One of the most common questions that I hear at networking events and on social news sites deals with finding a co-founder with hacking skills, specifically when the person asking the question isn’t technical. Having been in this situation I wanted to give a few tips that should be useful.
Although I truly believe it comes down to being in the right place at the right time or just dumb luck. This is one instance where you have to make your luck happen. Here’s how I would start.
1. Develop a Remarkable Idea. Of course you think your idea is great, but do other people? Are people that you meet (point 2) passing you the names of programmers?
Regarding our project, ShelfMade, I find that people either love it or hate it. They think it’s genius or the dumbest idea ever. (For the record the vast majority like it, but a few just walk away) Now that may be good or bad, but at least a programmer hasn’t heard a similar idea a million times. At least the idea isn’t bland. If your idea sounds anything like “A social network for ______” you probably need something else.
2. Talk the Idea Up. There is honestly nothing worse than when someone is starting a new web business, but they cannot tell you the concept. It’s like a joke with no punchline. Simply put, I didn’t want to talk about my great idea, but for some reason I did and that allowed me to find people that wanted to help. If I would have kept my mouth shut I would probably still be looking for a co-founder.
3. Be Realistic. Make sure that your idea doesn’t need 2 years of full time development. It’s probably best to grow a simple idea than to build out a complex scheme. You want your new co-founder to see the business (and hopefully the potential) as you are explaining it.
If you’re a non-tech guy you probably should be looking to build a tech enabled business instead of developing a new technology.
4. Start Without Your Co-Founder. This has got to be the most important tip. Get as far as you can without a co-founder even if it means making decisions that will probably change. Why? First, it shows that you have initiative and drive.
Look at these 2 ways of approaching a potential cofounder.
1. “I have this idea”
2. “Here is my business card. The company blog explains things better, but the basic concept is ____”
The different cost is about $10 for business cards at overnight prints, but the impact is enormous.
Getting started on the business also helps you define exactly what you are looking for. Even if you find a great programmer he isn’t going to bring an out of the box solution with all of the answers. You need a plan and a sitemap. That is something to get started on immediately.
5. Bring Something With You. The potential co-founder can start any number of businesses without you, locked in his room, not having to deal with your stupid vision. What can you do for the company that your potential co-founder cannot? At the very least you should have an understanding of the market and the ability to write a business plan.
6. Get Lucky. This is worth saying again. If the idea truly has potential and you have a chance to make a go of the concept then you need to stick around long enough to get lucky. Finding a co-founder is definitely a huge step, but it is only the first step in starting a company. If you can’t get over this hurdle and get 1 skilled person excited, how are you going to get 1000 or a million people to give you their email address.
Finally, tech companies are awesome, but if you are not willing to be a tech guy you may want to think about starting a business that doesn’t rely on technology. If you really plan on taking care of the business and marketing aspects of a successful company then it is good to have relevant experience. Starting any type of company will give you an idea of what it takes and also build your credibility with possible co-founders.
Good luck and all feedback is welcome.