It Starts With You
I hate to make the dating/marriage analogy but finding the right technical co-founder is about being the right non-technical co-founder.
I have always been bad at math. I see numbers, ratios and my brain sends an <<ERROR>> message. I quickly decided that I would double down on what I was good at: words, writing and speaking, while avoiding maths like a the plague. I chose a career where knowledge of Excel was not mandatory and my phone calculate was sufficient: Law. As a second generation lawyer, I think my aversion to numbers is genetic!
As I learned more about tech, I wanted to get more involved in a meaningful way. I thought I could learn to code, then I saw these guys <>%* and all my 5th grade trauma came back. Either I had to start math from a grade school level, or I had to find help. Fast!
When I was at Cornell Tech in New York City I met my co-founder Max and today we are building Anü, a legaltech startup where we connect early stage tech startups with small law firms. Here is how I become the right non-technical co-founder.
Be clear about what you want to achieve, not necessarily what you want to build. Most times most as non-technical people we get so enamored with the technology in a way that is annoying to technical people.
For example, let’s say Nicky wants to start a flower delivery company. She connects with John, via Lunchclub.ai, a developer who is courting offers from freshly funded Silicon Valley startups, but he’s undecided about he wants to do. Her pitch goes like, “I need to build an app to deliver flowers on anniversaries- since men forget this kind of stuff. The app should allow the man to pick different flowers like roses, lilies, peonies and make them into a bunch. Then florists with these flowers should bid for the bunch and the man picks based price, delivery times and packaging styles. Then ta-da happy wife, happy life. So can you build that? Of course it needs to integrate with Stripe, Google Maps and maybe Uber? Plus it has to use AI to make the best flower arrangements and maybe they can pay with Bitcoin? I wanna launch in 6 weeks. What do you think?” Nicky is beaming because she thinks she nailed it and showed the John that she knows tech. In reality all she has done is amuse John with the buzzwords and unrealistic her targets are.
Alternatively Nicky could have said, “I want to build an app that spreads joy, through the beauty of flowers. We are so busy that we forget key dates like anniversaries and what should be celebrated meaningfully, but can be stressful if left to the last minute. I’m thinking of ways to help partners find that perfect last minute bouquet, while also helping local florists to promote their businesses. I have a couple of ideas on how it could work, but I’m curious of your thoughts on what platforms/ technology would be the best. Do you have any suggestions?”
Now you have created room for the tech person to do their thing. You outline the vision and they fill in the details.
In my experience with Max, who is a data science graduate, technical people must be assured that you are the right person to collaborate with. Whether it is through your domain expertise, contacts in the space, hustle, grit, excellent communication skills, deal closing or storytelling.
Basically, you must put the E in CEO.
They must be confident in you as the CEO to know that whatever they are building will see the light of day under your leadership. You must inspire confidence that you are the right vision seller to investors, partners, clients, etc.
You need to be confident that you are the right co-founder to pull this off.
As a non-technical founder in technical world you may feel that you have less leverage in the relationship. This person could be working at a FAAMG, with a sleep pod and the only snack you can offer is candy corn.
True, John or Max could be Googler number 2751830 - where he decides if the Google Maps motion icon should sky blue or baby blue. However, as non-technical founders we are giving them an opportunity to do something great, to test their skills to the maximum and build their own rocket ship. It may all crumble to dust, but at least when they do take that job at Google, they will have a better reason why the icon should be navy blue- since they built a tool with navigation.
You’re not begging this person to join you, you’re extending an invitation to a fun filled future.
I met Max through a Slack channel, where I shared that I wanted to build a risk assessment tool to help startups understand the risk in their company, to help them do some troubleshooting before seeing a lawyer. This would help them to save money and also help the lawyer save time by avoiding a long winded conversation.
Although we have pivoted multiple times, what has stayed in focus is that we want to improve that relationship between startups and lawyers and how they work together most optimally. When I asked Max why he responded to my project, he said the objective was interesting plus I had experience in this field. As a lawyer with 10 years’ experience and second time founder- I have knowledge of both sides.
Max could be at a bank, a tech firm or even another startup- but he is keen to build solutions in this really analogue industry. He builds all the tech we use, he was recently published for the work he’s doing and he gets cool interview opportunities that wouldn’t happen for a 23 year old recent graduate in a FAAMG. Even if he ends up there, he is way ahead of his peers in experience.
When I speak to Max we talk about his dog Riley who likes to eat other dog’s poop or how my favorite thing about America is boneless chicken thighs (I highly recommend Trader Joe’s Harissa Chicken Thighs). Until the money comes in the only thing we share between us is trust. In the early days you build culture, empathy, understanding and not so much tech. That’s truly what you want to optimize daily.
If you have are a technical co-founder, what other traits do you look for in non-technical co-founder?