Apparently it’s tough to find good technical cofounders and early stage employees for your company, at least based on recent blog posts. I thought I’d post a bunch of those links to discuss some of the main points people have been making. Here’s my summary of the posts below.
The key consideration in my mind is something along the lines of BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement.) This concept applies to many business situations. In order to effectively negotiate with someone, you need to realize your next best alternative to negotiating. Perhaps your company is in good shape, and the deal would only be slightly beneficial. This puts you in a better negotiating position because you know that you can walk away from the deal without worrying. If your best alternative is your company going under, you are more likely to try to make the deal, even if it is at a slight disadvantage to you.
How does this apply to technical cofounders? Simple. They have a lot of alternatives to joining your early-stage company. They could do lucrative consulting or contracting. They could be working for better equity stakes at other companies. They might want to start their own company instead. Hmm, 5% equity at your company or 100% equity at their own company? Why would they work for a split of equity when they could be bringing down cash money for contracting, regardless of the success of the eventual product?
The meaning of this is that the company that an entrepreneurially minded developer joins needs to be pretty darn good. If you’re looking to recruit/enlist others to an idea with no product or no traction, it starts with you. Learn how to do as much as possible, and show that you can hustle. Learn how to code to throw a prototype together, and if you don’t do that, learn how to do some wireframes or at least talk with engineers. There are many tools out there that will get you most of the way, and you should gain experience using them so you can bust them out whenever necessary to get your startup moving along. You should know that people who know how to code Ruby on Rails probably have done some database work–be active in the local entrepreneur circles as well as the local tech circles to start getting your bearings.
Why should business cofounders in the technology industry understand tech well? Well, take it from Paul Graham:
In a technology startup, which most startups are, the founders should include technical people. During the Internet Bubble there were a number of startups founded by business people who then went looking for hackers to create their product for them. This doesn’t work well. Business people are bad at deciding what to do with technology, because they don’t know what the options are, or which kinds of problems are hard and which are easy. And when business people try to hire hackers, they can’t tell which ones are good. Even other hackers have a hard time doing that. For business people it’s roulette.
The other main point is to demonstrate that you have some hustle. Do you have a record of being able to raise money? Do you have contacts in the industry you are interested in working in? Perhaps something else that the tech cofounder doesn’t already have or is not interested in. And so forth.
A good Hacker News post that a business-minded guy put out there. This is the example of how to do it right (hustle, knowledge, and social proof in the comments to boot.)
What if 1000 entrepreneurs learned to code just a little instead of lamenting the lack of engineers?
An interesting flowchart of tech cofounder equity. Potentially the most suited to the engineering mind. :)
Excellent piece on how to evaluate any company in its early stages, from a developer’s perspective generally. Get in their shoes!
Survey of actual developers. Again, this is pure gold if you want to understand what technical cofounders or early stage employees are thinking about and motivated by. How they look at potential companies and the “biz guys”.
Beating a dead horse by now, but another post about working for free and what developers look for in a business cofounder.
Last one! :)
What are your thoughts on this? Post a comment below, and thanks for reading!