Attracting a CTO to your startup

Businesspeople ask me all the time how to find a technical partner for a startup.  When they ask, it often sounds like they're asking for a product off the shelf--like, "Where can I get some cheap folding chairs?"

Finding a technical partner is more akin to finding a life partner than anything else--the difference being that neither party has any intentions to stick around for fifty or sixty years.
Where to find one is kind of an interesting question, because, like single men and women, there are certainly places they are more likely to hangout--bars and listservs versus bars and clubs--but going to one of these places is no guarantee of meeting anyone.  The key is getting out there--finding as many ways as possible to meet with people and get involved in activities around your interests.

The truth of the matter is that, actually, it starts with you.  No one wants to feel like they're joining less than half a partnership, in either sense.  Don't forget that this person is adding you as a partner just as much as you're adding them, so look in the mirror and think about what you bring to the table.  Think about it this way, if you have an idea and you're willing to give up half of your company to get a technical partner, consider the CTO's side of it.

They're giving up 50% of a company to get you as a business partner, because they probably have ideas, too--ideas they could potentially own 100% of and maybe get built in their spare time.  So, what makes you worth 50%?  (Or 60,70, or 80% if you plan on giving out less...)

Let's start with finances.  The ideal partner is financially independent.  For a startup, if you are a businessperson, a) Do you already have money to start the businesses?  b) Do you already have great investor relationships who will pull the trigger on funding pending the addition of a technical partner or completion of a product?  c) Do you already have clients willing to pay upfront for your product to see it get built?   As the businessperson, financing is just one of the things you bring to the table.  If you're answer is no or maybe to the above, what value are you to the business?  What value you are you to a partner? 

If your product is technically feasible, everyone around the table should believe it can get built.  Then, there's no reason not to have people who say "If you build that, I'd be very likely to buy that/fund that."  That would be my due diligence on you if I was a technical partner--lot's of people saying yes.

If I was a technical person with a prototype, and I was going to give up half (or more) of my company to a businessperson, what would I want?  I'd want a rainmaker.  I'd want someone with a huge rolodex of people already dying to get a piece of the action of this person's next endeavor...someone with so social capital built up with key influencers, industry partners, and investors that they don't know what to do with it.

So rather than trying to make it a process of "finding" you need to think about it as "attracting".  How can you make yourself, as a businessperson, more attractive to a technical person capable, at least from a product standpoint, of executing their own ideas? 

Here are a few ways:

- Get clients and customers.  The more people signed up or at least saying they're willing to pay for something if you build it, the more attractive your business is.

- Generate a buzz with key influencers.  If smart people are talking about your idea, technical people will want to be a part of it.

- Understand the tech.  You don't have to know how to code, but if your ideas are technically unfeasible or product discussions are going to be remedial, a technical person will just move on to someone who gets it.

- Be a leader in your own field.  If you want to make it to the top of the startup/tech heap, jumping from the top of your own heap is much easier than climbing from the bottom.

- Raise money from people who know you best--even if it's just a little friends and family money, a technical person will not want to be the first risktaker in the pool.

And yes, that picture is of Alex Lines, my co-founder at Path 101, which officially launches on Tuesday... and that's how I found him when I walked in at 7:50AM this morning.

We have equal ownership in the company and I'm pretty sure he got the short end of that stick.  :)