Finding cofounders · Technical co-founder

Unknown Technical Co-Founder or Known Non-Tech Co-Founder . Who is better?

Syed Basith Business Architect

July 20th, 2016

Assumptions: B2C on SaaS Model.
                         One Founder on board (Business/Finance Type)

In Hypothetical situation where you need to choose between Technical Co Founder  (Read Web Developer) and Non Technical Friend/Colleague (Hustler Type) who would you choose? 

The question here is what is more important ? The Technical Skills of the Co-Founder  or additional pair of hands (Given there is lot to do in a startup) or having very good relationship and understanding with the Co founder ?

Joe Albano, PhD Using the business of entrepreneurialism to turn ideas into products and products into sustainable businesses.

July 20th, 2016

Think of starting a business like juggling. One ball is building the product. One ball is developing the market. Another ball is managing the money. Depending on your business and other factors, there may be more balls in the air. 

The point is not how many balls are in the air. The point is that if any of the balls falls to the ground, you're not juggling any more. In this scenario, which ball is better? 

If a ball is optional, it doesn't belong in your startup. If a ball is necessary, it's just as good as all of the other balls. 

Joe Albano, PhD Using the business of entrepreneurialism to turn ideas into products and products into sustainable businesses.

July 20th, 2016

In my practice we've always found the relationship to be crucial. When things get challenging, it's usually some aspect of the relationship that we needs attention to get things back on track. 

We spend a lot of time on what we call the While We're Still Friends Conversation. Basically the WWSFC covers how everyone will treat each other, how responsibilities will be divided, and how things will be resolved when they get off track. 

Trust - often an artifact of a previous relationship - CAN make the WWSFC go faster and more smoothly. It can also cause partners to make assumptions about how things will work. Very often these assumptions do not stand up to the pressures of executing a successful startup. 

I STRONGLY encourage you to have your own version of the WWSFC - whether you decide to work with life-long friends or complete strangers. I'd equally strongly encourage you to get professional facilitation for your WWSFC. I could make a long list of reasons why - or you can just trust that having a (relatively) neutral experienced facilitator in the room is the right thing to do. 

Noah Webster Co-Founder at Joir

July 20th, 2016

I agree with Joe. Which skillset is more needed? Do you have to choose just one? If you need both, and can only choose one, then is this project ready to get off the ground?

Irwin Stein Very experienced (40 years) corporate,securities and real estate attorney.

July 20th, 2016

Syed. I had several friends with whom I was a business partner when I was young.
It did not work out because we allowed our friendship to overlook the skills we really needed. Later on, I was fortunate to have a partner for 20 years with whom I frequently quarreled. It worked out well because we told each other what needed to be said.  We kept our eyes on the cash register and making it ring. I was in his home twice in 20 years, he was in mine, once. I have many good friends. I don't do business with them, which is why I have had them for a long time.   

Neil HereWeAre Want To find-close Business Online without competition Before They Google Search? We solve this problem 1(508)-481-8567

July 20th, 2016

Neither type is the primary concern at the founding time.

What matters is that you first know for sure that you have a market, who it is, that they would buy, why they would buy and how many would buy. You also must know your window of opportunity, costs, marketing costs, product costs upfront.

Now you can decide what your co-founder should be skill wise because you know, you have not guessed re what it will take and when to get the product/idea/solution into a marketable fashion and how to pre-seed the market so it is ready to buy.

You will also know if your idea is actually marketable and buyable and by whom. You need a marketing type to research it, validate it and then manage how to go after real world clients asap, not a tech person.

Based on that now You also know whats needed tech wise to develop the product and which tech types/skills to bring onboard ASAP. One of you needs the management skillset side to run the show, project manage, finance management.

So, you really cant answer that question as you posed it nor should you until you have answered my first segment questions above.

David Rueter Empowering businesses to improve and get lean through technology and best practices.

July 20th, 2016

I'll go out on a limb here:  Neither.  Why?  Since you are pondering the question, evidently neither strikes you as essential to the success of the business.

A person who is not essential to the success of a startup is probably going to be dead weight or worse.  To elevate the role of such a person to a board-level position compounds the problem.

Success is more important than optics.  Assemble the team that is essential for and passionately focused on success, and go execute.

***Learned repeatedly from the school of hard knocks.

Joseph Wang Chief Science Officer at Bitquant Research Laboratories

July 22nd, 2016

I'd say that you really need both.

You really need both people that do the marketing and the technical side. If you need to just have one co-founder, you need to ask yourself which person is more able to make up for the lack of skill in one area.

Also a lot depends on personal relationships and this is far too complicated to figure out with the information provided. I've seen people that are great friends but turned out to be terrible business partners. I've also seen companies that are run by people that absolutely *hate* each other, but they manage to make the business work.  (In the latter case, there are two people that would gladly push each other off a train, but because the way the business is set up, they can't, so they manage to run the business.)

Rob G

July 20th, 2016

the minimum viable company (MVC) is product and sales - you must have a product and you must be able to sell it. 2 good friends who get along great but can't build a product or recruit/hire someone who can goes nowhere. A developer and a 'hustler' who can build a product, but don't get along dies and likely after a painful divorce. Two hustlers who can recruit a strong developer and, as a group, manage product development works. If you have the resources to hire the dev resources on a contract basis to build the product this can work well as you start out on a customer to vendor relationship with contract terms well defined. If that goes well then you can consider partnering with your contractor. If you take this route you should know how to manage technical product development.

here's an interesting post related to this subject by a developer turned VC:


My underwhelming experience with due diligence has led me to two key takeaways:

  1. If you're a seed investor and you're doing tech diligence on a company, you're most likely wasting your time and the founders' time.
  2. If you're a technical founder or part an all-technical founding team, be very careful not to overestimate the value of technical execution while underestimating the value of non-technical execution. Technical execution enables great software products to exist, but in my experience it doesn't significantly contribute to success or failure for most early-stage companies. The things that lead to success are generally non-technical: being good at understanding customers' needs, being able to design a product that addresses those needs, being good at hiring, being good at customer acquisition, and so on. A well-built product that doesn't solve a problem will always be inferior to an ugly, buggy product that addresses a burning need."

Syed Basith Business Architect

July 20th, 2016

@Joe The juggling analogy is great... It puts things into perceptive ....

@Irwin, Your comment "FD is full of people who have one or two skills but are deficient in others. Too often they think that their skill is what is important and that they need to hold on to the lion's share of the company." is spot on. Everyone thinks their skill/area is the most important and it takes a lot of courage to let go off all the control. But it is enlightening for me, will hold onto it.

But what about the relationships aspect? From my study  (Yes,reading a lot of startup books) so far most of the great startups had founders who know each other before. (Paypal, FB, Google)

If it was trivial, most of the startups founders would have never mentioned it ...

I have some more thoughts but will hold on to them for now...

Neil HereWeAre Want To find-close Business Online without competition Before They Google Search? We solve this problem 1(508)-481-8567

July 20th, 2016

Of course its important that founders should know, respect and get along well but there are specific skill sets needed from day one. I really don't like your characterization that most FD folks are here to push their unique skill set as the most valuable. 

Read less and go talk with other folks starting up businesses, SCORE, etc directly. They are in the real world and may even be the best partnership buddies you could ever have re advice and guidance.

I think we who post on FD are here to help, advise, share what we have already been through, offer real world derived perspectives, have a genuine interest in helping. We also want to learn from each other and have deep discussions so the person asking the question gets an incredible multifaceted viewpoint and advice.

So, Syed, did you read my comment? Curious about your response. Thanks