Mixcloud’s Nico Perez Shares Tips On Building A Team And Finding A Technical Co-founder

“Binoculars in the classroom!” (Photo courtesy Laura Gilchrist)

When Nico Perez first discussed “Where Mixcloud’s Founders Turn When They Have Startup Questions”, the Mixcloud co-founder also shared some tips for non-technical founders on building a team and finding a technical co-founder.

It’s the kind of advice he might share in his advisory role at the Founder Institute or at General Assembly. In fact, he’s currently helping a somewhat surprising advisee:

“The company I’m an advisor to is now live: they’re called Keap, their mission is to make better candles for the youth market, with a focus on ethical and social values. They launched a hugely successful Kickstarter last year, and will be shipping their first batch of candles next month!”

Here’s the advice he shared for founders when I spoke with him:

The Most Important Thing: Get The Team Right

“In terms of advice, I obviously try to be as pertinent as possible to whatever area the kind of questions are coming from but, in general, I would say the most important thing to get right is to get the team right.”

“Cause if you’ve got the team even if the problem that you’re solving turns out that it’s unsolvable or will take hundreds of millions or nobody’s interested, whatever it may be, if you’ve got a good team you can change directions. You can iterate…To use the classic startup term, you can pivot. You can do things differently.”

“So I think the team is absolutely key and fundamental. And in building that team I think that you need to be very aware of what your own strengths and weaknesses are.”

Finding A Technical Co-founder

One of the biggest issues in building a team is finding a great CTO. This issue is especially challenging for non-technical founders who intend to take the CEO path.

So I asked how someone finds a potential technical co-founder and inspires them to join the team when s/he doesn’t really have a clue about how best to proceed:

“I think that’s a question and a problem that a lot of people starting out on their first startup encounter. Again I bring it back to recognizing what your strengths are, what you can bring to the table, what you can offer.”

“And not just think of it in terms of I need somebody to help me cause that’s a very one-sided view of things.”

“Then I’d also think of it in terms of what type of person would you get along with? Thinking about personalities and things like that.”

“And then finally thinking about good relationship when it starts out. I think a lot of people will tend to go to networking events and they’ll meet somebody, they’ll be a coder and they’ll be like ‘oh, will you be my technical cofounder?’”

“I think there’s a great kind of metaphor or simile for that, imagine if you were to go out to a nightclub or something like that, meet a girl and ask her to marry you on that first night before you’ve even gone on a date!”

“And I think that people often underestimate what they’re asking or the level of commitment they’re asking. So I think that if you can build some form of relationship around either a smaller project or a kind of skill swap then I think that’s a really good way to kind of test the waters.”

“Build a relationship, see if things works. If they don’t, it’s a shame but you can move on, find somebody else. And if they do, then great, you can build it from there.”

Finding A Co-founder Is Not A Sales Process

One sometimes encounters the advice that you need to be able to sell the dream of your startup concept which is quite similar to trying to convince somebody to marry you because you’d be so great together when you’ve just met at a party.

Perez’s advice takes the search for a technical cofounder out of the realm of sales and into the realm of building a solid relationship first. In dating website terms, this approach is comparable to “friends first.” As Perez initially described in our longer interview, that’s how Mixcloud found their CTO:

“That’s really the case of what happened with us. We started working with Matt and it wasn’t a case of, ‘hey will you be our CTO’ on day one or day two. It was a case of let’s start working together, start collaborating, kind of learn how we’re working. And as we became more and more involved we shared the passion that we have for the world of radio and shared our dream…”

“It’s not like a hard sell in the sense of, hey I’ve got this idea. You should come and do it with me because it’s gonna be great.”

“It’s off-putting to anybody. It has to be much more of let’s work together. Let’s see if we can build some stuff that’s exciting. Let’s see if we have a good working relationship. And then, if that all works, then, yeah, build it from there and then talk about the bigger picture…”

“Going back to our example, [at Mixcloud] I knew that we could do the design side of things and the front end and the UX, UI side of things and I knew that that was a strength and skill that I built up. But I also knew that the technical side of things was not a forte, was not an area that I was good in.”

“So I think recognizing that and not being completely despairing if for example you haven’t got a huge amount of technical knowledge but thinking about actually what it is that you can bring to the table to help the other person.”

Such advice is worth considering for many endeavors where partnership is essential and certainly crucial for building a startup team.

Learning To Be A Startup CEO:
Bop.fm CEO Shehzad Daredia’s “Incremental Path To Entrepreneurship”
Nico Perez On Where Mixcloud’s Founders Turn When They Have Startup Questions

Tips From Startup CEOs:
College Or Startup? A Thiel Fellowship Mentor Shares His Advice

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Clyde Smith is a freelance writer and web publisher with a doctorate in Cultural Studies from The Ohio State University. He began building websites and creating content in 2000 eventually launching ProHipHop, the first hip hop trade blog, in 2005. From 2011 to 2014 Clyde wrote about music tech and the DIY music biz at Hypebot. He is currently planning a relaunch of DanceLand.

Be in touch via twitter.com/fluxresearch or fluxresearch.com.