Question from a reader: How does a businessman build an internet startup?

by Jun Loayza on October 18, 2011

I just received a question from a reader which I have posted below:

I have an idea for a Social Media Start-up, but I’m a Sales Man by trade and dont have the ‘coding’ skills to translate this idea into a product. What advice would you give at this ‘idea stage’ for me? Should I be trying to find developers/interns to help convert the idea into reality?

Who should read this post: Professionals with no technical skills (coding) that are looking to start an internet or mobile startup.

What you will learn: How to build an internet or mobile startup if you have no technical skills.

I don’t have any coding skills.

I am a businessperson who can sell a product, build a team, raise capital, and do operational work as the need arises.  The only reason I’m in the internet/mobile startup game is because I have a technical Co-Founder.

Let me make this easy for you: If you do NOT have a technical Co-Founder, then you have no business competing in the internet/mobile industry.

Why you NEED a technical Co-Founder

1. Products go through many iterations and a few pivots

I have seen many business-focused founders spend tens-of-thousands of dollars outsourcing their development work to Elance or Odesk.  Their products are always finished and they work pretty decently well; however, there is a huge problem in that in the very early stages of a company, a product is constantly changing.

The product team and sales team must work together to find a product-market fit.  Nearly 100% of the time, what you start off building is NOT what the customer wants; instead, you receive feedback from your target market while building the product, and then revise the product based on the feedback that you receive.  Because of this, you need a technical founder who is part of the vision and part of the customer development process.

Without a technical Co-Founder, you will spend more money than you should on your first viable product.

2. There is a HUGE difference between a decent developer and a great developer

My Co-founder is a genius developer – what it takes others 2 weeks to complete, it takes Stephen 1 day to complete.  I’m not even exaggerating. Stephen is that good.

In our startup experience, Stephen has had to solve countless technical problems and had to come up with creative ideas to solve technical issues that arise when dealing with clients.  You just can’t predict all of the bugs and technical mishaps that will happen once you launch the product.  You need a strong developer to put out fires quickly, while you keep the client happy.

More importantly, a strong technical co-founder contributes to the vision of the company and the vision of the product.  As a businessperson, you are not deeply knowledgeable about all of the latest technologies in the market.  How will you decide in what language to code your product?  How will you keep your product secure?  You need a technical co-founder that is always thinking about the product and how to make it better and better.

3. You need a strong technical co-founder to raise smart money

If you’re building an internet startup, then a smart investor wants to see a strong technical co-founder.  The reasons are described in points #1 and #2 above.

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It should be crystal clear – if you’re looking to build an internet startup, then the first thing you need to do is find a technical co-founder; everything else is unimportant.

How to find a strong technical co-founder

Stephen and I met at UCLA.  We put up a posting on the career website and Stephen responded to it.  We got lucky.

It is extremely difficult to find a great technical person that will drop what he or she is doing to join your startup.  It’s almost impossible!  Just think about it:

  • Strong technical professionals are heavily recruited by the best internet companies: Google, Facebook, Mircrosoft
  • If a technical professional has the entrepreneurial spirit, then usually he will start his own startup

You have to somehow convince a professional who is making good money at a large company to give up the paycheck and build your idea.

Here are a few tips on how to do it:

1. Don’t use a headhunter

We have tried 2 headhunters and received no results from them.  We just ended up wasting money and time.

2. Get them while they’re young

It’s free to post a job posting on university career websites.  Put up a job posting at the top 100 universities that really sells the dream.  Offer a graduating student the opportunity to join a fast-growing startup and make a difference in the “X” industry.  You probably won’t be able to pay them, but you can offer housing and food.  If they’re willing to work for equity, housing, and food, then you know you found one with the entrepreneurial spirit!

3. How to qualify a good programmer

Since you’re a businessperson, then you really can’t give them a technical test.  What you’re going to have to go on is past experience and references.

Most importantly, a good programmer does NOT see programming as a day job – programming is a part of life.  Look for people who are self-taught, who taught themselves how to program at the at of 8.  Look for people who are constantly learning about new technologies and take pride in being smarter than you.

4. Ask for referrals

Make it clear to your network on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter that you’re looking for a developer.

I’ve tried to find developers at events, but you’ll mostly just find other business people looking for technical or design professionals.  We’ve recruited the majority of our developers from referrals.

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The first step is to find the technical co-founder – no point in doing anything until you found him or her.

Better yet, build a startup that does not require a technical co-founder.  I’ll write about these startups later  :)

Good luck!

About the author

Jun Loayza Jun Loayza is the President of Ecommerce Rules. In his entrepreneurial experience, Jun has sold 2 internet companies, raised over $1,000,000 in Angel funding, and lead social media technology campaigns for Sephora, Whole Foods Market, Levi's, LG, and Activision. Find Jun on Google or Twitter

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  • Johnny Ghetti

    Hey Jun, thanks for the honest post. I’m a businessman myself, and I really want to make it up to the valley to do startups.

    What do you think about joining a tech startup and then meeting developers? Perhaps I can get to know the culture and then persuade someone to join my startup.

    Good luck and I look forward to more posts

    • http://www.megabizflakes.com Samuel

      @johnny, Yeah, you can give it a try. If the technical person buy into your idea he will join you. All the best.

  • travich

    I’m a developer.

    Do I need a business person on my team or can I handle it on my own?

    • http://www.megabizflakes.com Samuel

      @travich, Yeah, it depends. Mostly, a technical person needs a designer. If you think your startup needs funding and you can’t raise funds, then you need someone who can raise the fund. And the person will be the CEO. Would love to hookup with you. You mind giving me your mail address?

  • Mir

    Hi,

    I have a great internet startup idea, but need a programmer. I currently live in L.A, and thinking about moving to the bay area. Aren’t there start-up clubs other than the ones thru meetup.com etc..where you can connect with local developers?

    • Jun Loayza

      It’s actually very difficult to find a good developer here in the Bay.

      All of the larger startups offer them great pay; furthermore, if a developer wants to do a startup, he’ll most likely start his own idea.

      It’s not impossible, but it’s still hard. I recommend checking this out: http://startupdigest.com/

  • Prince J

    Don’t get discouraged if you’re 2 business guys. It works, you just need to try harder and dream more. Here’s a reference for all of you: http://www.entrepreneursunpluggd.com/blog/mark-lawrence-spothero-interview

  • http://Www.thenewcareerist.com Terri

    Good thoughts. I would like to add not to expect venture capital funding unless you and your new technical partner have been working together for a while (two to three years). Smart money doesn’t like to place bets on unproven working relationships.

  • http://www.guestmob.com Ming

    Hey Jun,

    I am currently working as the marketing/social media ninja at a new startup,
    I would like to ask for some advice on social media – what is the most efficient way for word of mouth buzz without any funds? (besides fb/twitter…etc)

    Thank you for the article, keep up the good work.

    • http://JunLoayza.com Jun Loayza

      Hey Ming, thanks for the comment.

      If you’re looking to create buzz around social media without any funds, then good luck to you! Hahaha, but in all seriousness, without any money for advertising, you have a tough challenge ahead of you.

      You can always try a funny or unique YouTube video.

      Starting a blog with an expertise on a topic or that is funny/entertaining is always good as well.

      Keep in mind, this will take a lot of time, so don’t expect to build buzz within 3 months. You need to build an audience over the course of 3 months, and then when you’ve built the audience, try to do a creative video on YouTube that will get you views.

  • http://www.financialsamurai.com Financial Samurai

    I need myself a programmer. Someone hook me up as I’ve got money to spend!

    Cheers, Sam

  • http://RunAStartup.com tom

    Good article and explanation of finding a good programmer. Also you could add the importance of project management tools (basecamp, bidsketch, wireframing, etc) or you can save that for a “freelance” article.

    I’m a programmer and designer myself. Just hopped out of the cubicle world into freelancing. Contact me if you have design/programming questions.

  • http://www.megandheffernan.com Megan Heffernan

    I’m a technical person but I need a business minded person for identifying great business ideas. Do you have any advice for someone like me?

    • http://JunLoayza.com Jun Loayza

      Hey Megan, it’s tough to identify a “great business idea”. You definitely don’t need a “business-minded” person to find a great business idea.

      What are some of your ideas?

      Since you’re on the technical side, best thing to do would be to quickly draft something up and show it to your friends and people you respect. Ask for their feedback. Does your product solve a pain?

      Tell people about your ideas and they’ll give you feedback.

      You can contact me anytime at me [at] junloayza.com

  • Meghna Saraogi

    Hi I am looking for a programmer for social media startup. I really dont know how to find one. I am sharing this in case you/ anyone else who view thins and is interested to be a part of a startup. Details can be shared post our meeting.

    Regards
    Meghna

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