Why it's so hard to find a great technical co-founder

Here’s why it’s hard: The nerd perspective is, they don’t need you
Much of the reason why it’s insanely hard to find a really good technical cofounder is that the best ones really don’t need you. Or at least they don’t think they need you.

Because there’s an illustrious track record of engineering-founded companies succeeding, spanning from HP to Facebook, there’s a lot of datapoints that say that a 20-yo Stanford computer science major can do it himself, or at least with his other CS roommates. Similarly, the very best alums out of places like Facebook and Google have lots of access to capital, advice, and people- these are all recipes for making you (the biz founder) completely irrelevant.

So I think the right point of view is just to accept that the amount of leverage strong technical folks in the Valley have is just the facts, and you’ll have to work around that.

Remember this:

They are not the code monkey. You are the biz monkey.

That’s just how it is.


4 responses
>>the nerd perspective is, they don’t need you>>
Couldn't agree more. Being a biz monkey - I like the way you call it ;) - it was quite a challenge finding a tech co-founder, and mainly because of this reason you stated. I now have a tech co-founder, and we've been working well for the last few months, getting our alpha out in a couple of days. 2 things helped -
1. Looking outside silicon valley. The geeks in the valley are not only savvy technically, but also carry a sharp business sense, so yeah why would they need a business co-founder so early on. However, this is not the case outside the valley - lots of brilliant geeks just like to code and build products and don't so much enjoy getting users, interacting with users.. and the other business stuff.
2. Share the vision, the dream - valuable piece of advice given by a Prof from UC Berkeley. He once told me that really smart people don't need to be sold on the excitement of a startup, or equity, or a cool idea... just share your vision - the dream, and if that excites them, you don't need to do anything else.

Good luck to fellow biz monkeys! there's hope :)

I think there's another sort of fundamental barrier to convincing a technical person to fully invest in your start-up idea. That is, the product vision can initially be very difficult to articulate in technical terms. If its truly a world-changingly innovative idea that will require brand new technical solutions, maybe this SHOULD be the case. (There's an other category of startup too who keep it simple and very quickly repackage existing tech to quickly change the game, thats different and awesome in a way - like twitter, just hacked together quickly.)

In my experience both being courted and accepting technical co-found status once, and then similar 3rd employee status again (more successfully)... It was just plain hard to commit because my breadth of experience, while confidence-inspiring, didn't include the real world technical management skills that have to be in place once you get past the prototype phase of an idea. I think its probably similar for anyone without specific management experience or a natural talent for managing an engineering practice through growth.

My 2 cents: HP and Google yes. but there probably are 1000s of cases where the techies are the cause of the problem and ultimately the failure of the venture. Also the best of the techies or the ones in the right place at the right time with the exact right product might not need the business monkeys but for the other 99% of the time a knowledgeable business monkey can mean a WHOLE lot. For the very very best of the techies there might not be a need for a business monkey but for the rest of the techies my advice is get one.

The greatest problem with the techies in general ( not all - this is a generalization) is that they lack the ability to work with non techies and vast majority of people in any organization are non-techies :)

As a Wharton and a CS major, I'm torn about this blog. MBAs can be really arrogant, but so can hot shot hackers like the one who created the "Whartonite Seeks Code Monkey" post that inspired Andrew Chen's post. Or Mark Zuckerberg. Or Bill Gates. Etc. For some reason though the word "MBA" gets used among techies to the rough effect of the term "liberals" on Fox News - a bogeyman to blame all evil on.