3 things to determine if a technical co-founder is “good”

Like all of the other answers to life’s “big questions,” there is no simple response to the question, “How do I know if my technical co-founder is any good?” There certainly isn’t a test technical co-founders can take, and by no means is a rich professional history an indicator of how good a technical co-founder will be in a start-up situation. To make matters more complicated, every business has a unique set of requirements that will appeal to some technical co-founders and not to others. What can you do if you’re trying to find the right technical co-founder? Whittle down the pool of potential candidates by answering these three questions about your potential technical co-founder:

  1. What applications have they built?
    This may seem like an obvious question, but it’s really just the starting point. When you ask your technical co-founder what they’ve built, you have to then take your questions to the next level—respectfully—by asking very specific questions about the process. You need to find out whether they were involved in a small aspect of building the app, or were they responsible for multiple components? Go through the application and ask how things were done, why and who handled what. You really want to see applications or side projects the person has built on their own, even if they failed, since this shows both entrepreneurial spirit and their ability to build from start to launch.
  2. Are they involved in their professional community and do they have the respect of their peers?
    You need to know if your technical co-founder has the respect of his or her professional community. Find out if they’ve spoken at conferences (it doesn’t matter how big or how small—you’re looking for involvement, not that they’re master of the universe), if they have a blog, or even a following on Twitter. Do they have to have 10,000 followers? Of course not. But they do have to appear to be engaging with other people in your industry in a meaningful way. That’s what counts. If you’re in the Rails community, there is a great resource called (appropriately) “Working with Rails,” which provides a rating for individuals.
  3. How do they interact with other technical co-founders?
    If you have a mentor or know another successful technical co-founder, ask them to talk to your possible co-founder. This should not be an interview but, instead, an interactive conversation with someone that has the experience (and is technical) and may be able to give you some insight into your potential technical co-founder.

Remember, these questions should only be asked once a candidate meets the minimum requirement of embracing the same core values as you do. That’s the first step. Then, whittle down your pool of potential candidates using a methodology that includes these three questions.