I just read this article suggesting that entrepreneurs should learn to code and start technology-based businesses without technical co-founders.
I went to a Y Combinator Q&A last night and started getting frustrated when the audience almost completely shifted the talk to the problem of finding technical co-founders and how extremely difficult that is. Yes, it is difficult. More difficult, I think, than learning some of that tech yourself, which it sounded like most of these intelligent people weren’t trying to do at all.
Now, a lot of the advice in this article is actually quite good. The Internet is the single best resource for learning technology, especially programming. Someone founding a technology business absolutely needs to have a strong technical understanding to avoid complete disaster, even if they won’t write any code at all. And even if people do not have formal educations in technology, I strongly encourage everyone to learn as much as possible on their own. I mostly, though not completely, agree with Rushkoff when he says Program or be Programmed.
That being said, learning to program on your own, especially with a framework like Ruby on Rails, can be incredibly deceptive. Just by reading and following instructions a complete novice can be up and running with a web site in just a few minutes. This is a truly wonderful thing, but it is sort of a lie.
You see, this is wonderful if you just want to create a blog or another normal personal site. If you are creating a business, something which people’s livelihoods will depend upon, then you can’t just have a novice whip it up based on learning from the Internet. That’s beyond excellent for a prototype, but you absolutely can not go live with something like that. Even making the simplest web site there are hundreds of advanced and tricky technological issues to address in the realms of security, stability, performance, etc.
If your business idea is something that you can do using WordPress or Drupal, then surely you do not need a technical co-founder. You can go with off the shelf software that is written by experts. It’s only if you actually have to do some programming yourself that you should make sure that a professional does it. Otherwise, you could be opening up yourself to a world of hurt. Then again, if you don’t mind having an application that will crash and be hacked instantly and brutally, do it yourself.
You have the problem of not being able to find a technical co-founder. Your solution was to do it yourself, and I’ve shot that solution down. What do you do? Well, I’m going to tell you that finding a technical co-founder is really easy, and I will tell you exactly how to get one.
First, realize that your technical co-founder is already employed. There is much more demand for these people than there is supply, so they are always employed. You need to get them away from their jobs. Don’t look at resumes of the unemployed. Look at blogs, StackOverflow accounts, Facebook accounts, Github accounts, etc. Find an employed person and lure them away.
Here’s some advice on luring them away. Don’t be mistaken for a recruiter, that will get you ignored. You must begin a legitimate conversation with the person to keep them from ignoring you. If you are incapable of doing that, just give up.
Secondly, realize that this person has a job right now. They are not going to quit that job and work for you for nothing. They need to be paid. That doesn’t mean stock. That doesn’t mean promises of possible future money. That means money today, and lots of it. That means a salary that is at least what they were making before. If you can’t afford it, don’t even bother. Why would someone risk their livelihood for someone else’s idea? Technical people have their own ideas. If they are going to take such a risk, what do they need you for? They can quit, go home, and build something without your help at any time. The best help you can provide is to pay the rent and put food on the table.
Lastly, make sure your idea isn’t completely moronic. If you lack technical knowledge, it’s very likely that something is wrong with the basic premise of your business idea. If you are a complete technological dolt, good tech people will not work with you. If your idea is fundamentally flawed, technological people will just laugh at you.
Here are some common problems with ideas. One is that the idea is technologically impossible. You want to make a free energy machine? Good luck with that. Another is that your idea is much easier said than done. Oh, you want to make a search engine to compete directly with Google? Good luck with that as well. Another common problem is that your idea may be shady in some way. Technological people typically have very strong sense of right and wrong. If your business idea is in any way close to being illegitimate, most nerds will not touch you with a ten foot pole.
Everyone should learn as much as possible about computers and programming. It is very easy to do with the resources of the Internet at your disposal. However, if you plan on starting a serious business based on technology, you absolutely need someone with experience who will know all the bases that need to be covered. The most you can build yourself in a relatively short time is a house of cards.