I still can't understand how this gets missed in every one of these posts; a great business cofounder can be someone with an insane level of domain expertise either selling something like the thing you're making, or selling to the exact same people you want to sell to.
If you're making, say, web analytics software for online retailers, your best business cofounder would be a guy who had just spent a year convincing online retailers to buy his company's Magento extension (or whatever). This guy will make your product better, will know what to say to customers, and will probably even dial up all the people he already sold to so he can also sell your new product. A second best fit might be someone from an ad agency, for example, who had pitched and won the business of a few online retailers.
Don't buy this visionary, motivator, fundraising, connector bull. If you need a life coach, hire a life coach. There's only two critical functions to your startup: Make the thing, Sell the thing. You can fake the rest if you do the big two.
I'm going to project my experience on everyone else to make it sound more legitimate- every business guy looking for a cofounder goes through a phase where they contact Magento developers and try to pique their interest. I wonder what the success rates are like in reverse. I stopped- I've never met a team of guys who built a successful product who met via random ambitious emails.
More to the topic, a proven sales person is not the same as a business cofounder. Sales experience is a minimum, but with this model it's basically assumed you have a sales ready product.
Domain expertise is great too.. in all hires.... if you can find it. That's where you'll source your "strong-vision guy" if you're lucky. Very lucky.
Marketing (real, user-adoption marketing), PR, design, and perhaps channels to funding and recruiting-- that's what I consider business-side startup execution.
Where do you find these people? I don't know- it's different for devs. People can say, "I can program." It's less cool for people to say, "I can market. I can run a PR campaign." It's not the primary factor, but I think it's a factor.
I really liked the hustler archetype, to me the hustler is the biz guy equivalent of the hacker. They are doing things they aren't supposed to be able to do and like the OP said are more scrappy than polished. As you said there are two critical functions, making and selling. Hackers make stuff, hustlers sell stuff.
The great part about this type of cofounder is that they exhibit early proof everywhere they go. They keep impeccably awesome apartments. They have blogs that are exquisitely well-designed. They're own personal branding is clean, articulate, and meaningful.
I didn't know Steve Jobs had a well kept apartment and an exquisite blog. Is tripping on acid and living in India any better an indicator of your product design prowess?
I don't mean to be cynical, but this kind of writing to me is just "talking". The camp director, the hustler, the protege; they have these characteristics, come from this background, blah blah blah. No fact, all fiction, bullshit for the ear and mind.
I don't think such a dismissive attitude is positive. Looking at individual people with an open and objective mind is appropriate when doing important business with anyone.
I'm sure there are lots of "ideas guys" who offer nothing but fuzzy and poorly reasoned concepts. There are also "ideas guys" who have expertise in concepts and customers who will think of things you've never thought of. A previous commentator mentioned that if you're looking to start an web analytics company, you might find someone with expertise in that area. Not only will they help you make customers, they'll give you a much better understanding of the market and what white spaces and other opportunities may exist in the market.
In the end, you simply need to understand the value of any founder you bring in. If a non-technical founder can provide better value than a technical co-founder, being afraid of hiring an "ideas guy" is not ideal. You simply need to find the right one.
There are lots of outstanding founders/CEO's who either come from no technical background, or a technical background that pales in comparison to a really great engineer.
> Think really hard about whether you actually need that business cofounder. Consider investing the time you'll spend looking for someone with improving your own sales/marketing/product skills. Join a community like Y Combinator and they'll help you learn all the mysterious business stuff that isn't actually that hard. In the end, if you make something people want, everything else will fall into place.
Honestly, the attitude toward "non-technical co-founders" needs to change in this community and the fact that anyone would say you don't really need one is just naive. Build it and they will come is a Silicon Valley pipe dream that happens to .1% of companies. Talking to customers, exploring competitive products, negotiating service contracts, firing up potential employment candidates, getting press, lining up distribution partners, selling clients, exploring new markets for potential leads, managing non-technical resources, fund raising, pitch writing, and more are just a handful of the things that a "non-technical co-founder" can be doing. Doing them yourself when you can find someone more experienced or focused on this is poor management of resources and speaks to an inability to delegate or manage limited company time and resources.
Having been through YC, I can tell you right now that not only will they not teach you "all the mysterious business stuff", but if you think "business stuff" isn't actually that hard, you work with shitty business people and aren't aggressive enough in your initiatives.
Everybody likes to downplay the importance of business people in startups. My first co-founder and I in Earbits were both non-technical. While we looked for a technical co-founder we lined up an advisory board from Google and EMI Music, raised friends and family money, recruited a designer for equity only to mock up our site and design our logo/brand, and had record labels sending us boxes of CDs for a radio platform that didn't even exist yet. During that time, three technical people flaked on our project, one of them after signing the paperwork to join. Do you see me talking about the lack of importance or reliability of technical people? No. Your bad experience or rumors about shitty business people are unfounded. Most successful companies have a solid business-oriented co-founder. For every crappy "idea guy" there is a flaky developer.
These lists always seem to miss what I consider to be one of the most important elements of a co-founder: You have worked with them before. If you're starting a company with someone else it is absolutely critical you have worked together and operated under stressful conditions before. This is the #1 reason most startups will see 1 or more co-founder leave.
If you are a technical person starting a company and you don't know any business co-founders whom you have worked with then don't bring them on as a co-founder. Find another technical co-founder and make your first hire the business person. This will give you time to build out the product and understand more of what you need.
I've been dealing with the flip side: I'm a highly technical MBA, started as a coder and got my MBA because I knew I needed it. I'd love to find serious minded technical co-founders, or even moderately experienced non-technical co-founders. I had good technical co-founders originally, but not good enough in that they drifted off when the startup took longer then they they wanted. Today, I'd love to find a strong technical set of partners, but no one I'm meeting has the skills. People seem to be only interested with Ruby/Node/WebGL/Flavor-of-the-day projects.
In an effort to meet more like minded technical entrepreneurs, I've started a free co-working space in Downtown Los Angeles. It's called Droplabs, www.droplabs.net.
Anyone is welcome. The original founders, I'm 1 of 7, all work with the Drupal CMS, but also work in other systems. There's other independent creative consultants there too doing Ruby, Node.js, C/C++, various client projects and about 4-5 startups.
I'm still looking for the right people. I'm ambitious: http://about.me/blakes
In a week or two I have a project for Show HN...
I'm not a technical guy and I see a lot of other non technical guys out there trying to sell their ideas. I like the angle to look for a guy who is really good at something. I would go even further to say find a business guy who knows your market, industry and potential customers. This may not always be easy but time and time again in and out of tech startups are successful because the people running them understood the industry, market and people they were targeting
Venture capital firms. The younger professionals at the top firms are smart, know a lot about technology business models, and are very well connected relative to their age. Plus, most of them got into VC not to become investors, but because they have aspirations of starting a company.
These ones are going to be the types that will be able to provide value on the business development side since they have the industry connections. (Tough to call them hustlers since it's not very clear whether they are "scrappy.") If you're looking for someone who can deliver on the product side, VC firms aren't going to provide those kinds of individuals, especially the younger ones. For product folk, it's best to poach Product Managers from slightly larger companies who are dealing with the same domain. They may not be as competent on the fundraising side but they will have a good idea of product & marketing.
One test for business co-founders is test if they can make cold contacts. There are so many MBAs who are nothing but marketing/strategy types, with no real sales ability, and so are of little use to a startup. When I hear a business person say, "I know this market/industry", I pretty much write them off. If a business person says, "I have worked in this industry, and I know dozens of people that shouldn't live without this product", then my interest is peaked.