With Silicon Valley partying like it’s 1999, it’s no surprise that everyone wants to be entrepreneur.
Maybe you have a great idea for an app, or know precisely how to disrupt a big industry with a new cloud-based software offering. Unfortunately, if you weren’t born writing Ruby on Rails applications and Python scripts, the only thing standing between you and a $1bn acquisition is having a real product.
And so it goes that Silicon Valley is filled with two groups of entrepreneurs today: the cool kids who have the chops to build stuff and the non-technical entrepreneurs who want to team up with them.
Apparently, the desire of the latter to find so called “technical co-founders” is driving the geeks crazy. Need evidence? Look no further than Alexey Komissarouk, a computer science student, who penned a rant on TechCrunch entitled “Stop Looking For A Technical Co-founder.”
Although much of his reasoning and advice to non-technical founders (like “learn to code”) is misguided, his point (“stop looking for a technical co-founder”) isn’t that far off.
So what are non-technical entrepreneurs who think one is the loneliest number supposed to do to court a companion for their ventures? Here are five tips.
Know what you need.
Many entrepreneurs believe they need a co-founder, but they haven’t really thought through what that co-founder needs to do. A person who can write a quality specification for a software application may not necessarily be the person to build it, the person who can develop an awesome prototype may not be capable of building and growing a technology organisation, your rockstar coder probably isn’t a rockstar UI designer, and so on and so forth.
The devil is in the details and if you’re truly looking to partner with somebody else to launch a business, it’s important to consider that a single co-founder probably isn’t going to be able to solve all of your immediate needs (technical or otherwise), and more importantly, may not have the potential to contribute as much as you would like them to long-term.
Bring something to the table.
If you want other people (again technical or not) to embark on an entrepreneurial venture with you, it helps if you have more than just a business idea. After all, ideas don’t build businesses; people do.
For example, if you’re looking to build a new digital advertising platform and you’re not technical, it would probably be easier to attract individuals who can help if you have a track record in the advertising world. While you wouldn’t need to be a 20 year veteran of Madison Avenue, chances are others will take you more seriously if they know you have some domain experience, if not expertise.
Build relationships before you need them.
Starting a business with another person is a lot like getting married. While we’ve all heard stories about couples who married after a few weeks of dating, the reality is that most couples usually don’t get engaged after a few dates – for obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, what seems like relationship common sense often gets thrown out the window when it comes to co-founder relationships. Overeager entrepreneurs assume that a few conversations with a person they just met is enough to lay the foundation for a solid co-founder relationship, even though it’s not.
The better approach: network and build industry relationships well before you start a company. If you’re truly going to start a company with a partner, chances are you’re going to do so with someone you already have a strong relationship with, not someone you met last night at a mixer.
Offer a salary.
In many cases, entrepreneurs looking for a ‘co-founder’ aren’t really looking for a co-founder; they’re looking for an employee (full-time or part-time) who they don’t have to pay. When it comes right down to it, this is why so many entrepreneurs struggle to find a ‘co-founder’.
Starting a business is risky, and there are countless reasons why someone you don’t really know is going to be skeptical about throwing caution to the wind and working with you on an equity-only basis. On the other hand, if you can offer your first employee a reasonable (read: not-too-disconnected-from-market) salary in combination with equity, you’ll have a much easier time attracting quality candidates.
What about founders who don’t have the money to pay for assistance? Undercapitalisation is an often-fatal but unfortunately common characteristic of new businesses and would-be entrepreneurs should be honest with themselves if they can’t get going without finding someone willing to work for free.
Get over the concept of a ‘co-founder’
It’s not surprising that you won’t encounter too many savvy, experienced entrepreneurs speed dating for a co-founder. At the end of the day, you either have a partner or you don’t.
The good news is that once you move beyond the ‘co-founder’ moniker, things get a lot easier.
Contrary to what entitled twenty-something developers caught in Silicon Valley’s latest bubble will tell you, there are plenty of talented techies out there who will want to work with you, and for you, if you know what you need, have some credibility, and are prepared to compensate them fairly for their time and skill.