Technical co-founder · Beta launch

Should you outsource Beta version of App before seeking Technical Co-Founder?

Anonymous

February 13th, 2015

I'm looking to work with a technical co-founder on developing my app as I have no coding skills. I've already got 190 people signed up to be notified of when the app is released including a website closerthanapp.com.

Should I outsource the Beta version before seeking technical co-founder? Or will this make it difficult for my future co-founder to modify?

Frederic Moreau Agile Business Transformer

February 13th, 2015

Hi Malia, 

Yes of course you can outsource the coding of your app, especially if it is not technology-centric, i.e. where the core value of your service is technology. 

Before you envision to spend a single dollar on coding, make sure you validate your project. And there a few steps you could take between your landing page with 200 registered contacts and the launch of your app.
Things that will enable to confirm that you are working on a real problem -- how people in real life cope with the problem you want to solve through software? How big is this market? How do you monetize the service? One way for you would be to deliver the service "manually" first, then once you've been through a few customer experiences (people actually paying for your service ideally) you can start designing the experience with your app.

If you've done pretty much all this and that you want to move on with software development, investigate a few software development firm or freelancers - I can connect you to one firm I know and work with, very competent and quite cheap as it is offshore. Just make sure you don't spend your money creating something that cannot scale up, that's what apps / softwares are all about.

All the best!

Anonymous

February 13th, 2015


You can do many things to validate an idea without/before a cofounder, including building a prototype or having it built so you can test with users.

But launching an app (or website, or a device, or really any product) requires making a whole bunch of foundational decisions. If you can make these decisions and/or trust the people you hire (the dev shop, perhaps with assistance/cross-checking from technical advisors) to make them, then great.

My advice:
1. Be clear in your mind whether you are dealing with a protoype (something that will be used to collect data then replaced) or a "beta" (the foundation of your product going forward). If it's a prototype, then go for it, knowing you will pay to rebuild it.
2. If it really is a beta, then build a list of the technical risks. If you cannot assess them get help who can. That help should have equity, or _at least_ should not be someone who is or might be paid to deliver the product, so that their interests and yours are aligned. In short a technical advisor, not a dev shop.
3. discuss the answers to/mitigation of those risks with your technical partners (which should include the paid developer/dev shop).

If your risks are moderate and seem to be reasonably contained, go forward: build and launch the beta. Startups always involve managing risk. But if you don't have confidence that you know what the risks you are taking are, or you see risks but lack confidence in how you have addressed them... well... maybe you do need a technical cofounder.

A couple of fictional examples to maybe make this a bit more real: 

Amy wants to launch an iOS app for real estate agents to record notes after they show properties to a client.

Bea wants to launch an iOS and Android app that would overlay fantasy elements into everyday life via augmented reality, thus creating the next social gaming phenomenon, with embedded brand advertising for revenue. E.g., one day players might discover that VW Beetles, when viewed through their phones, "wake up" and ask for Diet Cokes; the player can get a reward by getting a friend to take a pic of a can of Diet Coke and "showing" it to the Beetle within the next 3 minutes.

Amy's risks? Well, notetaking is straightforward and understood with many apps that contain similar functionality. Dev shop estimates might be under $10K initially. Market size and frequency of use are both limited. Inconsistent cell service may have to be managed but iCloud helps with that. Marketing/making big deals could be timed for when user feedback shows the app is ready. In short, go for it.

Bea's risks? Multiple sensor usage (camera, maybe geolocation, voice, etc), image recognition and maybe 3d image composition, virtual reality user experience, marketers' expectations for user experience quality and embedding of brand assets, cross-platform development with lots of shared back-end services, real-time interactions with friends & the environment, "fun factor" requiring lots of iteration/experimentation/polish on user experience, and the big one: scale. For the social model (and eyeball monetization generally) to work you need lots of customers, and you are certainly hoping that you will be a "gaming craze" and get lots of users interacting in a short period of time. And if you do get a buzz it may not be on your intended schedule. Probably investment for a demo alone would be six figures; a beta game would be seven figures. In short: build that strong technical cofounding team now.

I hope this has been an entertaining look at the question. Both of the above startup ideas are freely available for anyone who wants to fail, by the way :).

-- Glenn

Mamie Stewart Founder & CEO at Meeteor, Speaker, Change-maker

February 13th, 2015

I am also not a technical person and I spent a long time looking (unsuccessfully) for a technical co-founder. Its really hard to find someone who has the 'right' technical skills, sees and believes in the vision you have, and that will collaborate well with you. 

I decided to try to outsource the development and found a contract developer to build the beta version. We worked together for a few months on the beta and over time, discovered that not only do we have a great working relationship, but he also really believes in the product/company. After 9 months, I offered for him to join the company full time as my first employee and he accepted. He is not a co-founder, but does play the role of #1 technical lead.

There are many benefits to this approach - decision-making is clearer since you dont have multiple co-founders with different priorities, you can get something in the market faster, you can keep looking for a tech co-founder while you're building if you want, etc. The only real downside I've experiences is cost. Most dev shops and contract developers dont accept equity (or equity only.)

As a side note, I've also found it easier to attract other developers/team members now that we have a working beta. So being able to show a potential technical co-founder the first MVP-style version may help him/her to see the potential in your idea.

Anonymous

February 13th, 2015

I'm looking to be a technical co-founder looking for a business partner, seems there is the same issue on both sides :)

That's why I joined FD but so far no connections at all.

Eyal Eithcowich Founder and CEO at Smart Monthly

February 14th, 2015

My two cents as a technical person and a startup founder: absolutely. People spend months looking for the perfect tech co-founder, and often even if they find someone s/he's not available full time, or otherwise not committed, and the whole thing drags for months or worse never happens. 

Outsourcing on the other hand guarantees a movement forward and gives you something to show to people. The caveat is that you have to really know what your product is, and how to communicate your needs to the development team.

Bob Graham Engineering and Software

February 13th, 2015

Hey Malia,

I would say you can always find a co-founder, it just takes time.
Founder Dating is one of many great resources for finding someone.

I would really focus on overcoming that challenge. It would be easy to hire someone and hard to find a co-founder, but a co founder who is committed will save you so much time and money in the long run. Why not spend the time to really build a strong foundation for your business?

You might go through a few people, you might get quite a few no's, but if you can get the right person, how amazing would that be? Just spend 10 hours a week on it for a couple of months and leverage every resource you can find. I guarantee you can find that person if you really set it as a goal.

Rachel Ratliff Voki Mobile

February 13th, 2015

I concur absolutely with Mamie's response. I was in a similar position, couldn't find a technical co-founder, and outsourced development of my app (vokiapp.com). In an ideal world, you would find a technical co-founder first. But that can be quite difficult, so if you have the funds, go ahead and outsource. Then you'll have something more substantial with which to attract a co-founder or technical lead. Message me if you want to talk further about my experiences. 

Karl Schulmeisters CTO ClearRoadmap

February 13th, 2015

Well from the website its clear you have written the Marketing brochure.

Before you start coding you still have some things to do (if you have not done them already)

Your next step should be to write a detailed user guide.  Walk through how everything is supposed to work.

That then gives you the ability to fill out a Business Model Canvas
http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/canvas/bmc

From that you can then write a product specification 

And only when you have a product specification are you really ready to bring on technical resources.  

I realize this is a bit of a non-traditional approach.  Most startups in tech are technology driven.   An engineer comes up with a cool idea, hacks together a demo and then goes to find funding. 

and that's how you get products like The Belty http://www.engadget.com/2015/01/07/belty-motorized-belt/  that end up at CES and everyone has a party and lots of people waste time and money.


So there is a lot of work for you to do before you get to NEEDING technical staff.

Now If you have never managed technical staff, never done project management - then outsourcing your development is very likely to end up in tears.   Because the outsourced developers neither understand your idea nor buy into it.

So you need to have the ability to not only drive them at a fairly detailed level, but you also need to be able to assess the quality of their work.

that you have 40 people signed up (people who sign up for free don't count)  doesn't really say all that much.  In some ways you would get a better signal if you had a Kickstarter campaign where people had to sign up in advance - say for a 50% discount on a 1 year subscription.

Rob G

February 14th, 2015

Malia;  assuming you are wanting to build a successful company and not just a piece of technology the most important thing at this stage is forward progress.  Do whatever you have to do to move the ball forward every day. Spending weeks/months/years trying to find a tech co-founder is not making progress.  There is no guarantee that when you do find a technical co-founder with whom you are compatible who also has the time and skills and passion and work ethic,  etc. that they will work out in the long run or even short run.  Validating product/market fit (which in most cases can be done substantially without a working product), getting customer commitment, defining & refining use cases, writing specs (descriptive overview, wireframes, UI mockups) can all be done without technical resources.  Granted, these steps are almost always better with a cofounder with complimentary skills by your side, but if your options are: 1. wait until i find a technical co-founder or 2. make progress, #2 wins every time. You can continue to look for a co-founder as you make progress, just don't stop your forward progress.  The more progress you make the more 'attractive' you are to other co-founders and eventually investors (if you need them).  If you get far enough along you will not need a co-founder as much as you will need your first few 'key hires'.  These are easier to find. As has been mentioned, producing specs, evaluating developer skills and quality, determining platform and architecture, and managing a SW development project may be skills you lack (or not), but there's nothing like on the job training.  You can find advisors who can help with these tasks. Move the ball forward whatever it takes. 

Stephanie Cox Founder & CEO at The Level Market

February 17th, 2015

Malia  - I agree with the gentleman who said progress is the most important thing. I am not a software engineer either but am working on an e-commerce business. After a lot of research, i decided to outsource to a group called Vteams in Pakistan. I cannot say enough how great they've been! I have a prototype that i can now put in front of sellers and buyers for feedback (though I developed it with my customers all along.) And if I find a developer/co-founder, great - I already have something to show him or her to get them excited. Also try to go to some meet up groups to meet developers. I went to Boulder's Pitch to Developers and met a lot of very talented people with a lot of great advice. In the end -- go with what your gut tells you. I did. You have everything you need to figure this out. Just don't get overwhelmed by all of the advice. 
Good luck!