So yeah, it's possible, if you're rich or can get funding before you've got a product.
I've also been approached by countless guys asking me to work on their startup for free or something like 10% equity. Bitch please. I've been a consultant and run all sides of a business, what could you possibly bring to the table besides a nebulous and nearly worthless idea?
To those guys I've started asking for 60% equity and they usually walk away as if it was an insult.
Let me be clear about it. You can run a business with engineers alone and write software. Even one single engineer can run his own software business. If was running a start-up that makes software with two founders do I want one of them to make 0% of the product?
Do you advice the developer to accept the offer for 60% equity ?.
I contracted for a person who built a small but very profitable SaaS app using contractors.
There are some caveats though. The person has a smattering of technical knowledge which prevented him from being completely taken advantage of by contractors. And he was an effective manager (a rarity to be sure). And he knew exactly what he wanted and stayed on top of details of how it was implemented. Although not a necessarily a "programmer" he also knew enough about using Git to review/merge changes. And perhaps most importantly he had the financial backing to complete the project.
I've also worked for other people who didn't have these qualities but figured they'd just hire some people to build some stuff without keeping on top of it or in many cases having a clear vision of what they wanted. Predictably these projects didn't turn out well for them.
But yes, it is possible. I've seen it.
But no way to get building/operating capital? In general forget about it. Most likely not going to fly.
I'm convinced lots of people do this because I've personally seen at least two. But even more try and spend a bunch of money and fail (seen a lot more than 2 of those). The ones who succeed generally don't hang around HN posting startup related buzzwords though so it's understandable they are presumed not to exist.
Citation required. Please post links to the products.
I find the opposite question equally as valid. Why is it assumed that a programmer can bootstrap a successful SaaS alone?
To build an application, you need someone who can identify an opportunity (product market fit.... and that's harder than most would assume). Of course even if you have something customers want, you still often need to help them want it... so you need a marketing/sales guy.
Implementation is the last piece of the puzzle. I think these are completely different skill sets, and a successful company 90% of the time needs 2 or more people to pull it off.
Just look at all those scams on kickstarter, the one thing they're missing is a viable product that an engineer can tell them is impossible.
I've never been able to figure out how non-programmers can sift through mounds of freelancers to find a good developer. And, even if they find good developers, I have no idea how they manage to motivate and retain them.
I'd love to read some stories from successful solo non-programmers. If anyone has some links, please share...
Wildly successful too ... $600k MRR in just a few years https://convertkit.baremetrics.com/
I'm not convinced programmers can either, they can just find the ones that think like they do and weed out the worst of the worst.
Another example? GroupOn. Was a email newsletter first.
I've seen a group of guys go sign up for Wordpress and were generating $2,000/month themselves for a kickstarter-like concept by using plugins. Not all SaaS businesses require a programmer, especially these days.
Will certain models require a programmer at some point? Maybe. Maybe someone just wants to build 10 SaaS newsletter sites that all generate $1,000/month each... $10kMRR in total with no need to hire a programmer.
This friend is a sales ninja, the tech is not an obstacle for him.
If not, then you're the asshole.
 Obviously there are exceptions for instance if you have deep industry experience and contacts(with buying authority) but these people usually also have the money to pay a developer to implement their idea.
If it were the case that this was normally a group of freelancers making a killing, charging high consulting rates, it would be different. But almost in all cases they are using 'freelance developers' because they cannot afford to pay market rates in the US and can't afford benefits. Even in those other countries, there is a global economy. Those developers might be doing OK, but they are not getting wealthy.
If you try to do it as if the developers are separate and not a core part of the team, that can't work either. Either you acknowledge how critical they are to your business or you just take advantage of them and hope they don't find something better and your business doesn't fall apart.
(1) having a technical cofounder, or
(2) raising money instead of bootstrapping.
Either of these alternatives will take time — to find the cofounder or the funders — but this is nothing compared with how much slower you'll move if you're bootstrapping and don't have a pot of cash to fund development with.
And the better your idea is, the easier it will be to find suitable cofounders or funders. So if you find these two tasks to be difficult, this tends to indicate that the underlying idea is not as strong.
My background: I am a non-technical founder of a software startup that has been mostly bootstrapped and mostly solo. My path was made possible/easier by the fact that I have savings from having been a corporate lawyer, and by my wife's stable/good job. Without both of these things, launching a startup would have been even harder.
There's really no hidden secret here, just build if you don't know how learn. It's the best way to learn and the only way to build. No one knows how to build something before they do it.
If I decided to build a CRM for the water consultant market, he brings little to the table for me. What I mean I can find a water consultant that isn't him. If I approached him, pitching on the idea for a CRM that would cost 50% less and be 2x more efficient, he'd likely be open to the idea of at least discussing it. If he said no, I'd simply find a different water consultant to talk to. He if said he'd talk, but only if he got to own after I built it, I'd turn him down.
For him to be a viable non-technical cofounder, he'd need to stop being a water consultant, and start being a cofounder. Those are two separate jobs. He didn't want to discuss that. He could bring value, maybe. But he wanted to own the majority of something he couldn't buy or build himself, and he wasn't willing to become a founder. I wasn't interested in doing business like that.
I was once tried being the non-technical cofounder. In the end I decided it was easier to learn how to code, and that path was super hard.
This part I completely agree with you. If you're splitting equality (relatively) equally. He should be as committed as you are, if he's not, than you need to be compensated extra for it.
Perhaps you meant potential. But then there's potential in most everything. Every manuscript in a slush pile has a certain amount of potential.
I encourage you to try and build those intangible pieces yourself. You'll quickly find it's not trivial in any way.
When you're done building the minimum viable product. You're not done, his value is not used up. You've done only a fraction of the work involved with building a company. The real hard work now begins. I've done this a few times, so i'm talking from experience here. Build it, and they will come... is a fallacy.
You'll need him to get in the door. Yeah, getting in the door of customers is hard, even if you have a product they want/need. You'll need him to help you gain their trust (you're not selling steak knives here, you're selling enterprise software!). High value sales means building a relationship, understanding the process of having clear goals with each engagement, demonstrating the value, integrating feedback, etc. You need an expert who understands sales, and the industry. If he's a consultant, presumably he has this.
You MIGHT be able to do this yourself, but even if you eventually succeed you're probably going to fail a lot before you get it. If he already has the skill set, and he already has the network, and he already has the relationships. He's bringing A LOT to the table. This isn't you working for him, this isn't you working for fee. This is adding his complementary skill set to your own, and building a company.
The one last thing I think every engineer who wants to break out and do their own thing should know. You can outsource product development (not saying you should, just saying you can) but you CAN NOT outsource sales. There are consultants who will help you, there are distributors, but none of that can completely replace having your own dedicated sales/marketing staff. They're augmentations. Building a company is not just having a product, it's having a market, it's knowing the market, and it's having a strategy to penetrate the market. The product is just a part of the company.
I recently quit my job to bootstrap a SaaS. I spend 60 hours working on it a week, and 55 of those hours i'm doing something that isn't coding. I REALLY want to just write some code, but that's not the most important part... not right now at least.
My advice is don't underestimate the value an industry expert who knows sales can bring to the table, and try to be realistic about what your skill set is.
https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses/convertkit ... follow the link to his blog about the "Web app challenge" and he blogs about the entire process as it happened
Edit: recent article by GrooveHQ (non-technical) founder that may be relevant: https://www.groovehq.com/blog/non-technical-founder
So while you probably could do this in your bedroom, alone-alone, chances are you'll end up with an insecure, unstable, broken hacky mutant that costs too much to run and includes things people don't actually want.
But I would say that. I'm the guy you should hire :)
This is optimal if your goal is to focus entirely on sales and raising, as this effectively lets you sell while building the product, which is really hard to do when bootstrapping everything yourself.
Why do you think you want to build a SaaS product though? It seems to me like you're already putting out content pretty regularly. I would recommend moving it off medium to a domain you control and start getting some emails for your list. You can still publish there, but link back to your own site. With an email list, your readers can turn into your customers. As a designer, you can then start building products like books, courses, podcasts, guides you name it which will let you take advantage of the skills you have already. Check out Design for Hackers, for example. Why not use the edge you built up instead of starting at a disadvantage?
I usually end up just doing everything myself. Unless you offer something besides just the idea (money, contacts, industry experience). The partnership will not work.
I've had to quit a few startups over the years myself because my co-founder ended up only offering some ideas. This starts to become a perceived manager->employee relationship (since as the developer, you are doing the majority of the work) and because the idea is their only contribution, it's a problem when it needs to be changed.
This also smacks of someone that loves the romanticized idea of running a startup, but isn't willing to actually put the work into it.
Now, I will only go into business with other people that have at least a couple of years of business experience.
If the other person in the proposed partnership cannot demonstrate equivalent-value skills and equivalent previous success in critical-to-the-business areas where I'm weak (or uninterested) like sales, marketing, biz-dev, enterprise sales, acquiring VC - then my answer is almost certainly going to be "Sure, $8k/month is my usual rate - discounts of 20% for 3 month or longer block bookings. When would youy like me to start?"
If the other person refers to themselves as "An ideas guy!", my rates double, and require 50% up front.
Software development is serious time consuming and often difficult work. Do not ask me to do it for less than market rate without making it very clear that you are going to work just as hard with equivalent skill and experience to make the idea succeed.
I worked on our idea for 3 months and finished it. At the end of the 3 months, he told me that he needed to concentrate on things that made him money and he just wasn't interested in pursuing any new ideas. Since I was poor and still living with my parents, I wasn't able to do anything with my code except use it on interviews when looking for a new job. Another company came out with almost the same idea a few years later and made millions.
The main problem was that he had no skin in the game. I had poured my life into our idea and thought about it every day. He put nothing/very little into it and was easily able to move onto something new because he wasn't losing anything. Everyone needs to take the same amount of risk in a business partnership. This is usually either time or money.
A few years later he continued on with his door-to-door computer repair company and wanted to hire me for $10/hour as a technician. At that point, I was making a salary and had a great position as a junior software developer and pretty much laughed in his face.
Our personal relationship never really recovered. We were good friends before this and at this point, and I haven't talked to him for 10+ years.
This is logical from a developer standpoint, but has it ever worked. Has any one ever paid 50% upfront.
You hustle? You sit there and think what is the literal next step, then you try that thing, reevaluate, and repeat. Then keep doing it until you're rich, broke, or dead. There is always something you can be doing.
Doing something is a strict superset of doing something valuable, the key is to bring value, which the quoted comment was addressing.
Waiting until the product is 'ready' to get the wheels turning on sales and marketing can lose you valuable early insights and make it take longer to see if your product fits the market.
This 100% true and an almost unavoidable occurrence when non-technical and technical individuals attempt to start something together. I'd say it's extremely important that if a non-technical individual is coming to a technical one to build literally everything they dream up, said non-technical individual absolutely must be doing an equivalent amount of work in other areas of the company. Sending emails and taking calls/meetings only gets you so far and will eventually be perceived as "0-net" tasks by the technical individual if they don't result in anything.
Also, non-programmers don't understand how much work goes into building applications.
Never go into sea with someone that doesn't has any experience and just an idea. You will hate it and waste a lot of time.
So you started out already knowing some programmer and thus were not a non-programmer at any point in your SAAS, so you didn't do it either.
> I worked my ass off to become an adequate coder
Then you agree, it's not possible without being a coder.
If you're trying to motivate the OP to learn programming, then that's another thing.