Finding cofounders · Non technical

As a tech guy, I don't know how to run a company. What kind of co-founder do I need for my project?

Emmanuel Letremble Developer & Entrepreneur interested in stimulating projects

May 19th, 2015

Hello,

I'm working on my startup project (a web portal) for few months and even if I can handle the tech part all by myself, I know I will need someone to handle the non tech-parts.

But I don't really know what kind of co-founder I'm supposed to search for in order to complete my own profile.

So here is a small explanation: I want to keep the hand on the tech part (so the CTO/CIO positions should be mine at least at the beginning) and I want to keep the global control (51% or more of the shares) so I can decide the overall company direction if needed. But I'm really ready to rely on my co-founder expertise by letting him taking most of the important business, marketing, sales and found rising decisions.

Can I find someone that can handle the company establishment, administratively run it and even work on the business development? Or should I search for multiple partners with different roles? Is there a given title that match what I am looking for?

Thank you for your enlightenments about this problem.

Bill Kelley

May 19th, 2015

You need someone with operations experience to handle the business stuff. Typically that person will not be the best evangelist for business development. 

Not knowing more about your business, but having some idea of how a web portal would be established and grow, I would advise getting one partner - the evangelist. You need someone to look for and recruit participants - financial and UGC - and run meetings with potential partners and investors. that person is the Jobs to your Wozniak. 

The operations person you need at the startup stage is not the operations person you need as the business grows - unless you find someone truly extraordinaty. My advice is to get paid help rather than a partner in the administrative/operations area.

Karen Leventhal

May 19th, 2015

I agree with Bill. Start with your evangelist to see if you have a market and how fast you can get traction.  If you do grow, then you'll need a more experienced operation and finance people. But without customers all the other functions are largely wishful thinking. 

Jonathan Poston Yiveo.com | Medical Marketing Agency

May 19th, 2015

Depending on the business, it's no uncommon to pull in multiple co-founders to serve in different roles (tech, operations, finance, marketing & sales). Slicing Pie  is a helpful book (no business affiliation) when thinking about the logistics of bringing in others. 

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

May 19th, 2015

First - your co-founder needs to be someone you TRUST.   Because it sounds like you are going to be handing off money management and expense management to them.  And that requires lots of trust.

Second - they have to believe in YOUR vision.  Doesn't mean they have to agree with every detail, but if you are handing off "marketing"  then in many ways you are also handing off the specification of the features and functionality of the product.  After all, HOW it works and WHAT It does are large parts of marketing.  So you need someone who buys YOUR vision and not theirs

Thirdly  - you need someone with a track record.  Because otherwise that trust issue is going to be that much harder to deal with when you are in the hole up to your waist in mud and digging furiously. 

Pierce Wetter Front End Principal at Skyport Systems

May 19th, 2015

The idea that if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door is a myth. 

The world will follow the big sign that says "Better Mousetrap this way". 

I've been in startups with good tech people, I've been in startups with good tech and good business people. 

My next startup has to have good marketing too. And good design... 

Some book suggestions: Read Business Model Development and Value Proposition Design. As a tech person you'll appreciate the divide-and-conquer approach to thinking about the business and how it works. The first book will help you talk to the business people. The second book will help you think about the marketing. 

I won't repeat what others have said about keeping 51% unless you can self-fund. I will give you the tip that all founders, including you, should be on a vesting schedule. There are relatively standard sets of percentages that you should pre-reserve for investors, founder stock, employee stock options, etc. 

Bill Kelley

May 19th, 2015

Thanks, Karen - to the OP: a further point that I didn't mention is that operations can come in a bit late in the team build because the financial structure and administration can [to a degree] be handled retroactively. Be sure you have a viable business first!

Ben Thomas Systems Architect / Senior Developer

May 20th, 2015

Also, don't assume because you are the technical lead that you should be the CTO. CTO'ing isn't all about being the smartest geek in the room. It's more to do with the business strategy and management than technical detail. Put your ego aside. A smart technical founder might well hire a CTO to handle that stuff especially if you admit that you aren't that business savvy. You would still own the company, but you might have to defer to the CTO. Not all founders end up being the CEO/CTO. Often your investors realize you aren't that experienced and want to hire a safe pair of hands into the CEO or CTO position. Be smart. Let them.

Leo PhD Product development executive, serial entrepreneur and Angel Investor

May 19th, 2015

I agree with Bill's posts above. You need to get an evangelist first. Operations people can come later, and, indeed, can be done retroactively.

I would add that besides the evangelist, you should look for advisors and mentors who would be willing to scrutinize your service/product, and offer you constructive criticism. Granted, opinions are opinions, but you will be able to hear how others perceive your product/service and begin to see if there are holes in  your thinking. From my experience, there always are, and I have learned tremendously from other people's input.

As for compensation, I generally recommend using the Slicing Pie model as a basis, and put everyone on a vesting schedule; but there are also many other posts on this issue (just do a quick search).

Best wishes on your new adventure.

Ben Thomas Systems Architect / Senior Developer

May 20th, 2015

Welcome to the startup world ! You no longer have the luxury of being a 'tech guy'. You are now a 'business guy' or you will become a 'chalk-outline guy'. Even if you find a stellar business partner with a PhD in big exits you need to understand what she's doing IN DETAIL. Take the time to research and read. I wish I could make some good book/blog recommendations. Brad Feld's blog and termsheet series of postings is a good start. Fred Wilson's blog is also full of good stuff. Consider going on a 'startup weekend' or 'bootcamp' and get up to speed !

Lorraine Wheeler President at Redstoke, LLC

May 20th, 2015

I agree with Karl that the most important thing is to find someone you TRUST.

You are doing great by building a first product based on your vision.  The next step is to use this product to find the right product/market fit.  This could be a great task to see if you work well with a potential partner.  A business partnership is in many ways like a marriage.  It is important to date first before marriage...  Good luck!