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Idea Guy Looking for Developer (bubblefoundry.com)
145 points by getp on May 24, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 100 comments

The thing that always gets me is that "idea guys" seem to assume that "developers" can't get ideas, like it's a skill that only a select few can possess. Guess what? Everyone has ideas, and being a developer is great because we can actually build our ideas.

If I may be the lone dissenter...

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.

I don't disagree with your statements -- their is definitely a spectrum of each type of cofounder.

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.

Absolutely correct. As a developer, I am willing to work with idea guys as long as they can show their previous work. Success or failure, it doesn't matter as long as they hustled enough to get something done. Just like I am willing to show my technical skills with a portfolio, projects etc.

agreed, and take it a bit further - a developer who is unwilling or unable to teach themselves the basics of business - delivering on time, understanding customer development, financial terms/concepts/ramifications, etc - has no business in a web startup.

I don't think its always a matter of unwilling as at times being unable.

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.

I don't believe that someone who is capable of founding a business cannot learn web programming. Flat out don't believe it. Much of the time, you hardly need to write code as much as think logically and build a product.

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.

Personally, I'd rather work with someone who knows their limits over someone who does a half-assed job (through lack of talent or ability). If only because I'd have to then later clean up said code.

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 a startup, if you "know your limits", you almost certainly aren't going to accomplish as much as you can.

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.

Personally I don't want non-programmers coding. It's a waste of both of our times. I want them to be excellent at whatever else they're bringing to the table. If content deals are necessary, I don't want to have to worry about that, I want the idea guy to lock those up for me so that I can just implement it. I want them to help our product go viral on twitter, or get prominently placed in app stores. Those are two things I hate having to do working solo projects.

In this case, it's really irritating to hear someone play devil's advocate, because you know as well as the rest of us do most of these "ideas guys" don't offer much in return. If they had real domain specific knowledge, big time connections, or heck.. even capital, that'd be a different story. But let's please be honest here - self proclaimed "ideas guys" are looking for free or dirt cheap labor.

I'm sorry you're irritated, but have a little empathy for business guys. Have you ever tried to hire a programmer? It seems like sturgeon's Revelation applies: 90% of everything is crud, and 99.99% of the self-proclaimed anything-guys (business, ideas, programming, investing, whatever) are full of it.

Interesting perspective. Let's agree that 90% of everybody is full of it :)

Speaking for myself, I have established 90% as my lower bound :-)

The thing I never get is this… If the idea is so amazing, then you should be able to find funding to hire incredible developers to build it. If it's not that amazing, but you're convinced you're creative, then use that creativity to find the developers you need.

"Idea guy seeking developer" usually means "I think I have a get rich quick scheme."

Excellent point. I'd also add that most good ideas are hard to recognize. Imagine trying to sell dropbox "Yeah, its like free backups meets FTP. Not sure how we're going to make money" or Facebook "Its the new myspace/friendster!"

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.

A "business person" may be a domain expert in a vertical market. They may have an idea that requires an insight that only comes from years of working inside an industry that a developer, unless they have also worked in that industry, will simply not have. Furthermore the "business person" will be able to network in that industry.

I've seen this happen.

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.

I think this is the black swan of the unsolicited ideas. Do they exist? Sure. I'm sure there's at least one out there. But it's not a case that everyone who wants to talk about swans has to spend a lot of time accounting for. Usually the unsolicited idea is "Clone $BIG_NAME_SERVICE for $500" with an optional rider of "specialized in a fully, profoundly unspecified manner for some set of people".

Except "business person" has no idea how to market applications, what works with online marketing, and how to effectively communicate what the application does. Let alone how to sell apps commercially to skeptical deep pocketed IT buyers who ask questions regarding such "arcane" things like HIPPA or SOX or assurance or compatibility with large enterprise solutions.

His big contacts file is useless because his domain is in selling real estate not selling real estate apps.

Generally I've found domain experts to have a healthy respect for other professions, including developers. I'm not talking about the caricature Craigslist mouth-breather with the awesome let's-clone-Facebook-for-$200 idea.

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.

That's absolutely right. And even if it sounds slightly outlandish here, I think, that's how most businesses are actually created.

Yeah, but then a 50/50 split would make sense, not the 10/90 or 2/98 that they typically ask for.

Isn't idea guy actually domain expert which understand certain problem in a area like nobody else? She or he could be a medial doctor, maybe veterinarian, maybe small business owner, maybe cook, etc. Idea guy does not necessary need to be business guy which means that idea guy might be also a geek - and matching two geeks from different field is a big challenge.

Ideas are easy, yes, but executing on ideas is difficult. Very difficult. Often developers need to spend their time working on production and don't have the time to follow through with the other aspects of the business. That's why founding teams do the best and often those successful founding teams are made up of one "idea guy" to see the vision through.

"...seem to assume..." is an assumption in itself. You're describing people that don't believe others can get ideas. That's not describing idea guys -- that's describing asshats. If you can't tell asshats from good idea guys, you've got a problem.

If you have such great ideas, then why aren't you rich? (Assuming only poor developers get approached by idea guys)

The idea guy has its own place in the market. It is the reason why there're so many consulting firms in the first place(including mine)!

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.

> 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.

>realize their ideas by themselves

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.

That's what I've been doing, and though I'm still very unhappy with developer churn, being able to hire and fire at will is convenient. It's just very hard to find someone that doesn't have a project mentality and is prepared to do great work.

Actually, I know a heck of a lot of developers who don't have very many ideas. They come into work, do what they are told to do and then go back home to watch TV...

... and these idea people have automatically weeded those developers out by looking for people on GitHub.

Maybe they need to be looking somewhere else?

That's actually a good point. Certainly don't look for programmers who already enjoy coding their own ideas, look for programmers that are solely motivated by money and couldn't care less about your idea.

Here's the funny thing about learning to program vs. hiring a developer. I politely decline offers to work on ideas that my non-programmer friends come up with. However, if one of those friends came to me and asked to learn PHP, I'd happily spending a few evenings helping them out. It's a difference that very few "idea guys" seem to understand.

This a thousand times. It's also the perfect thing to remind you that you're not being at all "ungenerous."

"Helping them out" with PHP? With few exceptions, teaching a non-programmer to write production code takes years.

"They both think that less skill is required (so the programmer doesn’t deserve much compensation) and that less time is required (effectively creating a very low hourly rate for the programmer, given the flat rates that are often proposed)."

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.

The alternative is paying a competitive rate, or splitting equity in a fair way, or both. If an "idea guy" doesn't want to get his hands dirty and doesn't want to pay someone to do the actual work, well...screw that guy. Nobody owes him anything.

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.

For many things, getting at least a prototype isn't rocket science. It doesn't have to scale, be well written, have every feature out there or really even work all that well. Most developers just don't want to enter into a situation where the idea guy is just only contributing ideas (and generally not paying them for their work).

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.

> 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?

Programming can be a hard-earned skill that an intelligent idea guy can acquire. No false dilemma required.

That is certainly so. However at the intersection of two sets {draws two circles}: 1) Idea guys with money, 2) idea guys who think programming is easy ... there probably isn't much interest in paying engineers.

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.

IMO, both you and smokeyj are correct.

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.

In my experience, the most important knowledge the idea guy lacks isn't how to code, it's how to plan and structure the project so that it can actually get done given whatever constraints. In order to get this, some level of technical understanding and grokking of programming is required, and this is the main asset that learning basic programming can bring to an idea guy, even if he never gets anywhere near good enough to write production code. Idea guys without that grounding tend to be overly ambitious and extremely susceptible to scope creep, not to mention more difficult for programmers to work with. These types of problems can easily be fatal to a project.

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.

It's not simply that programming itself is difficult, it's that ideas conceived without knowledge or consideration of the technical implications are frequently more difficult to implement than a non-technical person realizes.

"Frequency" is not the correct nomenclature; "Always", please.

It's a hard-earned skill and in trying to do it himself, the idea guy will learn to appreciate that fact.

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.

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.

I considered myself an idea guy...but I spent the last 11 months trying to learn php, html and css and I finally just launched a company. I probably could have done it in one third of the time with a developer on board, but it's been rewarding to do it on my own and learn so much. Now I need a marketing and seo guy...but I'm going to try to figure that out too :)

It’s both. The idea guy’s belief is twofold: (1) that a developer can do it easily and (2) that they can’t possibly do it. The difficulty of the idea isn’t an issue. It’s the extremity of the idea guy’s beliefs about the difficulty. This article is about pulling both sides of those extremities into a sane middle.

There's also the (insulting) concept that many of these folks seem to have, which is: Did it never cross your mind that a lot of us spend the bulk of our free time developing our own ideas?

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.

I just had an idea man want to pitch something to me but he wanted me to sign an nda before he would even tell me anything about it. Sorry, i'm not going to put my projects at risk just to hear it.

What idea guys don't understand, is that words will never be able to describe the full picture, and if such words existed, no one would read the hundreds or thousands of pages that comprise them.

This is an issue that comes up over and over. The real problem is a mismatch of supply and demand: there are lots of ideas out there, and not enough developer hours to bring them all to fruition, so a guy with an idea will need to offer more than just the idea if he wants to attract developer time. Someone who fails to understand this problem probably shouldn't be trying to start a business.

I'm always amused at the "why don't you try building it yourself" response developers give when they're asked this kind of question. The amount of knowledge you need to execute an idea is staggering. Deep down they know there's a 99.9% chance the guy will fail.

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 seen people learn to code in order to build their ideas. It's even occasionally turned out OK.

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.

Just creating and publishing a simple app or proof of concept can make a huge difference in generating interest from possible partners.

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.

Or even "I paid someone to do some mockups and/or a small prototype, but I need someone to make it really work properly". That would indicate they'd gone beyond the 'idea' stage in to concrete action, and aren't afraid to put up a bit of cash to get started.

>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.

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.

that's exactly what I did, I decided that nobody was going to build my product but me, so I taught myself Rails, went to developer meetups, and 3 years later I have a nearly finished product and am working full time as a Rails developer ... True it's taken me a long time to learn the skills necessary to build, but it's been a worthwhile journey!

That's pretty inspiring. Congratulations. Out of curiosity, was your idea in a domain that you had experience with in your pre-developer life?

yes, most definitely ... I saw the need for this, and amazingly 3 years later, still do ... whether or not the endeavour is successful, the benefits of DIY'ing it far outweigh the benefits of just paying someone else to do it ...

Even if you can't perfectly execute on your idea, the fact that you've built something yourself probably means that a) you care enough about the idea that you want to see it built one way or another, and b) you've thought through how the product will work sufficiently to build something. I would guess that most people who come to developers with ideas haven't actually thought the product though very much.

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".

There was such a great hn post about this a while back, wish I could remember where...

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.

This is effectively cutting out the middle man. They're not looking for a developer, they're looking for an investor who can do the development too.

I don't think that ideas are worthless when they are coming from a position of deep domain knowledge.

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.

I think a partnership can make sense if there is complimentary leverage, i.e. both parties bring something to the table that the other can leverage to their benefit + the combination of both parties creates additional leverage.

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.

Absolutely. Mutually complimentary leveraging maximizes team members strengths instead of focusing on their weakness. I love the analogy of that my high school coach used to use all the time about the Quarterback and the Wide Receiver. Both are necessary components to scoring. One throws, one runs, and as a dispassionate evaluator, coach would always argue that the best thrower throw to the best runner, instead of suggesting that either the thrower or the runner should do the opposite. I think solving technical problems is similar. Hustlers should hustle and hackers should hack, so that together problems can be solved, and solutions improved. Because in the end, that's what important. Isn't it?

I think idea guys (or non technical cofounders) would do much better finding a programmer to work with if they approached developers more collaboratively.

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)

> Second, why not learn to make it yourselves? Without knowing what you want to do I can’t say how hard it’d be, but often it’s a lot easier than you might think.

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.

Dentists don't work on themselves, either. The first step to getting contributors to your project is to start coding the project and showing it off. If your prototype code is crap, at least it still demonstrates your idea in a concrete way and gets people viscerally excited about it.

There seems to be an assumption that idea guy == business guy. Also that idea guy has no knowledge or understanding of anything technical. And that somehow idea guy is always trying to scam you.

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'm a marginally successful product guy and I regularly get asked by people how to find developers to implement their Big Idea.

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.

Having gone through this process several times, I've found that the most important part of the 'idea vs implementation' equation is 'mutual complementarity'. Regardless of where the 'idea' comes from the participants must agree both on the 'problem statement' ie. 'having multiple information screens in a single household is inefficient' and on the 'problem solution' ie.'unify information screens'. If you agree on this, then you simply lay out the tasks required to complete the work. Finally, the skills needed to complete the task should only overlap in accordance to the quantity of work that needs to be done. So, in starting out, when it's important to have the breadth of skills, it's important to minimize the overlap. So while the Idea person may be the developer, they may also be the designer, the marketer, the seller, the writer, the networker, the motivator, or the enabler, all essential elements to successfully solving a problem statement. So the a priori ideas that a)ideas are negligible compared to implementation eg 1% inspiration vs. 99% perspiration and b) the lone genius has a higher success rate, appear in retrospect to be false, since in actuality it appears that [two is indeed the magic number](http://www.slate.com/id/2267004/pagenum/all/#p2)

This article talks a lot about money and time but doesn't mention the simple fact that some developers (or is it only me) won't want to work with certain people.

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.

> As a developer I'm not going to work closely with someone I don't like.

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?

To take what a lot of people are saying a little further - having the idea isn't enough, they need to be asking what do they bring to the project in terms of execution.

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.

I think it's the presumptuous nature of stating one is an 'idea guy' and all the connotations that sort of naturally follow from there... aka, we poor developers lack some special creativity gene or something. Not a good way to start a business relationship.

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.

Well said. There are some excellent points that I tend to leave out, like opportunity cost and the importance of marketing and promotion for the product to really take off.

This is a good reminder to explain these, since it better puts the idea guys in the dev's shoes.

To some degree both ideas and developers have become commodities. One doesn't need an MBA to come up with an idea and most people can learn some basic levels of programming.

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.

I agree with the article, but one thing makes me wonder. Initially one reason that developers are hesitant is because the difficulty of the project is underestimated. Layer, the author says to do it yourself, it isn't too difficult. This seems to be a bit of a contradiction. While I understand that easy is a relative term and agree that learning to code isn't too difficult, some may take that suggestion to mean that " if I can learn how to do it, your skills can't beer worth that much." Not everyone will think that, but some will. But I guess that's another clear warning sign not to work with them.

"Idea Guys" make me laugh. Theres the old sayings about "10% inspiration and 90% perspiration", "the devil is in the details", etc are usually ignored by the idea guy, they think they get away with just spouting a few ideas and be done.

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.

You know what would get me excited? A post that advertised, "Domain expert with deep understanding of high value business problem and strong selling skills looking for technical cofounder". Ring me up when that guy posts.

As one of the (apparently rare) programmers-sans-ideas, I look forward to such a post.

I'm interested to see what you think about coming on board as a co-founder if you believe in the idea. I believe I'm an "idea" guy, but definitely don't undervalue a developer's skills or time, hence why I'm beginning to learn as well.

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.

I get caught in a conversation with an "idea guy" about once a month. The situation boils down to:

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.


I have a great idea for a song, but I just need someone musically inclined to write and perform it. I'd be willing to give them 10% of the earnings when it hits number 1 on the billboard charts.

You're joking, but if Quincy Jones says that to Rod Temperton, you can bet there's a number one song coming out of this :-)

Of course, Quincy was a successful trumpeter and band leader before becoming a musical "idea guy" :-)

I find it interesting how often this happens in the space of internet start-ups.

I have a background in biochemistry and we don't have 'idea guys' coming around saying "hey, how about curing cancer?".

This is why if you're really dedicated to your idea, just learn how to code. It sounds very ominous to a non-hacker to just "learn coding," but it makes everything else easier.

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.

How many times is the same blog post going to get written? I feel like this is the same 1000 words I read a few days ago on the same subject.

I personally think you are an "idea guy" until you finally pursue your first startup, then your perspective changes when you see the actual process.

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.

The basic naming used is somewhat insulting - it's basically indicating that developers don't have ideas.

I took that title as the question that everyone asks. It's unfortunate, but it's true. "I'm just an idea guy; do you know any developers?" is the platitude of the startup scene, tech or otherwise.

I don't disagree it's a common refrain, but still rubs me the wrong way all the same. If you're the idea guy and you want 'just' a developer, go put some bids on elance and run with it (and yea, there's some good devs on elance but they're overshadowed by the rest).

Your ability to sell your business plan to a bank or VC and get funding, thus paying your developer/programmer hourly wages, is a good test of how well you will run the company.

The other parts are hard - getting and making best use of contacts, marketing, scheming - and 'idea people' often tend to be better that than developers.

Why doesn't he team up with the Winklevoss twins? I am sure the can find some smart but naive undergrad programmer who can code up their ideas and let them keep all the money. (Sorry about the sarcasm.... couldn't resist....)

Seems like Idea Guy, Developer Guy, Designer Guy, Business Guy MatchMaking Service is yet to be solved/filled.

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