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Do I Need A Technical Cofounder? A Guide For Startups

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If you are asking the question then what you are fundamentally asking is about the kind of company you are building. Who is a cofounder anyways? This post will address this latter question, then present the Yes and No cases for a technical cofounder, and finally share some tips on how to find one.

1) Who Is A Cofounder?

Technically speaking a cofounder is anyone with that title — it’s a mark of prestige and influence. Practically speaking cofounders are ones with shares commensurate to the disproportionate risk they are taking in starting something. In Silicon Valley the norm is 2-3 cofounders owning each 20-30% of the company at the start, whereas a first employee would own a magnitude lower.

Not all cofounders start at the same time, have equal influence, or equal ownership. In fact the opposite is the norm in at least the last two cases and most will tell you that it is actually better for the success of the company (exceptions like Warby Parker with equal founding co-CEO do exist). Some startups set up a separate class of founder shares, for instance with a lower share price or higher voting rights. Founders shares essentially split ownership and control so that other shareholders like employees and VCs can still participate in the economic benefit but have less of a say in running the company.

2) Yes Or No?

Technically speaking Amazon didn’t have a technical cofounder — Jeff Bezos brought in a first employee who didn’t get founder stock. He and subsequent engineers were early employees who executed phenomenally on Bezos’s vision leading to the trillion-dollar company we know today.

So ask yourself the following three questions

  • Are you building something technically complex?
  • Do you foresee needing first a CTO (someone who innovates) before a VP of Engineering (someone who manages engineers)?
  • Even if your startup is primarily a business innovation, would having someone technical significantly change how you recruit engineers?

If the answer to any of these three is Yes chances are you need a technical cofounder.

3) How To Find A Technical Cofounder?

The million-dollar question and this older post still holds true. Obviously there are plenty of cases of cofounders who were friends that had never worked together. Or complete strangers that found each other serendipitously, whether it be a party, a shared car ride, or a hackathon. But there are some time and tested way that have a higher signal ratio:

i) People you have worked with — Investors will tell you a startup is fraught with perils and having an existing working relationship helps derisk execution.

ii) Introductions from mutually trusted sources — For most of us the second-order network is a magnitude larger and the chances of finding someone compatible and available are much higher. 

iii) Prospecting within places that are hotbeds for potential cofounders — The right department of your alma mater, say computer science, is a good bet. Also, in normal times there are always some companies laying off good engineering talent, times of Corona even successful ones like Lyft, Uber and AirBnB have let go of great people. Also, recruiters are very unlikely to help you find a cofounder since they focus on placing people looking for a job but they can certainly be signals for what kind of companies are losing people


Originally published on “Data Driven Investor,” am happy to syndicate on other platforms. I am the Managing Partner and Cofounder of Tau Ventures with 20 years in Silicon Valley across corporates, own startup, and VC funds. These are purposely short articles focused on practical insights (I call it gl;dr — good length; did read). Many of my writings are at https://www.linkedin.com/in/amgarg/detail/recent-activity/posts and I would be stoked if they get people interested enough in a topic to explore in further depth. If this article had useful insights for you comment away and/or give a like on the article and on the Tau Ventures’ LinkedIn page, with due thanks for supporting our work. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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Amit Garg
I have been in Silicon Valley for 20 years -- at Samsung NEXT Ventures, running my own startup (as of May 2019 a series D that has raised $120M and valued at $450M), at Norwest Ventures, and doing product and analytics at Google. My academic training is BS in computer science and MS in biomedical informatics, both from Stanford, and MBA from Harvard. I speak natively 3 languages, live carbon-neutral, am a 70.3 Ironman finisher, and have built a hospital in rural India serving 100,000 people.

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