There was a time, not too long ago, when every good startup began with two co-founders: the business person and the technical person. The work was pretty evenly matched. The technical co-founder spent crazy amounts of time building the application, while the business person spent equally crazy amounts of time finding money and customers. Over the past few years, that’s changed dramatically.
Now, I’m not saying that you don’t need technical expertise, nor am I running down technical co-founders (I am one, after all). What I am saying is that the amount of work to raise money and build traction has increased, while the technical obstacles to launching a startup have shrunk.
If you have any doubt, see what happens at a Startup Weekend event like the upcoming CU Startup Weekend. In 56 hours, the teams will most likely have built a working application, signed up a few users, and even iterated through some feedback and design changes. But they won’t have a business yet, because, today, building the application is the really, really, really easy part. Development environments like Rails and Django, and hosting platforms like Heroku have made the app launch simple. You can even launch an entire business without a back end using a great landing page at Kickoff Labs.
To be clear, I am NOT saying that you can launch without technical expertise. A great product that can’t scale isn’t a great product. Despite what ridiculous acquisitions like WhatsApp might suggest, failing to take the security of your user data seriously should be a death sentence for a startup. What I am saying is that the kind of expertise you need to oversee your architecture is too costly to be wasted on building your MVP, when it could be built by a young and scrappy web developer or outsourced.
What you do need, and I can’t stress this enough, is a launch team that can acquire traction. The success and failure of a product has much less to do with the product itself than the execution of the team. So before you do anything else, look at your team and ask if you have the energy, enthusiasm, and stamina to get out and sell, sell, sell! If not, that’s the hole you need to fill before thinking about anything else. If you end up in an accelerator, there will be plenty of mentors and resources to get you through the technical hurdles. If you have enough traction for VC money, they can close the technical expertise gap through referrals and contacts. But neither will be a possibility without a team that can deliver traction.
So here’s my advice to all of you who have an idea, enthusiasm, and the ability to get out and generate excitement: forget the technical cofounder, and build your MVP. To get the technical side moving, get just a little bit of time from someone who can point you in the right direction and make sure you aren’t making mistakes that can’t be easily fixed later. Make them a board member or an advisor of some sort, and make sure they have a little skin in the game. If nothing else, look for a mentor. (CUNVC teams, this means you!) A great team with a good idea in a decent market is a recipe for success — even if you completely rewrite your code once you’ve got momentum.