On Hiring: How To Be a Non-Technical Co-Founder

| 5 min read
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If you are looking at hiring developers, check out my article on this subject.

The goal or the dream of working on your own startup is always full of excitement. And apart from some rare cases such as Dropbox, you probably need one or more co-founders to work with you on The Next Big Thing ™.

Problem is, how do you (as a non-technical co-founder) find us? Or more specifically, how do you talk us into working with you instead of some other billion-dollar ideas?

To answer this question, we need to first ask, is there a billion-dollar idea? The short answer is: NO.

Idea is worthless.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I believe - idea, by itself, is worthless.

You will be surprised by the number of people contacting us and wanting to build a better Paypal or a better Amazon, without a concrete plan.

A more worthwhile idea should contain not only the end goal of the project, but also a plan to reach the goal. What should we ship in the Minimal Viable Product? What are our marketing channels? What metrics should we look at? How do we use social media to our advantage? etc, etc.

We Are Not Just Wozniak, Are You Like Steve Jobs?

Apple is pretty much started by Wozniak as the technical co-founder and Steve Jobs as the idea/business co-founder.

Let’s think about this for a second.

Steve Jobs did not just have ideas. Very early on, he persuaded Wozniak to produce and sell Apple I so they have some capital. Jobs was building the foundation. Without the foundation, there will be no failure or success to come.

On the other hand, Wozniak had no intention to become an entrepreneur, he was happy to stay as an engineer even after the early Apple success. Nowadays though, most of us techies are much more ambitious than that.

Ideally, as the technical co-founder, I would be doing most of Wozniak’s work, and both you and I would be doing Steve Job’s work.

Drawing from my personal experience, as a technical person, there are a few key attributes I look for in a co-founder (technical or otherwise).

Technical Ability

“Excuse me? Aren’t you the technical co-founder? Why are you looking for my technical ability?” You ask.

That is right. Even if you are not a developer by trade, having a certain degree of understanding of technologies is still crucial to most modern, web-based projects.

There has never been a better time to start learning to code. Why not give CodeYear and Khan Academy a try?

We all learnt physics and chemistry in high school even though most of us don’t require the knowledge in our day to day life. Let’s treat coding the same. Learn how to code will not only give you insights to how we solve problems, but will also close the communication gap between you and your technical co-founder.


Wozniak is obsessed with electrical engineering and gadgets, Steve Jobs was obsessed with computer typefaces, good user experience and beautiful hardware.

What are you obsessed with?

Only when you are obsessed with something, can you answer questions like “what annoys you so much?”

As I wrote in an ealier article:

Inventions and innovations aren’t born out of happiness, they are born out of frustration, anger and sometimes, curiosity.


In web-based projects, it is surprisingly easy to have “what if …?” scenarios. Not sure which sign up form will have a higher conversion rate? Easy, just make two or more of them and run A/B tests.

Sometimes, as developers, we are so in the zone that we would keep on building stuff the way we envisioned. You will need to step in, pull us out, and say “hey, have you thought about …? What if …?”

Flickr as it is today would never have existed if the founders didn’t raise the question of “hey, how about doing just the photo uploading and sharing features?”

High Expectation

“This is shit!” “We can’t ship this!” If the product stinks, say so, and find ways to improve it. An MVP should always be half-polished, not half-arsed.

The original iPhone was shipped without 3rd party native apps support, or multi-tasking - it wasn’t ideal, but they didn’t effect the core user experience. Now look at PlayBook, it has the features most Android devices have, but the core user experience is so bad that the product never took off. If someone at RIM’s top management had the same obsession on user experience as Steve Job’s, PlayBook would never have shipped in such a bad shape.


Are you in this for the money? Or for something else? Wealth is rarely a good motivation for creating great products.

“It can potentially generate massive revenue and profit” is a big red flag to me when someone pitches their projects.

These are the key attributes I look for. Things like people connections and experience are also important but not essential. What about you? Do you look for any particular attributes in your potential co-founder(s)?

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