May 1, 2019

Eager to dedicate my spare time on something serious, not very business-savy? should i get a co-founder?

Maxim Geerinck @maximg

Over the past few years I've launched numerous sideprojects, mainly for training myself. Now I feel like the time has come to start something.

Even though I think I'm very technicall skilled, I feel very weak on my business skills. I have zero experience in figuring out if an idea is actually viable or how to come up with a great concept that should be developed.

Now some important questions come up to mind. Should I get a more experienced co-founder? How can i find an idea worth pursuing or finding out if it's possible? What are the marketing difficulties?

I'm really looking forward to your experiences!

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    I agree w/ @louisswiss that you can learn it all if you're so inclined (I started as a techie and eventually got good enough at sales/business). But you also have enormous value to skilled non-technical founders if you want to go that route. I've run across plenty of people who already have customers and revenue and would still give close to half their business to a skilled techie. (This normally happens because they've spent their budget hiring someone to build an MVP, have got a couple customers, but can't move forward without a real cofounder. I even know one if you happen to want the intro.) You basically have your pick of cofounders, industries, and more.

    Of course, it can be hard to evaluate a non-tech cofounder if you haven't done those tasks before. The main thing I look for is someone who can make progress with customers even before the product exists. Bad non-techies, on the other hand, are always making excuses, saying, "Well I can't start marketing/sales/fundraising until the product is ready, so get back to work." Look for signs that they can get market momentum in spite of having nothing to work with: mailing list, in-person community, good customer meetings, etc.

    Also, before agreeing to work with anyone long-term, work on a couple 1-day or weekend projects with them. In this position, you're the one who needs to be the most demanding about who you work with, so it's worth spending some time on this sort of "hiring".

    For my personal journey, I learned the sales/marketing skills, and ended up partnering with a good designer, which was an important skill I was missing which I had no interest in learning. But it took a few years ;)

    Also, you can sometimes replace "business skills" with a couple cheap and easy heuristics. For example:

    • Is it a customer who has money?
    • Are they paying to accomplish this thing already?
    • Do you have an easy way to reach them?
    • How long will it take to build the first thing they might credibly pay for?

    If you limit yourself to the subset of ideas which have reasonable answers to those sorts of questions, then a lot of the "business challenges" just disappear.

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      Hi @robfitz, Thank you as well for your extensive comment! I was really happy to read that you're all putting so much effort in composing a constructive and motivating reply!

      I was in some way very suprised that founders with a nice product laid out already, are still looking for technical co-founders. As as techie I would think it's every motivated techie's dream to be the technical co-founder of a product he can be passionate about.

      The information about "how to assess a non-tech cofounder" was very valuable to me and something i didn't think about in too much detail yet. It's indeed a story i've gotten from a lot of people I worked with before, a lot of them said that they can't do anything without the product and just sit there doing nothing till it's perfectly finished (sometimes very time-consuming projects). As you would probably expect, all of them went to the trash without further communication/motivation from the cofounder (at least i had a great technical learning experience).

      Another struggle I have is how to react to some business ideas, I tend to be very selective on which project to take on. In some way I think that I should put a lot of faith in the more business oriented co-founder. Without a good trust relationship it's gonna be a hard partnership anyway. On the other hand, it feels sometimes very hard to put your mind on a project you don't fully support or believe in. Perhaps i should try to find some middle ground there?

      Again, thanks a lot of for taking the time to answer this. I know it is probably a question you get a lot and i really appreciate all the answers posted! They give a lot of motivation and knowledge!

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        As for picking ideas, I've found that you need to be super-passionate about some part of it, but not necessarily the whole thing. For example, one of my buddies did really well at a fashion startup (even though he didn't care about fashion) because he really cared about the design and tech challenges. I know others who don't care about the product at all, but who love the way the team is organised and the day-to-day experience of working with great people. I personally bias myself toward picking customers who I really care about and want to help, and am flexible on all the other stuff. If you get into something without any deep love for any part of it, then it's likely to be a hard grind. But in my (potentially incorrect) experience, loving some piece of it is sufficient.

      2. 1

        You can evaluate a non-techie the exact same way you would evaluate a techie: by looking at progress instead of promises.

        The techie version of progress is "I have X users with Y% retention and am growing at Z% week over week" (or whatever).

        The non-techie version of progress is either:

        • (marketing) "I've built a community of X motivated potential customers and it's growing at Y% per week"
        • (sales) "I've already met with X potential customers who have told me A, B, and C and have committed to pay Y if we can deliver Z."

        In other words, measure them by what they've done, not what they plan to do.

        The above examples are all extremely "perfect", and reality will never be so precise (e.g. you can't always get pre-commitments in every industry), but hopefully you get the overall idea.

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          That's a really great perspective and very easy to remember.

          A concern I have for the sales version is that you might tailor software too much to that customer which shifts focus away from the main product. I do understand that sometimes this might be necessary (in some extent) to onboard large clients. Did you experience something similar and know a good approach on how to tackle this?

          1. 1

            You never do exactly what the customer asks for, but you try to understand the motivations behind their request, and then solve it however you think best. And you normally try to make sure you're talking to more than one person so you don't end up building a product with a market size of 1.

            It's usually not as clean as the example above, and is less that they've explicitly committed to pay, and more that they're giving you stuff which signals that they take you seriously, such as introductions to their boss/peers, time with their team, public testimonials, or a clear series of meetings with explicit goals which are moving toward an eventual purchase. Or sometimes actual money. These aren't all money, but they're all a sort of "currency" that you can use to gauge whether someone is a serious potential customer or just another friendly face with no intention of purchasing.

  2. 3

    Welcome to IH!

    I'm going to let you in on a big secret about business skills...

    Anyone can learn the basics needed to found/grow a profitable business. And fast.


    Well the short answer is to stop thinking about product ideas and start focussing on customer pain-points.

    If you...

    • ... find an audience/niche you feel a strong affinity for
    • ... really understand that audience and their pain points (by asking lots of questions)
    • ... align your values with them (so you only win when they win)

    ... then you'll inevitably come across a great product idea that your audience will want to pay you for!

    It'll be A LOT of hard work.

    And, especially if you go for a software/SaaS product, you'll need at least a few months before you're making anywhere close to a living salary.

    But you will get there if you focus super hard on a pain point you really understand, for an audience you really care about.

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask here or shoot me an email. I'm happy to help :)


    BTW, my new Sales For Founders course is for people who are in exactly your position.

    You'll learn sales, find product/market fit, and learn how to grow a profitable product business in 9 weeks. Even if you've never done any sales/marketing before in your life!

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      Hello @louisswiss,

      First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to respond, I really feel welcome'd in the community! It feels great to read some nice motivating comments!

      Focusing on pain points is indeed a great suggestion, without realizing that's exactly how my cryptotrackr sideproject started out. However i felt like there was a lot missing to make the project grow after it's initial boom.

      I'd indeed go for a software/SaaS product as that more fits my education and personal interest.