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So you want to build a high growth web startup? Part 2

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by Startacus Admin

Last week Entrepreneurial Spark Start-Up Craig McDonald Co-Founder of StorkUp started a 3 part series on building a high growth web start-up. In the first post he highlighted building an awesome deck, prototyping and grabbing yourself some beta users as three key pointers. Here's part 1.

This week Craig starts with a typical issue for many starters - getting a technical person on board. Over to Craig to explain all:

Find a Technical Co-Founder
If you are not a developer, then there is no easy way of putting this: you are at a considerable disadvantage. In an early stage web startup, the single most important skill is being able to turn stuff co-founderfrom your brain into something real. If you aren’t able to do this, then you’ll need someone who can (although see the next section for an alternative). Finding a technical cofounder is a massive challenge, often made harder by unreasonable expectations of non-technical founders. If you think you’ll find someone to code up your idea for 10% equity and a year’s supply of takeaway pizza, then you are probably in for a major disappointment.

You might think that because it is your idea you deserve by far the biggest slice of the pie. You are wrong. Your idea, even if it is the best idea in history (and it is probably not), is effectively worthless until you can turn it into reality. Moreover, great potential technical cofounders have plenty of ideas of their own, and so you’ll have to sweeten the deal considerably. Think somewhere north of 30% equity and you are probably in the right ballpark. Alternatively, be prepared to offer a salary of around market rates – although without the real feelings of ownership that come with a significant stake, you might find that they aren’t willing to dedicate every waking hour to the project (and that is something that comes in really handy in the early days!)

Even once you have accepted the need to appropriately incentivise your technical cofounder, you still have to find him or her.

Before you start, be aware that this process is as much about proving yourself as it is assessing potential cofounders – what do you bring to the party beyond the idea? Do you have years of relevant industry experience and heaps of contacts? Experience of raising money or running successful businesses? If not, are you a kick-ass hustler who can make things happen? Well make sure you have plenty of examples ready to roll out.

Treat finding a cofounder as you would finding a husband or wife (and given the amount of time you’ll be spending together, looking at it in terms of marriage is quite an apt metaphor). There needs to be a great personal fit and the ability to communicate candidly and honestly. If you have any doubts, walk away – any personality mismatches or character flaws on either side are going to be amplified a hundred times over, so unless the fit is great to begin with, you are storing up problems for the future that will come back to bite you.

Get yourself in front of potential technical cofounders by going to tech meet-ups – subscribe to StartupDigest to get a list of these. Advertise on Workinstartups (but don’t expect much of a response if you aren’t offering major equity and a compelling story of why your startup is going to make it big). If you can, use your personal network to get introductions to developers, and pitch them on your idea. They may not be interested, but ask them for further introductions to colleagues or friends who might be.

Finally, keep an ear to the grapevine for any startups flaming out. When a team is breaking up after a failure, there might be one or more of them looking for another opportunity. This might all seem like a lot of hard work, and it is. In short, you don’t find a technical cofounder, you earn one.

Learn to Code
codingIf you aren’t able to find a technical cofounder and don’t have the funds to hire developers, then you should think seriously about learning to code. Again, this is not something that is easy, nor should it be undertaken lightly. It will take you at least six months and will require you to invest massive amounts of time (and not just short periods snatched here and there, learning to code takes long unbroken periods of intense concentration).

This is the route I went down. Even with a decade of experience in tech as ‘the business guy’ along with familiarity with the basics of html and css, it was probably the single hardest thing I have ever done in my life. For almost a year I did very little except complete tutorials and coding exercises on my Mac, before moving on to writing basic applications of my own, and finally the prototype of StorkUp – which was literally the first production app I ever wrote myself.

Thankfully, learning to code today has been made a bit easier by the emergence of intensive bootcamp-style coding schools. One of these has just opened in London and it might very well be the best £5k you have ever spent in your life if it means the difference between getting your startup off the ground and just being another ‘ideas’ person flogging a dream. If you do go down this route, then this blog post by Zack Shapiro gives you some honest advice.

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Published on: 7th May 2013

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