This has been happening at various meetups/hackathons/startup events sufficiently enough to warrant a blogpost. The situation is generally a variant of this, someone has an idea they are really convinced is the next big thing, the only thing stopping that from happening is making an app/website which requires a technical cofounder. The person with the idea is not at a position to afford the costs of hiring a full time/part time developer, so an equity sharing situation makes sense. Hackathons and tech meetups are where developers hang out, so approaching them there seem to be a good idea to find that cofounder.
There are a few problems to approaches like this. Software people who go to events like this gets pitched a fair amount, sometimes repeatedly on the same ideas. Also, we can be a rather cynical bunch, often as result of the kind of work that we do. This can result you not finding that engineer/hacker to build your app during a hackathon. Or they might do so during the hackathon, but simply drop off after.
It can get discouraging, specially if you are convinced about the idea and new to such events. Personally, I like idea people, specially because they bring in ideas from domains and problem spaces I would have no exposure to otherwise. Moreover, I also believe that cross-pollination of people from different groups is healthy and more products coming into the world is a good thing. Therefore, I would rather like to jot down some helpful tips which can maximize your chances of finding a technical cofounder next time you are looking for one.
Understand what motivates engineers: It’s important to understand what motivates engineers beyond just financial opportunity. If such an opportunity exists, you may be in pretty decent shape already and should really drill down on your exact plans on how the app would make money in the future. If you are less sure, there are still options. Can you prove that the app would have a broad user base? A great way to do this would be to prove that you have tried unscalable ways doing this already, be it door-to-door, personal know how, competitors etc. Most ideas can be validated using non-technical approaches. Knowing your problem space well will not only help you to build a business but also lend credibility when you are looking for a cofounder. Another thing that attracts is interesting technical problems or cutting-edge tech, so if your app involves either, it would be a positive. Good technical co founders can be extremely self-motivated once they realize that they have a problem is really worth spending time on.
Manage expectations: It is best to present the idea and the opportunity and not expect immediate commitment. Generally people are busy, but if you have done your homework and can present the problem well, there is always a good chance. Not all engineers want the same thing, and lot are perfectly happy working where they are. If you do not have a proven user base or revenue plan yet, it does involve a certain risk-taking to get on that journey. As someone who wants to be a founder, you should seek technical co-founders with the same risk appetite as you.
Don’t get discouraged: This may sound like packaged advice, but most likely, if someone says no, it is far more likely that they are rejecting the idea and not rejecting you. It suffices to be polite and ask for their reasoning. Most people are nice enough to talk about why they are not willing to work on that idea and you might get valuable feedback.
Understand the software development cycle: The more you understand technology and what goes into building software, the better suited you are to recruit engineers. Timelines/delivery/delays, features and priorities, tradeoffs and optimizations are broad concepts that are just as important as picking languages, tools and platforms. Unsexy things such as debugging a database inconsistency could take up a lot more time than building the next cool feature. Prototyping an app during a hackathon is fun, the real work is afterwards and your story and contribution needs to be compelling enough for people to continue working.
Use existing networks: Leverage existing networks such as college alumni and people you know might work better than approaching random hackers at events. If you have worked on other projects before, or are connected via friends to developers who are working on related projects, you would have a better chance of finding technical cofounders.
Boom times in the valley/economy means that building an startup/company is an attractive prospect, and gives software engineers options on the table. Despite that, armed with a compelling idea, good buisness acumen, and clear idea of your contribution to the project, you have very good chance of recruiting engineers to help found your dream company. Good luck on the journey.