Marketing · Teams

Defining roles for non technical cofounders

Rob Phillips iOS & web engineer, product designer, startup enthusiast/advisor

July 16th, 2013

I am a very self-motivated and mostly technical/design based person who also enjoys reading about marketing, business and many other start-up related topics. When I start on a new project or idea, I am typically always aware of the technical/design tasks I need to complete in order to bring the project/idea to life and these tasks are easily measurable by the overall team. For me, it's easier to help define a role for a technical person since it's apparent in the final product design/functionality.

My question is: How do you approach defining and measuring roles for non-technical founders on a mostly technical product such as software when their work is not as easily measured? My goal is to ensure those founders don't get bored, have work that is transparent to the team, and can align their tasks to product/company milestones.

Thank you very much for your words of wisdom!

Richard Hatfield Managing Director at Graziashop

July 16th, 2013


I find that creating job descriptions for the positions is a good starting point. From here you can create a list of responsibilities and accountabilities the role.

Once these are defined then you can quickly create a measure of performance against them and monitor through regular appraisal and personal development sessions.

I am currently COO of a startup that uses a shared Google doc in which we can all see each others current projects, status and deadlines. The doc filters into a weekly status report which is discussed at the beginning and end of the week in a Google Hangout as we have an international team. This adds transparency and accountability for us all but is also a great way of helping each other out when when workflow peaks.

If you need further help on performance measuring techniques let me know.

Peter Baltaxe Consultant, product leader, serial entrepreneur

July 16th, 2013

I am not sure I fully understand your question.  More important than actually building the product is making sure you are going to build something that customers are going to want to pay for (typically) or that customers are going to use enough to support advertising, selling data, or some other business model.

So depending on where you are in your process, you need to figure out competition, your own positioning within the competitive set, pricing scheme, key features, go to market strategy (product/marketing); sales channels generally, and actually reaching out to potential customers, closing sales, etc. (sales); potential partnerships for technology, content, distribution, etc. (business development), finance, legal, etc.  To pick one topic, there are entire books about how to measure a sales force's productivity-- you can measure inputs or outputs (sales calls or revenue generated) or some combination.  Marketing can be measured by how many leads they generate, or how much social buzz or PR or whatever you think is relevant to your business.  

If you are still refining the MVP or V1 product, then your non-technical partner (and I suggest you as well) should be spending a lot of time talking to potential customers first about concepts, then about mockups, then demos, etc as you refine the concept into something people are willing to pay for.  If you are beyond that stage, then break the non-technical tasks into grouped functions as I mentioned above and use a combination of SMART goals and metrics.

Take another example:  Marketing
Choose a brand (trademark search, test it against 10 people to see if it resonates)
Logo design
Competitive Analysis--create a feature comparison of closest competitors along with their pricing schemes
Find a PR firm
Create a financial model for customer acquisition costs by proposed channel.
etc. etc.

So there are lots of specific tasks that you can agree on and put dates against that will move the company forward.  Again in the very early stage it might be "how many potential customers did you talk to this week and where is the feedback summary?" 

Apologies if this is too obvious, I may have misunderstood what you were asking....

Jonathan Gwiazda Director of Programmatic Products at Viant Inc

July 16th, 2013

Hi Rob,

I've had the same question.  It's a difficult and touchy thing to assign value to the various efforts of individual contributors.

I found the book "Slicing Pie" worth the read.  Slicing Pie provides a simple and fair way to divide up equity in early stage companies.




July 16th, 2013

This is a very challenging problem, and one that cannot be solved without a lot of experience in the particular domain. However, there are some good basics you can apply that are covered at length by Steve Blank. If you apply his techniques and get to a healthy revenue number, then you can focus on hiring the right people.

I will also state that this is not a core problem to focus on early. Reading between the lines, it looks like you are focusing on the trust issue with a new business partner. This is something you need to get out of the way very early on. IMHO, you need to establish this before you start structuring milestones and measurement. Customer traction and growth should be the #1 problem.

The other question is... why do you have a non-tech founder, if there is nothing for them to do? :-)

Cheers, Dru

Steve Jones Founder & Principal at Cayoosh Consulting

July 17th, 2013

Hi Rod,

I look at three areas and I think they apply equally well to technical and non-technical roles.

It's a lot like building a road between two cities:
Activity:  How many miles are you building each day?
Quality:  Will the road stand up to the weather and use by vehicles?
Direction:  Are you taking the optimal path?

1) Activity
This is the easiest to measure but it's only a starting point.

For a technical role, this may include the number of features that are now completed or the number of bugs that have been fixed.
For a marketing role, this may include the number of inbound leads generated.
For a business development role, this may include the number of calls that were made.

2) Quality
Quality is harder to measure than activity and is often more subjective.

Using the same examples from above:
For the technical role, does the code include unit tests and will it be easy for other developers to understand it?
For the marketing role, are the leads well qualified?
For the business development role, how much information was learned in each call?

3) Direction
Direction is even harder to measure than quality.   Are people doing the right things?  It's great to find people who have experience thinking strategically but there is no replacement for building testing/validation activities into all roles in your company so that you can be sure everyone is headed in the right direction.

Using the same examples from above:
For the technical role:  Have they built a feature that anyone will use?  Did they do testing to validate the need before they jumped into code?  (That responsibility may be shared with someone in a product management role.)
For the marketing role:  Do the leads come from the right target market?  How did they choose that market?
For the business development role:  Were the calls placed to the right people in the organization?  What activities did they perform to learn the buying cycle of your target customer?


Steve Jones Founder & Principal at Cayoosh Consulting

July 16th, 2013

What is the role you had in mind?  If you can provide a specific example then I am sure you will get some specific ideas for what types of metrics or objectives work well for that type of a role.


Rob Phillips iOS & web engineer, product designer, startup enthusiast/advisor

July 17th, 2013

Thank you for all of the insight so far!  

I think the real difficulty, which a few of you touched on, is measuring the value of a person's work in the early stages of a startup.  A lot of people say to fire fast, but you can only fire fast if you firmly believe that someone is not providing enough value.  It is easier for me to quantify/qualify technical & designer cofounders since their work is very measurable in the final product.

How do you measure work that is not as transparent?  Such as business development, marketing, etc.  Perhaps a few non-technical people can chime in with how they have approached this issue with their prior startups?

As of right now, it sounds like having self-motivated and self-managed people is the best scenario since they can define their own roles/tasks.  The difficulty with this is that some people have not mentally transitioned from a corporate environment where they were heavily managed to a start-up environment where they need to be very independent.