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Please stop asking how to find a technical co-founder. (humbledmba.com)
364 points by benehmke on June 30, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 103 comments

Good post.

Speaking as a technical guy, my default position is to be turned off by co-founding with a business guy unless they have an amazing track record. I like the advice of earning a technical co-founder.

I just wish more business guys realized their ideas aren't that special, aren't a magic way of printing money and just coming up with the idea doesn't entitle you to 75% of a two-man venture. It doesn't even really entitle you to an extra 10%.

In the beginning, your job is probably going to be to find a place to work, deal with the guy who's installing the Internet line, buying computers, buying food, buying and assembling furniture and generally just making things work. That's all very unglamorous work but, depending on the venture, it's quite likely your (alleged) business skills will be of very little value (while you're building a PoC/PoS/MVP).

I don't think I'm alone (as a technical guy) in generally finding business guys to have an inflated sense of self-importance who often want to treat technical people as an exchangeable/replaceable commodity.

Because non-technical people lack the skill of implementing ideas in code, their experience in following through with ideas and learning from that process is extremely limited.

Clearly, coming up with ideas and trying them out is not something you can only do in code, but when you do code you do that all the time. Every day, every hour, maybe even several times an hour.

Ironically, a self-described non-technical "idea guy" has relatively little experience in coming up with an idea, implementing it, testing it and iterating on it.

I'm speaking in general terms of course, some "idea guys" are simply brilliant and have an amazing vision. But they're the rare exception.

They all think they are the rare exception.

Most of them think they have a great idea, revolutionary, really. It's not, of course, but they're too inexperienced to realize that.

Often the focus of their idea is the consequences of their new fangled web service once it already exists and have already succeeded. They tend to focus on how cool it will be when it exists, when their idea has already materialized, has made a dent in the world and has a great amount of users and a good reputation.

Rarely do they focus on the difficult part: how to get there from here. How to solve the chicken and egg problem. And because they don't focus on that journey, they tend to miss things, like they say the idea will attract people of type A, but when you ask them about a problem they introduce attribute X that clearly isn't attractive to type A, and yet they don't tweak the idea to fit the new circumstances. This is because they are bad at making mental models, unlike programmers they don't make or use mental models every hour of every day.

But it's the idea they think is great, they usually don't claim to be the next Steve Jobs.

> It doesn't even really entitle you to an extra 10%.

Depends on the capabilities of the business guy. The best idea in the world, with the best technical execution in the world, is worth precisely $0 without the capability to bring it to market: to build sales channels and drive growing revenues.

This is a real skill, often over-looked by gung-ho coders with a neat idea. If you don't have the contacts and the experience of engineering a proper bis dev strategy, you ain't going anywhere.

So, you need a sales guy.

I don't think I've ever met a self-described "business guy" who wasn't a student.

If someone is a great salesman, they are a "sales guy". If they write ads, they are a "marketing guy". If they allocate capital, hire and fire, and lobby the CEO for more funds they are "managers".

When people say "business", it means they don't know what they are able to do, but want to make money. Or that they want to be the manager, but don't want to say it.

I don't know how a student could call himself a Business Developer and keep a straight face.

What does that make the CEO?

The "whatever the hell I need to do to make you and this business successful" guy.

The guy that talks to other CEOs, goes to CEO conferences, decides on strategic development and signs deals.

You forgot to mention the golfing.

Same thing.

"The guy that goes to jail."

If business guys want to earn their chops, there are a bajillion open source products out there that a solid consulting or VAR business could be built of off. Learning how to, for example, configure file servers with samba for small businesses, or set up blogging platforms, are a good way to get some technical chops too, and is most likely going to take less time to get good at than becoming a kickass programmer. And it's more practical experience than telling people about your awesome idea that just needs to be implemented.

In other words, there are a lot of business opportunities for which a majority of "the technical part" is already done.

That's called consulting, generally not really seen as a startup.

I don't really get your point? You seem to be telling people without technical skills to go get into non-scalable business models?

I'd venture to say that many ideas don't qualify as being a "startup", even if they are "generally" seen as such.

I fail to see what's scalable about an idea without implementation, making the end result, a non-scalable business model (as a business that doesn't have an implementation by definition isn't scaling), the same.

My point is that if you're a business guy who just has an idea, and doesn't have any business creating/building experience, you're going to have a hard time getting technical people on-board. You can get business creating experience without having some Super Duper Awesome Unique Idea that requires a technical guy. And you can do this yourself and earn some tech chops at the same time, which will help at selling your "It's the Vimeo of Youtubes!" idea to other, more technical people.

A successful consulting business is more valuable than having an idea that hasn't been implemented. Having had an unsuccessful consulting business is also more valuable than solely having an idea that hasn't been implemented.

The problem here may be pride: being a person with an idea is seen as a more desirable state to be in than executing on someone else's idea.

The examples he gave are misleading; they tend to suggest consulting.

But his point is right: There are applications that have been written for a small number of clients, but languish because getting that amount of success is something a developer can do on his own. In other words, it's tee'd up: There's a business case, a product and there are existing users.

What remains needed is someone who can get additional users, grow the application, leverage the business, etc.

It's such a good idea, in fact, that I don't know why there isn't a bigger 'reverse market' of devs looking for a business partner. Maybe because once you've got to that point you start thinking you don't need an MBA to do business.

Agreed, my examples were contrived, and there are better ones, but that doesn't mean one can't build a business off of them (and I know people who have).

All one needs to do is go to freshmeat or ohloh to see loads of stuff that could be leveraged to fulfill a need and ultimately build a business. You know that it fulfilled at least one person's need, because it was created to scratch an itch. Sure, maybe they aren't polished or sellable out of the box, and many of them are infrastructure (rather than end-user-product) related, but that's where the work of building a business comes in.

I don't really get your point?

It allows a 'Business Guy' to prove that they have what it takes to grow and manage a technical business.

"If you don't have the contacts and the experience of engineering a proper bis dev strategy, you ain't going anywhere."

Sorry, complete nonsense.

You could flip it and it would be just as true (that is, not at all):

Speaking as a business guy, my default position is to be turned off by co-founding with a technical guy unless they have an amazing track record. I like the advice of earning a business co-founder.

I just wish more technical guys realized their code isn't that special, isn't a magic way of printing money and just coming up with the implementation doesn't entitle you to 75% of a two-man venture. It doesn't even really entitle you to an extra 10%.

In the beginning, your job is probably going to be to find a place to host, writing alpha CRUD apps, buying computers, buying food, buying and assembling furniture and generally just making things work. That's all very unglamorous work but, depending on the venture, it's quite likely your (alleged) coding skills will be of very little value (until you've found a market).

I don't think I'm alone (as a business guy) in generally finding technical guys to have an inflated sense of self-importance who often want to treat business people as an exchangeable/replaceable commodity.

If your technical cofounder isn't the most important part of getting your startup off the ground, then your idea is probably not technically novel/interesting, an maybe you should hire it out to an external team.

The difference in results across two developers can be incredibly pronounced; sometimes, those egos are very much earned.

Personally, I started a company without a business guy and no external funding. It was incredibly difficult to do without external capital, but we own it, and we're not beholden to external interests. We've hit a million a year in revenue, and are poised to completely eclipse that. I've had to step up to effectively serve as CEO and CTO, but without the code, there'd be nothing to sell.

I'm not claiming that 'business' doesn't matter, but rather, that compared to the people that imagine and then create the things you're going to sell, the usual business guy -- minus any other specific skills in the field in which he's working -- is a commodity.

Last week I was approached by 2 business type guys looking for a technical partner to start a business. One of these guys I already knew from years back. Immediately I got the impression that these guys were very passionate and very serious about their idea. It helps that their idea was a good one.

What really impressed me is they had already done a lot of the leg work. They picked out a name and had a logo designed. They had used mocking software to mock up most of what will become v1. They had written content for the entire website. They had already started using their competitors products which only further validated their idea. They had also reached out to their contacts to see if the idea had legs and if people would use it. They had a big vision for what they wanted to do.

When guys come at me like this, it gets me fired up and makes it hard to say no. They aren't looking for a free ride and they don't expect/want you to do all the work. They needed a guy to build it and they wanted an equal equity partner.

That is how you land a technical co-founder.

It really illustrates a divide in understanding. Some people think being a business guy is all about having an elevator pitch when it's really about having a well-developed spec. Otherwise, you're looking for a technical cofounder who is also a product guy, which is very expensive indeed. Product development is the grass-roots of business, the "steak" from which "sizzle" is sold.

absolutely - they key point is that they actually took halting steps at 'implementing something specific' [ by implementing I dont mean writing code.. it could be cardboard flash cards of the workflow ]

I'm endlessly surprised to see how rare this is.

A key point here is that you already knew one of the guys.

I think it's a point to consider but I think the main point is that these "business" people showed passion and had delivered on that passion by creating mockups, logos and so forth.

It's very easy to meet technical people. Conferences, meetup groups, hackathons, etc. Just go where they go and start hanging out.

You don't earn a technical co-founder any more than you earn your first secretary. Every person who is recruited to join a business must be convinced that he or she is going to get something out of the deal.

The problem quite simply is that there are a lot of wannabe entrepreneurs out there who expect someone with technical chops to join them when they a) don't have an existing relationship, b) don't have a proven track record of execution and c) don't have anything to give besides equity that isn't worth anything. In other words, "co-founder" is little more than a title bestowed upon the person you need to build your product but can't actually pay to do the work.

It's no surprise that it's hard to find a "co-founder" of any type under these circumstances. When somebody you briefly spoke to at a meetup asks you to be a "co-founder" in exchange for 10% of a company that doesn't exist yet, you're naturally going to be skeptical. If that person adds a reasonable salary to the equation, you're far more likely to take the proposition seriously.

Additionally, I think it's worth pointing out that wannabe entrepreneurs have a lot of misconceptions about what type of technical skills they need. Instead of looking for someone who can build a basic web app (which is what 99% of them want to build), they look for a hipster developer whose resume is filled with all the buzzwords of the day. You do not need a Ruby on Rails developer with MongoDB experience to build a web application where individuals can organize and share pictures of their pet goats.

This comment should be higher up. I think that the commenters are mostly overexcited technical people (I am also technical) because this post panders to us.

In reality, you have to "earn" technical cofounders like we have to "earn" business cofounders. I hate sales/meetings/trying to raise money, so it would be great to have a cofounder to do those things, but I have to "earn" a good one.

It's nothing more than people having to prove themselves to each other, which is natural. The only content in the post is the old chestnut of people overvaluing ideas.

I think you de-stress the 'having an idea' too much. Having a truly great idea -will- attract a co-founder. Well, if they hear it. It's not a magic spell.

Also, being the 'idea guy' might be over-rated, but being the 'vision guy' is definitely the bee's knees.

At a previous company, 1 man was the vision behind the entire product. I can't tell you how many hour-long meetings were ended in 5 minutes when he showed up and made it all clear. (This was after things got really busy and cloning him started to seem like a good solution.) You could bring any question about the direction of the product to him and he would have a good, clear answer.

Without him, I really doubt the company would have been a success.

Thanks for your comment wccrawford. The other day I was thinking very hard about why I admired a former colleague of mine so much but couldn't pin it down to something concrete. Reading your comment made it suddenly all clear - it was the vision. Just like how you described it having the "vision guy" in any meeting cuts out a lot of unnecessary crap and made the team focused. It's very hard to understand or even describe how powerful this is unless one has experienced it first hand. Lucky me!

It's true that those people are valuable. But would you really believe that this guy was the "vision guy" if he'd just said so? The guy in your story did earn it, so it kind of affirms the OP.

Would you believe I was a programmer if I just said so?

Only if the answer didn't matter. Which is the way it should be. And just like anything else, the only way to prove is to do. It didn't take long to see that he had a clear vision of the product and its destination.

He never identified himself as the idea guy, or anything like that. He actually self-identified as a sales guy. (And he was, too.) But if all he did was bring vision to the table, he still would have been invaluable.

I don't disagree with you. I'm just pointing out that there's a difference between being "a guy with an idea" and being a guy with a proven record of providing ideas. The latter definitely exist and are valuable, but I did not get the impression that post was trying to say anything to the contrary.

One thing that irritates the hell out of me every time is meeting a 'business' guy with the world's best idea, who is prepared to let a lucky developer have 10% of the venture in return for building the damn thing.

I am yet to meet a developer who has not had this very same experience.

Agree completely. Was a business or rather "non-tech" guy - taught myself HTML4-5/CSS2-3/jQuery + basic C# - coded the entire design, UI etc [and still do it] - and do basically every server install, git, software setup etc etc. This effort was enough to find me my other technical co-founders who wanted to be involved. You've got to put in the effort otherwise you don't get respect in my opinion.

I've always held the view that any business venture you go in - you need to understand it from the ground up. If you're in tech - learn tech. If you're in construction - learn how to build 'something' [house etc]. If you're in finance - learn finance. Understand that "build a twitter script for me" - can't happen in 2 days [I think this comment is on "par" with the original poster's question. I smile now when "non-tech" people say to me they are building a web startup "exactly like twitter in scale in 5 days using NoSQL and the latest caching techniques" .... right ... haha]

I find the concept "strange" of "i have an idea but I don't have technical skills - but because of this idea that gives me the right to own 99.9% of the company". There isn't an " i " in the word "team". If you're a co-founder - it's an inherent facet of the word that you "co-found". The only exception I can see is that unless someones invested a whole heap of cash and others haven't - this is what changes the equity split. But that's up to the team to figure out.

Call me old fashioned - but thanks Henry Ford

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

And thanks Thomas Alva

"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

The list goes on. You get the gist.

I agree with this guy. Learning some very basic technical skills is very easy and can help you a lot.

A small tip I'd like to give to any non-tech person. Is to watch Stanford's CS106a lectures on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps8jOj7diA0

You can watch the whole thing in about a week. It gives you a decent grasp of what coding is. And they use a very friendly language that anyone can understand.

It's a very small effort that will make it much easier for you to talk and understand tech people. Worth your time in my opinion, take a look.

Also, it's important to note that there's almost always many alternative routes that you follow to get somewhere. While learning code yourself is a great route. It's for sure not the only one. I think the most common solution for people looking for a technical co-founder is to stop looking for a co-founder and look for an employee. Which can become a co-founder in the future once you get along. The article talks about this as well.

You've probably not met good business people but "idea guys" that, as you say, have the greatest idea since sliced bread and want you to build it for 5% equity. These people are a dime a dozen and generally worthless.

The thing is that good business people are exactly like good hackers: Very rare. Good business people will never approach you with a good idea, they'll approach you with a thought-out strategy, proof of concept, money and customers. The idea guys are like people that have once made a wordpress theme and know basic HTML calling themselves hackers.

business people get a bad rep because everyone thinks they can be one if they can come up with a decent idea and wave their arms around a bit.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is true that competent entrepreneurs are extremely rare.

Here is an example of one of my cases dealing with such.

Mr. P schedules a meeting. He is familiar with technology I have designed. He has an idea to enhance it with new functions, combining it with another technology he has licensed and market the combined product. He already has 10 employees, an office, an incorporated company, a working prototype board, and a reasonable contract. Before the end of the week we have signed a contract, which I had no concerns about, and he has written me a check for $1.2 million. I then ramp up, hire, expand and integrate my designs with his, and a year later the product is demonstrated at trade shows which leads to sales.

Here is an example of an incompetent idea guy. He wants to make umbrellas, briefcases, and hats that are made out of fabric which is a combination solar array and video screen. They will be self powered and show video advertisements which are downloaded wirelessly and which create income for the umbrella user. He has no technology for any of this, but that is my job. It should be a simple matter since solar, wireless and screens are all mature industries. I am to fund all development and manufacturing in return for 5% equity in his new concern.

That one is probably the most coherent and well developed of the "ideas" I have heard over the years from these characters. Don't worry, he has contacts in the industry, connections that will make UmbrellaScreen Ltd a guaranteed billion dollar company. It can't possibly fail.

Fortunately, it's a wonderfully quick way of weeding out the idiots.

Make it your first question, "How much equity are you planning to give this person when you find them?"

Then you can threshold your response, one way to do that might be: < 45% hang up and walk away. >= 50% take the second meeting.

You will pretty instantly weed out all of the "I'm going to change the world, won't tell you how unless you sign an NDA, and I'm being GENEROUS by offering you 10% if you do all the work." folks.

It may be rude to ask this first but your time is valuable and really it's like bidding in bridge, a shorthand to let you know if there is a game contract in there somewhere.

I have been thinking about this exact strategy for a while. Like most programmers, I often get approached by "idea" people and I am thinking about telling people right away that they shouldn't even pitch unless they offer >= 50%... Like you say "your time is valuable".

During 2002 (post-bust) I got approached 5 times with the sweet deal of developing a product for Nothing, and no specifics at all for equity down the road. Got to be a joke with my technical friends - How many are you up to today?

I used to call those "dot com dreamers".

What would you consider fair and reasonable? I'm one of the people who needed to read this article, because I am not as technical as I need to be to see my idea through, but I'm also not a "business" guy--and I am coming into this endevour with little to no baggage or pre-conceived notion on how things work--I honestly thought if I ever did find someone technical (I'm paying freelancers right now) it would be a 50/50 split--but in your opinion is that undervaluing a technical persons worth on a project?

I'd say 50/50 if the programmer works for free (and you bring something to the table), up to 90/10 if you pay them a decent salary. If you pay a full salary, you don't need to justify your involvement too much, though that can be a problem in itself - the tech guy might not really think too much of you or the project, and just wants the paycheque.

If you were pitching to a bank or VC for funding, not a tech guy for his time, what your pitch be? Domain expertise? Your existing IP? Your UX design skills? Your sales skills? Your organization and drive? Your killer business plan? I'm assuming there's a market for the product, but you need more than that.

There's not much justification for less that 50%. The only reason for you to take less than 50% is if you won't be contributing much, and if that's the case, who would want to partner with you? Or if you get a developer who is really impressive, in which case you could offer them more.

A 50/50 split means your non-technical contribution is worth the same as building the entire product, top to bottom, front to back. Having an idea for a certain software feature takes only a tiny fraction of the time it takes to implement that feature. So if you're just the "idea guy" or even the "vision guy," you're going to be putting in way, way less work than the technical guy.

So, what more can you do for the company? Although building the product is a huge endeavor, there are many smaller, administrative tasks involved in running a business. M of these are dreadfully boring compared to building the product, but if you want to justify your 50%, you probably need to take them all on yourself. Here are some of those things:

- Accounting and taxes, whether you do it yourself or hire an accountant.

- Dealing with lawyers. It doesn't stop with the operating agreement.

- Getting money, one way or another. Even though you're not paying your programmer, you'll have plenty of expenses.

- Paperwork: bills to pay, forms to fill out, forever and ever until your business ends.

- Choosing and applying for insurance providers, credit card processors, bank accounts, lines of credit, etc..

- Managing ad campaings.

- Blogging and promoting your blog.

- Hustling the tech press.

So now, as the business guy, you're thinking, "I can do all that!" And you certainly can. But that's not enough. You have to be _good_ at all those things to justify your split with an above-average coder. And I know from experience that these tasks do require talent and skills to do well.

For example, hiring lawyers and accountants may seem like a no-brainer. They're the experts; you just have to pay them so you can lean on their expertise, right? I'm afraid it's not so easy. Unless you hire true superstars--whom you probably can't afford--they're not just going to "take care of it for you." Getting the most out of hired experts like lawyers and accountants is a skill in itself, and you can easily mess it up. If you're skeptical, just read about all the startups that got into trouble despite (or because of) the advice they received from experts.

And that's just one example. The same applies to all the business tasks I listed above. So sure, you can do them, but you also need to have some unique talents for those things if you want to earn the same amount as the guy who's building the entire product.

There are two sides to it. It depends on whether you're overvaluing your own contribution. What exactly will you do while a technical cofounder is building your product? If you don't have a solid answer, you're not contributing much.

On the other hand, technical people, like many people, value money. Hiring an employee #1, rather than looking for a cofounder on equity basis, is the right move for some people. #aaronpatzer

This is excellent, thank you.

I've already had my fill of "idea guys". Somehow, almost every one seems to think that merely coming up with a cool idea while drunk one night automatically entitles them to 50% of the profits (after YOU build and ship it).

A successful startup requires all aspects of a business:

- leadership

- sales

- marketing

- market research

- competitor research

- product research

- product development

- product shipping & deployment

- contacts in key areas related to your business

- strategic planning

- financial management

- employee management

- investor management

- lots and lots and lots and lots of paperwork

- and of course a million other little things you discover along the way

Some of this can be learned as you go, but the most likely startups to succeed have a large portion of these areas covered by the founders, at least in the book learning sense.

So whenever I'm approached by an idea guy, my questions usually go like this:

- "Great idea. So who else is doing it?" (red flag for "nobody")

- "Who is going to buy this?" (red flag for "everybody")

- "How do you know that [group x] is going to buy it?" (I'm looking for something better than a hunch)

- "How much starting capital do you have?" (got to at least have ramen money)

- "Who have you spoken to about funding?" (red flag for "nobody", unless they are bootstrapping with their own money and have enough for 6 months of runway and a plan for after that)

- "Are you going to do this full time?" (If not, this conversation is over)

- "What skills are you bringing to the table?" (Must have at least half of the list above, or have other interested co-founders who fill many of the gaps)

So if you're looking for a technical co-founder, make sure you're bringing a business to the table, not just an idea.

I completely agree with this article, I would also add the following. I'm so tired of seeing these posts on HN--I do appreciate the genuine feelings, but my gosh, I am so frustrated when I see posts on Ask HN: 1) What should I build? 2) What programming language should I learn? Both question tells me the poster hasn't done enough thinking and research on their own and is asking a VERY BUSY community to do the legwork for them. The questions should be from this stage:

1) You are trying to build this idea, you've researched and tried a few strategies in thinking about this [then explain what you're thinking], any other suggestions before you go build this thing? Fine, this is a meaningful conversation we can have and will afford opportunities for everyone to learn from it. Most of us are building something because we mostly CAN'T sit by/live without it NOT being built.

2) If you're a young and a starting out hacker, all you have to do is Google your questions. Most questions, believe it or not, have been answered. All the programming language X vs Y, framework A vs B questions are usually answered extensively by many other wise hackers that went before you. If you don't spend the time to read, understand and appreciate those reading/researches which many hackers in the community had spent the time writing them out specifically for YOU, all ou're doing is asking a VERY BUSY community to do your basic legwork for you. No, that's now how it works. Most of us learned stuff/languages because we are hungry for it. We ask questions on freenode etct, read articles, books AND discuss in depth about what we're trying to learn.


Good post. "Entrepreneurs" nowadays seem like a bunch of whiners. Maybe it's the internet that encourages such passivity and hand-holding over the internet.

You want to succeed? Do whatever it takes. Learn how to code even if you won't be the one coding the program. Learn to speak the language, whether it's VC/investing, tech, or business. Sell your idea to a tech cofounder.

I agree idea guys who can't do sh are pretty much worthless. But I worry that there's been an overemphasis on the technical side. Sorry hackers, you aren't as special as you think you are. You have some personal projects you want to work on? Most personal hacking projects are worthless and even worse ideas than the ones business guys come up with.

Also worrisome is the attitude hackers have of only working with people with successful track records. I think that's the exact opposite of what you should do. People with successful track records have more to lose, and may have just gotten lucky the first time around. We should pay attention to the idea, not necessarily past success. You don't see business guys recruiting hackers based on whether they founded twitter/facebook/google do you?

A great hacker needs to be paired with a great vision guy. If hackers were as important as they thought they were then all hackers would have made it big already, and that is very far from the truth.

I'd like to give an alternate perspective to the Business Guy vs. Technical Guy dichotomy.

What about your UX Guy?

(apologies for the gender-specific wording; both women and men are "Guys" in my post, here)

The UX Guy the one that takes Business Guy's wacky ideas and hones them down to a limited feature set that people can actually understand. He helps the Technical Guy map out the user flows, often deals with the tedious writing of use cases, business rules, and content matrices. A good UX Guy even gets involved with the data modeling.

Your UX Guy brings the insight about how people will use a product, and knows how to create scenarios that anticipate that use. Those scenarios focus the work, and usually shrink the feature set.

The UX Guy is the one with the interaction design skills, the usability skills, and the one who makes sure the brilliant idea from Business Guy and the brilliant execution from Technical Guy actually result in something people will want to use, and most importantly, can understand how to use.

Sometimes your Technical Guy is also your UX Guy. Sometimes Business Guy is (not that often, sadly). No matter what, though, I'd argue that having a UX co-founder is one of the most valuable things you can do.

I think product visionary falls under "UX guy". The name "product visionary" by definition means he has an excellent grasp of user-oriented design and focus.

I've heard far too many Business Guys call themselves "visionaries" when in fact what they mean is "idea guys."

In the industry we call the "Product Managers".

Are you saying a UX professional is just a product manager?

I'm saying that almost all the tasks you describe above also fall under the responsibilities of a good Product Manager (at least on small teams, which is what we're talking about here).

If your "Idea Guy" comes from a Product Management background (and can do all the things you mention above, plus "Strategy"), then you should be in good shape.

As a non-technical guy with a lot of ideas, I skipped looking for a co-founder and just hired people to make stuff. Eventually I learned enough code to be dangerous, and with a bit of a design background, I've spent a lot of time building mockups and doing front end work to fill in the gaps.

I have found that developers are much more likely to engage in conversation with me because I can speak their language. This also works great at conferences, meetups, and local events.

In the end, I decided to try and build things so awesome that I'd have developers asking to join my projects, instead of the other way around. So far, it's working well.

This is exactly how to do it.

It's incredibly difficult to manage your own expectations until you know how technically challenging it is to build your "idea".

It sure is, and looking back at the way I handled my first few developer interactions, I'm slightly embarrassed. I was ignorant, but try to convince myself that I wasn't. Big learning curve there.

Can't catch a fish unless you go fishing.

Hustlers should stop asking the community how to get a technical cofounder, but it doesn't mean they should stop asking technical cofounders to be a... cofounder.

Only way you're going to find one is to put your idea on the line and prove you've got the chops to support each other.

I think the frame of "Business/Idea Guy" vs "Technical Guy" is a mistake. Where does design fit into all of this?

I can imagine an "Idea Guy" who just says "let's make AirBnB for pets" or something, and then the "Technical Guy" designs and codes everything according to loose goals stated by the "Idea Guy." In that setup, clearly unless the "Idea Guy" has a truly magical idea that he somehow has the means to protect, he's not worth much.

But I can also imagine an "Idea Guy" who is also a product designer, who has a concrete vision for not just what to make, but how it should be implemented, how it should look and feel, what the process should be like, and so forth. He's synthesized a lot of complicated things and just needs a "Technical Guy" to translate his blueprints into a building. In this case, the "Idea Guy" is really valuable indeed, especially if his decision about implementation differentiate the business or otherwise drive it's success.

In other words, execution is more than coding, it's making a ton of decisions. Value can be added by making lots of really good decisions, and you don't have to be a programmer to do that. Of course, if you have no familiarity with technology and can't see all of the possibilities, you won't make good decisions.

You are not talking about just an "Idea Guy" you are talking about a "Visionary". Vision is what separates an "Idea" from a "Business". All non-techies should bring the vision/strategy and all techies should look for people with a vision.

Someone email this to the Winkelvoss twins. Every time I hear about how Zuckerberg stole their 'idea' it makes me mad. He didn't steal it, he implemented it. The idea wasn't worth much, the implementation was everything.

To be fair, The Winklevoss guys were trying to get their idea built and Zuckerberg stalled them (stopped them from doing that) while he built it for himself.

I don't like the Winklevii, but I think its a bit unfair to kick them too hard.

Not only that, but they actually had found the right technical guy to do the implementation. They really were pretty close in that sense. In a different world where they partnered with him, or he was more ethical and helpful, they'd probably be considered the geniuses of the operation, in a Kevin Rose sense.

Is it possible there's a market for technical people who could help business guys like this with a prototype of their idea for a fixed price?

I wouldn't be willing to quit my full-time job and work with some unproven guy on a startup project. However, I might be willing to work during my personal time to help a business guy build a prototype which could be used to find a technical co-founder, vet an idea, or pitch the product to a customer or investor.

Of course there are the usual hazards of fixed price projects. However, if the deliverable is clearly defined and agreed to up front, it seems like a nice option for both parties. Business guy gets technical input and prototype, technical guy gets cash and an opportunity to become a co-founder if the product has value and a market.

Developer Town http://www.developertown.com/ in Indiana does something pretty similar. I'm sure there are other but this one popped in my head

Quite coincidently I saw this on Reddit today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEGUa3uekIE

The video is a stereotypical 'Idea Guy' - asking for a rock star developer to develop his project (for almost free), on the promise of 'riches' when they strike gold.

It is amazing how many people share this view these days (even more so after the 'social network' / success of facebook).

Despite the video author's lack of technical knowledge, there is still no excuse for his lack of research into creating a start up like that and the low value he puts on the technical co-founder.

I guess the real question to the author of that video would be. Apart from the idea, what do you as the non technical co-founder bring to the table?

The best part is how he doesn't say that the programmer will get equity, but that if they hit it big, he will be the first employee.

I kept thinking this was a parody, but then I got to the end, and the tone didn't change at all.

Having an idea to fit a vision is your starting altitude. Great execution takes it to the stars. The starting altitude does matter.

It's really honestly all about teamwork - not some tit-for-tat, we are better than you. So don't perpetuate it.

I am a technical cofounder myself. Still i believe a successfull business is the sum of many parts, not only the technical side. There are also enough stubborn devs that praise everything they build but still fail to bring it to a relevant audience. I agree with parts of this post, but overall i dont like this kind of elitist talk on here all the time on how everything else than technical guys is worthless. There a bad business guys and bad technical guys as well.

Excellent advice, I will be quoting him on having to "earn" a technical cofounder. He couldn't have said it better. The truth is, ideas and idea people are generally a dime a dozen. For the most part, it is all about execution.

For non-tech cofounders, you need to prove you bring something substantial to the table. The best piece of advice in that article is to learn to code yourself. If you really think you have an idea that could turn into a company, you should be driven to do anything it takes to build your MVP.

Just starting to code the front or backend will show people how dedicated you are and that alone is impressive to coders. Also, having a piece of your site already started will help you explain your idea to a potential tech cofounder better than words alone can.

My biggest suggestion is to go to "hack nights" in your area. You will kill two birds with one stone by doing this. First, you will be around people willing to teach and help you with your project. Second, hack nights are a great place to meet people looking to join a project.

I have a strange view of this. I wouldn't generally consider myself a technical co-founder, but keep getting approached as one. I think I am better at the business side of things but get forced into the technical side because who else will do it? The constant business pitches are somewhat boring, I haven't seen one where I thought, 'damn I need to join that guy/company.' It feels like most approaches are somewhat desperate, and that's a turnoff. Instantly what comes to my mind is 'why didn't someone else take up this offer if it's so good?'

I can only speak for myself, but it wouldn't surprise me if others used similar reasoning when being pitched (perhaps on both biz/tech side). Almost always, these things seem forced rather testing interest and seeing if there is any match. If a founding team is like a marriage, these guys pitching you to join them as a cofounder are asking you to jump straight into bed with them, there is no real courting period or build up. I feel like that's what's missing.

Finding a cofounder is like finding a marriage partner. You spent time and get to know each other before committing long term. Doing a trial projects may be one thing but its not just a matter of few days or meetings.

I second with "Spent some money" advise. Business people should also prove that they have a skin in the game by some way. Obviously it varies depending upon what else you are brining on table, and what has been done before. Money factor may not be as critical if the business person has already have mockups, market research, and many things that could have been done before or in parallel. You just have to show that you are not just looking for coder and then see if it works without spending any of your own energy.

Overall, I like the post, but title is bit confusing or contradictory to what Jason talked in the post. How to earn a co-founder would probably be a betters title.

I couldn't even get through this. Probably an informative post, but yet another one that acts like technologists are God's gift to business people.

It is so rare that a technologist or two technologists, without a business person, build a killer company (read: not product), unless one of them is a strong business person, and then what makes them more one than the other?

Honestly, the first part of the post is true - if you're a good founder, you'll figure it out. But honestly, I just could not be more sick of posts acting like business founders are nothing but a thorn in the side of the technology world.

And the comments on these types of post are laughable. "Oh, at the beginning your job is to make sandwiches." I was selling partners on our product before it ever existed. If your business person is making sandwiches, it's no wonder they had to beg people to build their product.

I think a good hacker/hustler combination is a great idea! Thats way the hackers doesn't have to deal with all the BS that comes with running and growing a business and stay true to their passion, and the hustler can focus on growth, raising money, doing bills, getting the marketing and PR set up and rolling, think how to acquire new customers, enter new markets, do financials, find new partners, read through contracts etc. RIM is an example of that, they have co-CEOs, Google's Eric S was a business guy and so is Ballmer (I think). Neither is S. Jobs a hacker. My point here is they are useful ... I mean if your passion is technology and you list all the activities involved you will see a LOT detracts from the passion. And you kind of need them as a co-founder so they have vested interest, and are diligent, resourceful and careful.

Jeese, I haven't seen anybody ask this question on HN for the last month, but maybe I've been working too hard.

You seem to be tired to answer this question. $10 say you did not answer it more than 100 times, yet you have asked your professor hundreds of questions.

You could have skipped the rant (which is not going to have any sort of effect) and went straight to how to earn a technical cofounder.

Every startup has a technical and business component, but their relative importance varies greatly. On one end of the spectrum, you have companies like Google which is a purely technical achievement; on the other you have Groupon which is a mostly a business achievement. The important component is what requires real vision and innovation and that may have to come from either technical side, business side or both. The profile of founders should reflect what kind of startup you are and what is its "critical issue." E.g. it doesn't make sense to have a "business co-founder" whose only job is doing some routine paperwork just as it doesn't make sense to have a "technical co-founder" whose only job is to develop some trivial webapp.

Speaking as a technical cofounder, it depends on the potential technical cofounders that you meet. Personally, when I met my non-tech cofounder, he already had his idea well thought out to the point where he'd made a trailer video demonstrating some of the UX using After Effects. I fell in love with the product idea itself because I'm primarily motivated by product ideas, and secondarily by team members.

I've now got as much skin in the game as him - neither of us is making a salary yet.

There's no one way to find your technical cofounder - we're all motivated by different things, and maybe what you've already got will click with someone. Just keep meeting people and putting your idea and self out there.

I'm a business guy... who learnt to code. Here's why "finding" or even "earning" a technical co-founder is a stupid strategy: there's no guarantee that, even after you have found or earned him, he'll be sticking around. You'll then be left with half-done code that no other person wants to work on, and you'll find yourself learning how to code to get going anyway. So, just learn to code. If you find coding too difficult, you're probably just not smart enough anyway to be an effective business guy.

As a technical guy the only thing he proposed that got my attention was Build a following. A strong following can be extremely useful in getting a lot of feedback early on.

Loved your post. Definitely great advice. I made the decision yesterday to start learning to code, but your post made me feel I really made the right decision. Thanks. :)

As much as I'd like to agree with this post, I can't. I had an idea and learnt programming to implement atleast a prototype. Done. I can't go to local meetups because we don't have any (small country in europe). I posted on HN (during the "best time") with the title that I'm a business guy with a prototype. I received two upvotes, one comment and got one email. Now I did expect a little more earnings here, what did I do wrong?

There are really three roles in a startup: funding, selling, and building. They're all important. If a business co-founder doesn't have funding, he/she has to prove they're good at selling. Unfortunately, a lot of business co-founders with ideas haven't actually spent much time selling, and they don't have much money either, because if they did, they'd be looking for a technical _employee_, not a "technical co-founder."

As someone who you're describing I absolutely love the post. I've gotten into WordPress, basic PHP, a lot of frontend stuff and a few projects later I feel confident to actually look a technical cofounder in the eye and say let's do something together.

So true, I'm completely non-technical but I've built a business that is bootstrapped, ramen profitable and growing - now we are actively looking for a Technical co but I'm realizing that I need to learn the basics myself as well. Awesome article!

Agreed except for the recommendation of 99designs. That's zero respect for design.

I don't understand the hatred toward 99 designs. Should people expect the most awesome work from it? No. Is it a good solution for startups with a small budget who can't afford anything else? Maybe, but that's for them to decide.

No designers are forced to participate in 99 designs, and no companies are forced to use them. What they do is legal and ethical, so what's the problem?

I release all of my photos under a Creative Commons license on Flickr, and I've received comments from professional photographers complaining that my hobby hurts their profession. So what if it does? If amateurs are willing to do something for free, then that should encourage professionals to differentiate themselves by being better. If lowering their prices is also a consequence of that then so be it.

It reminds me of people who are against open source software because it competes with people who make and sell software for a living. Again, should open source groups stop what they're doing out of respect for people who do this for a living? I don't think they should. Especially when you realize that most open source contributors are professional developers who make a living building software.

I don't mean to disrespect designers at all. In fact, I have a tremendous amount of respect for great designers, and I've found that you usually get what you pay for when it comes to design. I wouldn't personally use 99 designs, but I just don't understand the hatred that a lot of people have toward them.

P.S. If you're looking for a great designer in the bay area, and you can afford a little more than 99 designs, I recommend Dual Aesthetic. http://www.dualaesthetic.com/

Founders: in your experience, what qualifications should a "business guy" have? Is the willingness to do what your cofounder can't or what sufficient or do you need a certain business/leadership/social skill?

Wonderful advice, in particular to just go ahead and at least build the user interface. It is defiantly possible to reach the MVP stage through outsourcing - just get something out there!

This has to be the best post on HN for the full year 2011. Just do it. Start something. Scramble and find a way. Hire offshore and just get it done.

I am a technical co-founder and I am looking for business cofounder. Drop me a line if you are interested in local market and based in South Bay area.

As a formerly non-technical entrepreneur, I approve this message.

You're either building or you're selling or gtfo.

I'm torn either way on this post, on one hand I agree that you should go tell them to find their own resources but on the other hand and from experience as a 'non tech' founder myself even getting some of these items done isn't enough to get a co founder, you need a good network too.

For clarification, I worked previously at startups where development was outsourced and I was working as a project manager. This time round with my own idea I knew I didn't have that luxury and would need to contribute a he'll of a lot more if I could be lucky enough to tempt a co founder to take on the bulk of the technical development.

So what did I do, after a few months of procrastinating over the idea I finally decided what better way to get going than to learn a new language and code (I already know HTML / CSS / asp.net back in the day). I looked at languages that seemed to have a good following and active support forums that if I got stuck I could ask for help in, I chose Ruby on Rails and ordered two books on Amazon.

It was really difficult at the start but after a while I found things were clicking into place, albeit using a lot of trial and error. I installed irc and became active on the rails channel and found the guys really helpful on there.

So after a month or so I got through the books and figure I was ready to start planning and applying my ideas to what I had learnt, this was the hardest part of all and still is. Simple things like image uploading using AWS or Paperclip I found took me days to get my head around as a lot of this was alien to me and outside the comfort zone of the tutorials. I progressed and thought it was about time I start developing the front end UI so started getting to work on photoshop creating templates and designs, I found some great resources like designmoo and iconfinder which helped me in this process. After the designs were done I reached out to a previous contractor who had experience in rails and HTML/CSS and paid him to cut and code it to fit the view, I setup a Heroku hosting account, configured the DNS and hosted the code on Github for collaboration.

I suppose the site was now at 75% ready, I had feedback from a few angel investors that it was a good idea and that to get in touch when I had a working prototype, this is where the delays set in, I just couldn't find a co founder to help with that all important final backend work.

See in your post you state a co founder should bring some of the qualities you point out such as do the front end or learn to code or business networking, I've done all of them and more yet I am no nearer to finding someone local who I can get onboard. I know the first part of being a successful co founder is being able to sell yourself and your product but I think it's sometimes forgotten how difficult and time consuming development and design is to get to grips with. Whilst I know this may come across as a rather random reply I thought it at least fruitful to show that some non tech founders are willing to get their hands dirty with some code and in fact the other half, the finding a co founder is equally a struggle as learning to code

That being said if anyone is interested please feel free to get in contact ;)

I might be interested:) If you leave your email I'll send you some references -- although I'll be busy for the next few months. After that I've +-3 months free time & I'll be going to the UK around January. (or you can contact me on twitter with the same nick)

jameskmcdowall at googles email service, look forward to hearing from you :)

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