HOW TO LAUNCH A TECH STARTUP IN 2016
Part 10: How to Find a Non-Technical Co-Founder
A great non-technical co-founder can help you grow your startup from a cool app that nobody knows about into a world-changing company that affects millions of lives. What would Apple have looked like with just Woz and no Jobs? A world-class non-technical co-founder can literally make your company.
BEFORE YOU START LOOKING, BE VALUABLE YOURSELF
As a technical co-founder, your main value will lie in the technical work you do (i.e. developing your web or software product). Therefore, it behooves you to be as good at your craft as possible. Being an expert in at least one language is good. Having a broad base of coding knowledge is important. Truly, though, the most important thing, in a real-world scenario, is that you have the ability to create a really useful app that people actually want to use. If you’ve already done that, or are in the process of doing so, you’re already valuable enough that you should have no problem snagging a pretty talented non-technical partner.
Still, the more value you bring to the table, the higher-level partners you’ll be able to attract, and the more power you’ll have in your partnerships will be with them. If you want to take it to the next level, go ahead and bring the product to market yourself, first, before you start looking for a non-technical co-founder. If it’s an app, upload it to the App Store / Google Play. If it’s a web app, upload it to the web and get it running. At the very least, upload an MVP. Get your family and friends involved. Use growth hacks to try to gain traction. It’s much more powerful to come to the table with an app that has actual users, rather than just a cool little program that people may or may not care enough about to use.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A NON-TECHNICAL CO-FOUNDER
The best non-technical co-founder you can find is the one that complements your skill set the best; the one that brings to the table the things that you’re missing.
In our January article: Do I Have What It Takes To Launch a Successful Startup, we outlined a few major skill sets that every new tech startup needs:
- Technical skills
- Sales, marketing, and networking skills
- Leadership/entrepreneurship/getting-things-done skills
- Financial skills (or just straight up investment capital)
- Business development skills
If you’re reading this article, you probably already have the technical skills down pat. But what about the rest of the list? Do you already have investment capital, or do you need someone else to bring that in? Are you confident enough in your entrepreneurship skills that you can lead the charge, or do you need to find someone with that particular skill set? If you already have some of these skills yourself, you may want to focus your search on finding people who can bring in what you can’t.
Of course, there are different levels of talent for every skill set. Here’s what you can look for to determine if someone has attained a high-level of expertise in his or her speciality:
- Sales: Look for someone with exceptional people skills, who makes you feel comfortable, and also makes you feel like you want to work with him. If he can easily, comfortably sell you on giving him a part of your company, he’s probably pretty good at sales in general.
- Marketing: Look for someone who has already brought a product to market, who has reached thousands/millions of customers, who has brought in large amounts of revenue in the past, etc. It’s hard to know if someone will be a great marketer, until they actually prove it. Unconventional/innovative marketing ideas can also be indicative of a great up and coming marketer.
- Networking: Here too, you’re looking for great people skills, but you can also look at past performance in this category. Look for someone who already has an all-star network. While it’s great to find a partner whose friends include celebrities, sultans, media moguls, and oligarchs, sometimes it’s best to work with a co-founder who has connections in your particular field. So if, for example, you’re launching an app aimed at high school teachers, you might choose a co-founder who has a large network of high-school teachers, administrators, etc, rather than a co-founder who happens to be friends with Shakira.
- Leadership/entrepreneurship/getting-things-done skills: Look for someone who has a high degree of personal energy, dominant personality, people skills, and focused motivation. Look for someone who’s basically jumping out of her chair to try to make something happen, right now.
- Financial skills (or just straight up investment capital): While people skills are good, and great networkers can find capital when they need to, it’s best to work with someone who already has access to capital if you’re looking for a partner who can easily bring in funding. Look for someone with solid connections — to actual people who are actually willing to fund your company — or, better yet, has capital he’s willing to invest himself. Having a finance degree, or other formal training/experience in terms of finance & money management, is extremely useful as well.
- Business development skills: Look for someone who actually has formal training/experience in business development; someone who has either gone through an MBA (or similar) program, or has built at least one large, successful company before. Business development is less about people skills and more about knowing how business works in our particular economic and legal systems.
Finding a great non-technical co-founder is less about finding “the greatest, most talented person,” and more about finding your perfect match. Obviously, the more talented your partner is in her specialized skill sets, the better your company will do… but at this stage in the game, the most important thing you can look for is someone who brings in the basic skillsets that you need to make sure your startup is well-rounded enough to actually get things done and make something happen.
HOW TO FIND THAT PERSON
Your product alone may be enough to convince a great non-technical partner to join your team, but finding a truly world-class non-technical co-founder requires more than just some great code; it requires you to actually be able to find the right person.
By building and launching your product yourself (as we discussed in our previous article), you will find that some great potential partners may actually find you. The greatest non-technical co-founders tend to be the most pro-active as well, and you may find that the people approaching you with offers are better than the people you’re finding yourself through craigslist and linkedin. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be proactive yourself. Try using the following resources to find a non-technical co-founder who complements your skillsets and brings in what you need: