How do you find a co-founder or a developer to come onboard your startup?
How do you speak to Code Monkeys? And what do you do if you don’t know any developers? For entrepreneurs with business and non-technical backgrounds, these issues can seem like huge and overwhelming bars to making your idea a reality.
The good news is that you can take concrete steps to find technically-minded folks and get them excited about your projects. It just takes a little research, a willingness to ask around, and the ability to form sentences more coherently than Kanye West.
It just takes a little research, a willingness to ask around, and the ability to form sentences more coherently than Kanye West.
1: Speak the language
The first and most essential thing that will endear you to technically-minded potential co-founders and developers is surprisingly basic: the ability to sound at least familiar with their area of expertise.
You don’t have to become a complete programming geek, but you do at least need to put enough effort and do enough research to be cocktail-party-literate in code.
Computers are a science, and there’s a technical jargon that separates people who know what they’re talking about from people who get made fun of on the Whartonite Seeks Codemonkey tumblr. You need to either learn enough that you’re able to correctly communicate your needs — like knowing the difference between Swift, Android, and website building — or be able to frame your pitch so that your co-founder can tell you what you need.
2: Make sure you (sound like you) know what you’re talking about
In the pitch itself, developers get excited in the details. Having tangible research, the results of an MVP experiment, domain experience or field credentials go a long way towards proving your credibility.Make sure you front-load all of that when reaching out to people.
Remember that it’s not just on your co-founder or developer to bring some tangible skill to the table. You have to prove that you’re showing up with the skills that are going to make your startup a success and make someone excited about working with you. To that end, it’s definitely a faux pas to be stingy about what you’re offering someone to come onboard. Resist that proprietary possessive fallacy that your idea is yours. When you start collaborating with someone else, the idea gets bigger than just you. And most of the time, that’s what makes it better.
Resist that proprietary possessive fallacy that your idea is yours. When you start collaborating with someone else, the idea gets bigger than just you.
3: Brevity and clarity are an entrepreneur’s best friends
When you’re reaching out to co-founders and developers, bear in mind that successful emails are short, direct, and spelled correctly.
Even if you have the Best Idea Ever, dial down the hyperbole. Yours isn’t the first idea a developer’s heard and it won’t be the last. You’ll be much more convincing if your pitch is based on evidence.It’s even better if you can provide figures, like the example from Derby Jackpot does, of what the market demand is and what kind of opportunity you’re trying to seize. When in doubt, think “Just the facts,” and not “What would Kanye do?”
If you already know what technology requirements your project needs, specify that. But if you don’t, don’t trying and bluff your way through it. The Derby Jackpot pitch makes no mention of what platforms they want to launch on or what components they need to make virtual horse racing a reality. And that’s fine. The email makes up for it by cleanly and clearly presenting the idea. It also wraps up quickly, with an easy invitation for interested developers to ask questions and learn more. Leave them wanting more.
4: And remember, the social network isn’t just a movie…
If you don’t know where to start looking for a technical co-founder or developer, that’s okay. There are other people out in the world who do, and chances are you know some of them. Pack that pitch email with details of what you’re looking for in terms of time commitment/what you can offer, and send it out to 5–10 of your friends. Ask them to refer you not just to one or two folks who may be interested in your project, but to include people who may know someone else who is. Ask for introductions and more than likely, a few degrees of separation later, you’ll have a strong list of candidates.
The more effortless it is to help you out, the more likely people will do it.
As with your pitch email, you want to make the referral process as easy as possible. The more effortless it is to help you out, the more likely people will do it. One good way to think about phrasing your request is with a scorecard. Avoid a lengthy back and for by detailing what you’re looking for and what you’re not. What kind of commitment you’re looking for, what your budget is, whatever logistical constraints you have: any detail at all will help your network find the person who can best help you.
5: Look around and use online resources in your search
If you’ve tapped into your network and come up dry, that’s okay. Here are a few ways to tap into the world of the internet (and the ground) to find a developer:
- Check and see if you can insert yourself into a pre-existing network or local community. You may live somewhere with meetup groups, tech or programming-specific schools and bootcamps, and tech-related business events. All of these are great avenues to explore and make connections.
If you’ve left no in-person stone unturned and still come up short, don’t despair. There’s still a magical land called the Internet, where people can connect with each other across space and time.
- Check out open slack and IRC channels,
- Research the communities on Github and the /entrepreneur subreddit.
Wherever you go online, just make sure you follow some basic etiquette. Take the ten minutes to get a feel for the community you’re entering. Get a sense of its tone, read the rules, and make sure you’re posting in the appropriate way, in the appropriate space. You don’t want to immediately spam a thread with requests — and just like in reaching out to individual developers, make sure that you come across as thoughtful, engaged, and able to provide some value to the discussion.
It’s all about the long game
However you reach out, it’s people who are going to make your company. You want to create a connection that’s strong enough to see you through all the exciting challenges of building and launching your idea. So don’t be afraid to reach out, put in the time to make connections with both tech-minded individuals and communities. The best thing you can do is to a take those extra few weeks to really get to know someone. Then find your team, and get to work.
Founder Friday Series
This post is part of a series of short, candid, quick videos and essays on entrepreneurship and starting your own business– I call it Founder Friday.
If you want to see more of these, leave a comment and let me know that you like it.