The most common things we all hear at Shoreditch startup events is “I’m looking for a technical cofounder” or “I’m looking for someone to build my product for equity”.

In reality the number of people with ideas massively exceeds the number of techies prepared to work for nothing on someone else’s project.

There’re plenty of developers around, but for the most part they’re happy working for a firm or an agency. Fundamentally, coders are risk averse and if they do cofound something it’ll be their own idea or a project with their existing friends.

So, how do you proceed without a tech cofounder?

The common solutions are: 1) hire an agency/contractor/permanent employee; or, 2) find an ‘advisory’ CTO to hire and manage them. The problem is, if you don’t have any technical knowledge how do you hire or manage developers? How do you know if the quotes are reasonable or if the developers are any good? The advisory CTO option works for some people if they can find someone with industry knowledge and experience, but ultimately the advisor is likely to have a lot of different things on the go and not give you the focus you need. This is going to be especially true when your startup hits a bump. The reality is that people with multiple projects are far more likely to drop the struggling ones at exactly the time they’re needed.

I met one person who wasted seven months and five percent of her company’s equity on a developer who produced nothing at all. Someone else I spoke to spent £200k on a product that a coder could have done in three months in their spare time.

The simple answer is: Learn To Code.

When I suggest this to people at events the response is always: “I don’t have the time”. If you have time to trawl around events at Campus and WeWork and IdeaLondon looking for tech cofounders, then you’ll get a much higher ROI by learning some coding skills instead.

The object isn’t to become an expert coder who doesn’t need techies. The point is that if you have some basic coding skills you’ll be able to: 1) build/prototype your product to the point where a cofounder or investor is interested; 2) understand the tech side of your business; and, 3) evaluate potential employees and contractors in the future.

You could be lucky with a cofounder, contractor or advisory CTO, but it’s out of your control. Given the available tools and resources on the web today, you can build a portal or web-app reasonably quickly and hit your first milestone.


Andrew is a London-based angel investor focusing on technology; he was previously a coder and a quant. He tweets at @AndrewHolmes82 and blogs at TechAngel.London.