For whatever reason, there’s a bunch of articles on what a non-technical founder should look for in their future technical cofounder, and not the other way around. I wonder what that says, if anything, about ‘technical’ people…
Anyway, I thought I’d share my perspective, from just one of the many individuals who’s managed the tech side of a startup. Over the past decade of building companies from the ground up, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with all kinds of smart and talented non-technical co-founders. Hopefully, this quick guide can help you technical founders find your right match.
|My #1 advice that comes before any of this is that you should not make any hasty decisions. The only way you can really get a sense of how someone works are to actually work with them. Mind-blowing, I know.
Take your time before you start committing to anything serious. Collaborate on a side project, bounce ideas off of each other, iterate—just find ways to see if the person is a good match for you. Both in their skill set AND personality.
You’re the tech guru, so you need someone who has the business expertise to communicate the great value of your product to external parties.
A long spiel about your innovative code isn’t going to capture the minds of the average person. I might get it because I’m in the know, but most people won’t. I probably don’t even have to say this, but that’s not what sells.
You could be creating something groundbreaking, but investors need to know how it could/will make them money. That’s why you need your non-technical cofounder to have the marketing and sales skills to persuade people to purchase/invest in what you’ve got to offer.
Chemistry? How generic can you get? Just let me elaborate.
Oftentimes, the relationship between cofounders is likened to marriage. No rings, no vows, but you two have to be partners, drawing the best out of each other.
Just as most of us aren’t going to propose to someone on a first date, you should keep meeting candidates to learn more deeply about who they are before you commit to the long term (in theory).
But these meetings aren’t dates at the movies or over a candlelit dinner. You should use the time to see how you work with the candidate. Bring along your pitch deck, for example, and find out how much it develops in your hour with them.
Can they take your ideas and run with them? Provide constructive feedback? Are they really listening to what you have to say?
Believe it or not, disagreeing with a candidate doesn’t mean they are a bad match. there are healthy, productive, and respectful ways to have arguments. If the potential cofounder is dismissive and dogmatic, you should probably walk away ASAP.
The two obviously aren’t mutually exclusive.
That being said, an individual who has graduated from an Ivy League school and amassed many prestigious certifications/degrees is probably a highly intelligent, capable individual.
|DID YOU KNOW?
|According to this study, founder teams with at least one Ivy Leaguer performed 238% better than those without.
But specifics matter.
While your potential cofounder might have held a position high up in a tech giant like Microsoft or Apple, that doesn’t mean they can thrive in the startup trenches. A safer bet for me has been to partner with non-technical cofounders who have had specific experience building startups.
Not everyone does their best work in a startup environment. And that’s perfectly fine. You just don’t want to be the one to suffer if your cofounder finds outbuilding startups isn’t for them.
I have built successful startups with first-time founders, though. Having no startup-specific experience isn’t necessarily a red flag. Who knows? You might even be a first-timer, too.
Experience, in and of itself, doesn’t determine whether you’ll flourish in a startup environment. What you should expect from yourself as well as your non-technical cofounder is urgency. You need to get things done quickly, and you need it done well the first time.
Startups live on borrowed time and pocket money. You can’t be backtracking. Working at odd hours, beyond 8 hours a day, to get things done right. If you can find someone who has the dedication and determination to rough it out, you’ve got a great candidate for a cofounder.
Curiosity’s always a good sign. If your non-technical cofounder has created a prototype beforehand or dedicated time to learning how to code, those are indications that they’re working hard to do their job better.
By having some understanding of the technical side, your non-technical cofounder should be able to empathize more with you. It’s, of course, best when you reciprocate the effort. Spend some time on HubSpot, for example, educating yourself on marketing and sales. Rigidly sticking to your roles won’t work out, especially early on in a startup when a few people have to cover whatever gaps they possibly can.
Furthermore, with more technical knowledge, your non-technical cofounder should have a much easier time effectively articulating the value of your product to investors, users, vendors, and so on.
Although they probably won’t ever be fluent in our language, that’s not necessary for productive communication.
Any particular qualities I’ve missed? What do you look for in a non-technical cofounder?
Since you’re here, I’m looking to partner with serious entrepreneurs who have bold ideas and realistic plans.
First-time founders, I know, find it especially hard to avoid all the pitfalls of building a business from the ground up. My extensive experience as a startup CTO and technical co-founder has given me a lot of wisdom I’d like to offer to you and your startup. From bootstrapping to scaling, I’ve done it all—multiple times over.
If you think you’ve got a game-changing idea, please get in touch!