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Ask HN: I'm looking for a technical co-founder/partner.
27 points by jason_tko on Nov 14, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments
I read HackerNews almost daily, and I always enjoy the articles and the discussions about startups, software and code. So, I'm hoping that there might be a similarly minded HN reader out there who is looking for their next big thing.

As a preface, I've had a lot of software developed, but I've never worked full-time on software with a co-founder/partner. Much of this is new to me, so I would definitely be open to comments or ideas about the way I'm performing this search from other members of HN, especially about the responsibilities I've listed below.

The Offer : In one sentence, I'm looking for someone to work with me to build a Software as a Service business based in Japan. I'm experienced at IT sales, running a business and managing people. I have a large network of contacts in Japan, and Webnet IT has a large 'built-in' active customer base that are interested in software that provides value to their operations. Webnet IT is still my main operation, however I plan to spend a large portion of my time on this project once I find the right technical partner.

Here are some basic guidelines that are important to me :

- Skill Sets. I am not a coder. I have plenty of experience on the IT infrastructure side, and I've been running an IT business for 7 years, but I have no coding skills beyond basic scripts, basic PHP/MySQL and HTML. I'm hoping to find someone who is passionate about coding, and has either the experience in creating SaaS systems, or the periphery experience and the ambition and ability to create this level of application.

- The Idea. I have a number of ideas based on software I've developed and our customers requirements, but I'm open to discussion. I see this as something we'd generate and agree on together.

- Personality and Capability. I imagine we'll be spending a lot of time working together, and as a result, personality and attitude (and a sense of humour!) are paramount. This goes both ways - you need to be comfortable and happy working with me. I don't really mind about your background. I don't place too much stock in degrees and certificates. I'd be much more interested to hear about your personal software projects, your personal wins and your work experiences.

- Compensation. I'm open to ideas on compensation structures. If we get as far as discussing compensation, we can work out a fair and reasonable structure based on who you are, what you want, and what you can contribute. Naturally, "I want a large base and no revenue sharing or company percentages" is a very different conversation from "Give me a place to sleep and X% of the company".

- How we work together. I imagine that at the start, we'll discuss our ideas over Skype. I'll show you examples of the software I've designed and developed, you'll do the same for me. We'll put together a basic arrangement, and we'll do a couple of small projects to get an understanding of how we both work. When this goes well, we'll see if we can agree on a basic product road-map. If this goes well, we'll put together a plan to launch, detailing responsibilities and milestones. By this stage, we should have an agreement in place. Work begins. Within a few months, we'll need to be spending a good amount of time working together. As such, I'd like for you to be willing, happy and able to move to Japan. As we get busier and as we acquire customers, I'd be hiring more developers and support staff, most likely working under you.

Bio : Like any relationship, or perhaps even more so, the co-founder/partner type relationship is based on trust and understanding. As such, here is a brief biography to give you an understanding of who I am.

My name is Jason Winder, I'm Australian, I've been living in Japan for 8 years, and I run a business named Webnet IT that provides IT services to foreign companies in Japan.

Introduction : I was lucky enough to get a 2nd hand clunker computer when I was a kid. For the technically curious, it was a x8086 with a green TV as a monitor, two 5.25 floppy drives, no hard disk and about 128K memory. I grew up breaking, fixing and learning from this computer. From the experience gained from this PC over the years, I landed a job working for a large company out of high school. I then found work at a smaller company in Australia, then I moved to Japan. I worked for various IT companies for a couple of years, then I started my own company, Webnet IT.

Webnet IT : I didn't go to university, but I love learning. I started from a blank slate in regards to entrepreneurship. I've built up a consulting business by learning incrementally about business, sales and marketing. During this process, I designed software and systems that automate mundane tasks, and assist us doing things like generating quotes, invoices, sharing information with our customers, and many other things. Through this process, I've discovered I have a passion for developing software that helps people perform complex tasks both simply and efficiently. I'd like to build on this and develop useful software to sell to people.

Side note : My main PC these days is an Apple 15" MacBook Pro. I built my home PC myself, it's an Intel Core2Duo 3.06GHz running Windows 7 with 2x24" monitors.

You Would Be Responsible For

The technical and architectural infrastructure, Initially all coding, Eventually managing a small team of coders, Brainstorming ideas, and Creating a product roadmap with me.

I Would Be Responsible For

Sales and marketing, Funding, General hiring and Management, Accounting, Brainstorming ideas, and Creating a product roadmap with you.

I imagine these responsibilities will evolve over time, however I think it's important to do some initial general planning on expectations and responsibilities.

If this describes you and your situation, or if you have any comments or thoughts, I would be very happy to hear from you. Please contact me at jason@webnet-it.co.jp.

Thanks for your time reading this.


tl;dr 95%Biz/5%Tech guy looking for a Tech guy. btw Japan.

I must say this is a lot more intriguing and value-based than most of the other:

  1) I'm an idea guy.
  2) I need a code monkey to clone ___.
  3) Profit.
Thanks for being upfront and geninue (imo).

I would certainly entertain the idea of working with you. I'm a 37signals kinda guy and roll with tha saas model. We can definitely get a feel for one another, but have to be honest and say, while I am not opposed to moving to Japan, its one of the super-huge obstacles that would make this actually working out quite a long shot, since what if we make it all the way to that point, it doesn't work out down the line, and I am out on my ass in Japan?? Hey wait ... that actually sounds really damned fun - Email is on the way!

P.S. Been seriously working on a pretty solid idea of my own, it should work just as well in Japan.. but I guess that's what the email is for!

Thanks very much for your reply. I'm glad thats coming across. I'm certainly not an MBA with a game changing idea that I'm 'allowing' someone to work on - quite the opposite. The idea itself is important, but the execution is the critical component.

I'm also down with the ultra clean 'as few features as possible' mentality, so I'm looking forward to having a chat with you.

Agreed - there are worse situations than being unencumbered and single in Japan.

This reminds me of that south park episode with underpants gnomes:

  1) Collect underpants
  2) ?
  3) Profit

Funny how it is always "business guy looking for a coder" but never "coder looking for a business guy".

Probably your post will become much more readable if you drop the two leading spaces on your bullet points, that way they become inlined instead of in a scrolling div.

Another thing you could do is limit the line length with hard returns.

Funny how it is always "business guy looking for a coder" but never "coder looking for a business guy".

Clearly this is due to business people being more aware of their limitations than coders are. ;-)

Nice one. Never thought of it this way.

I can say I've never looked for a 'business guy' but I have looked for a 'sales and marketing'. I suck a lot more at those, but I think there's more to running a business than those, so I wouldn't /necessarily/ want that guy running the business.

Actually I know coders looking for a business guy with a condition that he is a former coder. For instance, reading HN is a plus for a candidate.

Ha ha only serious. The job is located in the EU, in a country with one of highest GNP in Europe at the moment.

Why can't you just say 'Its in France' or 'Its in Germany'?

Because it is Romania, Hungary, Czech republic, Poland, Serbia or Croatia.

My point exactly. It's Poland. But this way folks here got 2 pieces of information at once: one about my selfish proposal and another about the situation in Europe ;P

The programmer creates a spark. The designer creates a lantern. The businessperson creates a lighthouse.

Thanks Jacques - hopefully this is much more readable now.

Works for me :)

Probably explains why a large number of coder only startups fail due to lack of customers...

Got data to back that up?

I'd personally rather invest in a coder only startup than a business only startup.

Look at the crunchbase deadpool. How many of those companies failed because of technical failure and how many failed due to business failure ?

It's pretty much impossible to find strong data either way on "coder-only" startups or "business-only" startup, because there's no good data set. But it's not hard to see you need both competence in software and in business to execute successfully.

Most people on HN seem to suffer from selection bias, they mostly hang-around communities which are coder focused so they don't see many business-founder start-ups so assume they don't work.

So, your real answer to 'got data to back that up' was 'no'.

I've seen coders grow in to a business role and be confident, but I've never seen a business guy grow in to a coder role and be confident.

If I had to bet on two startups, one with just coders and one with just business guys I'd bet on the coders.

Coders tend to be problem solvers, they see business issues as problems to solve (and for the most part they are), business types tend to think in terms of how to get other people to do the work for them, when left to their own devices it usually doesn't go very far.

The 'ideal' startup in my view is 1 business guy for every 5 to 10 hands on types, instead of the usual, the exact opposite.

I'm pretty sure I'm biased though :)

I'm saying there's no data either way. How would you suggest even obtaining a reasonable unbiased selection of companies to test the hypothesis ?

It's very hard to avoid selection bias, if for example you took a sampling of companies that received series A funding and were reported on crunchbase, you'd be missing a huge selection of companies that failed to make it that far (which could be because they lacked the business expertise to get financing, or could be because they lacked the execution capabilities on the technical side).

Not to mention crunchbase overwhelming focuses on consumer startups rather than b2b startups, which naturally introduces more bias.

Almost every business in the world is about problem solving, only a very small minority of them are technical, it's ludicrous to suggest that "business types" aren't good at problem solving.

> Probably explains why a large number of coder only startups fail due to lack of customers...

Was your statement, and it was only reasonable that you were asked to back that up. If you then say 'there is no data either way' then I'm wondering what you base your judgement on.

I've seen several 'coder only' start-ups go to very great heights so naturally I was curious if there would be some common element in those start-ups that you knew about that would differentiate them from the ones that I know about.

Business types in general are good at running a business from a management perspective, making sure that people perform at or near their potential. That in itself is a very worthwhile skill and it is an essential component, usually closely related to having people skills.

But those same people would be completely lost when it came to solving - relatively simple - technical issues.

Since you are posting this on a form where the majority of the start-ups that get looked at and launched are of a very technical nature that was the context you made your remark in, to now extend that to 'the whole world' broadens the scope considerably, but I think that it still doesn't change the nature of your argument, and so far there is not much to substantiate it.

Problem solving is a universal capability, it means that when presented with an obstacle you will find your way around, under, over or through it.

Business people have this but their 'talent' may be limited to doing that in a non-technical way. Most coders I know can apply that talent to all kinds of problems, including business ones.

That is why I think that a group of coders stands a much better chance of getting a company off the ground than a group of 'just' business people.

Well there are two basic reasons tech startups fails technology failure and business failure. I assumed it was self-evident that a lot of tech start-ups fail on the business side (both those founders by coders and those founded by business people). Look at the list of YC company failures, they're almost all business failures rather than technical failures.

Ok, but I'd take it as read that YC brings a bit of business acumen to the table.

I think a better conclusion to draw from that is that start-ups fail in large numbers, period.

The fact that they crash mostly for business reasons doesn't mean that those companies don't have business people associated with it. It simply means that running a start-up is hard, that your chances of success are small and that the business part of it is one of the hardest parts.

If the co-founders get everything right, but screw up the business bit then they don't stand a chance. But whether or not they have a business background hardly matters since almost all start-ups will have someone in the background with that expertise.

The bigger problem is that bad ideas get funded just as often (or even more often) as good ideas. And that good ideas will identify themselves in a really simple way, they get off the ground with relatively little effort in the business department, there is time enough to take a 'business guy' on board after you've become somewhat successful.

Google is a nice example of that.

i think 99% of the deadpool companies were just bad ideas, like hunch, or oneriot (too soon?), but to even get up to bat, you have to have both business and coding skills.

Exactly. And by failing (even a couple of times) you are going to learn more about how to run a business (or not) than by getting an MBA.

It takes a lot of stamina, guts and willpower to get to stage one to begin with.

After you've been part of that a few times it gets easier to spot problem areas before they become lethal.

Another thing that really helps is to observe how others fare and to observe closely if they succeed, and closer if they fail, just to make sure that that particular mistake isn't one you're going to repeat (don't worry, you'll have a wide range of original ones to choose from).

What makes you particularly qualified at sales and marketing other than not being a "tech guy"?

I don't equate not being a "tech guy" with being qualified or good at sales and marketing.

I've learned a lot about sales and marketing, and I consider myself to be pretty good at it, but it's not my main profession.

My advantage is that I've been the sole salesperson for my company for a couple of years in the beginning, I have experience selling small and large scale IT products and services, and my company has resources to hire salespeople who I can train and assist.

Why the snark?

Somebody who hasn't gone to university and managed to keep a business afloat for 8 years has to have some skills in sales in marketing. Otherwise you just don't make it. Starting a business and sticking with it for a couple of years is not that easy, and it probably makes him a lot more qualified than most of us here.

I don't know about Japan, but in America, you can register a company and keep it "afloat" for as long as you like, even if it doesn't do anything.

If you read the introduction you'd see that this person is (1) not in America and (2) has been living of his company for a long time.

That doesn't come close to having a dormant entity, and to try to equate it with that is disingenuous.

(1) I did notice. Why do you think I mentioned Japan?

(2) He never stated how much revenue his IT consulting activities generated.

This person is quite eager to qualify his potential partners (that's a sales technique, btw), but from reading the pitch, the only thing that's clear is what he doesn't bring to the table. Promises of help with future marketing and funding do not justify equity to me, but things might look different to someone else.

I've been thinking awhile that i might make a similar post to this one at some stage. Not being a programmer and beginning a startup that requires programmers without one at hand already is quite difficult. That being said I personally would never do a pure software startup. However of late i've come up with plenty of good business models that have a software element but also requires skills that I have outside of what they try to teach in a commerce degree. With that situation it seems a more equal partnership and also allows a greater sharing of the main company functions, something that helps down the road. I would suggest you look at doing a startup where you can really contribute to the actual creation of the product/service.

The other thing about writing these pleas for help/founder is that you've got to show a little leg. "Software as a Service business" is hardly going to bring the hordes knocking down your doors. Even if you don't want to give your ideas away at least narrow down the areas of your interest because your much more likely to attract someone good if they already share that interest.

Thanks for your reply and your thoughts on startup business models.

The reason why I didn't go into detail about some of my ideas, is that I'm still flexible about the idea and the direction. I'm not looking to hire a developer, I'm looking for a co-founder. I have a whole bunch of ideas based around all sorts of pain I've had setting up a small company, and I've built systems to alleviate much of this pain. But maybe the co-founder is passionate about something else that also fits in with what I'm doing. Thats why I'd like to discuss ideas over Skype and/or email.

I'm not looking for hordes either - I'd be very happy with one person who is on my wavelength and has the programming experience where I have the complementary business skill set, contacts, and experience.

Good luck with your venture !

Long time listener, first time caller. Seems like my copy and paste from Google Docs generated an interesting horizontal scroll. For a slightly easier to read version, please check :


See above why, HN uses indentation as a 'sign' to switch to 'this is code' mode.

Just to clarify: "As we get busier and as we acquire customers, I'd be hiring more developers and support staff, most likely working under you."

You mean that the developers and support staff would be working your co-founder, right? Not that you would be working under this person? I read it the wrong way the first time.

I think the natural progression would be to have the additional developers working for the project lead.

I see how that could be mis-read, my mistake. What I was trying to say was that I'm looking for a partner who can help run the technical aspects of the company, including management of the subsequent technical staff.

Whoever gets together with this guy could potentially learn more in 1 year than they've learned in the past 5. International business experience, candid honesty, and flexibility are fairly difficult to procure. Is there risk? Of course.

learn how to code

I really like the tone of your proposal, and I'd take you up on it, except I'm not really a "software as a service" type of programmer. ruby, python, css, rails, and stuff like that are not my forte. I tend to deal more with lower-level unixy technologies: TCP/IP, shell scripting, C++, servers, multi-threading, and so on. If somebody has the same general idea but needs my type of programmer, I'd love to hear from such a person.

(semi-off-topic: pg seems to frown on job postings here by non-yc companies. Not sure if this post qualifies as that. If this isn't welcome on the front page, I really wish there was some part of news.yc where this type of thing could go.)

> pg seems to frown on job postings here by non-yc companies.

Is that true ? I've seen quite a few of these 'looking for co-founder' posts and never heard anything negative about it.

And I would find that a serious point against Paul if it were true but since I can't recall a single instance of that do you have something to back that up with ?

jacques, you are obviously the exact type of person who should be hanging around here, but you are really too quick to get bent out of shape over unimportant things. just a couple of minutes ago i read a comment from somebody who described dealing with you as 'talking to a brick wall.'

there have been more 'help wanted' ads killed here than i can count. i'm not going to back to find any now, because of your tone. the ones phrased more as 'looking for cofounder' tend not to get killed, but that seems a pretty minor distinction.

What to you is 'unimportant' matters a great deal to me.

If PG would limit access to the forum or kill of posts that would get people connected or employed I'd be out of here in a heartbeat.

I find the suggestion that PG would 'frown' at that a very strong statement against him, and from what I've seen so far I would expect the opposite. That's why I asked for some proof of that sort of behaviour, it is completely contrary to what I would expect. That's a simple follow up question, trust me, when I get bent out of shape you'll know about it.

If there have been more 'help wanted' ads here killed (by PG) than you can count that would diminish not only my view of Paul Graham but also of Y-Combinator as a whole.

What other editors do is not my concern here, PG was singled out specifically.

Um, You seem to have got the wrong end of the stick here. Jacques is not complaining about "help wanted" ads. Further, he doesn't seem to me to be "bent out of shape" at all.

Perhaps your reading of his comment, and the quote within it of the previous comment, is not the same as mine, but your comment seems to be a complete non-sequitur.

I would suggest that it's all a misunderstanding, and that you both consider that there is always the scope for misunderstanding, and don't try to thrash out any single instance.

I will comment no further - I hope this exchange is not prolonged.

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