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Learn To Code Or Find Tech Co-founder

I’ve been around some startup meetups and one of the most common questions that everyone is asking around is how to find a technical co-founder.

Since the ratio of non-technical and technical founders is significantly skewed towards non-technical folks, eventually founders ask another question: should I learn to code or find a true technical cofounder? Short answer: Do not learn to code. Keep reading for the long explanation.

Why do you need tech co-founder?

Who is a technical co-founder? It’s a cofounder (business partner, mastermind peer) with technical skills?

There are 2 main reasons why your startup needs a tech co-founder:

  1. If your startup has a significant technology part, and most startups nowadays do, then often investors would not fund your idea without a good CTO with a proven track of the success of building solutions similar to the one you are working on now.
  2. If you are not technical, your idea will remain in the idea stage until someone builds a product.

I understand that your idea is brilliant and probably worth millions and there should be countless engineers lining up to turn your dream into a reality. For some reason, and we are talking here about first-time founders, techies you are approaching hesitate to join you. Why?

Why developers do not want to join your startup?

When founders approach strong developers most of the time, they are looking for free labor. Founders will offer equity, they may even offer to split equity, but not money. So, who are those people that would work for equity only?

  • Someone who may already become financially independent after a previous successful startup. The thing is that this guy may have his own ideas. Why he or she should invest time in yours?
  • Someone young who lives with his parents and doesn’t need or can’t find other work.

Most engineers do not fall into the two categories mentioned above.

If a developer joins a startup for equity only and her salary was $10K then after 6 months working for free, she loses $60K (or should I call it an investment in business). Same applies when the developer works for a salary significantly lower than the market rate.

On the other hand, the non-technical founder makes similar sacrifices. Founders are expected to be paid with equity and not cash. This means that the cofounder must believe in the idea as much as you do.

It is easy to believe in idea if you have no idea how much work is required to implement, but don’t be surprised if engineers don’t feel as excited as you are because they know how hard is to build anything worthwhile.

There is an alternative route to finding a co-founder – hire CTO.

We all know that most startups fail and chances that your startup succeeds are slim. Chances that the startup will become a unicorn in 5 years are almost zero.

I know developers who worked in 6 startups and never made a dime from their stocks or stock options. If I join a startup, I will ask for a mixed package between salary and equity. And I will only join for a salary higher than my current to compensate for benefits that normally absent in young companies – health care, 401K. And a small stock options package in case if startup becomes a success.

When may I join for equity/low salary?

  • If you are an expert in this field and only you can sell the idea to the customers in your niche
  • There is significant traction for your idea
  • And you have a record of successful exits

Another reason why developers may not want to join as co-founders if you treat them as someone who supposed to implement your idea. Experienced technical co-founders don’t want to be told: “implement this solution”. It’s better to ask “Here is an idea which could be a solution for existing problem/pain. In your option, how we should approach it”?

When learning to code is a good idea?

People who never coded think that software that they can pick a book “Learn Python in 24 hours” and they can start building things. Unfortunately, learning language basics is not enough to build a software business.

But, let’s assume that you decided to learn to program. There are 2 ways to learn besides going to 4-year college:

  1. Self-learning
  2. Boot camps

Self-learning only makes sense if you have massive time at your disposal. And if there is nobody to guide you will spend a lot of time and energy learning things that do not matter.

There is a famous 10,000 rule which states that in order to be proficient in any field one must spend about 10,000 hours practicing.

For instance, I have a degree in Electrical Engineering. I took several programming classes in college, but mostly I learned software development myself. It took me 5 years and in the end, I became a Junior Developer.

The difference between me and someone who learns to code in order to build a business is that I had a passion for development, and I wanted to be a programmer, not a business owner.

Boot camps are becoming increasingly popular. Personally, I never met anyone who spent 12-14 weeks in the class and being ready to build anything valuable.

But let’s assume that boot camps can teach you. They still come at a high cost. One needs to spend at least 3 months in the class working 70-90 hours a week. And they are not cheap.

Tuition in Coding Dojo is $14,000 and it is whopping $17,000 in Flatiron. There is another boot camp Turing which requires you to spend 7 months and costs $20,000.

Assuming that after boot camp one can at best be a Junior Developer wouldn’t it makes sense to spend $20K hire another Junior Developer to work on the product.

The goal of a startup founder is to achieve traction, find better product/market fit. Frankly, I don’t think it’s good to spend time and money learning some skill instead of working on the business.

In my opinion, the only reason to learn to code is one wants to be a coder.

Can you build MVP without tech co-founder?

Now, when we rejected the idea of learning programming language and we still can’t find tech co-founder which options do we have?

First, let’s answer other questions.

  • Do you really need a technical implementation to get to your next step?
  • Are you just trying to validate the idea with prospective customers?
  • Do customer and/or investors really need a working MVP or can you could put together a prototype put together in PowerPoint or a wireframing tool like Balsamiq?
  • Can you use low code or no code tools like Buildfire or AppyPie do the trick?

Unless the idea needs to prove that it can actually be built, an actual product is possibly not needed.

In case if you absolutely need a real MVP – a solid, stable, working minimum viable product used by paying clients there are still other options: crowdsourcing, outsourcing, hiring offshore development team.

Crowdfunding is the alternative to angel and venture investment. Find out how much your ideal tech cofounder needs to implement your product and if your Kickstarter raises enough funds to get him on board. Crowdfunding can also be used to validate the idea.

Outsourcing can be an option if you have enough money. Using a 3rd party vendor can guarantee a movement forward and gives you something to show to people. The thing is that you have to know what your product you are building, and how to communicate the vision to the development team.

One of the dangers of outsourcing is that unless you have experience running a technical project it is easy to get a product that meets your specifications, but still not doing what you need. Vendors will never say No to you because they profit from having the founder build more.

For this reason, if you choose to go this route, I recommend you use a consultant who can translate your needs and make sure that the vendor is not cutting corners.

In case if you are short on money then you can use offshore developers. When using offshore you can build a product for the fraction of what the outsourcing company would charge. You can read following articles about advantages and challenges of offshore software development:


It only makes sense to learn to code if you want to be a programmer.

If not, then find a junior developer, use low code solutions, outsource, hire offshore developers. In other words, do what you do the best – hustle.

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  1. I think this article was directed to me. Hahaha. I have been in this situation for some time now and most of your points are absolutely right. I actually thought of studying coding myself after trying all I could to get a technical person on board. Offshore outsourcing is relatively expensive as well. On the other hand, I want to protect my idea as well, so to outsource an unknown person is quite a risk I am not prepared for. I have friends whom I offer my business skills in return for two hours a day to build my app for me but they all turn their backs after getting what they want from me… Those aren’t gonna let me give up my dream though… I will keep searching and hopefully apply some of your suggestions… Thank you

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