How to find a tech co-founder

You’ve got an idea for a tech startup. But you’re not an engineer. What should you do? So often when I talk to (budding) entrepreneurs this question is asked: “HOW DO I FIND A TECH CO-FOUNDER?”


And because there are no stupid questions, I usually spin something like, well, go to meetups and find someone who likes your mission, and if you could see yourself having a beer with that person, you’re good to go.


Now, I can’t imagine anyone I’ve talked to has not only really done that but in fact found someone this way. And I realised this when reading yesterday’s AMA with Holly Cardew on Blackbird VC’s The Sunrise.


Holly said:


My advice to others is: Do not get a cofounder because someone else tells you to. It most probably will not work out.
You will know when it is right.


A co-founder is someone you’re going to spend a lot of time with. Not only good times but tough times as well. You really have to be lucky just to meet someone randomly that ticks not only the right boxes but you could actually see yourself working with.


Alan Downie, who probably gets that question way more often, responded with another observation:


My initial thought would be then to say “there, there” and thinking: will this person one day find some sucker to work for them for free? But really it won’t happen like this. The reality is that most people that ask this question just started to get interested in startups. Not surprising given all the hype in the last 5 years or so. But if they are truly committed to go on their startup journey they don’t really need an answer. They will figure it all out for themselves.


Holly then shared what she did when she started her business:

…and then proceeded to drop the microphone.


Then I realised something else: why would you ask a techie for advice on how to find other techies? Well, it stands to reason techies have techie friends that are all going to be super interested to work for free. But on the flipside, as a techie, I haven’t had to worry about this problem. It’s like a girl asking a guy friend how to find good guys to date. They aren’t the experts. When it comes to building a tech business without being a techie, the best advice comes from people like Holly who have successfully done this.


Highlighting just how frequently this comes up, here’s just a random tweet that appeared in my feed a couple of minutes after this exchange:

You won’t get hired with your resume

You won’t get a job with your resume. Even though it’s great, or not great as yet. A resume will only get you a call back. Nobody has ever been hired after seeing their resume alone. But a resume should only get you a call back. If you focus on this, you can simplify it and make it more relevant for this exact purpose.


The question is, how can you wow someone with your amazing diverse skills and bubbly personality on a few sheets of A4 paper? You can’t really, but you don’t have to. What impresses one person won’t impress the other anyway. Unless you have been recommended for a job, it’s a numbers game so you only have to tick the boxes for the job you are going for. Just add a little dash of effort on top. If you do it right, you can get the numbers stacked up in your favour.


Look at your resume from the perspective of your potential future employer. They don’t know you and they won’t still even after they read your resume. They are looking for someone for whom their position offers the best challenge. They need someone who brings the right skills and experience into the organisation. They need someone who is a good cultural fit. How do they do this? By interviewing people. But they can’t interview everybody who applied so they need to sort through all those resumes, and it’s really primarily a matter of eliminating those who most definitely don’t satisfy these criteria. Next, out of the remaining candidates they will pick the top 5 or 10 resumes and those will get a call back.


So, first, make sure you will satisfy the criteria. You do this not by merely writing about the things you do but by demonstrating what you do. Next, make sure your resume stands out. Just a little effort, for example improving the layout, can go a long way.


Job history is by far the most important section of your resume. It shows prospective employers whether or not you have the right experience and whether the new job suits someone like you. It’s a no brainer. This section comes first with your most recent job at the top.


In the description of your most recent position put plenty of examples of how you excelled. Have you improved a process? Did you build a great team? Did you solve problems? Were customers’ expectations consistently exceeded? Did you deliver project outcomes on time and on budget? Then make sure to mention these things. Be particularly sure to write as much as possible only about your involvement in this. Also be sure to write about the how. Your thought process and how you operate is what matters the most. What the company does and what other team members did isn’t relevant in your resume. As you slide down to your previous previous jobs it becomes less and less relevant to your prospective employer what you did there so focus mainly on the most recent one. And most probably your last job is also the one you did best as you were more skilled and experienced anyway.


Don’t describe, demonstrate. Best illustrated with an example, say you currently have this in your resume:

My duties involved taking phone calls from clients, sometimes dealing with difficult clients and ensuring they paid on time. I pride myself on my ability to remain calm in these situations.

This information is too factual and doesn’t demonstrate your behaviour or skill on the phone. This does not tell your future employer anything about whether you did this well, but assuming the worst, you did it because you had to or you sucked at it. The paragraph is missing how you stayed calm under pressure, you can’t merely expect someone to take your word for it. This sentence should have been something along the lines of:

When dealing with difficult clients on the phone, I would try to find a good mutual outcome by staying calm, listening carefully to their complaint, remaining factual and providing all payment options.

This last paragraph demonstrates you are a diligent, thoughtful person, calm under pressure who strives to do the right thing for the organisation.


If you can’t think of what you were good at in your last job, ask those you put down as a reference. Why not give them a call and ask what they would say about you? Your references will probably be happy to help you come up with examples like these.


You can embellish, but not lie. This is another thing where you sometimes get conflicting advice. Don’t believe what you hear, you will know what is right for you. Oh and did I mention not to lie? You can lose the job even if you get found out years later. It’s really not worth it, and totally unnecessary. Embellishing really isn’t even always necessary. Focus on the good things.


The second most important section is your education. Make sure your highest qualification can be easily spotted. Some qualifications can be irrelevant, especially if you have a lot of them, so consider leaving them out. As long as you have at least a few things there.


List all your skills. No matter how unimportant you think a skill is. Don’t worry nobody is going to study each and everything you list. Sometimes it’s just something that returns your resume in a keyword search. Sometimes the employer is just looking for that one specific thing and it would be a pity if you had it but decided not to list it because it was unimportant. List everything you know from Microsoft Word to some obscure vendor’s system.


The rest isn’t important. A resume is not as personal as you think. It’s not an independent and complete summary of you as a person. You’ve already ticked the important boxes. Having said that, if you stopped here, it might seem too cold or maybe just too short. What does this mean in terms of what else to add? You can put your profile photo, your objective, your summary, personality type, etc, it’s up to you. Personally I steer clear of personal interests and hobbies unless they are job relevant because it lends to bias. Besides, just because one person likes sky diving and another likes knitting doesn’t mean they can’t work together. Less is more, just keep it relevant.


It’s not just about the content. Aha! You thought you were done. Think once more about the type of job you are applying for. Does it require a lot of written communication? Then it better read well. Does the job have any creative aspect? How you present the resume can land it in the bin without it being read. If you are a web designer, look further than the default layouts in Pages or Microsoft Word and treat the resume like a showcase. You may be shortlisted before someone even read a single word of it. You still need the words, too, though. Sorry.


Ask someone to review your resume. Preferably someone who has hired in the past. Some people are bad at selling themselves, others use too many superlatives. Some resumes are too long, others too short. Have someone who has hired in the past offer feedback from the employer’s perspective. Better to ask someone who won’t care too much about hurting your feelings, because even though you think your resume is already great, you may not have read this far if it was! It may take a couple of iterations to perfect it.


Remember that nobody got hired based on their resume alone. You just need to get shortlisted. Think about the employer’s perspective. Follow some simple rules and get real feedback. Rinse and repeat. Your next job is around the corner. Good luck!