager to get experience or are looking to create startups of their own.
You may also be surprised by the bounty of resources and opportunities that are available at local universities. Public and private universities alike are now recognizing the importance of supporting entrepreneurship, and thus are organizing more events like hackathons and pitch competitions where you can easily scope out the best talents in the community. If you have a co-founder who’s a student at a school, your startup can also access student-exclusive funding and opportunities you may not have had otherwise.
Another resource that often goes overlooked is university faculty and staff. If there are entrepreneurship-related initiatives being implemented, then you’ll almost certainly find at least one seasoned entrepreneur who could be a co-founder or a connection to a wider network. Additionally some professors may be working to turn their research into commercial technology, so plugging into research networks is also useful, especially in advanced fields like machine learning or artificial intelligence.
Here are some of the best ways you can find your future co-founder at your local university:
- Speak at entrepreneurship-related events. Student clubs are always looking for experienced entrepreneurs to give valuable advice and insights, and an informal setting allows you to connect with students more personally.
- Judge or mentor at pitch competitions or hackathons. Nowadays, these kinds of competitions happen a lot, and they’re especially helpful for discovering students who may already have some entrepreneurial experience. Major League Hacking is a good place to start finding hackathons, but many universities also host their own smaller competitions as well.
- Use services that connect students with entrepreneurs. For instance, students at Arizona State University use a “Startup Hotline” to help connect people with specific skills to teams or individuals who need them.
- Get to know any staff involved with entrepreneurship-related initiatives. One surefire way to make these connections is to offer your help at events.
- If applicable, reach out to faculty doing research in your field.
This tried-and-true recruiting tool shouldn’t be overlooked in your search for a co-founder, but you may have to approach recruiting as an entrepreneur differently than if you were representing an established company. Developers are in such demand that they can easily get six-figure salaries from the most profitable organizations, so you must convince them to at least consider your offer.
First of all, be patient. Sometimes you won’t even get a respectful “no, thank you.” However, all of your time spent laboring over sending the perfect introductory message will be well worth it if you find the right co-founder. You just might have to do a lot of waiting along the way.
Secondly, arm yourself with data. Once you receive a response, you need to demonstrate that your company and the experience of being a co-founder is worth turning down a $200,000+ job offer. Have you won any competitions? What are your projected profits? What do you have that other co-founders might not? What relevant experience do you have? Do you already have paying customers? Developers are often data- and logic-driven, so prepare yourself ahead of time with hard facts.
Additionally, make a potential co-founder feel like a partner – not an employee. This is a gentle reminder that you can’t get a co-founder if you’re offering deals that ensure you won’t be equal footing. In a blog post by Dave Nevogt of Hubstaff, he explains that he offered to go 50/50 with his co-founder because he “would rather own 50 percent of a successful business than 95 percent of one that’s dead.”
3. Other Sites
Besides LinkedIn, there are myriad other websites for finding co-founders, such as CoFounders Lab, Founder2Be, and Founders Nation. AngelList is also a great resource for connecting investors, entrepreneurs, and job-seekers. Depending on the industry you’re going into, there may also be some relevant communities and groups you can join. For instance, if you’re working in machine learning, DMLC for Scalable and Machine Learning might be a useful group to join to find up-and-coming ML projects and, subsequently, learn who the big players are in the space.
GitHub may also be a good site for checking out programmers based on their coding experience and demonstrable skillsets. While not everyone can openly post their code, you can easily find profiles of big contributors to open source projects that may be similar to yours. You can then reach out to them so they can join your team too.
Sites such as StackOverflow and Quora may also help you find big players in the tech community. These question-and-answer platforms may be harder to sort through, but if you notice that a competent developer is answering all the questions related to your industry, it may be best to send a quick message his or her way.
Don’t be afraid to get creative! Go on Craigslist, Google+, or Instagram to advertise your need for a co-founder. Join related Facebook groups and shamelessly promote. SnazzyRoom even went so far as to make this hilarious ad that will definitely get any developer’s attention. You’re fighting for a spot on some developer’s radar, so feel free to sacrifice a suit or two to get there.
4. Local Startup Communities
It’s easy to forget the opportunities and people who are right in our backyards, but you can’t do that if you want to find the best possible co-founder candidates. Additionally, it’s a lot easier (and usually cheaper) to connect with great leaders in small settings such as at community-focused events.
Today, it’s simpler than ever to get involved with your local entrepreneurial community, with Startup Weekend and relevant groups through Meetup.com planning events all the time. What if your area doesn’t have a thriving startup community? Start one! There’s no better way to network than to be the one bringing people together.
Local chapters of Product Hunt have also begun to spring up, and joining that community is a great way to meet and support entrepreneurs in your local ecosystem. While they may host fewer events, at least you can become aware of who’s launching products in your area. Even if the developers on these teams aren’t currently looking for new positions, they may know other developers who are.
Here are just a few tips from my experience in my own community:
- You get out of a community what you put into it. The people who are the most involved and the most active in a community are often the ones who benefit from it the most.
- Don’t be afraid to cold call. If you get the contact info for someone you admire or want to get to know, don’t hesitate to reach out even if you haven’t met beforehand.
- Also, don’t be afraid to follow up. Entrepreneurs – especially successful ones – are busy people, and emails or texts can fall by the wayside. Feel free to follow up a couple of days after an initial email if you don’t receive a response.
- Send emails or messages at optimal times. Be mindful of when a busy person is most likely to see and reply to your messages. Studies show that Tuesday is the best day to send emails, followed by Thursday and Wednesday. 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. are the best times.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. Need a connection? Want a mentor? Want to take on a larger role? Put your ask out there because you won’t know the outcome otherwise. Just also be mindful of giving back to the community in return.
5. Your Network
This last place may seem obvious, but just as it’s easy to forget what’s available in your own backyard, it’s also easy to forget what’s available in your own network.
ZocDoc’s co-founders met as coworkers. Warby Parker’s founders were all friends studying together at grad school. William Procter and James Gamble of Procter & Gamble were brothers-in-law. Many successful co-founders have been connected through their personal networks, so do your best to reach out to your entire network – not just the part that you think will be viable. You may be surprised by where you find your next co-founder.
Try to keep in mind all of these tips even when talking to people you’re already close to. Even your own sibling may be busy or need some convincing before they’re ready to come on board.
Finding the perfect co-founder can feel needlessly arduous, but if you look in the right places and have the right support, it doesn’t have to be that bad. Just have patience and stay optimistic. Stick with your gut and don’t settle for anything less than a co-founder you have full confidence in. After all, you’re investing in that individual, trusting they can help carry the weight of bringing your vision to life as a partner and supporter.
So yes, in some ways, picking a co-founder is like getting married; but if either is done right, the partnership can bring both of you success you otherwise couldn’t even have imagined.