Dave is here!


I'm Dave, one of the founders of the Recurse Center.

An Open Letter to Business People

November 11, 2010

So you have an idea for a startup? Awesome! The world needs more people like you. You’re going to have to start by finding a technical cofounder. This is hard because you’re not a programmer, so I’m going to teach you how to do it.

You’ll notice I said “technical cofounder” and not “developer.” That’s important. If you decide to pay someone a few thousand dollars for a web app made to your specifications, you will probably fail. Why? Because your idea is not very good yet. You’re going to have to iterate a whole bunch of times before your idea succeeds. You need someone who’s going to be in it for a long haul. You need a technical cofounder.

Now that you’ve decided to find a real cofounder, let’s get started. For the time being, I’ll play the part of your cofounder to be. We’ve already decided that you’re not going to be paying me in cash. Instead, you’re going to be paying me in equity. This is easier for you anyway because equity doesn’t cost you anything.

How much were you thinking you’d give me? Ten percent? That’s way too low. Lets bump it up to 50%. Yeah, I know, it sounds like a lot. After all, you’re the vision guy. All you need is someone to build your vision for you, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not really that simple. The truth is that your idea is worth practically nothing and someone’s probably tried it before. Execution is everything. You haven’t really moved past Square Zero yet. After all, “If you were the inventor of Facebook, you would have invented Facebook.”

Walk in my shoes for a minute. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Right now you look like a lot like dead weight. Don’t take that the wrong way. When our startup takes off, I’m not going to want to deal with all the business stuff. That’s what you love and what you’re good at. I’ll want to keep working on the product. It’s just that right now I feel like I’m the only one who can really contribute and you’re just doubling our burn rate.

Don’t let this get you down though. A startup without a business plan isn’t a business. It’s just some code. In the end, I need you just as much as you need me. You’re just going to want to understand what’s going through my head when you decide what kind of relationship we’re going to have.

Ok, so we’ve settled on 50%, but there’s still something else that you’re going to want to give me: input. My half of our newly minted company is worth nothing if we fail, and I’m not going to feel good about our prospects if I can’t help shape our product.

Just because I’m the technical guy, doesn’t mean I’m some sort of Marxian means of production. I’m a real person with a great logical and analytical mind. Even if you have some specific detailed domain knowledge that I lack, I spend all my time evaluating every new web startup that comes my way. I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t, and as they say, “Two heads are better than one.”

Now that you know what you want, you need to know how to find me (or someone better than me, I’m nowhere near the cream of the crop). The first thing you should do is learn to program. You don’t have to make the site, just learn enough to be able to understand my world. It’ll up my respect for you a great deal if you can speak my language.

You can find me at tech meetups or on GitHub. When you meet me, don’t pitch your idea. Get to know me and be my friend. Remember, I’m a person, not a means of production and if I’m good, there are a lot more people coming to me with ideas than there are engineers for you to talk to. Have lunch with me and shoot the shit. Tell me what you’re working on and listen to my feedback. After we’ve gotten to know each other, we can start working weekends and see where things go.

I’m super excited. Our startup is going to be great!

There’s a discussion on HackerNews: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1894961