Don’t know how to code and can’t find a great technical co-founder? Yifan Zhang, the CEO and co-founder of GymPact, offers unconventional advice on how to proceed.

By Yifan Zhang (Co-founder & CEO, GymPact)

The one question I’m asked most by first-time, non-technical founders is, “How do I find a developer?” My suggestion is, don’t. At least not right away. Why?

  • Don’t because good developers are highly in demand and not likely to be short of startup ideas.
  • Don’t because a bad technical co-founder can destroy a good idea and create infinite headaches down the line.
  • Don’t because you haven’t yet proven your worth as a non-technical co-founder.
  • Don’t hire a contractor because, without experience, you will have a hard time selecting a good contractor or writing specs good enough to outsource, and you will spend a lot of time and money with little to show at the end.

Of course, I’ve made many of the mistakes listed above. So what should you do then?  Unless you find and attract an excellent technical co-founder who believes in your idea alone and is willing to join you on equity compensation (in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog post), here are my suggestions in order of speed and preference:

Prove Your Assumptions Without Code

Figure out what is the biggest risk to your startup idea, and come up with a non-build way to test it.

At GymPact, we knew the biggest risks were – Would people sign up for this?  And would our incentives work?  So we put up Craigslist ads to recruit alpha testers, and slapped paper sign-in sheets at local gyms to verify gym attendance.

Learn to Code Yourself

If you really can’t test your assumptions without a product, this may be, no joke, the fastest way to get it built.  Caveat: this doesn’t work for everyone, myself included.

If you are smart, have even a little background in CS (took that one intro class in college), patient enough to fix bugs (my fatal lacking), and interested, learn how to code by building a small piece of your MVP — minimal viable product — yourself.  By learning through building something useful, hopefully the desire to make your startup happen will propel you to seek resources and learn what you need to develop your product.  And it’ll raise your esteem in the eyes of potential tech co-founders.

Bribe a Technical Advisor to Help You Work With a Contractor

As a last resort, seek out technical friends.  Even if they don’t want to join your startup, you can offer them incentives (small amounts of equity? stipend? cookies?) to help you sort out a good contractor from the likes of, Odesk, etc. and write detailed specs for the contractor to carry out.  With enough beer, your friend may even be persuaded to review the code, or become interested in what you’re doing.

Tip: Make sure to set milestone dates for your contractor, and bonuses for finishing early.  This will keep your project on the top of their project pile.

Women 2.0 readers: Have you seen other successful tactics for finding developers as a first-time entrepreneur?

About the guest blogger: Yifan Zhang is the CEO and co-founder of GymPact, a fitness app that gives you cash rewards for exercising, paid for by those who didn’t get off the couch! She has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, CNBC and Kiplinger’s, and was previously named “Boston’s Most Impressive New CEO” by The Boston Globe. Yifan graduated magna cum laude in economics from Harvard University, and was part of the Techstars Boston class of 2012. Follow her on Twitter @yifanz.

Photo credit: Victorgrigas