Victus Spiritus


What You Bring to the Table

11 May 2010

Matt Mireles called out a growing disparity between non-tech and technical cofounders in the NYC startup scene. I was in this situation last year where I had an idea for a product, but had no idea how, where, or who could begin making it. Before I describe my experiences after the last few months, I'd like to take a hard look at the value of founders in a startup.

Lessons Learned Last Year

Ideas are cheap, and don't survive unchanged once they go live in a product. I knew this, but hadn't experienced how true this was until my first idea flopped. As a cofounder of an early tech company you bring a mix of these primary resources: money, connections, or hacking skills to the table. You would be wise to continually refine these skill areas. If your company has funding, and is well connected there's no reason why you can't help out with other needed areas even if you don't usually code, or do marketing, or financial projections. This isn't BigCo where somebody else worries about something getting done. You have to get your hands dirty repeatedly if you're going to get anywhere.

Take the plunge and start wrestling with basic design using HTML, CSS, or Javascript. Of course contribute in your areas of expertise first, we're all chief of something in a startup, but if your primary skills aren't needed that moment, do whatever you possibly can to improve your startups chances of success. Does the marketing lead (that's everyone in a startup) need a helpful henchman to change every browser in Best Buy to your company site? Go do it. The clock's ticking, and you don't want to be the person who drops the pappy.

Back to how Idea #1 Developed into #2 & 3

So I blogged about my idea, talked the idea up on friendfeed, twitter, comment sections everywhere and a few times on AVC's comment section. I bumped into savy business centric non-technical cofounders. We still couldn't build anything. Thanks Vlad for your input then.

I met with other startups that were adept with the technology I wanted to work with, and they said it was possible. Thanks Bostjan & Andraz from Zemanta. I still couldn't build anything useful.

I talked to sharp investors and other founders and they said before you have a chance at seed funding you need a product and a user base. No product. No user base.

I decided learning web developmet was the only way I was going to get anywhere. I have a background in algorithm development and c++ but knew Zero about web dev. Seriously I was lost without my Windows Visual Studio IDE, or how to read or write data on the web or the nature of RESTful APIs. I might have been better off knowing nothing to start out, but with a bit of luck, and a liberal amount of cursing I had a shakey wireframe php example.

While still pitching the user focused ad tool to everyone I met online and on the street, I bumped into a guy on Google Wave, yeah that thing. After a 3 hour wave chat, a week of hacking and a flood of email I knew I had found someone my kind of crazy. Not long after Tyler had me learning the basics of Ruby on Rails as he lead the charge for the alpha.

Fast forward 7 months of night time hacking and a few major product pivots. I'm comfortable with simple web programming in a variety of languages although JavaScript and Ruby are my current preferences. I'm pretty stoked at working with a different database layer that let's me define the schema within models (Padrino).

Tyler's skills have grown vastly while we've worked together. I'm always learning from the Chief Hacknical Wizard at Victus Media. It's important from a product design standpoint to know what can be done rapidly. I'm the first to admit I can't keep up with all the new languages, frameworks, standards, and obscure protocols he wields like a Jedi*. This forces me to always question what I bring to the table, and that's a good state of mind to be in: hungry^, ambitious, and relentless

*=Tyler's brain hasn't been rotted like mine by over 14 years of simulations and algorithm minutiae. If you need to apply quaternions to optimally calculate super positions of protein molecules, simulate sensor systems, or perform detection and tracking on a deluge of data though I'm your guy.

^= fat guys are always hungry