Technically Speaking, Not Having a Technical Cofounder Is Not the End of the World
So you have an idea.
A great tech idea!
An idea that keeps you up all night working through the who, what, where, when, and how.
Sadly, you don’t know how to code, and all the developers you know are either working for someone else or are working on their own projects. Or they’re prohibitively expensive, and you lack startup funds.
This is a conundrum many entrepreneurs (or wantrepreneurs) face when they’ve stumbled upon an idea for a new app or new software.
So what you do? Are investors going to take you seriously without a technical cofounder? Do you really want to found a company on your own? Which of these paths do you choose to go down?
These are all viable options, and the right one is going to depend on your background, your product, and your resources. While it might be hard at first to figure out which option is going to be best for you, the good news is that not having a technical cofounder is not the end of the world. Because as you can see, you do have options.
Don’t waste time and energy trying to recruit a technical cofounder
Here’s the thing about recruiting a business partner. You wouldn’t marry someone after a first or even a second date. So why would you recruit a business partner that way? While being a sole founder is challenging, if you’re going to start a business with someone, it should be with someone you’ve had some sort of life experience with.
It’s more than not really knowing the person though. There are several problems with trying to recruit a technical cofounder:
You still don’t have a technical cofounder, but you’ve still got a great idea. Here’s something else to consider: The best app in the world is worthless if you don’t build a marketing strategy for taking it to market and making sales. While you don’t have anyone to build your product, you should be pushing as far as you can with what you do have.
Start by getting your vision down on paper. Use a tool like Lean Canvas, and map out your value proposition and potential customer profiles. The more you understand the problem you are solving and the people you want to reach, the better.
Once you’ve got your lean canvas and value propositions, start interviewing potential customers to test your idea. This is what it takes to be a startup. The technical stuff comes later. If you start building a product before you really understand your customer’s needs, you are going to waste a lot of time building something that may not be the right solution.
Outsource vs. hire
Here’s the big question: who is going to build your product? The challenge with hiring a developer or team of developers is that, like finding a technical cofounder, it’s going to be hard to properly vet the right person and hard to convince talented developers to come work for you. Another challenge with hiring is that the recruiting and training process can be arduous. While it’s important to spend time building that thing you want to build, as a founder there are so many other things you need to focus on.
Outsourcing the work to an agency may seem like an expensive option, but it could actually be your best option. Think about it. There’s no recruiting, training, or managing of employees involved. When you work with an agency that has experience doing the work you want to have done, there’s less to manage. Yes, it’s going to cost you, but it holds you accountable to take your business serious and it ensures you have time to focus on the other parts of your business.
Another thing to think about is that as expensive as hiring an agency might be, could it still be financially advantageous? The money you pay an agency is a pure write-off — a business expense. That’s going to be cheaper than paying benefits and taxes on employees in some cases, depending on the amount of work you need to have done.
Alex Turnbull, founder of Groove HQ, outsourced the building of his app and tells it like this: “I didn’t have to recruit. I didn’t have to train any employees. And while I worked very closely with the MojoTech team, I didn’t have to manage anyone directly; I could focus on what was most important to me: contributing directly to the creation of the product.”
One downside to outsourcing is that when you do hire a team of developers, it’s harder to build up the team spirit and culture that would have been built creating the first lines of code and launching the product. There’s something to be said for the ownership your team feels when they build the product from day one.
Not having a developer on your team who was there for the build can also be challenging, as it could take time searching through someone else’s code to find bugs and fix problems.
Start with a small ship
Whether you outsource or hire, one thing’s for sure: you need to start with a small ship and make sure it floats before you build a bigger ship. It’s very important to start with an MVP (minimal viable product), and then test and build from there. Taking an agile approach to building your product is the best way to ensure you keep costs low and build something the market will love.
You should also take a research-driven approach to growing. Make sure you have a strong support person or team who knows how to collect feedback, prioritize feature requests and bug reports, and ultimately learn about your users’ wants and needs.
Learn to code
You don’t need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, but you should have some grasp of how coding and software development work, including some of the language your developers are coding in. At some point, you are going to need to hire developers or choose an agency to build your product (or *gasp* build your MVP on your own). As a sole founder, all the decisions start and stop with you. You need to know a little more than what you know now, so you make sound decisions and communicate with and manage your team in the most effective way possible.
Learning to code is not out of the realm of possibilities. There are free programs like Codecademy that can get you where you need to be.
Appreciate yourself and what you bring to the table
Finally, don’t take the skills you have for granted. Just because you can’t code and don’t have a technical cofounder doesn’t mean you’re doomed. You had the idea. Do the research, do the work, make the contacts, and nail your business development strategy. While it’s nice to have a cofounder, you know what’s even nicer? Owning 100% of your company.
We’ll leave you with this important nugget of advice from Alex Turnbull: “But the most important thing you can do, no matter which approach you take, is start.”
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