Recently, I was approached with another start-up idea by a an acquaintance of mine. It was a sharing economy app idea (there is only about a million of those out there) but I was willing to listen to him. To start with, this guy was convinced that the idea was somehow a gold mine and that revealing the idea to me would be tantamount to giving away the greatest secret ever. After explaining to him that the idea had probably been pitched before and perhaps even been used in an app before, I finally got him to reveal to me his big idea. Now here is where things got interesting. This person did not know much about technology, developing apps, or even about the industry in which they were trying to innovate but they had lots of ideas on how to do the work. First they expected that my team and I would develop the app and they would provide the “idea” and would share equity in the firm 51/49 (you can guess which way they wanted that split). Now, since I have been sworn to secrecy, I will not be revealing their idea to you in this post. However, what I am going to be revealing to you is how to approach technical people with your start-up idea so that you will likely find a technical co-founder. There are plenty of ideas for apps out there and there are only so many technical people who can develop them. Here is how to pitch your idea to a technical co-founder.
Innovate In Something You Know
After many years and many failures (more on those later), the one thing I have learned is that you should innovate in something you know and not something you think you know. For example, if you have spent your whole life as an investment banker and you have an idea on how to innovate a mouse trap using smart phones, please take a moment and think. I am not saying your idea might not work, I am just saying that your idea is likely not flushed out since you are trying to innovate in a space that you know nothing about.
You must know the value proposition you are building and if you are trying to innovate in a space you have never worked in then you likely are not thinking the right way about it. So when approaching a developer/technical co-founder, be sure to discuss the idea in-depth. Meaning if you are trying innovate a mouse trap, be prepared to give the ins and outs of the innovation and how it will be a killer idea. You need to provide details on the same level as if you have been in the industry all your life. Expertise will help you land a technical co-founder.
Ideas Do Not Make Startups
Check out the following video from the Startup Weekend Channel. Your idea has probably been pitched before. Allow me to speak plainly; an idea does not entitle you to any money or share in a business. A business takes time, money, effort and intellectual and monetary capital to develop. I hate to burst your bubble but the idea you think is so incredibly innovative probably has been pitched/tried before.
Am I discouraging ideas and idea exploration? No I am not but I am simply trying to make you aware that the idea to sell bowls with an app has probably been done before so do your homework. What sets your idea apart? Why will you succeed where other failed?
Remember unless your idea is in the form of actual intellectual property such as a patent, a trademark or is in a form that is not easily reproducible by others (data for a machine learning application is a good example) then simply having an idea will not get you anywhere.
Be Willing to Work Hard
Do you know what I did this weekend? I studied, wrote an article and made phone calls to clients and acquaintances etc. The only weekends I have that really qualify as time off are those when I have family obligation such as weddings. Other than that, i am usually working. I was recently asked by a relative of mine to work on a start-up idea with them and I asked them to do some leg work. This resulted in a two week delay in which they did absolutely nothing. The excuses included work commitments, children, and other obligations.
I am not looking to partner with someone that is not hard working. The client does not care that you have to attend your kids graduation nor does a supplier care that you were sick over the weekend. Bills needs to be paid and work needs to get done. If early on you show me that you are not willing to work to the nth degree, I will not consider you or your idea and neither will any other co-founder.
Learn To Code
No you don’t need 10 years of IT experience because if you had that, you would not be looking a technical co-founder. What you need is at-least a fundamental understanding of how software development works. Even if all you know is how to write some basic functional code, that is good enough as you will likely not bring ideas to the table that are infeasible to implement.
Bring Some Expertise to The Table
A gentleman approached me some time ago with a start-up idea about creating a marketplace/ app where lawyers can hire temp /stand in lawyers. This guys was running his own law firm and had many years of experience. Now other than pitching the idea, he never really showed interest in the idea so we did not end up working together but he brought something to the table that very few people had brought in the past; inside knowledge of the industry in which he was trying to innovate.
If you can bring some knowledge to the table that no one else possesses or experience that only you have, you will be received well.
Bring Some Capital to The Table
Remember the guy I talked about above? He expected a 51 percent share in the firm for the idea. I estimated that the total cost of development of the app would be roughly 5,000 dollars for the app and that did not include marketing. He was not willing to even split that and expected me and my team to do all the work and pay our developers out of pocket. He wanted 51 percent for just the idea. Suffice it to say, we did not end up working together but if you can bring some financial muscle to the table, you will be much better received by a technical co-founder.
Start Small, Fail and Pivot
You remember what I said about my failures? Well here they are in no particular order.
- An app that creates a sound system using multiple smart phones
- An app that you can publish your own crossword puzzles on
- An app that can create your own rebus puzzles on
- A website on which you can rent game equipment for company get together
- A real estate investment club
- A game like pipe dream
- A game publishing engine that allows you to sell electronic artifacts you created
Notice that even with all these failures, I am still here. I am not bankrupt and I am not in a mountain of debt. I fail but I always set it up such that if I fail, I fail small but if I win, I would win big. Be honest about your failures and let me know this is not your first dog and pony show. I am willing to invest in you, you have to show me you’re worth it.
You must be willing to put your idea to the test of the market. The market decides if you idea is good by voting with their dollars. If everyone “says” its good but they don’t vote with their money, its not a good idea. Why would someone be willing to part with their hard earned money? You had better had a great idea for them to do that.
You must also be willing to modify your original idea based on the feedback from the market. If the market tells you that your idea is not good, don’t take it personally. Be willing to provide what people want to buy, not what you want to sell. So start on a scale that if you fail, it would not be end of the world. If the market tells you something, be willing to change (or in the immortal words of Ross Geller ‘pivot’).
There you have it folks. Have any start-up idea you want to talk about? Need some advice on how to get an app/ web site developed? Feel free to comment below or get in touch with me directly.