For the past few years I have been getting into the same conversation on weekly basis. Someone contacts me via email/twitter with a message that looks roughly like this one:
Hi my name is X and I am looking for a technical co-founder. I saw on twitter/fb/reddit/whatever that you are an experienced programmer and I thought that I should contact you regarding becoming a technical co-founder for an idea that I have. The idea has the potential of becoming a billion dollar thingy so… If you build it, we can split the profit 50-50. please let me know if you are interested.
xoxoxox – X
All I can think of when I see this kind of email is: “not this shit again!”. So here is a small list of Do(s) and Don’t(s) for when you are looking for a technical co-founder:
1. Introduce yourself
Seriously, introduce yourself. Telling me your name is the least interesting part. I want to know who you are, what you do and why you think we are a good fit to work together. How old are you? do you have any IT-related work-experience at all or are you a complete stranger to technology? This does not have to be a long wall of text. Just make sure to mention something about yourself so that I know who I am talking to.
2. Don’t be afraid to share your idea
This right here is the most frustrating part. Most of you believe that you are actually sitting on the next big thing and want to protect it so bad that you sometime forget that you are looking for a CO-FOUNDER. Your idea means LITERALLY nothing. If your initial trust level is: I don’t want to tell you my idea because I am afraid you might steal it, then why the hell are you contacting me? stop wasting my time. Any programmer worth his salt gets bombarded with ideas and suggestions all the time and yours is not any different. You might believe it to be so but it most likely isn’t. So share your idea with ease and rest assured that even if it gets stolen (which is extremely unlikely), the IT-market is never a zero sum game. The execution of the idea is what matters. Besides, sharing your idea will help you out way more than being secretive every will.
3. Don’t overestimate your idea’s value
For the love of Ra, stop with the “my idea is to build Tinder for penguins –> Tinguins!”. I have no idea why this is happening but for the last 5ish years it seems like the tech market has slowed down. There are barely any good products being made with real world impact. Everyone wants to build the Nth iteration of some social networking thingy that adds no value to anyone. There are literally tens of difference social networking projects launched every day, and ALL of them fail. Occasionally, one of them will get big enough but still no monetization model will ever be found because everything is now given away for free to the end consumer in exchange for some back-end data. What’s the point? The odds are not in your favor, the money is nowhere to be found and the investment is too big compared to the potential returns. I would recommend you watch David H. Hansson’s talk about this subject.
David is the creator of the Ruby on Rails framework and his assessment of this weird money-less idea culture is spot on!
This attitude is not healthy for anyone. If you want a serious technical co-founder to even pay attention to your idea, make sure it counts. Talk to me about a real world problem and your vision toward solving it. Social networking things, dating apps/sites and stuff like that are not interesting and you won’t make any money off of it. Stop wasting your time and most importantly, mine.
4. Don’t overestimate your own value
It infuriates me when I get contacted by someone with the usual 50-50 offer. You know the one… I thought of it, you build it and we split the profit.
You got your idea while taking a shit in a public bathroom. It literally took you 10 mins to come up with this shit (no pun intended). You want me to spend 6 months of my life working on a product for you to split the profit 50-50? what arrogance is this? How about this: I have a TON of good ideas, just like everyone else, why don’t YOU do all the work and we split the profit? the usual answer to that is: “but I don’t know how to program”. Alright then. Enroll in a university, get your CS degree and once your done with that part, start working on my idea and a few years from now we should be able to split the profit 50-50. Sounds fair right? of course NOT. You know why? because the level of investment is not equal. I have spent years of my life learning and working on this stuff so my expertise and your idea are not of equal worth.
Jesus Christ. The reason this gets me worked up is because you fundamentally do not understand the amount of time required to build a product from an idea. That is the ultimate sign of a rookie. If all you have to offer is an idea then why the hell would I EVER partner up with you? There are literally millions of other ideas I can work on so why would I waste my time and give you 50%?
What you need to do instead is to communicate your own value and base your ownership evaluation on that. It is not enough to just have an idea. Do you intend on putting any cash in? do you have any expertise that is essential to the business? Do you perhaps have a law degree and can help the company out somehow? WHAT CAN YOU DO? What is your value?! and please don’t give me any of this “I am the business side” BS. What the hell is that even? Make sure to clarify what your investment will be in comparison to mine before discussing equity.
5. If you have an idea, write a business plan. If you don’t, learn to write one
Writing a business plan is such an underrated skill. When you actually sit down and put everything in writing, what ends up happening is that you get a better understanding of your own idea and how to turn that into a business. If you have an idea and want to present it to me, having a business plan already done would impress me SO MUCH. That stuff gets me wet! That basically means that you have done your homework. You have identified the strength and flaws of your idea and actually put down some work-time in researching things rather than just contacting me with nothing but a shallow hope for a quick buck.
Business plans are most often misunderstood. It is not a marketing document. Don’t try to SELL your idea in your business plan. Instead, your B.P. should identify and describe your idea’s strength and weaknesses. Make some market research and backup your argument with any stats/data that you can find. Be objective and include even the data that does NOT support your idea. Show that there is an honest demand for your product and that the market would like to see it priced at $X. Make some ballpark timeline estimates and put up some goals for your return on investment. You need to do all of that prior to coding not after.
“But, but, but, Where do I get all of this data and do the…” THAT IS YOUR JOB!! All of this is on you, the non-technical one. So if you don’t even do any of this, why would I partner up with you? There is absolutely no reason!
One of the hardest things to do is to estimate time. Time it takes for the M.V.P. to be done, time it takes to maintain the product weekly, time it takes to get costumer feedback, etc. For that reason, the non-technical co-founder should have a realistic vision prior to seeking a technical co-founder. Basically when you contact a potential technical co-founder, make sure the timeline is communicated properly to begin with. It should look something like this:
The project is envisioned to launch by June next year. That gives us 8 months to work on the product. I have already done all the marketing and research necessary. I even have a landing page setup and a domain bought. I estimate that we will need 6 months of development, 1 month of reiteration and one final month of closed-group alpha testing. If need be, we can launch the M.V.P. by July and have one extra month for bug fixing if that ends up becoming an issue. Marketing will start at month #6 and sign up for beta tests starts at month #7. Our competitors are already established so we don’t need to rush things. We could even extend that time line much further into the future. However, If we launch by June next year, we will be able to display our product at *insert major conference here* and gain a lot of traction. So that is ultimately the goal.
An assessment like this one shows AT LEAST that you have thought things out and even accounted for possible deviations.
If you have made it all the way down here then I hope that you’ve found this somewhat helpful. My final advice would be to make everything about R.O.I. (Return on Investment). That is the holy grail of business. Make sure that ANY investment you make, no matter how small, is worth making. Especially at the startup phase. Basically, it comes down to this: Don’t waste your time doing things that cost more than they give you back in return. In addition, R.O.I. is an extremely important time measurement as well. WHEN can I expect to get a return on my investment? 1 year from now? 5 years from now? and if I invest 6 months of my life, a million dollars, or whatever other asset, what is the realistic and theoretical maximum R.O.I. I can get considering your timeline?
R.O.I. is not just a tool for investors. It is a tool for YOU to make sure that you don’t do anything unnecessary when time and resources matter the most. When looking for a technical co-founder, make sure to communicate when and in what form the expect return on investment will take place. R.O.I. is the one and only true GOD you should follow in business (outside of any moral obligations you might have, etc).
If you are serious about your idea and want to turn it into a business, make sure that you do your part before trying to reach out for any potential technical co-founders. Demonstrate your own value and your idea’s viability. Make yourself useful and provide as many helpful tools for your technical co-founder to work with. Try to invest as much time as possible into the business and don’t let yourself be caught in this 50-50 bullshit. Utilize R.O.I. and have a solid business plan to begin with. Don’t be afraid to share your idea and make sure to create realistic goals. Account for deviations and possible down-time and do your best to make sure that your technical co-founder feels like your are a vital and necessary part of the business.