Finding a Technical Co-Founder: Try Before You Buy

In our last post about finding a technical co-founder, we talked about talking to people and getting to know them as humans. Once you’ve found a person you think you might just want to work with, it’s time to figure out if you can really work together. There are a lot of approaches to doing this and an interview (or a couple) are part of this, but we often advocate for actually working with a person before fully hiring them on, before making that commitment. The “try before you buy” approach.

As a reminder, here are our other ideas for finding your technical co-founder:

So how do you know this person is a good fit? How do you know they can get the job done? How do you know your skills and personality are a good match and are complementary to their skills and personality? A one hour interview and a technical interview (even if it includes whiteboard questions) won’t reveal much about your working styles. You might barely scratch the surface because an interview can only reveal how a person functions in an interview, not in your environment, not in your culture, not with your product or team.

The person you’re interviewing might be a good interviewee and a good schmoozer, but what it they don’t have the technical chops you need in order to move fast? Or what if they’re a bad interviewee and you’re missing out on someone who does great work? What if you don’t get along after an 8 hour day? Or a 16 hour day? You’ll be spending a lot of time with your co-founder and early hires, so can you be sure? One approach we advocate for is “try before you buy.”

Try Before You Buy

The “try before you buy” approach means you hire someone on a contract basis at 5, 10, 20 hours a week for a set period of time or for a month of specific work. See if they are a good fit technically, culturally, and whether you can even stand to be in the same room for more than a full day.

Establish a few milestones that you can easily measure against, for a specific timeline. Work with the other person on these milestones to establish ones that are doable in the timeline you establish and within their skillset and with your schedules.

As an example, maybe you have a new feature set you want to build out over the next three months, but it involves prototyping parts of these features first. The first milestone could be “Prototype feature X, Y, Z in the next two weeks and get feedback from 10 customers”. The second milestone could be either be set after the first one is complete, in this case, you might learn from the prototype that it doesn’t make sense to build out the feature set at all. Or if what you’re building is already pretty-well defined, you could set the second and third milestones before working together.

At the end of the timeline, dedicate some time to reviewing the progress and understand why it wasn’t met or why it was as well as evaluate how you worked together, what they liked or disliked about the work or working styles, etc.

It Goes Both Ways

Know that this “try before you buy” goes both ways: this person will be trying you out as well. Are you an effective communicator? Are you fair? Are you fun? Are you intelligent? Do you get shit done? Or do you just talk big?

Next, we’ll cover the all important aspect of being respectful of people’s time. It probably goes without saying, however it’s important to building that relationship and finding the right person.