Cofounder · Finding cofounders

What is the role of a non-technical co-founder in a tech product while it is being developed?

Ashit Vora Software Engineer, Working as a consultant for past 9 years, Interested in solving real problems

July 5th, 2019

I am a technical person (Software Engineer) and have been approached by many people in the past for potential partnership in an idea they have. Many of them are silly ideas and some seem reasonable with some business potential. But in the end, it comes down to me developing the product for a few months and then their role will come into play. They could do nothing while the product is being developed. So in the end, if the product doesn't work, it's me who wasted the time while they continued doing other stuff. They had nothing to lose. Moreover, most requests I get are from people who already have some job and cannot contribute full-time to this. How viable can be such a business?Isn't there anyway for the business person to sell the product while it is being developed? Like pre-sale?

Igor Reznitsky Tech Vision and Development

Last updated on July 5th, 2019

As a tech co-founder and I'm actually in that position that you're trying to avoid -- we had a great business idea, we put together a solid MVP that I've worked on for over a year, but when the business was ready to launch, my biz co-founder dropped out due to some unforeseen family circumstances.

Now I'm sitting on a treasure chest with no key to open it -- I have no business/sales background and cannot execute on it myself.

PS: I've been in tech startup industry for nearly 20 years and I've never seen this situation, it's always the other way around -- the business guy is there and ready to pounce, but the tech guy is nowhere to be found. Still trying to figure out my next step :)

Prasantha Jayakody Long history of product management and strategy in Seattle's tech industry.

July 9th, 2019

I agree with a lot of the previous answers with respect to the non-technical co-founder having their act together in terms of a business plan in place before you can decide whether to jump on board. But, after you are on board and developing the product, they should be constantly validating the assumptions in their business plan. And, the best way to do that is by talking to prospects. If you aren't getting customer feedback during the development process, then start to question the market viability of your endeavor. In addition to getting general information from prospects, you should also be getting direct feedback on what you are building - UX design, feature prioritization, etc.

I met with several prospects while our MVP was under development. Not only did I get their input on the product (I used wire frames to test features and usability) but also their commitment to the product. They felt like they were part of the journey; they felt that they had skin in the game; they wanted to see the product succedd. Then, when it came time to sign up beta customers, all it took was an email.

Diane Eschenbach Marketing Strategist

July 5th, 2019

I love this question because it highlights the inherent problem when trying to find a good technical co-founder. The tech prospects are reluctant because they're excited to be part of a start up but their time is limited. They feel that they will be doing all the work and, I agree, that can certainly be true if the non-technical founder isn't doing the proper prep work. Before a developer is recruited, the non-tech founder should have a detailed blueprint of the future organization and infrastructure of the company and an organizational visual of how the product itself will be designed (Phases) and how it will function. They should have a preliminary design in mind (sketches) and have completed some research as to how their end user will be needing/interacting with the platform/application/product. This will surely change as you go, but if they haven't done that first, then you will be asking question after question not knowing what is expected. You will be doing work over unnecessarily, and lastly you won't enjoy the process. Startups, although hard work, are supposed to be exciting, challenging and fun. If you want drudgery stay at your day job. Don't be trapped into doing all the work in a very wasteful way. I would have to agree your time is valuable and should be given wisely to a start up that is prepared. Ideas are a dime a dozen. There are people who are totally vested in making their idea a reality and will stop at nothing. Then there are those that want a quick reward for their idea and want someone else to take the responsibility for making it happen. There are no instant startups and you need to know which category of founder is asking, what's been prepared and what's coming in the future to offset what you are putting in. When you feel good about what they show you, trust yourself and start with a short trial period or a small specific project. There are really no mistakes, if you don't like it you can quit. You may have to try a few different startups til you find that perfect fit.

World Changer & Ninja Marketeer Improving everything one day at a time...

Last updated on July 7th, 2019

Hello Ashit... I do both ends so I resonate with your plight. I work with others who dont have the greatest organization and it is annoying to deal with them after putting in much sweat equity, where the "contract" is "coming." On the flip side, not wanting to invest too much cash, I look for tech guys to work with me on my new ideas, and they all have different opinions on what is fair.

So this is my suggestion. One guy that will work with me on my flagship project has one of the most reasonable agreements with me. He asks for payment for his work in 3 installments: Before we start, after Android is done, then after iOS is done. On top of this, his rate to me is highly reduced, much less than 50% of what anyone else here would charge. BUT on top of all that, we have agreed to a percentage equity for him, which I was reluctant to give at such a high percentage because I am looking for this to overtake Facebook and Google, but we all have to remember, 0% of zero is zero.

If you find someone who is truly in tune with you, that you get along with, that you know is serious and has passion, is not pulled away in 100 different directions, who has a team of partners behind him who will do the tech work and go all in, even if he is sick one week, etc., etc... then this is worth it. There will be tons of legal and paperwork to make this all work and be legit, but then that is the responsibility of the "founder" to get all that done, not the tech guy. If the founder cant do this and present the whole package to you, run, do not start any work.

And if you do decide to work with someone, WORK WITH HARD DEADLINES.

Yes, most of us have second jobs, because inventions "about to/being developed" dont pay the bills. It is very easy to push this aside as real life takes over on a daily basis, we all know what this feels like. Exude your highest value, letting the founder know you are as passionate and skillful of a partner her will ever meet (that takes not much time to do) and then tell him if he presents to you a mockup/schematic/legal paperwork by August 15, 2019, then you are 100% green light, period. If you want, allow for one extension, but thats it. If he needs to continually extend, that clearly means his life isnt ready for this and neither should you.

Any questions, partnership ideas, contact me... good luck!

Paul Garcia marketing exec & business advisor

July 5th, 2019

No, there is no pre-sale until there's a product to sell, but what should be happening LONG before they come to you for building the product is testing their assumptions, developing the marketing strategy, and assuring a product-market fit. If they have done these things before coming to you, then you can be assured there's a higher than usual likelihood that the product will turn into a business. If they have done none of these things before coming to you, then you should stop them cold and back away quickly.

The I have an idea, make it so I can sell it, is a terrible lack of planning. You're right to question what proof they have that anyone even wants to buy what they think is interesting to build.

The absolute first step in product development is marketing strategy. If the business owner can't figure out exactly who the target market is, what they actually need, what they're actually willing to pay money for (unsatisfied need), and how to reach this audience, then there is almost no hope they will ever sell the product. Additionally, each of the assumptions made about the audience and willingness to buy and need, must be TESTED, not just anecdotally documented.

How do you know that potential customers will be willing to switch? Did they say so or did you assume so? Is the problem solved something customers said they care about or something you assume they care about? Etcetera.

Even while you're developing the software defined by the lean startup model, the other non-technical partner needs to be preparing the sales mechanism, collateral, advertising, continuing to test assumptions as more of the product is ready to examine, talking to potential customers and partners about being early users of the product, researching how competitors in the market are changing during the period your product is being developed, and more. There's never a time when one partner should be sitting on their hands. If nothing else, the non-technical partner should be reviewing the way the development is happening so they build a higher degree of understanding of how the engine of the product works and can explain decisions about why certain things work a certain way. A non-technical partner needs to learn some technical skills so they can at least troubleshoot the origin of customer problems in the future. You wouldn't expect a bar owner to never learn how to mix a drink. You wouldn't expect the owner of Jiffy Lube to never learn how to change a filter or tire. The same applies to a software company. They might not be able to write code from scratch, but they should be able to understand what the raw code's purpose is for by looking at it.

Anyway, yes, be suspicious. That you're willing to consider no pay for development (under the right circumstances) makes you a desirable technical partner. But you are right to require a high degree of confidence that your non-technical partner is setting you up for success in trade for your effort.

Ted Vucurevich Cofounder CEO CTO

July 9th, 2019

A true co-founder plays one (or more) roles in a startup, Financier, Sales Person, Implementor. Just because you are "one of the first" employees does not make you a true co-founder. Just because you had the "brilliant idea" does not make you a true co-founder. A "tech product" (or any first product from a startup) is the result of the "Founding Team" each playing one or more the aforementioned roles and collaboratively working together to "Sell each other" on the idea, "Finance the idea", "Implement" the idea as a product or service and close the circle by "Selling" what was built to others.

In my experience if you find yourself asking the question posed, with respect to the co-founding team, I highly recommend exiting stage left.

Jerry Craig, Jr Business Analyst | Process Engineer | Project Management | Entrepreneur

July 11th, 2019

So, it's been mentioned, but the answer is Test, Test, Test. If that is the case then the technical co-founder should be developing only to the next test. Once the product reaches that point then the non-technical co-founder has to go to work and go test the market to see whether people want the product. While there is some long term planning that should be done, the goal should always be to develop the app or product only to the point of the next market test. If this method is followed then both co-founders should be doing a similar work load.

And a test is wire frames, it's not a finished or operational app, and then get out and ask people what they think. This is not a "build it and they will come" type of market. You need to constantly test that you are on the right track and customers want your product. You can throw in all of the startup cliche's and stuff here about failing fast and so forth, but if you can't (or won't) go talk to customers then it's probably not a viable product.

Sudhakar (Sud) Kaushik Go to Market, Fundraising, Pitchdeck, Product Mgt leader at startups and enterprises

July 16th, 2019

I am actually surprised. There is no question about "they could do nothing while the product is being developed". That smacks of silos already. And the statement "so in the end, if the product doesn't work.. " that smacks of poor MVP definition or total lack of lean approach. The whole point of the company is to create a product or service that would make a difference - create value, remove pain etc. So the co-founders should be in it together, define the vision, goals and what problem you are solving. How to build the product has both a tech and non-tech aspect to it. Maybe your co-founder would be chasing down channel partners to test market it while you code. Or cultivate investors. Or designing /recruiting an initial target demo base to showcase product to. I think it is just as important for you as a technical co-founder to have clear expectations of your partner as she would of you.

geilt Insurtech. Programmer, Entrepreneur. Academic, Philosopher. Gamer, VR/AR, IoT, Biohacker.

July 9th, 2019

Easy. Market Research, Marketing / Sales Collateral, Lead Prospecting.

These are things a non-technical co-founder can do.

If you have your deck, website, materials, cards, etc ready to go when the app launches you are way ahead, especially if you understand your market and know exactly what to do on launch.

Anuj B. Gopal Seasoned Entrepreneur who grew a bootstrapped AIoT startup to clock $15M revenue. Seeking co-founder

July 14th, 2019

Hi Ashit,

Within startup one should always focus on SELLING BEFORE BUILDING. Their are many examples of such successful execution like founders of Microsoft(US), FreeCharge(India) had started selling their (visionary) product before writing code. You may google to learn their story and approach.

I've also followed the similar approach to save lots of resources while ensuring on time product launch. This is the most convenient way to build technical products.

Even as a technical person, you can acquire this skill set easily so the next time you can put the clear expectation from non-tech co-founders or drive the sell yourself before starting coding. I will recommend the book 'INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love' and LinkedIn course by 'Cole Mercer'.

Feel free to connect with me if you required further help.