When I was doing freelance development, I had about one pitch per week for an equity-only opportunity. I fell for a couple, learned my lesson, but now I never accept these kinds of deals, even though a lot of the ideas and even teams seem solid. There are usually several reasons, but mostly it comes down to them not offering enough equity. These “startups” are almost always mostly-non-technical founders offering 1-2% premoney for a “lead developer” position. In my view, the very fact that they feel that the technical development of a web startup is only worth a couple percent speaks volumes.
So if you’re a non-technical person with an idea for a tech startup and you need to find a cofounder, how do you do it? The first step is to stop thinking about what you can offer them to join your startup, and start thinking about what you can offer them, period.
If you’re starting a web company and you can’t code, there are a few things you can bring to the table, including:
- experience managing a successful startup
- sales and marketing experience, especially in a startup environment
- valuable connections, especially in a startup environment
If you have the first three, you’re probably not going to have a tough time finding developers willing to work with you, so you probably won’t be reading this post. And if you had the fourth one, you could just hire developers, so what’s left? I’ll tell you what’s not left: your idea. The reality is that the only thing the vast majority of non-technical founders can really offer is the ability to hustle and work their ass off to support the development effort. And that’s not something most of them want to hear or want to do.
My advice: if you’re looking for a skilled developer for a software startup, consider them an equal founder and split the pie accordingly. And then work 10x as hard as them to make up for the fact that they’re probably better off without you than you are without them.
Or maybe this is just the arrogant developer in me? Feel free to post counter-examples where non-technical founders didn’t bring any of the above 4 things to the table and the startup was a success.