Sunday, August 15, 2010
Technical Co-Founders Are A Myth
An Internet entrepreneur needs a website. Two years ago I got the bug to do an online recruiting startup and I began the hunt to find a technical co-founder - a software engineer who works for no cash - to help me build my dream website. Twelve months into my startup journey I had four half-built websites that had been built by my four ex-technical co-founders. You may get a software engineer to start something for you, but they won't stick with the project when it gets difficult. I learned something: technical co-founders are a myth. You're more likely to bump into a piece of talking bacon riding a unicorn on their way to a leprechaun's pool party than finding a software engineer who will work for free.
Most software engineers aren't business people. The only way a software engineer can tell a business idea is a viable is to see the money coming in. A business geek with no money and no income isn't going to inspire confidence in a software geek. If a software geek really wants to try building something for no pay, they're going to work for themself instead of following another cashless entrepreneur.
Max Shapiro's People Connect Staffing has an innovative program called Employees Without Paychecks. This program helps pre-funded startups get work done by professionals willing to work without a formal paycheck. These professionals can help with anything from finance to marketing, but you won't find any software engineers volunteering their services. Why? Because software engineers don't work for free.
If you want to build a business that requires software, be prepared to invest a little money. You can probably get away with spending less than you thought. I recently met a junior software developer working for $200/week + room & board at a business geek's house. The business geek needed a working software prototype and the programmer needed experience. The pair had never intended to build a lasting company together. The quality of the software didn't matter much because it was for display purposes only. After a few months, the demo site won a business plan competition.
My strategy for getting a website built was to make friends with programmers. I went to every programming event I could find on Meetup.com. I found the group of Ruby enthusiasts in SFRuby to be quite active and social. I studied programming at Alex Chaffee's house and that's where I met Sarah Allen. I volunteered as a teaching assistant in Sarah's very first class teaching Ruby and the two of us became good friends. Eventually I was able to scrape up a few bucks and hired Sarah to build me a website prototype. That prototype is now something I use everyday to run my recruiting business. I still don't have a technical co-founder and at this point - I don't need one. Eventually I'll hire a software geek of my own, but right now I'm doing just fine without one.
UPDATE: I have to link to this article by Joshua Volz. He's right on so many levels. I'm trying to create a technology enabled recruiting service for an unproven business model. In 2008 I was first time startup founder with no cash. Partnering with me at that stage was speculative at best. Even though the business is making money now, it's still a big risk for anyone involved.
UPDATE UPDATE: Josh Volz is a cool guy. He reached out to me personally and said hello. I think it's safe to say we both agree that good help is hard to find :) Keep rockin' it Josh.