Could it be that there are many business people, some of who have ideas but no ability to execute, some of who can execute but have no ideas, and a very few who have ideas and can execute on them?
And like wise could it be that there are many developers, some of whom have ideas but cannot build their dreams, some of whom can build but have no ideas, and a very select few that have ideas and can build them?
If these two suppositions are correct, then there are some pairings of business person and developer that can work, including a rare business person who has an idea and can execute on the idea, and who needs a developer who can build but doesn't have an idea?
Of course there's some symmetry here, there are going to be developers with ideas and who can build. They will be looking for business people who don't have an idea of their own but who can execute.
However, out of the spectrum of idea guys, one signal I look for is their desire to pursue their idea. One great way to do that -- teach themselves to code.
It doesn't mean that their ideas aren't any good. But at a glance, if someone has an idea that they believe in enough to teach themselves basic skils... well, then they become more than just an idea guy.
Someone who is unwilling to teach themselves basic programming has no business in a web startup.
When discussions about interviewing and hiring come up, I always like to remember that these things are strategies, and false negatives are simply a cost of doing business. While I'm sure we can find of some great businesspeople with good ideas who didn't teach themselves some simple programming, a strategy of only working with those who did is probably still an excellent filter that will get rid of far more false positives than trip over false engatives.
When I was in university, I was a TA/Tutor and found that even upper level CS students have trouble coding. There are many cases where the students understood the upper-level concepts behind say networking, or DFA minimization but couldn't produce simple Fizzbizz level code.
The problem wasn't apparantly with their intelligence (as they could annunciate and expand on the concepts they were taught in class), or their rationality (they made it through the Discrete Math weedout), or even their determination (they worked hours upon hours outside of class)....
So now I'm one of those who believes that sometimes no matter how hard you try, there's a switch that won't go off to make one a 'coder'.
That said, I think a business guy should at least try to learn coding if his idea demands doing a lot of it to start with.
In fact, if it turned out that someone wasn't able to code, I probably don't want them as a co-founder because I don't think they are smart/determined/focused enough to run a business.
I'll back this up with an anecdote. At a relatively small company I used to work for, the CEO was someone who used to code, some 17 years ago. However, he recently decided that he knows enough about coding to act as the lead developer for that company's flagship product. He then proceeded to drive development into the ground, arguing over the merits of using malloc instead of calloc, globals over locals, and the beauty of goto's.
He successfully runs several multi-million dollar companies, yet his smartest move was stepping back out of the development lead position, and back to that of managing the company.
Did knowing how to code get him where he is today? Ultimately, no. His business savy and contacts did that.
In an office environment, different roles are much more important.
It also means that he was able to learn to code, but not to the standard that your product required.
"Idea guy seeking developer" usually means "I think I have a get rich quick scheme."
A lot of the success is in things like marketing, good UIs, implementation, beating the competition in features, strong partnerships with other companies, creative new solutions, good policies, and lots of luck. The idea guy can't help you with any of that. The devil is in the details, not in the big idea. Most "big ideas" are plain to see, its some kind of technical or creative specialization that helps you rise past your competitors.
I've seen people claim that this will happen.
Based on what I've seen, the odds that the claim is accurate in any particular case are very low.
His big contacts file is useless because his domain is in selling real estate not selling real estate apps.
Sure, the real estate seller may not know about apps, but they do know what works and what doesn't work in the real estate market, what the potential legal issues may be, and where the pain points are. I've never worked in real estate, so I don't.
I suspect that's why so many pure-developer run startups are either things that only interest other developers (project management tools and the like) or things that "everybody" knows about, e.g. yet another Twitter client or social networking thingamajig. There's a ton of cash in vertical markets we don't touch because we don't know the right people in those industries to partner with.
The successful businesses I've worked in(startups that went on to achieve success, or already successful small to medium sized businesses) have all been in vertical markets - from forestry to tourism to retail marketing. You couldn't have built these on developer savvy alone. That may go against the HN philosophy that software developers are the be all and end all of startups, but the reality is that most successful businesses need teams of people of different backgrounds.
Some people genuinely believe in their ideas, enough to pay someone else to do it(not in equity ofcourse). And those are usually the people whose ideas work out in the end.
I got the impression that in the tech world, those who succeed were those who did learn how to realize their ideas by themselves, or at least have an idea about how to realize them.
But then, i may be biased.
Agreed. But "realize" could mean developing it themselves, or finding another way. Here i was assuming the idea guy can't code himself out of a hole, and realizes that shortcoming.
Maybe they need to be looking somewhere else?
I find it ironic how he points out that idea guys tend to undervalue the hard work of the programmer and then at the end he suggests that the idea guy should implement it himself.
So which is it? Is programming a hard-earned skill that should be paid well, or is it just so easy that a (presumably non-technical) idea guy can just pick it up and run with it? You're sending mixed messages.
It doesn't matter if it is easy or hard...if the idea guy won't do it himself, and he doesn't want to pay someone else to do it, it's not going to get done. And that's as it should be. If idea guy starts learning to code, he might learn enough to know what the work is worth, and will be better equipped to make the deals needed to get the hard parts done by competent developers. He may also gain the respect of actual developers; I wouldn't team up with guys who can't code at least a little.
I thought it was a very polite way to approach the topic. I'd be much more tempted to just say, "The only time I work for free is when it is work I want to do, on my own ideas, and where I own the result. Stop emailing me." But, I'm not renowned for my social graces.
I used to just be an idea guy. Then I realized I should learn to program. I'm not the best developer out there, but in an afternoon I can crank out something in Ruby to see if my general concept/logic works. My code will be sloppy, best practices might not be followed, but I can iterate quickly and see if it actually was a practical idea.
Examples of 'idea guys' not understanding is their lack of familiarity with APIs. They think they can just do everything perhaps imaginable, but really there are limitations. Want to crawl the entire social graph of Twitter? Yea, good luck with that. Even with 20,000 API requests/hr, you'll never catch up. You can't just snapshot it also and see changes every day. But an "idea guy" might think that this would be a great idea. It isn't that the programmers turning them down aren't good enough, but just that some things aren't possible with given APIs and unless you're coming to them with $10M+, Twitter isn't going to change their API for you.
Programming can be a hard-earned skill that an intelligent idea guy can acquire. No false dilemma required.
The intersection is getting larger thanks in part to engineers self-deprecating like this, which is potentially good for innovation and potentially bad for my wallet.
The real advantage in telling the "idea guy" to try to build it themselves comes when they realize that programming is difficult. Sure, they could master it if they were willing to put in the time and effort, but their interests center around the business: sales, investors, etc.
At this point, the idea guy has two choices: either understand that they've got to bring something more than ideas to a partnership, or stubbornly cling to the hope that their idea is enough.
The more people that realize that ideas alone have no value, the better.
I should add that most developers don't seem to have much of this knowledge either. It comes from a rare blend of anticipating customer needs, technical understanding, and general pragmatism. The more projects I work on, the more I come to believe that someone who fills this gap is worth ten times more than both the dude with the 'great idea' and the all star coder.
He's suggesting the idea guy work hard to earn the skill of a programmer, or at least learn enough to know what's hard and what's not.
For the majority of Idea Man pitches I've spent time with, there's been a ridiculous amount of assumption involved. These folks are so excited by their own idea, they can't wait to tell me about it. Then what?
Do they want to help me build it? No.
Do they want to design it for me? No.
Do they want to contribute in any way? No.
Do they even usually have money or resources to lay down? No.
Will they pimp it when it's time to? No.
Will they go and seek venture capital to facilitate it? No.
At this point, it is undeniable that their involvement is as close to nil as makes no odds. It may as well be my idea, but usually the ideas I hear are bad, as well. So it would be my idea, that I file away as a concept not worth doing.
And the underlying assumption, of course, that I don't have my own pet projects that I'd much rather develop for free, in my spare time, is ridiculous.
Ideas themselves shouldn't be completely discounted. But if you do not have the impetus to follow up or power your idea, I think that generally speaking you ought to keep it to yourself until you feel like following through in some way or another.
It's as if a person went up to an architect and asked him to build him a hotel with promises of sharing the future revenue stream. Architect responds "I can't, but if you don't have money you could try building it yourself".
There's no easy answer for the penniless idea guy. Perhaps stating (in a very polite way) that—as the biz guy—he should work on his own net worth before generating it for others.
I've also seen people learn to build in order to build their own gazebo, deck, and even a log cabin. It's not a hotel, but it is a useful piece of construction that a person with no architecture eduction can build with only a moderate amount of knowledge and experience. Some development projects are the equivalent of a deck or gazebo: A weekend project for someone experienced, and a two week learning process for someone who's never lifted a hammer (or opened a text editor).
I don't think it's terrible advice for an "idea guy" that doesn't have money. That's not to say it'll be a success. It almost certainly won't. If they're competing with experienced developers, they'll probably lose in the market, but they'll learn more about the value of developer time, and they'll learn how to better interact with developers because of that understanding. Maybe their next project will be more realistic, and they'll figure out how to fairly compensate a developer for their time.
That said, I think your last sentence is very astute. Maybe a self-proclaimed biz guy ought to prove himself by getting money lined up first, either by earning it, or convincing people to invest in him.
Most biz guys make the following offer: "I have an idea; I need you to implement it." Imagine if he could say this: "I have a prototype that I've been working on, but it's pretty amateurish; I need you to make it professional." I know which one I would take seriously.
That's the difference between an "ideas man" and an entrepreneur. And it's the easiest way to successfully differentiate when someone approaches you with an idea.
A real entrepreneur understands that ideas are worthless; only implementations have any value. Thus, they will be ready and willing to pay you (gasp!) for your time.
I, like almost every programmer out there, I'd imagine, have been approached multiple times by people with great ideas. What quickly distinguishes the serious partners is asking them what they can bring -- not will bring, but can bring -- to the partnership. A true partner will show you a rough mockup of their ideas, market research, and a stack of cash they pulled together. The ideas guy will tell you that the idea alone is worth your time.
If you make a prototype that shows promise and show it to me, I'm more likely to start thinking "this is really cool, how can I make this awesome?" than "this person wants me to build something for them for free".
The gist was, if you're a "business guy", I need you. Ok, you can't code, so here are some other ways you can contribute: you can tap into an impressive network to set up meetings with vcs, negotiate favorable terms, successfully navigate the legal system, get my product into the press, massively expand the user base, make sales, and convince people to hand over money....
...but if you think you're a "business guy" because you think up nifty ideas for computer applications but can't code or do any of the above, you aren't useful to me as a cofounder.
For example, I'm currently involved in a seed-stage startup that aims to bring technical and quantitative stock analysis tools to the masses (i.e. protect your 401k by being able to read the market). We have contacts in the finance industry, and each one of those is golden because they bring a wealth of domain experience that is hard if not impossible to find out through books.
Just having the idea in most situations just isn't a lot of leverage for a developer to become interested. But if you pair an idea up with:
Idea + capital,
Idea + connections,
Idea + salesmanship,
Idea + passion + market opportunity + timing etc...,
Idea + hustle,
Idea + mentorship / experience,
Idea + proof of concept, initial customers etc,
Idea + market knowledge with a significant edge over others,
Idea + accounting / misc biz skills
or a combination of those...and then you should be able to find a developer that is able to see enough upside to work with an idea person. The default answer shouldn't need to be 'learn how to code' in most cases. My viewpoint is to not do what you're hopeless at in 99% cases. There's not a lot of leverage there - ideas like speed. It's more valuable to get better at what you're already good at. If you're stubbornly trying to learn how to code and design despite hating the process, you simply didn't exhaust other avenues that yield a more expedient route to launching whatever idea/vision you have.
I did go down the learn how to code/design/market myself route because it's fun to me and that's a form of leverage that gives a potent edge. But I really hate seeing people struggle because they suck at what they are trying to learn, don't enjoy what they are learning but yet are using such things as obstacles to be conquered that they falsely believe are necessary to succeed. Sometimes it's just an excuse not to be doing what you're good at.
Most of the pitches I get from 'idea guys' are very specific technical solutions that flatly will not work as designed because (lacking knowledge) they made some poor assumptions.
Much better would be an idea guy that came and said: "I've found X problem in the market, solving it would be worth Y dollars annually, what approach would you take to solve that?"
In my current startup (with a non-technical cofounder) we delineate this as the 'what' and the 'how'. He has much greater domain knowledge than I do, he describes what the problem is, how painful it is to the customers, etc. I figure out how to best implement solutions to those issues. Obviously it isn't quite that cut and dried, but in general the approach has been working.
Calling my current co-founder 'non-technical' or 'the idea guy' does him a great disservice as he is incredibly capable and the very definition of the kickass get off the ground business guy (wrangling VC, making sales, talking to customers)
Yup, because four years of school and five years of professional experience can easily be replaced with an O'Reilly book and a weekend in front of a monitor.
Yes, idea folks should know something about technology, but this is akin to suggesting that the next time my tooth hurts, I ought to just read a book and go to town with a mirror and a Dremel tool.
I think ideas are a skill just like anything else. Most people can design a web page. Not everyone can design a good web page. Most people can or can learn to program, but that does't mean they can develop a good site (this one is a bit more of a stretch).
As a converse, I know quite a few (very good) developers who have ideas, but those ideas suck. And so do their UIs. And their marketing plan.
I tell them to go talk to developers and find out the developers' Big Ideas and then work on one of them.
You get to work on a startup and hopefully build a relationship that will span multiple products and companies.
As a developer I'm not going to work closely with someone I don't like.
I guess my message would be: Sometimes developers just aren't into you and your ideas. Perhaps you need to try and understand them more.
I'd be interested in knowing how many non-technical people actually consider this issue prior to recruiting a developer to work on a project. Is it obscured because of supply/demand/leverage or is it the case that non-technical people aren't exposed to the personalities of seasoned developers?
Do they have sales, marketing or account management experience? Knowledge of the particular market the product might operate in? Experience setting up and or running a company? An understanding of process change and implementation of supporting services or whatever else is relevant?
You need to sell not just your idea but also yourselves.
Developers can have ideas but there are a bunch of things we're either not good at, don't get experience of or don't enjoy. If you really want to appeal to a developer then tell them how you can fill that gap.
And please, make it a real gap, not one you've got based on some stereotype which may or may not apply to the person you're speaking to.
Case in point - my business partners needed a developer and when I met them for the first time they presented themselves as experienced business men in their niche - sort of 'vertical market experts' as another poster termed it. At no point did either claim they were 'idea guys' - instead taking a more humble approach that they had this idea they wanted to build and would like to hear my thoughts on it. I knew I could work with them because they weren't making such grandiose, ego filled statements from the get go.
This is a good reminder to explain these, since it better puts the idea guys in the dev's shoes.
I think the real value in both lines of expertise is execution.
In the MBAs case, it's not about how many different ideas they can come up with. It's whether they can distinguish which 1-3 ideas that a company must execute on in order to be successful before they run out of money, the competition beats them and/or reach the greatest market potential. Time and money is finite.. very finite.
In the developers case, can they execute quickly and still architect a scalable system, build for flexibility, pick the right technologies/platforms to use.
Ideas are cheap, theres a billion of them and 99% of them have major problems. Theres basically no such thing as a successful idea guy; theres project managers, business development people, developers, money people, etc and lots of them have ideas. Start working on business plan, raising money, building relationships, get in and figure out the subtle details of those ideas.
From reading the article, it seems that you think that developers don't get compensated accordingly, and that's your main concern. If co-founders, for the most part, no one gets paid unless everyone works their role, plus more, which includes a lot of non-technical things that the "idea" guy would need to take responsibility for.
1) The guy had an idea
2) He wants me to do all the work implementing it
3) He will begrudgingly share half the profits with me.
I've started filing people away quickly into two categories. "Idea Guys" think they've done half the work coming up with an idea. I ignore these people. They don't have answers to any questions I ask because they haven't thought their idea farther than "The next Facebook!"
"Business Guys", I suppose I will call them, are much rarer. They want to create a business and happen to have an idea to start with. They've already done research into the market, they know who the competitors are, why this idea would succeed, what they need out of me, what other positions they need filled and already talked to others who have started businesses to get some guidance.
I am happily working with a business guy right now. It was his idea, and he's done plenty of work before we even got together.
I recommend attending Startup Weekend if you want to meet some business people and see the difference between my two categories. Great experience for about $100.
Of course, Quincy was a successful trumpeter and band leader before becoming a musical "idea guy" :-)
I have a background in biochemistry and we don't have 'idea guys' coming around saying "hey, how about curing cancer?".
Also, once you show other hackers that you are willing to do anything and you actually build the beginnings of a product, they will be much more likely to join you because they see your perseverance. This is what I did/am doing.
I like how customer development is helping idea guys prove their worth. If more "idea guys" would take a few extra initial steps towards social proof, traction, etc... they would get much more respective from potential cofounders.