Now that I have spent more than a year working with venture capitalists and startups in New York City, I have picked up on many subtle and not so subtle differences between the tech scene here vs. Silicon Valley where I have spent most of my life. Some of the New York attitudes toward startups have been useful: focusing on minimally viable products that produce financial results, focus on media and consumer traction as an integral part of the company plan, and conservative approaches to early company valuation. But one of the uniquely East Coast rituals struck me as odd: the quest of business-focused company founders to “find a technical co-founder” for their venture. There are job posting for this position, there are events, there are discussions on forums. All assume you can start with a business idea, hire a super-coder to implement the idea, and get the company off the ground. VC’s often make “finding a technical co-founder” a requisite to getting a company funded which I find to be a naive and pessimistic view of the importance technology plays in software startups.
Although I am sure there are notable exceptions, the concept of “finding” a technical co-founder was something I had never heard of in my 15 years in Silicon Valley. Maybe it’s because I am a three time company co-founder who is technical first and business focused second, but, to me, the founding team always needed to be there from the start of the company — or it would not be a company at all. Technology had to woven into the business plan and featured front and center before any VC pitches were given. West Coast tech has seen its share of founding teams. Some founders may have been more technical, some focused on business (Wozniak + Jobs), but usually, it is the “business guy” that was sought after the company got going (Brinn & Page + Schmidt) , (Gates & Allen + Ballmer), not the other way around as often happens in New York.
Two days ago, I attended an amazing dinner hosted by David Kirkpatrick of Technomy.com. It was a chance to discuss some of the ways in which technology has influenced society and what’s in store for the future. One of the guests on the grand guest list happened to be Kevin Colleran of Facebook — the man in charge of global partnerships and revenue and the second longest-tenured employee at the company (after Zuckerberg). Kevin was asked about things he had learned during his work at Facebook. One of the lessons, he said, was that (paraphrasing) “technology has to be there from the very beginning” – which immediately made me smile. He felt that Facebook could not have become Facebook if it was strictly a business idea driven by business guys with a business vision. Technical innovation, he felt, was one of the keys to the company’s success. Hmm… how apropos. Maybe Zuckerberg had a “find a technical co-founder” todo on his task list, but I doubt it. Just as I am sure the Winklevoss twins had a “find a geek to code this thing” task on theirs. The Winklevii today would probably go to a tech co-founder event, cast their net, and snag an engineer. But, guess what? The engineer would not have been Zuckerberg, and the company would not be Facebook.
Hey Kirill, Joe from Livefyre here! I really enjoyed this post, but as a VC, wouldn't a new company that doesn’t already have a technical co-founder scare you? I would think that the founders, based on passion and talent alone, are just as important as the product when it comes to investing.
I'm new to the team here, but if you have any questions or feedback please feel free to let me know. I'm looking forward to following blog!
joebertino Most companies I like to invest in have some "product innovation" at their core. And not having a technical leader on the team from the very start is, indeed, very disturbing. My point here is that getting someone with technical chops on board is not simply a checkmark in due diligence. The individual needs to be a key, integrated member of the team.
About MeI am the Managing Director of RTP Ventures, the U.S. operation of a $700M+ international Venture Capital fund. I was also a Venture Partner at Greycroft. I am a three-time founder and CEO of software companies including Plumtree Software and Elastra. Spent most of my life working on databases and working with VCs. Finally bit the bullet and joined one. Ready for something new. Passionate and intense about Software and New York City. (I know where the title comes from, and... the falcon can not hear the falconer)
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