Why you should have a technical co-founder

By Connor Cameron — Published

“We simply wouldn’t be able to build Kinde without Dave and Ev as co-founders. Having technical co-founders at the heart of the company, balancing off my focus on the business side, means our entire business is centred around building a great product. They build the product – I figure out how to build a company around that. Engineering isn’t just part of Kinde, it is rooted in our founding team.”

— Ross Chaldecott

A founding team makes or breaks a startup, meaning that you should fret when it comes to choosing the right partner(s).

At Kinde, two of our three co-founders are technical, and that has been immensely beneficial to the company’s success and speed to market to date. While it may not be necessary or desired by every founding team, having a technical co-founder gives the company a level of velocity and flexibility that a non-technical team isn’t capable of matching.

Before diving into the benefits, here are a few statistics.

  • In the 2018 Australian Startup Muster report just 23.7% of founders considered themselves proficient in software development, while 49.9% of startups had a software engineer in their founding team
  • In 2019, Small Biz Trends found that 23% of startups had failed due to not having the right team, while another 17% due to having a poor product
  • As of 2018, the tech industry had the highest failure rate for startups out of all industries in the US, at 63%

Every startup is going to be different in terms of product offering, people, and what it takes to turn them into a successful story. That being said, here are a few of the reasons why I believe it’s beneficial to have a technical co-founder.

A technical co-founder gives you a capacity to truly maximise velocity and flexibility. Rather than having to deal with agencies, freelancers, or (if you’re lucky) team members, you have tech talent with a deep understanding of the product and accompanying problem.

At the heart of any successful startup is a data driven approach wherein hypotheses are constantly tested across product and marketing alike. Such a strategy requiring rapid innovation makes a technical team member crucial. While an engineering employee is capable, they might not have the requisite understanding of the problem to make decisions effectively when compared with a technical co-founder, who can truly drive the development of the product and the company as a whole.

A technical co-founder will be naturally capable of leading an engineering team given their deep understanding of the product, its stack and the strategic direction of the company.

An engineering team managed by a non-technical founder is shooting itself in the foot. The founder won’t be nearly as capable of accurately assessing work nor planning out release schedules.

The financial benefits of having a technical co-founder are two-fold.

On the one hand, you save significant capital by doing the development in-house as opposed to hiring an agency, freelancer or a team of engineers. In addition, the fact that your technical co-founder is so close to the problem saves valuable time that may have otherwise been spent explaining to external teams what the expectations are for development. It allows for a proof of concept to be created before you need to sink money into a new project.

In addition, and an important long term consideration, is the impact of having a technical co-founder on potential to raise capital. Venture capital firms are heavily geared in favour of technical teams given their capacity to move fast and scale quickly. They also see your ability to convince a technical co-founder to join you as a sort of stamp of approval. After all, Ron Conway once said, ‘When you start a company, you have to go find somebody as good or better than you to be the co-founder.’

An analytical counterweight

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There is something important to be said about the influence a technical co-founder can have on strategic decision making. While software engineers differ immensely, one shared trait appears to be an analytical brain and attention to detail that can act as a great counter to the visionary types.

Now that isn’t to say that either is necessarily correct, nor is either more important than the other in the decision making process. Rather we have to revert back to startups being a game of numbers.

The thoughts of a single talented leader will rarely outperform the average decision made by a larger group, at least over time. What that means is that as talented as you may think that you are at strategy, the effects of having differing opinions in a group is usually positive. The analytical approach that technical co-founders have will aid in financial, statistical and legal decision making, among other things.

Reinforcing an earlier point; no two businesses are the same.

It’d be awfully naive for me to walk in here and decree that all companies require, or even benefit from, a technical co-founder.

That being said, at Kinde, we see a lot of SaaS companies, and have come to understand just how important a technical co-founder can be for said companies’ success. The speed at which a technical team can adjust and learn is incredible, and that notion alone has driven some of the greatest innovations of the last few decades.

You may not need a technical co-founder, but I do hope you’ll at least give it some thought :)

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