by Karen Moon
Building a company is about “doing,” so if you need to partner with a technical co-founder or hire top engineering talent to do so, then start networking and building relationships within the technical community now to find the right candidates.
There is no magic formula for building a technical team as a first-time entrepreneur. However, I can offer advice based on my hard-won experience through meeting with over 60 developers, development shops and technical mentors. Below are a few things that I learned the hard way about finding a technical co-founder.
1. Don’t be the “idea guy” looking for a “coder.”
Talented engineers can see “idea guys” from a mile away and will avoid them like the plague. No hacker wants to be the code monkey for your [insert hyperbolic superlative here] idea. The reality of the market is that there’s a great demand for developers, from growing startups to established companies like Google and Facebook. And the most talented are not merely one-dimensional tech geeks, but entrepreneurial-minded engineers who have ideas of their own. Get your perspective right from the start to attract top candidates.
I was able to attract and build relationships with a number of top-tier engineers because I was seeking true partners that could grow and shape my vision with me, not simply execute it for me.
2. Validate your concept before you start building.
Part of attracting talent is not only having a great idea, but also demonstrating that you are the right person to execute it. There are a lot of ways you can field test your concept early on before programming anything. For example, you can start to get invaluable feedback from potential users and customers with simple mock-ups that can help refine your product road map.
InVision is a great user interface prototyping tool that turns designs into interactive mock-ups. Additionally, it takes minutes to set up a landing page with LaunchRock and Optimizely. With minimal ad spend, you prove whether there would be interest in your product by getting actual signups and analyzing click-through rates.
When I started out, I got buy-in from key stakeholders on a simple video and deck, which I also used sign up 75 retailer partners. The feedback I got from potential users on my front-end prototypes was invaluable in shaping and focusing our product road map.
3. Find advocates and supporters within the software engineering community.
If you don’t have a network in the developer community, build one! The relationships that I fostered were integral to my process and are paying off in dividends today. The developers I met early on have become friends who have made developer introductions, helped out with technical interviews and even reviewed GitHub accounts (a popular repository for code).
Additionally, these mentors have helped me understand how to manage development resources. To build these relationships, I generally avoided the “find a co-founder” type of meet-ups. Instead, I learned a lot more and made meaningful relationships at meet-ups for developers (e.g., Ruby Developers, machine learning, CTO school, etc.).
4. Gain street cred through a rock-star advisory board and investors.
Recruiting a strong advisory board does a few things for you:
- Validates your concept and you as a founder.
- Provides needed expertise: my advisors were instrumental in evaluating technical talent and helping me understand what qualities to look for in a Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
- Provides an additional selling point: you may find that some of your CTO candidates didn’t have access to or just simply never tried to make connections with professionals of this caliber.
The seasoned executives and entrepreneurs I brought onto my team early were strong selling points as they became mentors to the entire team.
5. If appropriate, brand your venture as a technology company within the tech community.
Your initial team sets the engineering culture for your company and can impact your ability to attract engineering talent as your company expands. I’ve realized that talented engineers are not interested in working at a fashion company that has a technical component, but they are willing to work at a cutting-edge technology company focusing on the fashion sector.
Your technology branding should be communicated clearly and appeal to a technical maverick that can come up with creative solutions. If your venture offers the opportunity to work on interesting technological challenges, highlight them (i.e. solving for large amounts unstructured data, machine learning, augmented reality).
My best contacts for potential team members were all referrals from other engineers and investors. These contacts were great sources for framing the opportunity and can also help craft enticing formal job descriptions.
Karen Moon has over a decade of experience in retail and technology. She has invested, advised and worked with several retail and consumer products companies that have redefined their categories. She is co-founder and CEO of a stealth technology start up.