You have an awesome startup idea.
You're not a programmer, but that's okay.
Maybe you have some relevant domain expertise, maybe you have some prior startup experience, maybe you've done extensive market research, maybe you even have some product mockups.
Now all you need is a developer (or developers??) to build your product.
But you need money to hire developers.
Investors are hesitant to give you money.. you're told to come back once you have a technical co-founder...
But how do you find one of these elusive creatures? And how do you convince them to join you? And is this even the best path to take??
If this sounds at all familiar, then this article is for you.
For context, I'm a relatively experienced technical co-founder with multiple exits under my belt. And even though I love software development, I'm here to tell you that for most early stage startups, you no longer need a technical co-founder.
I talk to aspiring founders all the time, and I can't tell you how often I come across some variation of the above.
Specific questions founders have aren't always so direct, but the underlying thought process is often very similar. I get questions like:
- How do I find a technical co-founder? (really direct)
- Where can I find cheap developers to build my MVP?
- How can I raise money without building an MVP?
- How do I vet developers if I'm not technical?
- What about no-code tools?
- If I use a certain technology to build my MVP, will that limit my ability to scale?
If you're non-technical and are interested in founding a startup, you've probably found yourself asking some of these questions.
First things first, let's make sure we're on the same page regarding definitions.
What is a technical vs non-technical founder?
A non-technical founder is someone with significant company ownership who is not capable of building the company's core product without significant help. A technical founder, on the other hand, is someone with significant company ownership who is capable of building the company's core product with minimal help.
Why does this distinction matter so much?
Advice for early-stage, non-technical founders
Your goal is to de-risk your business
In other words, your goal is not to find a technical co-founder.
Your goal is not to build a development team.
Your goal is not necessarily to even build a product.
Your goal is, however, to validate that you have a viable business model, with a well-defined set of customers who have demonstrated a strong willingness to pay.
This goes a long way in terms of de-risking your business, both in the eyes of potential investors as well as potential employees and partners.
Another way to de-risk your business is to prove that you can convince other quality people to join your team. Whether these people are co-founders, employees, advisors, or investors, proving that you can sell these non-customers on your vision is a form of validation in & of itself.
When a potential investor tells you they want to see a technical co-founder on your team, what they're really saying is that they would feel more comfortable if you de-risked your business by proving that you can get a quality technical person onboard. These may sound like the same thing, but they're really not. Come back a few months later still without a technical co-founder but instead having de-risked your business via solid traction, and I can guarantee you that they'll care a lot less about whether or not you have a technical co-founder onboard.
Non-technical founders need to prove that they can execute
For early stage startup founders, especially non-technical ones, proving that you can execute and gain traction is everything. This does not mean that you need a technical co-founder or even software developers in order to build a product.
Will having these technical resources at your disposal make it easier to execute? Yes, definitely.
Does that mean they're necessary and/or sufficient in order to execute? No, definitely not.
I meet so many non-technical co-founders who are convinced that they need to hire a dev team and/or find a technical co-founder in order to build out their product. Many of them have even been told directly by investors that this is what they want to see.
But you can't always take what investors say at face value. What they really want is for you to prove that you can execute.
E.g., can you build something that validates your business idea enough to de-risk the investment?
Unless you're extremely well-connected, if you're a non-technical founder of an early-stage tech startup, this is the main goal that you should be focused on.
The less product you build the better. The less money you spend on developers the better. You will probably end up throwing much of it out once you find product/market-fit and can raise enough money to
Myths about technical co-founders
Myth #1: Technical founders are more important than non-technical founders
This just flat out isn't true.