Photo by Dan Taylor
I try to hang around with entrepreneurs as much as possible. I dig people with an insatiable desire to create things, and I’m not anywhere close to being cool enough to hang out with painters and musicians.
One term I hear thrown around now and again among technical founders is “business guy” (or gal…except it’s always “guy” when I hear it). This is the mythical person who’s going to swoop in once your app is built and handle all of that business-y stuff.
You know…the stuff we technical founders scoff at as tertiary to our product’s success:
“I don’t need no stinking MBA. I got code to write!”
Code that will be magically catapulted into the hands of millions once the business guy steps in.
I think having a “business founder” is a good idea for some developers. If you don’t have the desire to learn some critical aspect of your business, then finding a partner with the requisite experience is heartily recommended. The key is to determine which aspects of your business are critical and hard to learn.
For example, here are four areas I’ve heard mentioned by developers when discussing finding a partner with business experience:
- Business filings and structure
- Payment gateway / merchant account
Aside from “to kick me in the head twice a day” these may be the worst reasons ever for finding a business partner.
Each of the above “business-y” things can be handled either with a few hours of research, or by hiring an experiences professional (lawyer, accountant, etc…). Giving up equity to someone to handle what amounts to administrative duties is a huge mistake.
So if you’re a self-funded technical founder looking for a business partner, what is a good reason to give up a portion of your hard-earned equity?
Only one that I know of: successful marketing experience.
This is an area where a few hours of online research will not provide you with a passing grade, and where experience holds enormous value.
As an aside, securing funding might be another reason to bring someone on the team. Since I’ve never raised funding and don’t talk much about it on this blog I’m going to leave it to someone with more expertise in this area to comment here and let us know if it’s an equity-worthy contribution (or if hiring a lawyer or winging it with the information available in blogs and books would be a sufficient hack).
The Most Important Question to Ask a Potential Non-Technical Founder
I need to be clear: if you have any interest in learning marketing, I heartily encourage you to keep your equity and learn this stuff yourself. A developer who can market is an amazing combination.
But some people really don’t want to stray away from the role of technician, and if that’s the case I think finding a non-technical co-founder is a decent option.
In A Fool’s Bargain: Building Software for Free (or, An Idea Ain’t Worth Squat) I ask the “money” question of someone who pitched my on building a product for them in exchange for equity:
Do you have experience marketing and selling software on the internet, and if so could you pass along links to previous successes?
You should make this the first question you ask of a potential non-technical founder. Most conversations will end here.