Operation Finding a Technical Cofounder – Confessions of an MBA student

Last year I decided to found my own tech start-up.  MBA alumns with whom I connected advised me to recruit a technical cofounder early on in the process. At that time, I had some general knowledge about coding and software development. I had completed some basic assignments in C++ and Java.  “Hello World” was the most advanced coding exercise I had undertaken. Clearly, I was not an expert. Since my business was the usual technical start-up that required the creation of a phone application, I had two choices: develop the app myself or look for a technical cofounder. Like most non-technical cofounders, I opted for the latter. This is where my story begins, just two months into my MBA career.

The idea I was looking to develop was one I had envisioned long before starting school.  I had discussed the idea with a number of experienced entrepreneurs and friends. The overwhelming response was very encouraging and I was determined to spend as much time as I could to develop this idea. In fact, I was almost convinced that my business will be so successful that I would drop out of school

So how did I look for a technical cofounder? What strategies did I adopt? What are the key lessons I learned from my experience?

I wasn’t interested in outsourcing my work as my idea was tech heavy and required ongoing technical work. I also wanted a flexible option and a technical person with whom I could partner to meet advisors and potential investors.

First, I posted on a number of online websites that specialized in connecting cofounders. Browsing through these websites, I discovered that the majority of the people who posted were also looking for technical cofounders. Not surprisingly, I haven’t received a single response from anyone after almost a year.

Second, I proactively searched on linked in for potential technical cofounders. I was more successful as I was able to talk to two people who had prior coding experience. One of them was really interested in the idea and we eventually met in person.  We worked on the idea for almost a month and then he suddenly disappeared. The last message I received from him was about an emergency situation and I never heard from him again.

After that experience, I decided to visit the “headquarters” of technical cofounders: computer Science departments at local colleges!  I created fliers to post, and visited 4 major schools in Boston. On one of my visits, I met a faculty member who was not at all impressed with my pitch or my fliers. He told me that he sees 5-6 people like me every week looking to hire technical cofounders. It’s been a year now and no one really called.

This experience has taught me a number of lessons:

Lesson Number 1 – Be Humble

You may have heard this phrase many times but it’s not as easy in practice as it sounds. Sure you have an MBA degree from a prestigious school backed up by 4-5 years of experience. You may have negotiated the most complicated business deals, developed the most interesting sales pitches or created the most sophisticated financial models, but none of these qualifications help create a web application. During my quest to find a technical cofounder, I was genuinely humbled by watching 19 years old Computer Science students compiling open source data and creating some state of the art technologies in less than 24 hours at “Hackathons”.

Lesson Number 2 – Meet everyone in person

It’s nearly impossible to find technical cofounders online. You may find random people who have some technical experience but you won’t find the right people who are passionate about programming. You certainly won’t find the real passionate coders looking for a job on a random “find technical cofounders” website. I believe the best places to meet avid programmers are hackathons, CS classes and local coding events.

Lesson Number 3 – Build relationships

Finding and selecting a technical cofounder is not something that happens overnight, it’s a lengthy process. Even if you are eager to recruit someone, patience is paramount. I believe that it is critical to build a relationship with the person. Learn more about his or her experience, past accomplishments and current interests.  Try not to  mention your business idea on your first session and avoid sounding too eager to hire a cofounder.  Also, don’t overemphasize your MBA degree. It probably won’t make a difference to a young programmer.

Lesson Number 4 – Build a prototype

Create the design of your app/website/software.  You can create a static website using many tools available online and very easy to use. There are a range of design programs that you can use to create your MVP (Balsamiq, Bubble, and Appseed all convertyour sketches into app prototypes). This is a great way to show commitment beyond just pitching an idea that only exists in your mind.

Lesson Number 5 – Learn to speak the language:

Similar to when you travel to a new country, you should know at least some basic phrases to be able to communicate. Try to learn the basics of coding and characteristics of each language. It is important to spend some time researching general programming tools, differences between front and back end, APIs and when/how to use APIs. In fact, you can go online and search for potential APIs available that may be helpful for your business. You won’t be a coder in a couple of months but you will certainly be able to impress a technical person and make him more interested in your business.

It’s been a year since I started my journey. The business is going well. I have recently partnered with a CS student from University of Michigan whom I met at a recent Hackathon event. We just started work on creating the back end of our website. In my spare time, I am learning Rails and some other programming languages. Every week, I spend at least 2-3 hours reading about new languages, APIs, integrations etc.

Although, I am still at the beginning of my journey, I feel like I have learned a lot and I am certainly more confident about my technical capabilities.


  1. Very interesting story!

    I had a chance to visit an incubator in NYC over the summer, but the job postings on their wall suggested the exact same situation as you mentioned – everyone is looking for a technical expert, unfortunately not a business expert! In fact, a person close to me is struggling with finding a good coder as well. I have not made any decent effort in looking for a partner myself, but in a way I feel that this shortage of technical talent is a phenomenon seen primarily in the US (and perhaps other countries with similar degree of entrepreneurial interest) as demand-supply seems to be clearly one-sided. Perhaps a new venture idea will be to connect US people looking for technical talents and non-US people offering technical expertise!?

    All the best with your venture and hope to see you soon in person.

  2. Did you ever think about raising financing before you started to try and find technical talent?

    I am thinking something similar to what Rent the Runway ended up doing – going to college campuses, proving the concept and then going to raise financing to effectively hire the relevant talent.

    If I think back to the guest that we had in class form Project Fashion, she mentioned that her CTO was actually a lot older than her. Perhaps that is the route to finding a good technical co-founder.

  3. Joe Khoury

    Thank you Masa for the reply.
    I agree, a numer of new ventures that are focused on tech development currently exist in developing countries . However, it is rare to find a company or independent developers outside the US offering a long term commitment to a business (such as equity share).

  4. Joe Khoury

    Thanks Meera.
    I am facing the typical chicken and egg problem here. Very few investors are willing to commit without seeing a product (or at least beta version launched) and I can't hire a good developer without some sort of financing. A good MVP for my product would cost around 15-20K due to the functionality requirements.

    I have actually been attending a couple of college campus events such as Hackathons, startup weekends etc. as my startup is very tech heavy. Maybe finding an older CTO is the right way to go, will see…