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How to thrive as a solo non-technical founder (weddinglovely.com)
121 points by limedaring on Mar 30, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments

In addition to making all the necessary steps to deal without a technical cofounder (problem: can't iterate without code, solution: crash course in Python programming then), Tracy also really, really works angles that many technical founders wouldn't consider. I did a wee bit of work with her at 500 Startups -- my favorite example of several is that she produced an actual, honest to God, on-dead-tree photo book of her paying customers' wares. It was extraordinarily compelling, both as a product (I have recent experience with wedding product photo books, mostly produced on 1000x the budget of that), as a sales channel for her company, and clearly the hackiest use of paper I've ever seen in a software company.

Oh goodness, thanks Patrick — that really means a lot.

Funny, we just announced the 2nd version of the Lookbook a couple days ago, and it's going to be a whole new challenge, since we're working with over 3x the number of vendors and in multiple wedding verticals rather than just invitations. I'll have to send you the new one once it's released in a month. :)

The look book was awesome, it brought all the invitations on the site to life. You could curl up on a couch and flip through beautiful stationery at your own leisure. It made it a pleasure rather than a chore by simple getting it off the computer. Tracy, where were you when I got married? I was impressed that Tracy had to learn pdf scripting to pull it off, she learns just about anything, and fast.

Mmmm alas, I didn't learn PDF scripting (eugh, one of the reasons why I dropped my original startup idea) — it was all painfully done by hand in InDesign. That said, we're looking at scripting for this time around!

very cool Tracy! I think it takes a certain kind of skill to marry our strengths with customer needs and build something that wins. Great job on the lookbook!

What I really enjoyed about this post is the ending...

You learn all the hard work Tracy puts in on her own. And in the end she EARNS a technical co-founder. She doesn't stop working on her product while waiting for the mythical tech co-founder to join her. Bravo and congrats.

Ha yeah — I wrote an article about finding a cofounder the traditional way a year ago (http://www.limedaring.com/technical-co-founder-wanted-for-di...) — well, that didn't work out. This article really is my followup to that article, that I should have just jumped forward then and started working rather than doing a few months of searching for the "right cofounder"!

Thank you!

I would consider having design skills as a technical skill. Try doing a tech startup with a liberal arts degree (or three) ;)

Good article!

Maybe true, but both design and liberal arts degrees are missing the true technical skills that a tech startup really requires: back-end development, experience with servers, databases, etc. That's been the toughest part — it's all well and good to ideate, but implementation is where things really matter. I waffled on the title, but decided that if YC considers myself non-technical, then it fits. :P

Thanks for the compliment! It's really fun being the tech person because at least I'm learning something new every day.

This is all good stuff. I'm pretty active in Co-Founder recruiting. When I apply to incubators, I still list out the portfolios of all the people that I've talked to, so that they are aware of who I'd like to get aboard. The main problem is not having any money to hire them. I've had a few that are willing to do sweat equity, but they have their hands tied with other commitments (work, school) and projects. When I go to meetups and hackathons, the first thing people ask me when I say that I need a Co-Founder is "Do you have any money?". Granted, I wouldn't want to work with the type of folks that say anyway, but seed capital will help me pluck talent away from cubicles or have a 3rd-party get a MVP made. I need a developer and a designer. I want to split the equity 3-ways evenly among us.

You also have to raise the bar of what you're looking for by learning to code yourself. Codecademy is great, because everyone on a startup needs to be technical to some extent, at least early on. You need to be able to collaborate shoulder to shoulder.

This is a great story.

As a visionary who clearly doesn't mind getting her hands dirty and has design skills you seem like every tech co-founder's dream! I'm honestly surprised you had difficulty finding a tech co-founder before launching.

I'm dabbling with the idea of becoming a tech cofounder for someone, so I'd like to know what were the criteria that you looked for in a tech cofounder and how did you finally find one?

"As a visionary who clearly doesn't mind getting her hands dirty and has design skills you seem like every tech co-founder's dream! I'm honestly surprised you had difficulty finding a tech co-founder before launching."

The difficulty wasn't in finding a tech cofounder — I had one back in the day, went through a whole "interview" process with people from my original post that got on HN. The problem was knowing someone long enough to feel comfortable with them and finding the right person for the industry, especially since I'm working in the weddings industry which is generally uninspiring for a lot of devs. So it ended up with me working solo for over a year, and the right person approached me, which worked way better.

"I'm dabbling with the idea of becoming a tech cofounder for someone, so I'd like to know what were the criteria that you looked for in a tech cofounder and how did you finally find one?"

Personality and fit with you and the company is number #1. Fit within the current needs of the company was #2. Right skillset wasn't considered (hell, if I can pick it up, someone who specializes in software development certainly can.) But definitely finding someone who you can work with is the most important, because if things go badly, you can work together on a new idea if you jive well together.

What would you say about trying to identify a potential co-founder's underlying motivation (money, experience, small team/flexibility, fame, actually caring about the market, etc.) for joining a start-up?

I'm actually asking from the perspective of a technical person who finds it hard to trust/gel with potential non-tech founders, but I thought perhaps you had some thoughts :)

Thanks for sharing Tracy. Your story is encouraging and reminds me of Abraham Lincoln's story: http://pinterest.com/pin/224687468879142473/.

I think it would help the entire startup ecosystem if more founders shared their challenges, failures, and triumphs.

The article doesn't answer the headline, unless "become one" is the answer?

Anyone can be a solo founder, but I'm hoping the article answers some of the qualities and tips you'd need in order to be successful, or at least put yourself on the path to success. So, if you can't find a cofounder, what things to remember and to get yourself motivated by in order to continue endlessly without another person working on the company with you.

I wonder how often the advice in these How I Succeeded posts are actually related to their success. Hard to filter out these things when you're the one experiencing them.

Everyone defines success differently. Most generally, success is the absence of failure. Bonus points if you're making progress.

I'd take these posts more as inspiration to persist. Take toll in your achievements and realize that your business is alive up until the moment you allow yourself to give up.

Congratulations Terry and thanks for sharing your story. What kind of ownership split did you do with your post product, post revenue, post funding co-founder?

Great success story. Great links too (although, the 30x500 link is broken).


Whoops — missing the http. Fixed, thanks!

'cockroach' !! I love it. Stealing that one.

Yeah, I think Paul regrets saying it because I've been using it as my personal nickname now. :P

First time I heard "cockroach" used to describe start up founders is in this article by Paul Graham.


"Apparently the most likely animals to be left alive after a nuclear war are cockroaches, because they're so hard to kill. That's what you want to be as a startup, initially. Instead of a beautiful but fragile flower that needs to have its stem in a plastic tube to support itself, better to be small, ugly, and indestructible."

By the way, you go girl! Best of luck. I admire and applaud your persistence. Keep going. I believe you can do it.

Great job Tracy! Keep it up!

Good job tracy!

Great job!

No wonder. She's a woman. (READ THE WHOLE POST before you downvote)

I keep seeing this over and over again in my life. Nearly all the women I know, from family to friends, are self driven, independent (even with a family they have a strong sense of self), stable, educated or self-educated, and self disciplined. Earning degrees, starting businesses, or properly investing the family funds. The men I know.... well... we're the worst kind of failures. Not the good Silicon Valley "I failed but I learned" kind of failure. The bad kind of failure where you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Out of all the men in my the family, my mother is the only one that played her cards right. Financially, career wise, everything. Same with my aunt. Same with my other aunt. Same with my childhood female friends. WTF.

I think I've developed such a bias favoring women that I specifically want a female co-founder. At least I know there's a much less chance of testosterone induced ego trips, driving the company into the ground from unnecessary overly risky decisions. I've noticed that these women's decision making is VERY different from the men's.

From what I've seen. Women change their success strategy much more often, whereas the men keep the same one despite years of failure. Women adjust to change much quicker than the men I know. When women mess up, they say to your face "I'm sorry, it's my fault". In fact they blame themselves a lot more when things go wrong, whereas the men place blame on others and don't apologize at all. Men don't see it as "I screwing up", they see it as "things didn't go my way". Women gather information first, then make a decision. The Men skip the information gathering step. They rush in and just call the shots. It's quicker but more risky and eventually leads to a lot of failures. When business doesn't work, women blame themselves and try to change themselves (get a degree, educate, find new partner, find what they did wrong) but when business doesn't work for men, they try to change the business itself, refusing to admit that it might just be their fault. And lastly, the men I know seem to think they are correct by default and tread ahead into the darkness, whereas the women think they are incorrect by default and carefully tread through decisions.

I think I'm sexist. But I can't help it. You call it sexism and generalizing but I call it 'pattern recognition'. Literally all the women in my extended family and friends have good jobs and the guys (me included) have nothing or terrible jobs. I feel as if I'm destined for a life of failure. I know I shouldn't feel that way but I can't help it. It feels inescapable. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense and becomes evident. Sorry if I dragged any men into the same depressive pit that I'm stuck in.

There are lots of guys doing huge things very successfully. Bezos just located an Apollo rocket on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. James Cameron has gone from being one of the most successful film directors to being one of the most successful deep divers of all time. These are bold things that were successful. Being a risk taker causes a higher variance in ones endeavors, which implies some spectacular failures, but that also implies occasional spectacular successes.

Don't count yourself out just because of your gender. Tracy is awesome because she's Tracy, not because she's a woman. Actually, just don't count yourself out period, that's silly. You can always improve at things.

I should have emphasized more on the fact that this is what I'm seeing with the men and women that -> I <- know and have met. Those successful men you mentioned obviously have behaviors that I (or anyone in my family) don't have. It's just that in my life I'm seeing more of those behaviors in women than in men. Leading me to feel this way. I shouldn't, I know. It's illogical and I deserve the downvotes for such a loaded, wide, generalizing, polarizing statement, but I can't help but feel this way.

Ah ok, gotcha. I personally know a bunch of very successful guys and gals both, so maybe you just need to meet a wider variety of people. I've mostly lived in urban areas (Boston, NYC, Silicon Valley), though, so that probably skews my own sample pretty badly.

You call it pattern recognition, I call it excuses.

Setting high expectations for yourself is crucial to achieving them. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_effect

Yes you're right it's partly an excuse (40%) but also a way (60%) for me to try and find the reasons for why I and others in my family have failed so I can change myself and stop making the same mistakes. I have a problem with your advice. I already had and still have high expectations for myself, my family does too. That's not working. The problem with my dreams, ideas, and goals is that they are coming from me. I am the flawed one and I need to change.

Fair enough, here's another piece of advice: Surround yourself with people who are better than you, especially the types of people you'd like to become more like. Conversely, avoid people who are averse to the change you're experiencing and drag you down from becoming the person you want to be.

You spoke of male friends who are failures—those are the people you want to avoid. Start hanging out a lot more with your successful female friends, find mentors who will help guide you to improvement, get a job where you feel like the stupidest person in the room.

This goes back to setting high expectations for yourself. You're not the only variable.

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