Startup Mythology: The Idea Man and His Technical Co-founder - 1

{{ story.headline }}

{{ story.subheading }}

{{ story.timestamp }}

Startup Mythology: The Idea Man and His Technical Co-founder - 1
My name is Winston Randolf. I'm the President and CEO of awtow.

We're revolutionizing the way people drive.

I've been driving for over twenty years, so I know a lot about cars. I know what people really want is a cheap, alternative fuel. That's why we made a fully stacked sports car that runs purely on water. That's right, water.

Have I blown your mind yet?

Our cars cause zero pollution, get one hundred miles to the gallon, and have the world's best crash test rating.

What? Can you see the car? Well, let me show you this Power Point deck— have you seen my SWOT analysis?

Did I mention that my brother's ex-girlfriend's third cousin knows Richard Branson?

Oh, the car? Yeah, well. I haven't built the car yet. I'm actually in the process of finding a technical co-founder. My background isn't in automotive engineering - I'm more of an idea man.

I'm looking for an enterprising engineer to build the awtow. I can't pay him right now, but I'm willing to give him up to five percent equity in the company, vested over ten years. I mean, that's a great deal for a kid right out of college.

After all, this project isn't that complicated. Really, anyone could build a water powered sports car.

-- And scene. --

Surely this person wouldn't be given any credibility in an entrepreneurial community. People would learn quickly to avoid him, and wouldn't invite him to any events or programs. He would be considered a waste of time to anyone with even a modicum of business savvy.

Except I actually meet people like this all the time. I run into them at startup events all over the Triangle. The only difference is, instead of cars, they're peddling imaginary software companies.

As much as it may seem so, the example of the water propelled car is not an exaggeration (in the method of presentation, that is). The local entrepreneurial community is chock full of people who have "million dollar app ideas," looking to find someone who can actually build them - usually for below market rates, if not altogether free.

(Side complaint: these people always call software an app. It doesn't matter if the idea would require Google or Amazon level architecture, it's still an app to them.)

I've been pitched to by a local 'entrepreneur' who unabashedly told me that his plan for success was to find a "starving computer science student" and take advantage of him. He insisted that once the app was built he would never need a programmer again. He wanted to launch a pay to use, massively data driven website.

I have been shown a plan for app development taking several months and costing a few thousand dollars, when the project would take at least a year and require multiple, top-tier developers. The person who made the plan had no engineering knowledge and had never consulted anyone on the requirements.

I have been told the only reason an app hadn't been built yet is that programmers in the Triangle are pampered at big companies and selfishly expect to be paid for their work. This person was offering less than ten percent equity for a long term, CTO-level position.

How is it that starting a business in an area you have no experience in is blatantly ridiculous in almost any context, but as soon as we enter the realm of software it becomes generally acceptable?

That's not to say that all founders of software companies need to be engineers, but there aren't many successful organizations without technical co-founders running product design and production. Those companies often have non-technical founders, but they're usually experts in one or more of the following:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Business development
  • Fundraising
  • Management

Even Steve Jobs, the most touted 'idea man' of all time, was a master of the first and third items on the list.

He also started out in the garage with Woz, soldering boards on the first Apple computers.

The idea man is a myth, but the solution is simple. If you are a non-technical individual looking to start a software company, then you should be able to bring the same level of experience in business that you expect in software development from your co-founder. You should also be willing to give up a large, if not equal, equity share to that engineer. If you're unwilling to do both of those things, then learn to program.

If you're non-technical, not an experienced entrepreneur, unwilling to give up large amounts of money or equity, and unable to learn to program, then tell me - Why do you want to get into the software business?