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What's the bar for a non-technical cofounder?
Here in NYC I keep hearing how difficult it is to find technical cofounders.
I'm a technical person looking to join someone as a CTO, so I've thought about this a fair bit recently: What should a non-technical cofounder bring to the table to have a shot at finding a CTO?
I'd love the group's opinion on this. To get started here's mine:
I look for one of these criteria in a potential cofounder.
1. Has built and launched a prototype and (hopefully) gotten a little bit of traction. Shows they're serious, able to speak my language to a small degree, and able to move forward (hustle).
2. Has raised seed money. (getting paid is a huge motivator)
3. Has already founded a startup before.
4. I know (or have gotten to know) the person or they have been recommended by a friend that knows them well.
The reason for this is simple: it's trivial to determine if a technical person has the skill set necessary to be CTO. Just look at their resume. They generally have experience in full time jobs whose skills relate directly to the job you want them to do.
Contrast that with a non-techical cofounder. Running a startup isn't something the typical non-technical cofounder has done. I personally feel that they should bring something equally valuable to the table.
I hope this doesn't come off as too harsh... if you are or know someone who is looking for a tech cofounder I'd still love to talk to them. :)
In my opinion, a CTO is not only a good engineer he should also be able to
interpret the market requirements and be able to decipher various other
competition into a language understood by the VCs. As such its important to
have atleast one person (technical or nontechnical) who can get the best
value out of any funding cycle.
If you can find a technical person with an understanding of the business
aspects you are one lucky founder. Ofcourse if you are able to understand
the business aspect, then you are all set. If not, you will have to atleast
get a mentor who can guide you through the hoops the VCs make you jump
(this is the best way to startup a company). If nothing else, you have to
get a person who understands the process.
Other's experience might be different but if you cannot convince the VC's
armada of interrogators, you might get a bargain you might regret.
You may even be looking for a CIO. Consider that a CTO typically leads the
tech for a product business whereas a CIO leads the tech for a services
business. Some companies even have both where the CTO works for the CIO
and the CIO has global responsibility over infrastructure and data centers
and whatnot and the CTO simply oversees development and product-related
activities. When Bill Gates became Chief Product Officer, he basically
became a CTO.
In either case, both need to be excellent at relating business ideas to
technology, but especially a CIO needs to be very focused on driving the
business... not the other way around.
no sure if this added value to the convo or not, but there ya go.
I love this question because I'm dealing with it right now. If I heard you
correctly, you're a technical cofounder looking to join up with a CEO-type
who's working on something already. I've been around this block a couple
of times and here's my list:
- Likeable. Life is too short to work with assholes. Best case you're
living with this guy for five years before exit and you'll be together a
- First impression. Meet him in a professional environment (not a
coffeeshop) and check the vibe. Does this guy make a good first impression?
Any off vibe you get on first impression will only get stronger the longer
you spend with someone.
- You can picture this guy commanding a room full of people all of whom
know as much as can be known about your product space. I tell this story
all the time: one of my CEOs went into a room full of professionals at a
major bank and started his pitch with "This is is what you do" and
proceeded to describe their jobs to them in a way that was not at all how
they'd describe it. Ninety minutes later as we file out I hear one guy
whisper to another "You know he's right, that IS what we do".
- Is someone you can picture yourself taking orders from. There's only
one final decision maker. There has to be one, and the CEO is it. If
you're CTO, you're not it and it's best to confront that issue upfront.
- Powerpoint. This is stupid and trivial but you have no idea how much
time is spent on the goddamned powerpoint. Non-negotiable.
- Drive, energy, persistence. Both founders need this, but the CEO
more than CTO. You're gonna hit the rocks and have to throw out weeks
worth of work at some point. A guy who falls into a funk and starts
looking for another job at that point is useless.
- Totally devoted, 100%, to the venture you're doing together. A guy
who admits to having, or is committed to keeping, more than one iron in the
fire is waving a big red flag in your face.
Nice to haves:
- Has raised money, but not necessarily for this venture. This is a
nice-to-have because one of the risks you need to take to justify the huge
rewards in a startup is the risk of working with people who haven't done it
- Top college. This also sucks but money respects this way more than I
- Self-sufficiency. Nothing sucks more than having to teach a guy
Excel, Word, Powerpoint, basic HTML, Photoshop ... On the flip side, a CEO
who can make his own prototypes/wireframes is money.
I haven't thought all the way through this so this list is kinda
I wrote a piece addressing part of this topic a few months back:
In short, I think you have to prove that you're someone who has real
talents and the mental strength to fully work through your ideas and their
implications in detail.
phone 1 (617) 767-9366
twitter @dangrover <http://twitter.com/dangrover>
Your blog post addresses the other side of this - tech guy with idea
looking for business side to help execute the idea. This is the position
I'm in, and I think it's harder to deal with than the other way round
simply because the roles are less intuitive and any rejiggering of them
runs smack into accepted wisdom from the funding side.
- Who's the CEO in that situation?
- Who's the final decision maker? Might not be the CEO.
- What is the role and title of non-technical founder if they're not CEO?
- If technical founder is also CEO, what way will he go when CEO/CTO
roles inevitably demand too much time each?
I think I might have enjoyed your post more with the "incendiary subtitle".
As a non-technical founder myself looking for a CTO/ tech co-founder in
Boston, I think John nailed it.
I'm a former VC, so I know that the top things angel investors / small VCs
look for are market size, product traction, and team quality. You should
honestly be more interested in an impressive person that has a prototype
and beta customers lined up in a big market, than someone with funding.
The technical cofounder is the third piece to the puzzle that will help a
founding team raise money at an attractive valuation. Otherwise, you get
caught in a situation where a non-technical team has no fully invested tech
talent, and investors aren't as interested.
A non-tech founder that raises before landing a baller technical co-founder
probably gives up more of the company than needed and hurts your future
upside in the process.
At the earliest stages you'll also need someone who is fun to work with,
relentless, and has exceptional sales skills - with both customers and
recruits in order to build an "A" team. Although sometimes it takes a
grounded COO to balance the "dreamer" CEO, it's a definite benefit if that
non-tech founder can balance a big long-term vision with realistic
great thread, I really liked reading it and seeing the different takes on
the issue. Finding the right person is pretty tricky, it's probably not
about a perfect match up front, but it has to have the potential to grow
into such. Being able to work with them for endless hours and be able to
disagree and resolve issues is key.
Dan, Great article too. I had a co-founder where he could not easily
switch between can do and can think, in the end it was the key component to
his exit. Any founder who can't move gracefully between the two is going
to struggle and end up unhappy.
from the blog post...
*If, like me, you're pondering what kind of people you want to work with
and what role you want to have in a team, it's probably best to forget the
archetypes and just find collaborators who:*
1. *Can do ? that is, have definable, testable skills.*
2. *Can think.*
3. *Can switch back and forth between the two.*
Out of curiosity I have to ask those of you looking to team up with a
**non-technical** cofounder...who built the beta or prototype?
I can make a passable "clickable prototype" as an MVP/proof of concept on
my own, but it's certainly not a beta, nor would it be something usable
enough to release or gain any traction.
There's zero snark intended here, I just really want to know what you guys
I personally retained a dev company that did design and user flows for the beta. My case is unique because it's a B2B application so didn't need a usable MVP until the customers buy in to the product. But I lined up interested customers based on the site mockups, then pulled the trigger on dev work and aggressive tech founder recruiting.
On Dec 18, 2012, at 9:48 PM, Cynthia Schames <cynthiascha...@gmail.com> wrote:
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