Non-technical founders seeking technical cofounders

If you’re a non-technical founder like me, think long and hard before seeking a technical cofounder to help you launch your vision. I’ve found that most people (whether they are developers, designers, salespeople, marketers, carpenters, masons, doctors, soldiers, or pugilists) simply aren’t cut out for owning the responsibilities of building a business.

While just about everyone harbors some dreamy notion of launching their own venture, when it comes down to it, few have the disposition to embark upon the entrepreneurial journey, and fewer still have the temperament to run a business. Programmers are no different. Great programmers are talented craftspeople. They have precious skills that they’ve invested years in cultivating. But, rare is the craftsperson who can build a business.

Perhaps just as important, there is essentially negative unemployment* among developers, which means there are huge opportunities for capable developers and lots of pressure for them to leave for greener pastures if/when things aren’t going so great.

Instead of convincing artisans to leave their gig to help you launch the next great thing, consider hiring them to work on it in their spare time. If your scope is too large for you to afford to hire them, then reduce your scope until you can afford to do it.

I hired an agency to build the first iteration of GuildQuality. At $40,000, I way overpaid them to execute an over-scoped vision. We could have come to market with half the functionality (the half that our first users actually valued) for half of that cost in half the time. Even so, $40,000 isn’t all that much. If you have a good idea and you’re compelling, you can raise that much money on good terms (or even better, you can save it up while getting paid by someone else).

Two years after we launched “GQ 1.0” (“GQ 0.1” would have been a better name), I paid $25,000 to a freelancer with a full-time gig to re-build the second iteration of GuildQuality.

Soon after, that freelancer joined our team, and we officially brought all development “in-house.”

* I don’t know if Negative Unemployment is a real economic term, but I define it as when there is so much demand for a particular type of worker that all the qualified people have work and many unqualified folks do as well. Of note, I think the big demand for programming talent is a major factor driving the disproportionate amount of workplace innovation that’s happening in the tech sector.

Job interview questions

We’re interviewing a bunch of great folks right now. People are coming our way via our network of friends, colleagues, and employees, as well as via job boards and recruiters. We haven’t quite systematized the process, but we’re getting close.

Most of the time, we ask the solid looking candidates to answer some qualifying questions via email. They’re the type of questions that have no correct response (i.e. “Why are you interested in working with us?”). The answers help us gain a better understanding of how the candidate looks at life and work, how well they write (very important), and whether or not we should invest time in a phone interview.

Sometimes, we skip that process — this is always because a résumé, lead source, or cover letter looks just so temptingly great. Maybe she perfectly matched our wish list in terms of experience. Maybe he was referred by someone we really admire. Maybe she listed among her interests a wildly eccentric and fascinating activity. No matter the reason, it is almost always a mistake to depart from the process.

Last week, I came across a candidate with an especially promising résumé. In my enthusiasm, I skipped the qualifying questions and just sent off an email requesting a time to talk. Here’s how our phone interview began:

Me: “Hello. Thanks for your interest in joining our team!”

Candidate: “You are welcome.”

Me: “What questions do you have for me?”

[Awkward Silence]

Candidate: Excuse me?

Me: “What questions do you have for me?”

Candidate: “I don’t understand what you mean.”

Me: “I once read that you can tell more about someone from the questions they ask than the answers they give. That sounded like good advice to me, so I like to start interviews with that question.”

Candidate: “I see.”

[Awkward silence]

Me: “What questions do you have for me?”

Candidate: “I don’t have any questions.”

The interview didn’t last long. I wasted my time and theirs. Worse, I put a candidate who wasn’t a fit for us in an uncomfortable situation. That’s no good for anyone!

Henceforth, I vow not to depart from our process. Also, I may start including my “What questions do you have for me?” question in the initial email to prospective phone interview candidates.

Finding the right people (and avoiding the wrong ones) is among the most important skills an entrepreneur can develop. How do you find great candidates, and what do you do to run an effective hiring process?