“You need a tech co-founder, ” said the potential investor.

In this post, I want to go into what non-technical entrepreneurs can do with this common piece of advice.

Before I start sharing my thoughts on this, I want to make the distinction between angel investors and seed stage investors. In general, angels are going to be the investors that give you money to build a product, and seed stage will give you money to get to product-market fit.

A lot of people will try to get seed investment to build a product. This was my own mistake when I raised money for the first time. Having two (soon to be) Stanford Computer Science graduates in our team, made this an option, but that doesn’t mean it was the right choice. Even YCombinator and other accelerators are so competitive at this point, you are likely to get accepted only after you have built your product.

If you go to seed stage investors without a tech co-founder the likely response is going to be “You need a tech co-founder” even though having one might not lead to an investment.

I believe angel investors are the better fit when it comes to investing in a pre-product company, but if you go to them without a tech co-founder they will probably say the same thing.

“You need a tech co-founder”

I believe this is the low hanging fruit of advice for non-technical entrepreneurs.

Not everyone needs a tech co-founder, but if you are getting this advice from investors, you might be tempted to go searching for one.

As someone who has been a tech co-founder many times and now believes founders are often better off without them, I will lay down some pros and cons.

Let’s start with the Pros

  • Investors — You won’t have to work as hard to prove you can build software.
  • “Free” Work — You might find someone willing to work at a discount or solely for equity.
  • Less Lonely — You will have a partner through the ups and downs of your venture.

Some Potential Cons

  • Sharing your Vision — You might need someone to build your product, but not want someone to mess with your vision. When it comes to having a co-founder, you need to be willing to share it all.
  • Giving up Equity — Having no cash for development means you have to give up the equivalent equity. Here is a calculator you can use to see how much.
  • Retention is Hard— If someone has the skills and time to be able to build a full product for your venture, they are saying no to a high paying job to be there. This means that if things take longer than planned (and they are not already wealthy), sooner rather than later they will likely have to go back into a higher paying opportunity.
  • Paying for Downtime — At this stage, you won’t need 40hrs/week of development every week. You will need way more some weeks and none at all others. By having someone committed to your idea full-time, you are effectively paying (in cash or equity) for their downtime.
  • People are Stage-Specific— The person with the skills and inclination to start your company with you might not have the skills and desire to grow it with you.
  • Managing Drama — People are people and managing human relationships in addition to running a company is often more trouble than its worth.
  • Wasting Time — Finding the right person to start a company with is probably as difficult as finding a spouse. Right skills, right vision, right life circumstances, and right financial situation. You might end up wasting a lot of time looking for a perfect person instead of focusing on what investors really want to see.

So, What do Investors Really Want?

Now, if you decide that you don’t need a tech co-founder just to please your investor, here are some practical steps you can take to get all the pros without the cons.

I will share a few different stories of how things can go.

Story 1: You get a co-founder. Everything goes well.

  • You meet a tech person.
  • You fall in (business) love.
  • You go to investors (angels) together. They love you and give you money.
  • Tech person takes a pay cut and builds the product in a few months.
  • You find product-market fit and sell the product to thousands of people who love it and pay you for it in a few months.
  • You go to seed investors, they love you, and they invest in you.
  • You spend a few more years growing the business together.
  • You make a huge impact and a ton of money. It was all worth it!

Story 2: You get a co-founder. Things go wrong.

For every step in the list above, a few things can go wrong.

  • You meet a tech person. — It takes a long time.
  • You fall in (business) love. — or — You settle.
  • You go to investors (angels) together. They love you and give you money. —or — They reject you anyway.
  • Tech person takes a pay cut and builds the product in a few months. — or — It takes longer, the product is not great, you disagree on product direction, they can’t afford the pay cut for this long, they leave or you fire them.
  • You find product-market fit and sell the product to thousands of people who love it and pay you for it in a few months. — or — You find it hard to sell this product, users don’t love it, you have to go back to the drawing board, you have to rebuild, go back to the above step.
  • You go to seed investors, they love you, and they invest in you. —or — Your numbers are not that great, investors reject you.
  • You spend a few more years growing the business together. —or — Your tech person is no longer interested in the company because it is more established and they leave to start something new with someone else.
  • You make a huge impact and a ton of money. It was all worth it! — or — Not

Story 3: You don’t get a co-founder.

  • You instead find a partner who may not be able to drop everything to join you but can give you guidance in exchange for a small amount of equity.
  • You invest in creating a technical roadmap for your product.
  • You present a budget, timeline, and mockups to your investor.
  • They love it and give you money to build it.
  • You outsource the development. At this time, your partner might not be able to dedicate a ton of time to the actual build, but you can use your investment to hire freelancers whose focus is building. You don’t pay for downtime, and you can take your time.
  • You find product-market fit and sell the product to thousands of people who love it an pay for it (with no pressure from someone else’s life being on hold).
  • Your early stage partner might be able to join you in the next (way less risky) stage of your venture, or you may have met someone else who wants to embark on this journey with you.
  • You go to seed investors, they love you, and they invest in you.
  • You spend a few more years growing the business together. — or — Instead, you can hire technical talent with your new investment and product management experience.
  • You make a huge impact and a ton of money. It was all worth it!

Hopefully, this gives you an idea of the potential drawbacks of the technical co-founder path and gives you other options to consider. You have to be incredibly lucky to find the right person, and my goal here is to let you know that you can keep moving forward with your venture until you do, even if investors might not necessarily encourage you to go that route. In fact, moving forward will continue to increase your chances of success.

My Own Background and Biases

I have experience being a technical co-founder in a team of 4, in a couple of teams of 2, an interim CTO a few times, a technical advisor, a freelancer, an internal tech lead for external freelancers, a solo founder, and now I run a dev shop that partners with early-stage entrepreneurs to build their apps.

In my personal journey my aha moment was realizing that even if I found the perfect partnership, I would be the type of tech co-founder to enjoy the starting a lot more than the growth of the company. My passion is for designing and building new products and finding product-market fit, and a lot of people who would be great at the growth stage don’t enjoy the uncertainty of the early stages as much as I do.

My bias is for having options and moving fast. There are definitely companies that need to have a technical and business person working together as partners with an aligned vision. This relationship might be worth waiting for, but historically these relationships have formed before a company was even in sight. I think often more harm than good is done when trying to force something that is not there in the first place rather than forging a new path independently of circumstance.

Conclusion

There are a ton of ways to build a company. You don’t need to wait for a perfect match to move forward. Investors don’t always say what they mean, and often give you the get a tech co-founder piece of advice because that is the easy advice to give. If you have been given this advice, I would encourage you to work around it and create a product roadmap that doesn’t depend on a co-founder. You can hire specialists and learn to manage them or generalists to give you advice. Typically a combination of both, some trial and error, and a lot of hard work will much more likely lead to the desired outcome than counting on finding the mystical perfect match investors wish you had.


Have you been looking for a technical co-founder? We want to work with you. Our clients are entrepreneurs that want to retain control of their companies. We provide technical services and help you move forward with your idea. Here is a list of our services. If you want to learn more don’t hesitate to reach out to us at info@getitbuilt.today

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