Technical cofounders: if an MBA can't even build a clickable prototype in his native language of PPT to sell you on his idea, run. Not because he is technically incompetent, but because he is an incompetent salesman.
But, more to the point, the concept that all you need is business acumen (MBA founder) and technical acumen (technical founder) is unbelievably wrongheaded. You need domain expertise. If you don't have it, you're probably working on something any bunch of monkeys could make, MBA-type or technical-type included.
Don't skip the part of the pitch where you have to say "why this management team can successfully execute this idea." That's what the investors say they look at, remember?
#2 is what code jockeys want to see and the natural way for a coder to measure initiative is in lines of code. What non-technical founders don't seem to realize is that you can begin building the product without writing code:
- Make a landing page.
- Do A/B testing on marketing and company names.
- Talk with customers. (this is huge)
- Weigh the pros and cons of different business models.
- Tied in very closely with the above but plan features.
- Do everything BUT the code.
In other words, execute.
Im now trying to learn python. Much much better than waiting for miracles
I compare with myself: I am a quite good coder and I have lots of ideas, yet I feel stuck for some reason. I'm gonna try to borrow from your can-do ethos :)
I fall in to this camp, sort of. I'm not looking for a non-tech co-founder, but certainly open to the idea. However, as I meet people, the ones who seem to be capable are generally already doing their own thing. To a large extent, this is probably a similar problem non-tech people face when looking for tech co-founders - the ones who are most likely to be capable are probably already doing something.
I meet a fair number of people who might be non-tech co-founders - they tick some of the boxes. But when discussing things more, then almost inevitably fall short of my own expectations.
This is hard to put in to words, but the ones I've talked to seem more in love with the idea of being in a startup than actually working on one. There's also seemingly little drive to do much more than talk. Generally, also, there's little financial stability in their lives, to be able to deal with no or limited income for several months while ramping up. And based on discussions with some potential co-founders over the past several years, there seems to be little willingness to be at all flexible with their own ideas - they have tended to think of themselves as Steve Jobs, and me more as a Wozniak to be used and thrown out later.
So... again, while I'm open to the idea, I'm not actively looking. Perhaps I should be actively looking, and would weed through the bad fits faster?
"Hmm, there's this Jobs guy. Egotistical. Maniacal. A complete sociopath. Takes over everyone's ideas as his own."
I don't see Apple being the same company.
"Then you can hire sales and other non technical staff"
Have you ever run a business? This sounds so naive it's probably the exact thing the OP was talking about.
1. The modal amount of revenue for most payment processors is 0 dollars. The majority of all applications developed and deployed never make a single dollar of revenue.
2. 'a bit of cash flow' is 20 dollars / month. It is not easy to make revenue acquisition repeatable (or, more accurately, by far the hardest problem in any business is in finding repeatable acquisition models)
3. You cannot just 'hire a sales guy' and expect the money to flow in. Regular 'sales guys' need a pitch, a sales script, a leads source, a pricing list, in other words, they need to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. Somebody who can develop all of that is the 'non-technical founder' as it is most commonly called on here. It's like expecting to hire 'a programmer' and thinking he can think of a product, code it up and bring it to market. The vast majority can't, because it's a completely different skill set.
Not having technical chops doesn't make you good at "everything else."
There's so many skills that go into a startup that you can't have a specialist for each one.
What I have seen, however, is a moral judgement about the relative merits of what skills the founders bring to the table. Specifically, I have known many technical people who perceive sales and management as of lower value than technical creation. Consequently, they privately scoff at the notion that the person doing the "hobnobbing", "gladhanding", and perceived-to-be-commodity sales activities gaining equivalent equity or compensation as themselves.
Out of their sense of "fairness", some of these people go it alone or hire out rather than seek an equal partner in their endeavors.
I know this sounds highly anecdotal( and it is ), but I've seen it enough that I suspect it's at least somewhat widespread.
I think the best answer is what mguillemot suggests---a tech cofounder should learn a bit more about the sales/marketing/deal-making side. He can then gain a better understanding of what the sales guy does, how hard it is (or isn't), and he'll be more respected by a career salesman, just as an MBA who knows how to code is much more trustworthy to the average technical person.
To a first approximation, most programmers are barely FizzBuzz material, most sales people are order takers, and most marketers are brand buzzers.
Speaking as a programmer who learned enough sales and marketing to carve out a comfortable niche out in the market, there is a palpable difference between an order taker and a real salesman. It is comparable to say, watching Notch work and watching someone who can't cut FizzBuzz try to implement a stack data structure. I've learned enough sales and marketing to identify the salesmen "rock stars", or even the non-order takers.
A real salesman will hold complex deal variables and details in his head on the same order of complexity as most good programmers will handle in code. He is amazingly good at reading body language and over-the-phone voices, getting at the real concerns of sales objections put up by the customers in an startlingly short amount of time. He'll juggle all these inputs and transmogrify them into a combination that works for the sale, all on the fly in fractions of a second, without it breaking his composure or his speaking delivery. He doesn't look down on the technical people backing him, and instead pumps them for technical information, extracting what he needs to build the business case and relaying it back to the technical staff to make sure he got it right. If you follow him through the day, you'll notice he fills every moment with sales activity; whether he's cold calling or following up, he always has a list of customers to contact and touch in the minutes he has downtime at various points throughout the day, or he's reading up to prep for upcoming deals he anticipates. His day is typically highly structured, and he plans out his activities weeks and months in advance.
There are damn few of these salesmen, just as there are damn few Carmacks. Most of them are tied up pitching large, multi-million and up deals as this kind of talent and work ethic is immediately recognized in sales organizations and promoted or poached away, so I would posit that most programmers have never met such salespeople. When many programmers do meet them, they typically only see the "coal face" side of these sales people, the gladhanding tip-of-the-iceberg part. In much the same way that when a lot of people watch programmers at work, they seem to be "just" sitting and poking at a keyboard now and then.
See thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3237776
Great deck. You are being generous with the one green stick dude.
For example, I want a guy that knows that I'm using a nosql datastore and why, even if they can't write a query. Someone smart enough to grok things enough that it'll be tough to bullshit them unless you're skilled at it (bullshitting). That way, they'll have some shot of having things continue to run okay if I get hit by a bus or am otherwise unavailable for some period of time.
You could boil it down to this and scratch the "technical" in the title.
But there I sat. Idea fleshed out..and I was ready ready to sell it.
I finally finally took option 2. I understand code and can manipulate wordpress enough to get by, but it certainly isn't my strength. I searched forums and reached out the top commenters and contributors of one in particular. Out of the 3 folks I connected with 1 was a fit. In four hours, he had the previously crafted code live on the net for us to refine.
I plan to be to market in a couple months and could not be happier. I enjoy paying my developer exactly what he wants and look forward to making him a partner sooner than later, if he wants.
The proof is in the pudding.
At the beginning the biggest risk is not writting terrible code you will regreat having written, let alone give maintance. The biggest risk is making something nobody wants.
From my experience, the biggest issue comes after you get enough traction/money/funding to hire a team. This is where things can get really bad, when the founder thinks he actually knows how to solve CS problems, and says things like: "This Machine Learning thing is not that hard: I wrote the landing page for the startup in 3 hours without any programming knowledge".
Hubris is one dangerous trait that will get anyone in trouble. Founders, due to their natural Reality Distortion Field, can be a victim of it.
Kent Beck, creator the agile methodology XP, discussed some of this in his The Flight of a Startup
I can't find the link but I also read about Jobs going on a tirade to his employees about some aspect of Objective-C while at Apple.
Another case supporting him as a technical cofounder(although not a programmer) is when he worked at Atari on 'Breakout'. From wikipedia: "The same year, Alcorn assigned Steve Jobs to design a prototype. Jobs was offered US$750, with an extra $100 each time a chip was eliminated from the prospected design. Jobs promised to complete a prototype within four days. Jobs noticed his friend Steve Wozniak—employee of Hewlett-Packard—was capable of producing designs with a small number of chips, and invited him to work on the hardware."
Jobs may not have done the job himself but he was clearly working in a technical position at the time.
Working with python recently I think it could be the closest to that aim. I have a friend who taught python to his 13yo boy, i plan to do the same with mine.
What I learned from using 'race to the bottom' oDeskers is that if you're going to be a non-technical co-founder, you better at least be sure what it is you're asking for.
Someone should create a site with that kind of granularity.
(Yay, HN posting cherry lost!)
From experience though, they tend to fill up with "need technical co-founder to build app/social networking site. Don't want to mention what it is in case someone takes idea. Have mockups and list of other sites I like" type posts.
Got some interesting feedback and information, haven't yet done anything with it.
Contact me if you're interested.
Business guys will seek you out (at least, they do for me) - assuming you can hack, you're that one guy in green.