Finding Non-Tech Founders

A few days ago I wrote a post to help entrepreneurs find technical co-founders. Surprisingly many of the questions I received were from programmers trying to find non-programming founders.

The funny thing is that every schmo walking down the street has a business idea they think is great, and they would love a programmer as a co-founder. I’m guessing that when you tell a stranger that you build websites they always talk about their boring ideas. The real trick is separating the wheat from the chaff and finding serious people with the ability to build a business.

Here are my thoughts on finding a co-founder to focus on business.

1. Start Freelancing.
No matter where you live, you have Craigslist, answer ads. The people that are looking for help are serious about their projects, or at least willing to spend money. Plus you will build a resume of interesting projects.

Also, if the right project comes along you may have your foot in the door and already know the team. If you’re a good programmer, have experience on the project and ask to become part of the team, there is no way that you get turned down. The real value in freelancing is that you meet people doing interesting things.

2. Build Something.
You may not have a billion dollar idea or the business acumen to build an organization, but you can easily create a website that some people will find useful. Take your time, make it simple and make it smart. There is no pressure to ever make money with the site so just make something that you would use.

Doing this not only gives you relevant experience, but it also puts you in front of people. Even the smallest promotion of your site will attract startup-type people.

3. Network.
Stereotypically programmers like to sit in the dark, order in food and leave the house once a week. Of course this isn’t true, but you really have to make an effort to meet entrepreneurs. Wherever you reside I can absolutely guarantee there is someone in need of a programmer-as-founder withing 5 miles.

And even better news, when you do met entrepreneurs they’re going to love you. Which brings the most important part of this post.

4. Evaluate Entrepreneurs and their Ideas.
Remember you are looking to be a co-founder, so don’t expect the other founder to have a million in the bank and tons of experience – in that instance, he would just hire you. It’s important to be able to evaluate startups so that you don’t waste your time. Here is how I would look at things.

Do you understand the idea? The idea may be great even if you don’t get it, but how effective will you be if you are not on the same page.

Can you have a beer with the founder? If you’re thinking about leaving a cushy with benefits to start a venture you should like the people you are working with. If you can’t stand your partner it won’t work.

Is the founder determined? As much as we’d all like to believe that you have to be smart to be successful it is just as important to be determined. You should look for some qualities in your co-founder that you have seen in good managers or owners of companies that you have worked for. I would say determination is a great ingredient for a successful startup.

Get Opinions of others. You don’t have to rush into this project. Talk to other people to find out how good the concept is.

Programmers, please leave comments as to other ways you evaluate startups.

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1 Comment

Filed under startups

One response to “Finding Non-Tech Founders

  1. Lee Semel

    Great post. I’ve been networking a lot through nextNY and Meetups to meet potential non-technical cofounders. The most important criteria is to find an inspiring idea as well as a person you have confidence in. Everyone and their brother has an idea and wants to get some programmer to work on it, but you need to find a concept that inspires passion, and a person who you enjoy working with and who brings more to the table than just an idea — drive, character, marketing skills, connections, design ability, or whatever else is critical for that startup to succeed. So if you’re a non-technical person, try and sell yourself and your idea just as you would to a VC, and remember that programmers are motivated by more than money.

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