When I was in middle school I saw a fantastic one act play called Sure Thing by David Ives. The premise is simple – a guy approaches a woman at a café and attempts a conversation, and every time he screws it up a bell dings softly and the scene resets:
Excuse me, is this chair taken?
Yes it is.
Excuse me, is this chair taken?
No it’s not.
Do you come in here a lot?
Not so much anymore. Not as much as I used to. Before my nervous breakdown.
I believe that a person is . . . what they are. So what if I admire Trotsky?
So what if I once had a total-body liposuction?
So what if I don’t have a penis?
I thought about this play a lot while finding a new technical partner for my startup LikeBright. Like looking for a girlfriend, the search inspired bouts of self-affirmation verging on the masturbatory: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! And like looking for a girlfriend, it was humbling, tedious, and harder than necessary due to my own mistakes and the cadre of douchey business guys who’d come looking before me.
I’m an idea guy. And I have a lot of good ideas.
Here’s my marketing strategy: it’s gonna go viral!
I can’t code. But, don’t worry. I went to Harvard Business School!
(Ding ding ding ding ding!)
I believe entrepreneurship can be noble and fulfilling. You get to take your ideas about how to solve the world’s problems and make them tangible, and if they’re very good and you work very hard, you might make some money. And the best startups I know are strong in business and technology. So why do we keep screwing it up? Here are three tips from a veteran seeker to business founders and daters alike:
1. THE CODE IS THE SEX
If you can’t produce code, your best shot at finding a good technical partner is NOT to convince them that you’re the world’s best bragger. They can do that too, and they’ll probably sound smarter than you doing it. Instead, work your ass off and clear the way for them to produce code by doing all the other stuff.
In a startup, the code is the sex. You can’t get it by yourself. This analogy is actually overgenerous because your technical partner can “scratch their own itch.” But for the business guy, it works. Think of all the things you’ve done for sex. Now think about how it would be if instead of ever doing any of those things, you just walked around talking about how you had a lot of good ideas.
Filling out bank and legal and tax forms sucks, but it has to get done. There’s your chance to contribute, business guy.
2. NO ONE CARES WHAT YOU CAN SAY
Ideally, have a track record that proves you can raise money. If you don’t have that, attend Founder Dating or a Startup Weekend or another tech event and show proof of life by getting people fired up about a good idea and making something cool. Read The Four Steps to the Epiphany, talk to potential customers and find out why your idea sucks. Get some better, smarter people to say nice things about you. The good news for business guys is that the bar is pretty low. Can you do math, tie your shoes and get a positive reference from one potential customer and one talented developer? Congratulations, you’re a professional.
3. DON’T BE TOO HORNY
You know that moment on a date when things are going well, and you look in each other’s eyes and you’re like: “I think you and I should go steady, so I can exploit your talents and good nature for one year or more.”
No, because you would never say that. If you are lucky enough to get that far, don’t try to be stingy with equity, money, glory or whatever. In startup land we call this “overoptimizing”, and it means you’re being a prick. You two are foregoing all other options to build a dream together. It doesn’t always have to be equal, but it has to work for both of you.
I learned all this stuff the hard way before finding someone great. Now I write this so we business guys will stop making each other look bad, and so more of us can leave our jobs and live our dreams. If you would like to talk about it over coffee, I am available. I’m an idea guy. And I have a lot of good ideas.