Two worlds: idea people and developers
I recently attended a startup weekend and was surprised by the backgrounds of the other attendees.
As a software engineer myself, I expected to see mostly engineers, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, I found myself surrounded by people with a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, all of whom shared one thing in common: they had an idea.
At the same time, couple months ago started running an Indie Hackers Meetup in Dublin, a software startup meetup that mostly attracts developers.
And from other breaking news, as a result of that startup weekend I’m now deep into a new project. For the first time joining forces with a cofounder. The project is still in pretty early stages and I don’t know if it will become a serious business yet. Fingers crossed.
This all got me thinking about the two distinct groups of people in the startup world - those with the skills to execute an idea but lacking a good business idea that would solve a real life problem and had financial potential, and those with great ideas but lacking the technical expertise to bring them to life.
How can they meet and should they join forces as cofounders?
Two groups of people
Many developers dream of starting their own software businesses, while countless non-developers struggle to find the right development team to build their ideas.
Do they need to join forces to build a company together? Well, no. There are many other ways.
A developer can still get hired to work on another person’s idea and the dreamer with an idea can seek funding through an angel investment, family and friends or VC.
But the truth is, these approaches have some serious drawbacks.
For developers, it often means giving up control over the direction of the company they’re working for, in exchange for a relatively small amount of equity.
And for entrepreneurs, it can mean giving up a significant chunk of their ownership in order to secure funding. And even then, they may struggle to find the right talent to build the technology they need. In many cases, they end up working with developers who don’t share their vision or passion, resulting in subpar solutions and missed opportunities.
So, should they join forces directly then? In some cases, I believe yes.
Benefits of bringing the idea person and the developer together
For the developer, partnering with an idea person means they can work on a project they are passionate about, have more control over the direction of the company, and potentially own a larger percentage of the business. As a result, they’ll have a vested interest in the success of the company, and are more likely to go above and beyond to ensure its success.
For entrepreneurs, working with a skilled developer can help them build the technology they need to turn their idea into a reality, quickly and without breaking the bank. Instead of struggling to find the right talent, entrepreneurs can rely on a partner who shares their vision and passion, resulting in better solutions and increased opportunities for success. By partnering with a developer, entrepreneurs can also reduce their dependence on external funding, potentially allowing them to bootstrap their business and maintain a greater degree of control over their company’s direction and growth.
Through my indie hacking adventures, I realized that building a profitable product can be actually a very emotionally hard and lonely journey. Having a cofounder means that each person can support the other through the ups and downs of building a business. They can share the workload and take on different responsibilities, leveraging each other’s strengths to achieve success. This mutual support is crucial when it comes to staying motivated and pushing through the difficult times that inevitably arise in any startup journey.
This all sounds pretty great. But are ‘just an idea’ or ‘just dev skills’ enough to partner up? I think that partnering up with anyone shouldn’t be considered lightly.
More than just an idea
While having a great idea is a good starting point, it’s not enough to make someone a valuable cofounder. Yes, ideas are important, but I believe that for startups, the real value lies in the execution and ability to iterate.
Think about it - the likelihood that the first version of the idea will work is incredibly small. It will likely require a lot of iteration and pivoting, and the end result may be something completely different than what you originally envisioned.
Don’t bring someone as a cofounder if they just contribute an idea, but don’t have much else to offer.
More than just development skills
Similarly, bringing up just skilled development labor is also not enough to make someone a valuable cofounder.
Some companies don’t require extensive development work. And even if technology is critical to your business, simply having a skilled developer on board is not enough.
Early stage business often require a lot of non-coding work. And if the business succeeds, the startup will need a CTO, not just a developer and that is a very different role requiring different types of skills.
Cofounding is a long term commitment
Even if you bring considerably more than just idea or just the development, and are both excited about the project, before you commit to such a partnership, it’s important to consider the long-term implications.
As a co-founder, you’ll be investing time, effort, and potentially money into the venture. You’ll need to share the vision and values of the idea-non-tech co-founder, and be willing to work together to build the company, not only when times are great, but especially in crisis, when things are not working.
A successful startup requires a diverse set of skills, such as business strategy, marketing, and customer development. You and your co-founder should complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and have a clear understanding of your roles and responsibilities and over time develop strong mutual trust.
If you are not sure that your potential co-founder is ready for that sort of commitment, don’t become co-founders. Or start with a limited time mini-project first.
There are other ways to take advantage of the complementary skills.
Taking advantage of the other camp without co-founding
Not everyone is ready to commit to a long-term partnership, and that’s okay.
There are other ways to collaborate and take advantage of each other’s expertise without co-founding.
As a developer, you can go to startup events, meet idea people and collect a wide range of ideas there.
And as an idea person, you can approach developers to get their input on your ideas and even hire freelancers to build a minimum viable product. This way, you can still benefit from the knowledge of both camps without the burden of co-founding.
Overall, joining forces can be magical. With the right partner by your side, you can achieve more than you ever could alone, and build a company that you’re proud of.
But it’s also a big potential risk to partner with anyone as cofounders and there are other ways to utilize the complementary skillsets and perspectives.
Regardless if you want to commit or not, I think it’s worth to explore the other camp. Go to developer events as a business/idea person and go to business events as a developer.
I strongly believe we could benefit from more cross-pollination.