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On being a founding engineer.

Founding a company is one of the most rewarding things you can do. There’s nothing like the feeling of a fresh start. You create a new notion workspace, and you have an empty canvas. There are no mistakes there yet; there are no downsides. You can only go up from there, which is a fantastic feeling. You start writing, prototyping, and coding with the energy you get from visualizing where you want to go from here.

In this article, I am going to discuss my experiences in being a founding engineer. And why I am starting my own company now.

In the early days

Nothing beats the excitement of the early days. A small team of founders sits in a coffee shop, garage, or library. There are no external monitors, no specialized desks, and you sit at a random table and work. These are the most fun days for me because you can focus 100% of your time on building the first iteration of your product. There is no 5-step process to deploy code to prod. Production still needs to be created. So you can code your MVP as fast as you can go. You build, build and then build some more to get that first iteration out to users. You want to hit the market, fail, and learn from your wins. Nobody cares if your site goes down because there are no real users. The only thing that matters is how you are going to succeed.


You start to get some traction. You can see users using your app or website. And suddenly, all the peace you had to build turns into a hustle to survive this new mode. You get tickets from users. You try to fix bugs as fast as possible, but it’s just too much now. Time to hire new team members!

Hiring is one of the best parts of starting a company. You get to pick who you are going to build the company with. you interview 10 or 20 candidates, and suddenly there’s one you click with. They like the company’s mission and vision, and you love talking to them. Their energy and enthusiasm are contagious and align with yours. The interview hasn’t even finished, and you are already messaging someone, “We gotta hire this engineer”.

The one thing I dislike about hiring for startups is losing a candidate. Startups have small budgets, and that candidate you wanted gets a 4x base comp offer at a big company, and there is nothing you can do. Oh well, back to sourcing and interviewing.

Once the company grows.

Once the company starts growing, processes begin to appear. You can no longer build as fast as you can. You have to run your feature by product. Can you even have that copy on your website? Let’s run it by four different people. This is one of the best problems to have since it means your company is doing well. You start to take your hands-off code and give it to your new hires. Since you probably know most of the codebase, you can easily delegate tasks, check PRs, and your role changes a lot. Amazing.

Things you learn

  • Don’t grow too fast. It’s great to raise funding, but please don’t 5x your team in 2 months. It’s just not possible for employee #20 to train employee #25 if they have only been at your company for three weeks.
  • Build with users: I highly recommend a quick feedback loop with users. You don’t want to spend five months building a feature you wanted but that no one is going to use.
  • Good managers happen: early employees that build a lot of the product and are passionate about it make great managers! It is usually a seamless transition. But make sure you invest in them to continue to grow their people skills!

From founding engineer to founder

Early employees and founders share the same downsides. If the company goes down, everyone’s equity is worth 0.

The upsides are entirely different. An early employee can get anywhere from 2% to 0.5%. For founders, it’s more like 50% to 100% to start. If the company sells IPOs or becomes profitable in any way, it is fantastic for the founders.

Having been both a founding engineer and an early employee at startups that have gone on to raise 130M combined, I’ve come up to a point where it’s time to start my own. Subscribe below to follow my process.