When you're in the process of creating a startup, it can be difficult to know when exactly you should bring in a technical co-founder. If you approach your top choice with your back of napkin thoughts, you risk not being able to convince them that your idea is right for them. If you don't have a co-founder with technical expertise from the early stages on, it can be difficult to get a prototype up and running. So what's the right thing to do?

Let's talk about some reasons you might hold off from choosing a co-founder until you have a prototype under your belt.

You don't want to be known as just "an idea guy."

If you start by approaching tech people with a vague concept, it can be hard to differentiate yourself from everyone else who thinks they have an amazing idea for an app, but lacks the ability to get it all done. Techies who are proficient in coding often have many of their own side projects that they're working on; convincing them to take on your project as well has to be worthwhile for both of you.

You want to keep more of the equity and control in your eventual company.

It's hard to know where a company will go based on early designs. Of course every entrepreneur hopes for success and plans to grow and flourish, but if a business fails, how will you and a cofounder divide up the responsibility? If a business has the potential to experience rapid growth, will the two of you be on the same page about how to realize that potential? After all, a cofounder has more say than an eventual employee.

So if you don't have a technical cofounder, how do you create a prototype?

Do you know how to code?

If you know absolutely nothing about coding, you might be best served by connecting with an agency that develops prototypes for entrepreneurs. You approach the agency with your concept, and they turn it into a reality. It tends to be an expensive approach, but the benefits mean that you can hold off on hiring a team, and you also keep full rights to your project. With a cofounder, you would be sharing the financial equity of the project, and you also need to understand that, in the early stages, a technical cofounder is more important than an idea person anyway.

Do you have some experience, even if you don't have tons?

If you have some basic knowledge of coding, and are willing to learn more, you could choose to work with a mentorship platform like Codementor. As its name suggests, Codementor helps you connect with expert developers to seek advice from while working on your project. They'll save you time and frustration when you run into complications, confusions, or times when the code just doesn't work the way you think it should. You can choose options like getting help with specific issues, getting long term mentorship, or something in between.

If you're concerned about your idea staying private, any reputable agency or mentor should be willing to sign an NDA, or non-disclosure agreement. You can get sample NDAs from most legal websites.

Do you want to just hand it off to someone else?

If an agency approach is too expensive for you, but you don't want the stress and frustration of teaching yourself to code, even with a mentor, you can always try to find a freelance designer who can create the project for you. Just like agencies, a freelancer should be willing to sign an NDA, but since they're often competing against each other in the open market, you can often find a lower price than with a formal agency.

Just remember that when you're choosing a freelancer, you generally get what you pay for. Choosing the lowest bidder is not automatically a good idea. Also, it's often considered rude in freelancer circles to ask for free work; too many freelancers have created a concept or basic sketch of a job, only to have the buyer refuse to pay them, take the concept, and have someone recreate it for a lower price.

A trustworthy freelancer should, however, be prepared to show you a portfolio of at least letters of recommendation, if not fully completed projects. Remember, though, that if you're asking them to sign an NDA, many other clients may have done the same thing, and they may not be able to provide you details on past jobs.

There are many reasons to hold off on choosing a cofounder until you're ready, if you end up making that choice at all. While there are many exciting and exceptional things that a technology specialist can bring to the early phases of your business, you may decide that it's not worth what you lose. Only you can know with certainty what's best for your business.

What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur who is considering how to get their prototype built?

Published on: Oct 22, 2015