in Canada, Recruiting, Startups

How to Hire Me, A Technical Co-Founder

There has been a lot of buzz the past 6-8 months about hiring great technical co-founders. The implication seems to be that being a non-technical co-founder is a handicap of sorts and that CEOs buy sandwiches before the product is finished. Apparently coding & building great products is hard, but running the business is easy. Here are some articles:

Why You Can’t Recruit a Technical Cofounder
Quora – Technical Co-Founders
Please, please, please Stop Asking How To Find a Technical Co-Founder
Thoughts On Hiring a Technical Co-Founder

I am a “technical co-founder” at Peek – I code, keep big scale systems up, hire & fire, set dev processes, and all that other technical stuff. So let me tell you about how I got recruited into Peek by Amol Sarva, @amolsarva.

Sell Vaporware

Amol had one VC committed to Peek in our A, and had a letter of intent from Target (yes – – that Target) to sell Peeks nation-wide, in-store in the US. The status of the “product” – he had a carved out a wooden model of the Peek (ala Palm)!! And these deals were huge – a $15mm A round with half committed. Target – nation-wide for Christmas 2008!! These days I hear too much crap from “deal guy” founders about finishing product before doing deals. Lame. Be a stud – go sell vaporware. Go get real customers who pay you real money. Go find partners and distributors. I have seen countless, great sales guys in my life sell smoke and mirrors. Why can’t you?

This guy hired me

Hire Other Studs

Amol had recruited John Tantum, former President of Virgin Mobile USA, as our chairman. He had an all-star marketing & retail guru lined up. Our advisory team was the president of BlackBoard, SVP strategy at Intuit, and the former head of the FCC. No matter what, I knew I was going to learn and have an awesome experience working with some great folks.

Be Generally Awesome

Amol was an interesting guy in general. He had a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford. He was/is building a new property in Queens. He took a photo that hangs in MoMA. The blog I write on is startupnorth, the “blogs” he writes on are Salon & Business Insider. Being generally impressive is important. The important question here is the Peter Thiel question, why is employee #20 going to come work for you? The weight of the CEO’s personality and accomplishments matter here. Senior guys will want to know the accomplishments of your business as well as the accomplishments of your management team. You have to be generally awesome enough to bring people in if you aren’t one of those super red hot, Twitter-esque companies.

Be Top Amongst Your Peers

Amol, while starting Peek, was mentoring other founders. He was one of the original members of Founders Roundtable. His peers looked to him for advice on starting a company.

Now, I know this is a bit of a love-in of Amol. And it also probably feels like a pretty high bar. All you have to do is go get a PhD, raise $15mm and get a distro deal done with the second largest retailer in the US before you can hire great technical co-founders.

Not quite. The main lesson is this. Forget your technical co-founder and realize that the “product” is one aspect of your business. Potentially an important one (also potentially a complete waste of time you need to pivot off of). You need to start consistently proving that you can make this business successful without having a “heroic engineering, product only” mindset. Can you on a day-in, day-out basis creatively solve the problems of the business such as acquiring customers faster/cheaper, reducing churn, recruiting great folks, financing the company’s goals, having great customer service, delivering everything on-time, getting great advice, navigating treacherous competitive waters, and so on and so forth. Can you relentlessly out-execute with or without the crutch of great product and fabulous engineering? The way you have built the business pre-launch tells me a lot about how you will run the business post-launch.

If you can do stuff like Amol did, you’ll be fine. If you are buying sandwiches… sorry, go find someone else.

I’d love to hear from other founders (technical or not) on how they both built their company pre-launch and how they found their technical co-founder.


  1. We have the opposite problem.
    We’re a small group of technical founders who find it hard to find co-founders on the business side of things. Onces that can share our vision and work to make it a reality.

    I suspect our real issue is that since we are technical people, we know each other and who to call on for technical expertise, but since we are “makers” we don’t know enough of the people who know all the ins and outs of running a business.

    The other aspect is that as technical people, when we start something we must really be committed or we don’t finish anything. For us, its hard to find a business oriented person who can be just as committed as we are… not that they don’t exist, we just don’t know enough of them to sort the marginally interested from the dedicated.

  2. which is the way it should be!  there should be more articles with titles like “how the heck do we find a fantastic CEO/leader for our business”.

  3. Ok, mr writer… I’m waiting for the article now :)

  4. From a young business co-founder’s standpoint it doesn’t seem as impossible as people make it out to be… Go to a hackathon with a good idea, pitch it work with a bunch of people find out who you like start a relationship… rinse wash repeat until you find someone you like… Please note: If your idea sucks this process won’t work.  

    I would imagine it might be much harder the other way around as Canadian universities generally do very little to foster entrepreneurial spirit amongst their business programs… My advice approach the event organizers… that’s were the young hustlers go first via immediate ROI in the form of women, prestige, and moolah… But I think technical co-founders mature way faster than business “studs” so you might have your work cut out for you identifying who will really work out.

  5. I’m usually too busy to make it to the hackathons etc. I keep meaning to, but when I’m not working, I’m spending time with my kids and forget all about the meet.

    Don’t forgot, most good developers are artisty types (admit it or not)… we get a good idea, run it by our peers and go for it.

    Plenty of ideas don’t make it to any final state for many reasons; maybe the idea was too complex, or maybe it only sounded better than the reality. Sometimes an idea simply loses momentum. 
    It’s only when we get near the end, stop and look around, that we realize that we’re going to need someone in a penguin suit to help make it into a full fledged business :)

    That discovery process is important for new ideas or even old one as a new business. It’s where the startup is born.
    However, in our experience it’s hard to get the business folks excited unless you’ve already done a lot of the work for them, that work you need them to do in the first place.

    It’s hard to find business folk who can imagine what something could become and get excited about it, particularly when you don’t already have a lot of capital to pay them with (if your bootstrapping, you really need to find a special person who’s willing to not get paid for a while).

  6. I think I can help you out. Email me:

  7. The important point is that you sell you product first, then you look for the perfect team to build it … not the other way around

  8. I’ve got to agree with Cyril – at the company I work at we started with two co-founders that didn’t have technical backgrounds. We pushed the product, soon after got funded and eventually hired a technical lead to bring everything in house. 

  9. It always amazes me that people will buy vapor… but I’m a maker sort, so I think the other way around.

  10. I think you are mistaken. Take the construction industry as an example. When a developer wants to sell condos he starts by putting drawings together, and then sells them. When 75% of the building is sold, he can start building the condos.
    If you do it the other way around, you’ll invest a lot of money, energy, and time without knowing if someone will buy your product.
    I agree with you on one thing : people don’t (usually) buy just an idea.
    You can’t sell vapor (unsubstantial stuff) you sell a product based on mock-ups and proof of concepts (substantial).
    Then when you have a customer base that will support your development you can start building.

  11. I agree with Cyril. Definitively you cannot assemble a team until you have defines what you are going to be selling.

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