‘I need a tech guy’ is a quote, and it’s one I’ve heard a lot. Looking back in just the last 12 months, since I left my role after working for the company that acquired Cake, I’ve been having conversations with people about what I’m doing now. One thing I’ve noticed is that certainly in the tech world, there seems to be a dearth of people capable of running complex software projects, and everybody seems to need a tech guy.
Earlier this year I was in Toronto on my Strategic Coach course and I was introduced to a chap from New York. We were all having dinner and when we introduced ourselves and I said what I did, that quote ‘I need a tech guy’ was one of the first things he said to me. We started talking and afterwards, I realised that this is a really sought-after skill set. But I imagine that would be the case for anyone who’s good at what they do in whatever sector they work in. What I realised was that there will always be people out there who want your services because there won’t be many other people offering the kinds of services you do and who have got your experience and contacts. Your network is key to capitalising on this.
There are probably many people out there with good ideas for tech products but no tech product experience, as in, they haven’t got the experience in building tech products. They might be from the legal industry or the financial planning industry and have a really good idea for an app or platform that they want to build. What is lacking is people who can put teams together to build these kinds of products.
The strange thing is that I’ve spoken to a few people about this and a surprising number of them suggest setting up a partnership, which is great. They want to set a business up with you where they look after the sector specialism side of the business and you look after the tech product side. It’s an interesting situation.
There is a business that I’m starting at the moment. It’s actually up and running in that the tech platform is in development. I’m working with a specialist from a different industry, but I’m the tech guy. This is a great basis for a partnership, because you’re both bringing something to the equation. There’s a shared risk mentality, especially if you pick the right person. Personally, I tend to pick people from my entrepreneurial network, because I know a lot of people in that network share the same thoughts as me on risk, entrepreneurial realism and developing a business. I believe that if you’ve got this shared mindset and you bring different skills to the business it’s not only a great basis to form a partnership but also an opportunity to build something special.
The benefits of partnerships
Although there’s always a chance you could fall out with your partner, if you choose that partner carefully and know that you’ll work together in a way where you compromise when you have to, then this kind of genuine partnership has a lot more chance of succeeding.
There are many benefits of working with a partner rather than on your own. You’ve got someone else to bounce ideas off, and someone to tell you that you’re being crazy or agree that something is a really good idea; and you do the same for that person.
But having a partnership also works well in terms of raising money. You might have to raise the money yourself as an individual, you might reach out to your friends and family network, or you might even go to a business angel for seed funding or, if it’s a high-growth company, you might go to a VC or private equity company.
In any of these scenarios, I think it’s always best when you’ve got two really experienced people with very defined roles in the business leading the company. That’s a much better story to tell and you’re far more likely to get the money that you need to fulfill your vision for the company.
Getting to an MVP
As a tech product company, you’ve got your vision, which is probably something quite grand, but the reality is that you need to build something quickly, in a cost-effective way within the budget you have. This product can then start to earn you money.
Most people will start with something called a minimum viable product (MVP). This is often something that you can sell. So, for example, if you have an eCommerce site if you have a product you can sell for one penny, that’s your MVP. It can do what it should do. It might not have all the bells and whistles and features that you want the product to ultimately have, but at this stage it will certainly get you going. If you can get your MVP to a 1.0, and if you’ve thought carefully about what the feature set for that 1.0 is, then you’ll have something that has the potential to generate a reasonable amount of money. The idea being that if you play this correctly and if you’re planning correctly, then the money that you earn and generate from selling this first version of the product will fund future versions of the product.
When you approach a new business in that way, you don’t have to start giving away large chunks of equity in your company to VCs and private equity companies who can sometimes interfere in the way that you want to run the company, usually because they have a place on the board. Of course, there are good ones as well as bad ones out there, but it’s much safer if you can raise as much of the money you need as possible by yourself.
If you do need investment, try to get a silent partner or someone who is going to add value to what you’re doing and who brings another set of skills to the business rather than someone who sits down and tries to run the business from a spreadsheet. What you want to avoid is partnering with someone who is just looking to get the business to the stage where they can sell it, or make a profit, when you’re more focused on fulfilling your vision.
My advice is to think carefully about how you fund the product. Instead of looking for large sums of money upfront, build the product as soon as you can and hopefully, if you get that right, it will become self-funded. That will mean you can iteratively develop it. That’s my preferred way of working, although of course, it depends on the situation. But if you follow this approach, hey presto you have a product for your new startup. And that new startup all began with someone uttering the words, ‘I need a tech guy!’.