Real talk™ for non-technical founders.

“I just need engineers so I can build my product!”

This is (unsurprisingly) the most common problem I hear from non-technical teams at pre-product stages. They’ve got a vision and a dream, but it’s often outside their reach of execution.

One of the first things you need to think about is the exact value you’re providing to your customers. Do you absolutely need someone else to write technology to solve this problem? Can you do it manually and unscalably[1]?

If it’s the latter, get out of the building and sell your product. There’s nothing like paying customers to enhance your prospects. Come back later.

If it’s the former, read on.

If you’re looking to bring somebody on at a cofounder level, it’s dead crucial that you find (or create) someone as passionate about the space as the other founders. If the newbie’s not passionate, neither all the equity in the world nor the meager cash the company can offer will be enough to keep them there through the first few years of pain you’ll go through, and they’ll dip the instant Facebook lobs a $150k+ offer across their bow.

If you’re wanting to hire an employee, and you have access to (and are willing to let it go) low six figures a year (do remember there’s more than just salary you’ll have to pony up, unless they’re a contractor), I’d go to AngelList first, then Github Jobs and Stack Overflow, assuming you don’t have someone in mind already.

If you’re not prepped to give at least 10%+, you’re not being realistic. Go with a 4-year vesting grant, with cliffs[2]. You might be able to sucker some poor bastard in with options, but it’s a little early to be screwing early employees when you haven’t even hired them.

Either way, all the current founders need to be well on their way towards demonstrating their value. There’s always more work to be done, even (sometimes especially!) pre-product. Build some channels, work on your market positioning, or even (gasp!) talk to customers!

A team that’s waiting around for a product should be one of the biggest red flags to anyone good, and you absolutely want to be hiring good people at this stage.

You should have a strong enough network to have people in mind. If none of them are willing to join, you need to find out why. Are they simply not passionate about the space? (Fine!) Are you or your team giving off negative signals? (Not fine!) Dig on this and understand what’s wrong.

If your team’s network is empty of leads, you should work on this, quickly.

There’s a reason VCs, Angels, and incubators look for teams. Building a passionate team is one of the hardest parts of starting a company, but it’s hands-down the most important towards long-term success.

Good luck.

[1] -

[2] -


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