Don't just sit there while the clock is ticking on your business idea. Go where the nerds are.
Almost everywhere you look, the barriers to starting a company are falling. Seed funding is easier to come by, startup costs are lower than ever, markets have never been more open. However, the technical skills required to execute the next groundbreaking idea are more in demand than ever before. If you are an entrepreneurial engineer, the world is yours for the taking. But what if you don't know how to code? What if you can't lead an engineering team? How do you find that code ninja, that "Ruby on Rails" rock star that you need to turn your brilliant insight into a billion dollar exit?
There is no shortage of networking events for start-up people, but they are the last place to look for a technical co-founder. Those meetings are crawling with non-technical people like you, or engineers with ideas they want to pursue. You need to go where the nerds are, where they feel comfortable, and you can't go just as a tourist—you need to go to places like this:
- Meetups There are hundreds of Meetups organized around technical topics. Engineers get together to discuss programming challenges and then drink beer and eat pizza. Stay silent and take notes during the first part. When the beer starts flowing, start asking beginner-level questions, and try to understand the answers. Bonus points: Bring the conversation up a level to broader design decisions.
- Nerd Hobbies If you can work up some enthusiasm for orienteering, dowsing, telemark skiing, Ultimate Frisbee, historical re-enactments, chess, Dungeons and Dragons, LARPing, war gaming, or board games, you'll meet a lot of great engineers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an annual 48 hour-long scavenger hunt called The MIT Mystery Hunt. Volunteer to bring food, sleeping bags, and caffeine to a team and then get out of the way. Bonus points: Actually help solve a puzzle.
- Concerts and Local Jams There's a huge overlap between musicians and engineers, but it does you no good to hang around Justin Bieber shows. You've got to go far off the pop or frat rock scene and into "smart music" shows like Kraftwerk, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, They Might Be Giants, Rush tribute bands and the like. If you can play an instrument, tune up, and drop into a Sunday afternoon open jam session. Bonus points: Bust out an a cappella version of "Meet the Elements."
- Engineering Schools It sounds obvious, and you'll run into competition from the major Internet companies that recruit there, but an exceedingly large percentage of the people at engineering schools are actually engineers. Your local school has speakers, films, discussions, and panels every week that attract possible co-founders for your startup. Pick out talks that are relevant to your project and hang out after the event ends. Bonus points: Audit or actually take a night-school class. It's a great way to appreciate how hard programming is.
- Anything Tolkien or Lucas You've missed your chance to capitalize on the Lord of the Rings midnight openings, but fear not. Consider camping out for the re-reissue of Star Wars: Episode 1, this time in 3D. Gatherings that pay tribute to these mythmakers are easier places to have a conversation, but there's no distraction from the fact that you'll never know as much about Gimli as these folks will. Bonus points: Recount Boba Fett's origin without a crib sheet.
- Hackathons Real computer engineers are so into computer programming that they do it after work too. Companies large and small organize Hackathons so they can find great programmers. Just walk in the door like you know what you are doing, pick a spot against the wall, and find someone to cheer for. Bonus points: Don't spill beer on someone's keyboard.
There are other options, of course, including forming genuine, non-mercenary friendships with school or work friends. That's how I found my technical co-founder, and we've been together for five companies. But you've got to start somewhere, and the clock is ticking on your idea. So don't wait. Get out there where the nerds are.
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