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How to Recruit The First Technical Talent for Your Startup as a Non-Technical Founder

Recruiting technical talent as a non-technical founder isn’t easy. But it’s not impossible either.

One of the first things a non-technical co-founder will do is go to Google search for a resource or guide.

They browse through countless articles.

Then realize that the advice is to go to networking events, try founder dating sites or ask friends. But rarely do things work.

It’s difficult. Most people don’t understand that you have to:

  • Show value first.
  • Recruit second.

I’m the (non-technical) Founder and CEO of Task Pigeon and here’s where my story starts.

Step One – Show Value

How to Recruit Technical Talent for Your Startup as a Non-Technical Founder - Just An Idea

Nothing turns a developer off working with you faster than saying you have an “idea”.

You have to show value first.

Here’s how.

You have to move beyond the idea stage and prove that your startup has potential.

To do this I took my idea, concept and wireframes and outsourced the design on Upwork. I built a landing page using WordPress and started to reach out to my network.

I used their feedback to refine the idea. To improve the messaging. And to tighten up my landing page.

Next, I expanded my reach. I messaged people I was connected with on Linkedin. And posted my startup to BetaList.

This got me over 90 subscribers.

And the insight I needed.

My hypothesis proved to be correct. There was no one size fits all approach to task management. And our name, branding, UI and UX was resonating with some people.

I had value. Not a lot. But enough. I could start step two.

Step Two – Recruit Technical Talent

Not everyone wants to work for a startup. Even those who have raised a Series A struggle to find technical talent.

That’s why you need a multi-channel approach.

As a non-technical founder you have five choices:

  1. Find a co-founder
  2. Hire an agency/outsource
  3. Bring on a contractor.
  4. Learn to code
  5. Give up (it was only a dream)

Option One: Recruit a Co-Founder

Recruiting a co-founder rarely works.

The best co-founder relationships are those that have stood the test of time. You can’t “recruit” a technical co-founder. All your goals need to be aligned. And that’s only something that comes naturally.

The best co-founder relationships are those that have stood the test of time.

Basically, you need to know a developer already. Or have worked with someone previously. It can work, but it takes time.

Option Two: Agencies or Outsourcing

How to Recruit Technical Talent for Your Startup as a Non-Technical Founder - Hire An Agency

Hire an agency or outsource. There’s plenty of debate on whether to hire in country or overseas.

I’m a big fan of Alex Turnbull from Groove HQ but he dropped $300k on an agency to get his startup built.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money!

That’s why most people look to outsource overseas. To India, Ukraine, Russia, etc.

The problem is it never actually gets built how you want. And, language is always a barrier.

But it can be an option for some.

And it was for me. I spoke to, interviewed and considered proposals from development agencies and freelancers. I was lucky as someone in my network even offered to help me out.

They went through the proposals and pointed things out. Cost was still a bit of an issue and if the scope needed to change the flexibility I needed wasn’t really there.

Plus, I didn’t feel as if I would have the level of control I needed over the process.

Option three: Recruit a Contractor

How to Recruit Technical Talent for Your Startup as a Non-Technical Founder - Contract Developer

While engaging with freelancers and agencies I was also advertising for a contract developer.

This was always my preference. I wanted to find someone who I could work with now. And hopefully into the future.

I used AngelList to find talent. The proposals flowed in, but finding technical talent is always hard!

Resume after resume.

Interview after interview.

Often there wasn’t a fit.

It wasn’t until the last interview I held that I found what I was looking for. A developer with the right skill set, the right background. And more importantly the desire to work on an early stage startup.

That was a little over a month ago now and everything has been going great since then.

I have kept my designer on board from Upwork and coordinate across the “team”. Each day we are making progress and Task Pigeon will be built.

The beta is slated for release in January 2017.

Some Lessons Learnt

As a Founder it’s your job to get things done. Regardless of whether you have the skill set or not.

Don’t take your lack of skills as an excuse.

If you feel stuck? First look at all of your available options. Then work hard to recruit the right people.

Give preference to people that want to work long-term, not the short. Make sure you show gratitude and provide value as well.

Never forget that the buck stops with you. In the end I opted to be a solo founder. Yes, it can be harder to get going but don’t let that put you off. There are many examples of successful startups founder by solo founders.

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  • Great insights Paul on finding a technical founder. Startups have a lot to deal with when they first start, and finding the right co-founder is definitely one of them!

    One thing, that I’ve noticed (and I could be wrong here) the more a solo founder gets done by themselves, the better talent; and or, an investment they can attract later. The idea is, talent attracts talent … and, if you’re looking for co-founders with just an idea, and you haven’t done much – people are just wasting time.

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Thanks Luke.

      I definitely agree that the more value you can show as a solo founder the better the eventual outcome when it comes to connecting with talent or investors.

      Essentially you have to have “skin in the game” and show that you can get things done (regardless of the skill set you start with). If you do this people will recognise that you can create value, thus making it easier for them to come on board the journey with you.

  • If you find yourself looking for an actual technical co-founder… someone you want to put blood sweat, tears and their time without much pay, here’s what we’re possibly going to hear or think in our heads, and what you NEED to over-come… some how when you come to us with your idea:

    Firstly “anyone can have an idea” . Keep that in mind at all times… because we have ideas too.

    In a start-up there are 3 pillars,
    1) the visionary guys who gets and understands the problem and the customer and sell the idea like selling ice to someone living in Antarctica
    2) someone who can run the day-to-day stuff of the business, pay the bills, raise the money, meet with suppliers/vendors etc
    3) the technical guy… me

    Rightly or wrongly that’s what we’ll most likely be thinking, if you can’t sell it, don’t really understand it, can’t raise the money… what are you bringing to the table… just an idea, and you want me to bring all the technical stuff… that’s one third of the pie to your… idea.

  • Paul – great read. I’ve gone (going) through exactly the same – and you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m launching in the new year also. All the best! Joel

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Hi Joel,

      Thanks for your message. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Good luck with your startup too. Keep us posted on how it goes.

      Paul

  • Great article Paul.

    I have a startup launching in Jan/Feb 2017 and went the outsource route!!! It took longer than expected, probably got a better outcome, and found a bunch of GREAT people, that will become employees.

    I learnt that Project Management skills adoptong agile was vital, but also needed to understand the product development lifecycle. Once we got our processes and QA in order, real traction happened.

    We have had 2-3 major pivots during the build as we have engaged our stakeholders along the way. We’ll now build some cool viral marketing concepts to help fire up sales….

    Paul, I think that Angels and VCs have moved away from the criteria that made them great, going back 15-20 years. They haven’t realised that dev is not the most important skill, its focus, project development and communication leading growth. All founders soon move away from coding once they start building momentum and have a bunch of new skills to learn, which impairs growth….

    Anyhow, love the insight as I’ve gone through this dilemma, as many founders do….

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Hi John

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

      I think outsourcing with the view to hire is a great strategy. You get to test that working relationship for a few months and see if there is a genuine fit between you and them as an employee. Plus, getting hands on with the project will help them decide if it’s really something they want to work on for the next 1 to 5 years. At the end of the day you want those people who are super passionate about the company and where it is going.

      You also raise another interesting point. It was only yesterday that I was reading a post by a Technical Founder. He was saying how lots of his friends who love to code think that building their own company will mean that they can just do that day in, day out, without anyone telling them what part of the project to work on when. As he outlined this is very rarely the case. If your idea/startup starts to take off very quickly you stop being the lead developer and have to focus on all the other things (sales, marketing, pitching, etc).

      I obviously believe non tech founders can bring something valuable to the table. Even during the early stages of the company. I think we all just need to do a better job of articulating what that is and showing value.

      Can’t wait to hear more about your launch in the new year!

      Paul

  • Great post, Paul. Here’s my own advice for non-technical founders starting out: https://www.bluechilli.com/blog/how-do-i-recruit-a-technical-cofounder

    Great comments from Grover too. I like to talk about how to refactor a startup pitch to motivate a talented developer. Most great developers aren’t motivated greatly by financial rewards (they can earn a great living any time with their skills) and aren’t motivated by the ego reward of building a unicorn or the biggest player in x sector. Most want to be recognised for building something of technical beauty and skill, and it can be hard to learn enough about coding to be able to refactor a startup pitch into an opportunity to build interesting things.

    Far better to make it clear that this is an opportunity to work in a collaborative relationship, where it’s not a case of the CEO issuing instructions and deadlines to the technical cofounder. Where the technical cofounder has an opportunity to contribute their opinion and be heard on issues like sales, marketing, hiring, business operations, etc.

    At BlueChilli we specialise in working with non-technical founders and our goal is to help them build and validate with an MVP, help them raise seed and series A, and then use that investment capital to begin transitioning to the product team you hire. This isn’t a pitch for BlueChilli’s services but I think the fact that we’re making it work is further proof that there is nothing wrong with starting without a technical cofounder. It’s not a harder journey, it’s just a different journey.

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Hi Alan,

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I’ll also give your post a read now too.

      I totally agree on the point you raise that developers who choose to work for startups are motivated by more than just the financial reward. Although I’m non technical I know the reason why I love being in this space is the fact that I get to create something from scratch. It’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me motivated day in, day out. I just love seeing something exist that didn’t previously.

      I also agree that as a non-tech Founder or CEO you can’t tell or dictate. You really need to understand that in this equation you are the one who knows least. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your say, however, you need to give people on the tech side the time and opportunity to influence the direction of the product and company. And to create a truly collaborative environment that needs to extend into your domain as well (sales, marketing, etc).

      Thanks also for being another example/opportunity for non-tech founders to show they can play in this space.

      Talk soon

      Paul

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  • Nik

    Great read, great advice, and I couldn’t agree more. Finding a technical co-founder is impossibly hard.

    As a non-technical founder myself, I’ve market researched, designed, outsourced on Upwork, built a prototype on Invision, tested the prototype on hundreds of users at UserTesting.com, found top advisors on LinkedIn, found a community of passionate beta testers and users excited to try the product, and am STILL having trouble finding a committed tech co-founder to finish the MVP!

    After 2 1/2 years, I still haven’t given up and am having meetings with potential co-founders all the time. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Finding a strong technical co-founder goes far beyond technical skills alone. You’ll be partners with this person for years to come and they’re sought after and have lots of options to choose from. It’s like a marriage. Finding a strong tech co-founder for a startup is like finding a hot wife when you’re living in your car. It’s a frustrating and grueling process that, in the end, hopefully will be worth all the blood, sweat, and tears.

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Hi Nik

      Thanks for sharing your journey. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      Paul

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