The City of Founders Without Hackers

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Every startup in NYC is looking for developers. Literally: Every. Single. One.

And this is a problem.

New York City has a shortage of entrepreneurially minded technical talent. It’s not that there’s not enough engineers. Hardly. Columbia, NYU and the rest of the eastern seaboard spits out engineers in spades each year. But somehow those aren’t funneled into, aware of or interested in the NYC startups, at least at the early stage. Local engineers, it seems, want to be employees, not co-founders.

To wit, my friend Geoff Lewis, Founder/CEO of NYC-based TopGuest, glanced on the topic in a recent post he wrote for the Business Insider:

Today, it is more possible than ever before for one person to effectively lead both building and selling during a consumer internet startup’s early growth phase. I’m seeing it done first hand by some of my single-founder friends, each of whom I believe will be wildly successful…In lieu of co-founders, these folks are instead assembling strong teams of employees, often in “co-founder-like” roles, after having established their companies.

via www.businessinsider.com (Emphasis Added)

Chris Dixon and a few other VCs in Twitter-land communicated a strong disapproval of this single-founder concept.

But if you look at seed-stage startups in NYC, I’d say 85% of them follow this pattern: Non-technical founder in search of a technical co-founder…or, absent that, a code monkey, technologist, intern, whatever––someone who can code, goddamnit!

I don’t know of any official statistics that track this, but as someone on the ground, it seems like startup formation is increasing at an exponential rate while the amount engineering talent is static or facing merely linear growth. However the specifics pan out, demand vastly exceeds supply, and the gap seems to be growing, not shrinking.


Unless we eliminate the chokepoint around technical talent, the NYC startup boom is going to turn into another bubble
. And founders in my position will, if they’re clear-eyed and ruthless, realize that being here is a source of location risk.

(To be clear, this is not just a case of sour grapes. I did find recruiting engineers in NYC for SpeakerText to be a pain, but ultimately found success by looking elsewhere. We recently brought on board a new CTO, which gives us at a 3: 1 ratio of technical to non-technical founders.  But he came to us by way of friends in Palo Alto who followed my blog).

There are two distinct but synchronous trends driving the NYC startup explosion:

  • Secular contraction in traditional media <—Creates Founders
  • Cyclical contraction in financial services <—Frees up Hackers

And this is all happening in a macro-context of high unemployment and general recession drives even the unwitting towards entrepreneurship.

Medium-term, expect to see an even bigger technical talent crunch when Wall Street and the financial services industry rebound––unless you think that Wall Street is undergoing a secular (rather than cyclical) contraction. But that’s another debate for another time.

But right here, right now, the problems break down as follows…

Segregated Social Networks
Startups in NYC tend to be run by first-time founders. The problem is that these first-timers (like me) are typically non-technologists coming from non-technical industries (like advertising or media). And they don’t actually know many engineers.

As it turns out, it’s relatively easy for non-technical founders to network their way to venture capitalist investors. (Previously, I had written that NYC lacked early-stage risk capital, which it definitely does relative to SV, but the gap is shrinking rapidly and it turns out you can get around this problem by simply hopping on a plane.)

On one hand you have what is becoming a relatively tight network of business-minded founders & investors; on the other you have a loose federation of hackers who seem to be not only disconnected from the business people in the community but also weakly networked amongst themselves. This is a HUGE problem.

When M2 joined SpeakerText, we didn’t just get access to his personal talent––we got access to his entire network at CMU. Last Monday, I told him we needed a new front-end developer––by Tuesday night we had a line on two strong candidates. Now, my experience is admittedly limited, but I haven’t met a lot of engineers in NYC who have networks like that that they can call on. And to the point, all of my friends who were looking for technical co-founders two months ago are still looking today.

Cash vs Equity Culture
As a startup ecosystem matures, market participants start to understand the value of equity. Essentially, after people have seen a few big exits, stock options start to seem valuable and take hold of the popular imagination. When people see their once-upon-a-time geeky-poor friends get rich seemingly overnight, the greed kicks in. This is a big part of what makes any startup ecosystem tick (also why Wall Street is so alluring).

The problem is, most people in NYC don’t understand the value of stock options. Payment in cash is the norm, both in NYC and everywhere else EXCEPT for startup land. Post-Series A financing, startups can typically afford to pay market rate for engineers. But pre-Series A, especially at the earliest formation stage, there’s little or no money whatsoever.

To get to that point where you can raise money, you need risk-seeking technologists who want to build cool shit. And when Wall Street guarantees six-figure paychecks on day one, the opportunity cost of doing a startup becomes very, very high.

Not only does Wall Street train engineers to value cash over equity, it’s that once you’ve worked at Goldman or a hedge fund for 2-5 years, you develop an expensive lifestyle that requires that same kind of constant cash-flow to maintain. The ole’ Golden Handcuffs, as they’re called. The problem is that Startups create (hopefully) discontinuous wealth––a long period of relative poverty followed by either total bankruptcy or a potential life-altering exit.

This needs to change. Junior engineers need to learn the value of equity if NYC is to be a sustainable over the long term. Sadly, competition for talent with Wall Street is a zero-sum game. The bigger Wall Street is, the greater the opportunity cost of doing a startup in NYC. And the smaller Wall Street is, the lower the opportunity cost of starting a company. No way around it.

True story: On my last trip to Palo Alto, I had beers with a very talented engineer who was being recruited by a very hot startup. Shit, I thought, how could anyone turn that down. But this engineer had his doubts. His reasoning: this startup had already raised a Series A at a high valuation. The company had to be really huge if his equity stake was ever going to amount to anything, and even then it was unlikely he’d get the kind of wealth that a founder would receive in even a moderate-sized exit. He turned them down.

I have never run across this kind of sophisticated thinking about startups in NYC or anywhere else outside of the Valley. It requires people to have been through the startup cycle multiple times. NYC simply isn’t there yet––nor are most places.

The Fundamental Problem: Academia
Cultural mores and social networks can change. And if NYC creates some breakout startups that make it big, those things will change. They are the problems of an immature, growing scene. Nothing a big exit or two won’t solve.

The real problem goes deeper: The connection between academia and NYC startups is very, very weak. The top universities send a mere trickle of talent into local startups, and then only by accident. Whereas Stanford pipes students into Silicon Valley startups at industrial scale and efficiency, Columbia (my alma mater) and NYU barely realizes the scene exists. And no one save for a few heroic folks inside the universities themselves (more on them in a later post) seems to take the problem seriously.

Unless local universities start piping engineering grads into the startup ecosystem in some sort of organized fashion, NYC will never be more than a bit player in the global startup landscape. Her destiny will be to forever rise and fall in size and import opposite the cyclical expansion and contraction of Wall Street.

The scene is out of balance. Founders are starting companies without hackers. Technology companies exist without technologists. It’s fucking crazy.

Tomorrow: All the good shit happening in NYC that involves people trying to address these problems.

95 Comments

  1. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Totally agree about the biz guys treating technical talent like commodity slave monkeys. Not all, but enough to fuck up the average.

  2. Matt Mireles May 12, 2010 at 4:05 am #

    Totally agree about the biz guys treating technical talent like commodity slave monkeys. Not all, but enough to fuck up the average.

  3. iregisteredjustsoicouldbitchatyou May 11, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    I’m with Scott on this one, especially the experience of engineers being treated like line cooks by founders who couldn’t boil a technical egg. A lot of the startups I see in NYC are either me-too (“This month’s super-trendy site, but for X!”) companies where the odds of a worthwhile exit seem very long or penny-ante ideas that are just too small in scope for me to devote 16 hours a day.
    It’s true that the networking is weak, and the higher education institutions in the area don’t do a good job of integrating with the companies/incubators that do exist, but the idea that people in NYC don’t know that you *might* make a good chunk of change from stock options is just ridiculous.
    What NYC needs is more entrepreneurial engineers and more technical VCs, not more stock option hype. It’s a special kind of sinking feeling when the money people who invested in the first round start flogging their who cares buzzword investments (“You should take a look at heykewwl.biz, they have some great viral social networking technology that makes it easy to create an iPhone app for your site”) and you realize they have no idea what they’re doing.

  4. iregisteredjustsoicouldbitchat May 11, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    I’m with Scott on this one, especially the experience of engineers being treated like line cooks by founders who couldn’t boil a technical egg. A lot of the startups I see in NYC are either me-too (“This month’s super-trendy site, but for X!”) companies where the odds of a worthwhile exit seem very long or penny-ante ideas that are just too small in scope for me to devote 16 hours a day.
    It’s true that the networking is weak, and the higher education institutions in the area don’t do a good job of integrating with the companies/incubators that do exist, but the idea that people in NYC don’t know that you *might* make a good chunk of change from stock options is just ridiculous.
    What NYC needs is more entrepreneurial engineers and more technical VCs, not more stock option hype. It’s a special kind of sinking feeling when the money people who invested in the first round start flogging their who cares buzzword investments (“You should take a look at heykewwl.biz, they have some great viral social networking technology that makes it easy to create an iPhone app for your site”) and you realize they have no idea what they’re doing.

  5. scott May 11, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    This is coming from the perspective of a mid 30′s engineer with a nest egg who has worked at startups in San Francisco and in Los Angeles. Over the years I’ve dealt with NYC clients and business partners. At one point I seriously considered relocating to New York. My conclusion was that it was not a good fit unless I had additional reasons such as family or a girlfriend.
    1) Why should I want to live in New York City in a no- or low- income situation?
    * Manhattan is very expensive to live in, even in the cheap parts. Some parts of San Francisco are also pretty expensive, but there’s also cheaper areas within a reasonable commute. Furthermore, shared housing options in the San Francisco bay area are vastly superior to Manhattan alternatives. Los Angeles has even better cheaper housing options.
    * Most things that NYC has to recommend itself as a place to live are nightlife-related and require at least a moderate income. San Francisco, on the other hand, has a plethora of free outdoor activities that are nearby.
    * The comparison you draw to actors and actresses simply doesn’t follow. If you want to act you have to go to New York or Los Angeles. If you want to be an entrepreneurial engineer, NY is not high up on your list.
    2) Why should I want to work for a startup in New York City?
    * In my experience, businesspeople from New York and the East Coast tend to treat engineers like peons. On the West Coast they’re treated like equal partners and are empowered to help shape a product. The gap between “founders” is much greater in the East.
    * Wall Street already provides interesting technical challenges as well as extremely good pay, why not work there instead if you’re in New York?
    3) Why should I want to work for YOUR startup?
    * Statements like “most people in NYC don’t understand the value of stock options” make you sound pretty sketchy. I lived through the bubble burst and I know that stock options are worth exactly nil from the perspective of my financial planning. I also know that unless you’re also an investor or founder, options in a successful startup can be diluted into almost nothing at the last minute just before an acquisition is made. Most engineers with a few years of experience and perspective are more savvy than you think about topics like this.

  6. scott May 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    This is coming from the perspective of a mid 30′s engineer with a nest egg who has worked at startups in San Francisco and in Los Angeles. Over the years I’ve dealt with NYC clients and business partners. At one point I seriously considered relocating to New York. My conclusion was that it was not a good fit unless I had additional reasons such as family or a girlfriend.
    1) Why should I want to live in New York City in a no- or low- income situation?
    * Manhattan is very expensive to live in, even in the cheap parts. Some parts of San Francisco are also pretty expensive, but there’s also cheaper areas within a reasonable commute. Furthermore, shared housing options in the San Francisco bay area are vastly superior to Manhattan alternatives. Los Angeles has even better cheaper housing options.
    * Most things that NYC has to recommend itself as a place to live are nightlife-related and require at least a moderate income. San Francisco, on the other hand, has a plethora of free outdoor activities that are nearby.
    * The comparison you draw to actors and actresses simply doesn’t follow. If you want to act you have to go to New York or Los Angeles. If you want to be an entrepreneurial engineer, NY is not high up on your list.
    2) Why should I want to work for a startup in New York City?
    * In my experience, businesspeople from New York and the East Coast tend to treat engineers like peons. On the West Coast they’re treated like equal partners and are empowered to help shape a product. The gap between “founders” is much greater in the East.
    * Wall Street already provides interesting technical challenges as well as extremely good pay, why not work there instead if you’re in New York?
    3) Why should I want to work for YOUR startup?
    * Statements like “most people in NYC don’t understand the value of stock options” make you sound pretty sketchy. I lived through the bubble burst and I know that stock options are worth exactly nil from the perspective of my financial planning. I also know that unless you’re also an investor or founder, options in a successful startup can be diluted into almost nothing at the last minute just before an acquisition is made. Most engineers with a few years of experience and perspective are more savvy than you think about topics like this.

  7. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    Obviously, there are people like you out there in the ecosystem who are savvy. But what fraction of the community would you say you represent? ?ignificant percent?
    Any ideas on how to solve for this?

  8. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Obviously, there are people like you out there in the ecosystem who are savvy. But what fraction of the community would you say you represent? ?ignificant percent?
    Any ideas on how to solve for this?

  9. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    Well, i think the idea is that you build a MVP working part-time and bootstrapping, then try to sell it and make it big post launch.

  10. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    Well, i think the idea is that you build a MVP working part-time and bootstrapping, then try to sell it and make it big post launch.

  11. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    The whole point of having a co-founder is that you think through the problem together as equals. This is very different from the “I will build your idea” employee-boss relationship that you’re describing.

  12. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    The whole point of having a co-founder is that you think through the problem together as equals. This is very different from the “I will build your idea” employee-boss relationship that you’re describing.

  13. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    YEAH. That’s another big problem: Stingy ass founders who want to offer below-market pay AND below-market equity. HORRIBLE combo. Shows the person has their head up their ass.

  14. Matt Mireles May 11, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    YEAH. That’s another big problem: Stingy ass founders who want to offer below-market pay AND below-market equity. HORRIBLE combo. Shows the person has their head up their ass.

  15. Mike Rentas May 11, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    It’s not sad at all, it’s just realistic. Unless you’ve proven yourself and launched successful products in the past, all you have is an idea. How do I know how well you’ve really thought it through? How do I know if you’re up for the amount of work it’ll take to get it off the ground? Why should I leave a comfortable job with nothing but your word that “this will be huge”?
    On the other hand, if you’ve been successful in the past, you should be able to pay me at least a decent wage. I’d take a pay cut + options to work on a project I had a lot of faith in, but I can’t and won’t work for equity alone.

  16. Mike Rentas May 11, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    It’s not sad at all, it’s just realistic. Unless you’ve proven yourself and launched successful products in the past, all you have is an idea. How do I know how well you’ve really thought it through? How do I know if you’re up for the amount of work it’ll take to get it off the ground? Why should I leave a comfortable job with nothing but your word that “this will be huge”?
    On the other hand, if you’ve been successful in the past, you should be able to pay me at least a decent wage. I’d take a pay cut + options to work on a project I had a lot of faith in, but I can’t and won’t work for equity alone.

  17. Mike Rentas May 11, 2010 at 10:34 am #

    Regarding the last paragraph, not only do the “idea” guys not know what they’re doing technically, they don’t want to pay or give a worthwhile amount of equity.

  18. Mike Rentas May 11, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Regarding the last paragraph, not only do the “idea” guys not know what they’re doing technically, they don’t want to pay or give a worthwhile amount of equity.

  19. Mike Rentas May 11, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    This is definitely true. I graduated from NYU with a CS degree in 2004, and had no interest in working at a bank. The school’s career services department was totally useless to me.

  20. Mike Rentas May 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    This is definitely true. I graduated from NYU with a CS degree in 2004, and had no interest in working at a bank. The school’s career services department was totally useless to me.

  21. Kal L. May 11, 2010 at 4:20 am #

    I made some edits, but they didn’t go in. My apologies for the grammar errors.

  22. Kal L. May 11, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    I made some edits, but they didn’t go in. My apologies for the grammar errors.

  23. Kal L. May 11, 2010 at 4:12 am #

    This was a great blog, and hit very close to home for me. *raises hand* I’m one of those non-technical co-founders, and yes, I am looking for a tech lead, CTO, VP Programmer…whatever it takes, just as Matt said.
    I have a friend, very good friend who is a programmer. We met in China and I even applied for him to get a visa, long before I thought about forming a tech startup. Back when I shared the “founder’ title with two other fellas, I propositioned him about joining us, and honestly, I trusted him more than the other two when it came to dependability and loyalty.
    He declined, and he explained to me why. He is Mongolian and thanks to my help, I got him from Shanghai to Boston and he lives with friends of mine that I also connected to him, but he did the hard work and he wants to see the fruits of his labors and to make manifest his dreams.
    The difference between non-technical co-founders and technologists can be recognized by their dreams. The non-technical founder loves the thrill of building something, of speaking and sharing about what he built and how it has add something new to the world. We think about leading teams, and making presentations that in an instant can become their giant break.
    My friend’s dreams are different. He wants to pay his bills, marry the nice girl from his home country, tour across landmarks, and finance his hobbies. Ideas of grandeur don’t cross his mind, and though his situation is a bit different from many technologists, I imagine there are parallels.
    When he got tried of his job for their low pay, I talked to him again about joining the company, and then his job gave him a $20,000 bonus – just like that. Maybe they knew that he was too valuable to lose, and that he was dissatisfied with his pay. He wants to fly his brother from Mongolia and pay for his education.
    As non-technical co-founders, if we’re good at what we do, we recognize our weaknesses, but we know that it’s up to us to get the big bucks so that we can pick and choose the best of the best. I would love it if after a successful round of Stage A funding, I can add my good buddy to my team but 2x what he is being paid.
    Technologists who have similar dreams to on-technical founders make good programmers but not “great” ones. The two worlds solve problems differently and choose different problems to solve almost completely.
    I’m actually moving to SV at the end of June and hopefully I will come across a tech lead who can impress me and share a similar love for hacking education. Until then…I know what I have to do.
    And this whole thing about non-technical founders learning code…we can do a lot of things and we might do so, but I would not recommend focusing on one’s weaknesses. It’s like writing out your name with your left hand (if you’re right handed), but I do agree with Matt. I learn a lot from the conversations I have with programmers and they learn a lot from me…I hope.
    Once again, great blog!!!

  24. Kal L. May 11, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    This was a great blog, and hit very close to home for me. *raises hand* I’m one of those non-technical co-founders, and yes, I am looking for a tech lead, CTO, VP Programmer…whatever it takes, just as Matt said.
    I have a friend, very good friend who is a programmer. We met in China and I even applied for him to get a visa, long before I thought about forming a tech startup. Back when I shared the “founder’ title with two other fellas, I propositioned him about joining us, and honestly, I trusted him more than the other two when it came to dependability and loyalty.
    He declined, and he explained to me why. He is Mongolian and thanks to my help, I got him from Shanghai to Boston and he lives with friends of mine that I also connected to him, but he did the hard work and he wants to see the fruits of his labors and to make manifest his dreams.
    The difference between non-technical co-founders and technologists can be recognized by their dreams. The non-technical founder loves the thrill of building something, of speaking and sharing about what he built and how it has add something new to the world. We think about leading teams, and making presentations that in an instant can become their giant break.
    My friend’s dreams are different. He wants to pay his bills, marry the nice girl from his home country, tour across landmarks, and finance his hobbies. Ideas of grandeur don’t cross his mind, and though his situation is a bit different from many technologists, I imagine there are parallels.
    When he got tried of his job for their low pay, I talked to him again about joining the company, and then his job gave him a $20,000 bonus – just like that. Maybe they knew that he was too valuable to lose, and that he was dissatisfied with his pay. He wants to fly his brother from Mongolia and pay for his education.
    As non-technical co-founders, if we’re good at what we do, we recognize our weaknesses, but we know that it’s up to us to get the big bucks so that we can pick and choose the best of the best. I would love it if after a successful round of Stage A funding, I can add my good buddy to my team but 2x what he is being paid.
    Technologists who have similar dreams to on-technical founders make good programmers but not “great” ones. The two worlds solve problems differently and choose different problems to solve almost completely.
    I’m actually moving to SV at the end of June and hopefully I will come across a tech lead who can impress me and share a similar love for hacking education. Until then…I know what I have to do.
    And this whole thing about non-technical founders learning code…we can do a lot of things and we might do so, but I would not recommend focusing on one’s weaknesses. It’s like writing out your name with your left hand (if you’re right handed), but I do agree with Matt. I learn a lot from the conversations I have with programmers and they learn a lot from me…I hope.
    Once again, great blog!!!

  25. Trevor May 10, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Hirelite is great, but it’s only free for tech co-founders, doesn’t this go to show where the supply/demand equation is in NYC?

  26. Trevor May 11, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    Hirelite is great, but it’s only free for tech co-founders, doesn’t this go to show where the supply/demand equation is in NYC?

  27. Bob May 10, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    I am developer in NYC. I’ve been through 2 acquisitions at startups. One in 2000, and one in 2003. I currently work for a startup. I do not think engineering talent in NYC is naive about equity or options packages, in fact most talented engineers I know (I’m talking about guys that could build a search engine from scratch, etc.), have turned down startup offers because they know how to do the math regarding equity and options packages based on current valuation, etc. How can it be worth it when you make $200K+ at your current job, AND you have a mortgage or expensive rent, AND your kids are in private school? For me, I’m an entrepreneurial engineer at heart and wont work anywhere but a startup.

  28. Bob May 11, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    I am developer in NYC. I’ve been through 2 acquisitions at startups. One in 2000, and one in 2003. I currently work for a startup. I do not think engineering talent in NYC is naive about equity or options packages, in fact most talented engineers I know (I’m talking about guys that could build a search engine from scratch, etc.), have turned down startup offers because they know how to do the math regarding equity and options packages based on current valuation, etc. How can it be worth it when you make $200K+ at your current job, AND you have a mortgage or expensive rent, AND your kids are in private school? For me, I’m an entrepreneurial engineer at heart and wont work anywhere but a startup.

  29. Kurt Schrader May 10, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    One thing that you touch on here that I’ve found to be true is lack of understanding on the East Coast of the value of equity. I’ve been able to recruit an awesome team of engineers here, but I don’t think many of them have internalized the risk/reward equation for equity that engineers who’ve been through a number of start-ups know like the back of their hand.
    There’s also a lack of lower key, more unstructured networking out here that I used to see a lot of in the Bay. You never seem get 20 engineers at a bar or a poker game like you do in SF.

  30. Kurt Schrader May 11, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    One thing that you touch on here that I’ve found to be true is lack of understanding on the East Coast of the value of equity. I’ve been able to recruit an awesome team of engineers here, but I don’t think many of them have internalized the risk/reward equation for equity that engineers who’ve been through a number of start-ups know like the back of their hand.
    There’s also a lack of lower key, more unstructured networking out here that I used to see a lot of in the Bay. You never seem get 20 engineers at a bar or a poker game like you do in SF.

  31. jim May 10, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    Have you ever been to a NYC hackernews meetup?
    Have you ever been to NYC.js? NYC.rb? NYC R? NYC Lisp?
    There is a dearth of really really good developers in NYC. For the most part they are all well off and have little interest working for a retarded startup with promises of a possible pay day down the road.
    note: i am a developer living in manhattan working for a startup. i got this job from a direct solicitation about a specific open-source project i run. the company i work for pays well and has some of the best talent in NYC already…..i’d rather not name drop…

  32. jim May 10, 2010 at 11:45 pm #

    Have you ever been to a NYC hackernews meetup?
    Have you ever been to NYC.js? NYC.rb? NYC R? NYC Lisp?
    There is a dearth of really really good developers in NYC. For the most part they are all well off and have little interest working for a retarded startup with promises of a possible pay day down the road.
    note: i am a developer living in manhattan working for a startup. i got this job from a direct solicitation about a specific open-source project i run. the company i work for pays well and has some of the best talent in NYC already…..i’d rather not name drop…

  33. rogerwu99 May 10, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    I think its why the site letmegooglethatforyou exists.

  34. rogerwu99 May 10, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    I think its why the site letmegooglethatforyou exists.

  35. Hiveat55 May 10, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    At the Hive at 55 coworking space we are trying to accomplish a lot of the things you have mentioned. The networking opportunities and skill sets vary widely within the Hive membership (from tech, biz, consulting, media, etc) and community where people can be a resource for one another. We are constantly making those connections for talent on everyones behalf. Additionally, we are trying to connect with the student population and are running a competition for free space for a student startup – even just an idea and also discounted membership for the summer for students. We hope to continue to collaborate with the student community in the upcoming school year as well in a variety of disciplines.

  36. Hiveat55 May 10, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    At the Hive at 55 coworking space we are trying to accomplish a lot of the things you have mentioned. The networking opportunities and skill sets vary widely within the Hive membership (from tech, biz, consulting, media, etc) and community where people can be a resource for one another. We are constantly making those connections for talent on everyones behalf. Additionally, we are trying to connect with the student population and are running a competition for free space for a student startup – even just an idea and also discounted membership for the summer for students. We hope to continue to collaborate with the student community in the upcoming school year as well in a variety of disciplines.

  37. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    Define marketing, fundraising, product management skills?
    My point is that I’d like to see the biz people and the techies play nicer with each other.

  38. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

    Define marketing, fundraising, product management skills?
    My point is that I’d like to see the biz people and the techies play nicer with each other.

  39. Vinicius Vacanti May 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    If you are seriously looking for a technical co-founder, you better have some serious skills (marketing, fundraising, product management) and serious contacts. How do you learn those skills before finding a technical co-founder? Go on elance and spend $1K to build and launch a prototype. How do you build the contacts? Start a bog / twitter account and become a member of the tech community.
    If all you are bringing is an idea and passion, I would advise the potential technical co-founder to turn you down.

  40. Vinicius Vacanti May 10, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    If you are seriously looking for a technical co-founder, you better have some serious skills (marketing, fundraising, product management) and serious contacts. How do you learn those skills before finding a technical co-founder? Go on elance and spend $1K to build and launch a prototype. How do you build the contacts? Start a bog / twitter account and become a member of the tech community.
    If all you are bringing is an idea and passion, I would advise the potential technical co-founder to turn you down.

  41. chadmaue May 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    I agree and disagree. Off-shore / consulting can be the quickest way to ruin for any company on a budget, but if you do it right it can keep costs to a fraction and allow you to focus on talent over location. The key is managing it locally and getting talent and cutting bullshit fast.
    I’ve been able to build my NY/SF based company on an insanely low burn rate by pulling in rockstar talent at non-NY/SF $s.

  42. chadmaue May 10, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    I agree and disagree. Off-shore / consulting can be the quickest way to ruin for any company on a budget, but if you do it right it can keep costs to a fraction and allow you to focus on talent over location. The key is managing it locally and getting talent and cutting bullshit fast.
    I’ve been able to build my NY/SF based company on an insanely low burn rate by pulling in rockstar talent at non-NY/SF $s.

  43. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    Ok, so i definitely agree that the MyFaceFourGroupTwitSquarepon startups of the world that so many are hocking will not be the biggest magnets for talent. And there are plenty of DB founders out there too.
    Also, my sense is that the best, most entrepreneurial engineers want to solve problems that actually have impact in the world, not ones that are complex for their own sake. Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare––the problems they face aren’t fundamentally technical, at least not until they scale. They’re more about utility.
    My hope with this post is to get some of the stakeholders and higher ups to take notice of the problem and do something about it. There’s no need to solve a problem that you don’t realize exists. That’s my point.

  44. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    Ok, so i definitely agree that the MyFaceFourGroupTwitSquarepon startups of the world that so many are hocking will not be the biggest magnets for talent. And there are plenty of DB founders out there too.
    Also, my sense is that the best, most entrepreneurial engineers want to solve problems that actually have impact in the world, not ones that are complex for their own sake. Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare––the problems they face aren’t fundamentally technical, at least not until they scale. They’re more about utility.
    My hope with this post is to get some of the stakeholders and higher ups to take notice of the problem and do something about it. There’s no need to solve a problem that you don’t realize exists. That’s my point.

  45. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    1. Agreed. But not always.
    2. Agreed. Hence the govt should create a 2-3 year entrepreneurial student loan deferment program.
    3. Most uber successful entrepreneurs are green 20-somethings with no history.
    4. True, although not always. If they know each other, the complementary skillset will be very valuable.

  46. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    1. Agreed. But not always.
    2. Agreed. Hence the govt should create a 2-3 year entrepreneurial student loan deferment program.
    3. Most uber successful entrepreneurs are green 20-somethings with no history.
    4. True, although not always. If they know each other, the complementary skillset will be very valuable.

  47. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    Yeah, agreed. The thing that makes me sad is this presumption of the business master vs code monkey mentality. It’s so common, but so poisonous.

  48. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

    Yeah, agreed. The thing that makes me sad is this presumption of the business master vs code monkey mentality. It’s so common, but so poisonous.

  49. j_king May 10, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Well from the engineer’s perspective:
    1. Non-technical founders generally aren’t working on cool technical problems.
    2. Engineers fresh out of university have big debts and big ideas. They will want to put that education to use and work on big projects. Or else settle for big salaries.
    3. Options and equity are a gamble few are willing to bet on a green non-technical founder with no history of working on cool successful technology projects.
    4. Engineers interested in start-ups are more likely to start their own companies building products and services they find interesting.
    5. New engineers don’t have contacts in finance or marketing yet. They’re new and haven’t been around the block.
    Toronto is in much the same situation. Some approaches that have been taken:
    1. Incubators. This can go horribly wrong if they’re structured to be an angel/VC talent pool. The best ones help cash-strapped engineers and entrepreneurs minimize the risk of starting a new business. Toronto has a few. Even small-time commercial ones that just offer subscription-based communal office-space. Doesn’t have to be fancy.
    2. Corporate sponsorship/X-prize approach. Find a big problem facing big NYC business and offer a prize for a workable solution. The engineers will form teams and suddenly have exposure to founders and financiers watching the competition.
    3. Government incentives: tax breaks for R&D spending, grant programs for pre-financing early-stage start-ups, etc.
    And a non-institutional solution for founders wanting to get into tech:
    1. Network with the engineering communities and join one of their startups instead of the other way around. Many of these projects will have a really cool product but lack the contacts or skill to pursue proper financing, marketing, administration, etc. A business-savvy entrepreneur wanting to break into tech could find a good opportunity this way to build a track-record and gain cred with the engineers.
    The efficacy of any of these solutions remain to be seen, but the start-up scene continues to burble and expand over here. The problem we face is a lack of backing from the finance sector. Lots of startups but most go bust before they can pass that series-A post.
    Good post. Lots of salient points. Cheers. :)

  50. j_king May 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    Well from the engineer’s perspective:
    1. Non-technical founders generally aren’t working on cool technical problems.
    2. Engineers fresh out of university have big debts and big ideas. They will want to put that education to use and work on big projects. Or else settle for big salaries.
    3. Options and equity are a gamble few are willing to bet on a green non-technical founder with no history of working on cool successful technology projects.
    4. Engineers interested in start-ups are more likely to start their own companies building products and services they find interesting.
    5. New engineers don’t have contacts in finance or marketing yet. They’re new and haven’t been around the block.
    Toronto is in much the same situation. Some approaches that have been taken:
    1. Incubators. This can go horribly wrong if they’re structured to be an angel/VC talent pool. The best ones help cash-strapped engineers and entrepreneurs minimize the risk of starting a new business. Toronto has a few. Even small-time commercial ones that just offer subscription-based communal office-space. Doesn’t have to be fancy.
    2. Corporate sponsorship/X-prize approach. Find a big problem facing big NYC business and offer a prize for a workable solution. The engineers will form teams and suddenly have exposure to founders and financiers watching the competition.
    3. Government incentives: tax breaks for R&D spending, grant programs for pre-financing early-stage start-ups, etc.
    And a non-institutional solution for founders wanting to get into tech:
    1. Network with the engineering communities and join one of their startups instead of the other way around. Many of these projects will have a really cool product but lack the contacts or skill to pursue proper financing, marketing, administration, etc. A business-savvy entrepreneur wanting to break into tech could find a good opportunity this way to build a track-record and gain cred with the engineers.
    The efficacy of any of these solutions remain to be seen, but the start-up scene continues to burble and expand over here. The problem we face is a lack of backing from the finance sector. Lots of startups but most go bust before they can pass that series-A post.
    Good post. Lots of salient points. Cheers. :)

  51. Mike Caprio May 10, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Agreed that cost of living is a red herring. Plenty of people live in NYC and make it here on small change, multiple jobs, multiple roommates. Subtract all the gas/insurance/payment costs of owning a car.

  52. Mike Caprio May 10, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    Agreed that cost of living is a red herring. Plenty of people live in NYC and make it here on small change, multiple jobs, multiple roommates. Subtract all the gas/insurance/payment costs of owning a car.

  53. Tobin Schwaiger-Hastanan May 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    Matt, he does have a bit of a point. I think the large issue is that most non-techical founder for a new venture are not bringing much to the table outside of their idea. They are essentially just looking for a “code bitch” to build something they haven’t even fleshed out in their mind.
    Remove those people from the fray and I am willing to bet you that the proportion of quality non-technical founders that match the talent they want to acquire is much more in proportion.
    You may want to read my rebuttal at http://tob.in

  54. Tobin Schwaiger-Hastanan May 10, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    Matt, he does have a bit of a point. I think the large issue is that most non-techical founder for a new venture are not bringing much to the table outside of their idea. They are essentially just looking for a “code bitch” to build something they haven’t even fleshed out in their mind.
    Remove those people from the fray and I am willing to bet you that the proportion of quality non-technical founders that match the talent they want to acquire is much more in proportion.
    You may want to read my rebuttal at http://tob.in

  55. Indexzero May 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    This one crosses the line for me Mireles. Talk shit about my home (I’m a born and bred New Yorker), but talk shit about my home and my career and you’re going to hear from me. I’m also an engineer who recently left Wall St. to pursue startup ambition full-time, so if anyone has an axe to grind with your statements it’s me.
    The tone of what you’ve written is ridiculously condescending. Can you even name the three biggest language meetup groups in NYC? Have you ever been to them? My guess is probably not. It’s not the responsibility of these communities to reach out to your startup, it’s your responsibility as a founder to go and seek them out to find talent.
    Furthermore, I can’t help but notice that your article is subtly anti-engineer. “Oh the poor engineer, can’t figure out what to do, getting woo-ed away by the glitz and glamor of Wall St.” Fuck that. It’s more like the incompetent non-technical person who can’t tell their ass from their elbow with anything besides email, Twitter, and their blog. Did you ever think about the fact that engineers don’t want to come work at a startup because the idea is *technically boring*? I’m sorry, but your next group buying idea is not going to intellectually stimulate me. You need to bring more than money (or equity to the table) if you want to get the best talent. You need to have an idea that is going to get people excited about more than money, something they will be proud that they built.
    I agree with you about the failure of academia in New York City. I’m a graduate student at Columbia and I’ve been rather appalled by the lack of community outreach in the computer science department. But again, why are you looking for hand-outs? If you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself. Send an email. I get tons of forwards from startups who just emailed Columbia (particularly Remi Moss) looking for talent.
    You’re not the first to make these kind of false generalizations about engineers in New York. Zed Shaw had a similar post in January http://www.zedshaw.com/blog/2010-01-19.html. In both cases I think the fundamental flaw is the technical challenge of the startup itself. You’re not going to find great engineers with an incremental innovation. You get smart, technical people excited when they think they’re going to change something significantly. Come up with those ideas, and you’ll get the talent you want.

  56. Indexzero May 10, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    This one crosses the line for me Mireles. Talk shit about my home (I’m a born and bred New Yorker), but talk shit about my home and my career and you’re going to hear from me. I’m also an engineer who recently left Wall St. to pursue startup ambition full-time, so if anyone has an axe to grind with your statements it’s me.
    The tone of what you’ve written is ridiculously condescending. Can you even name the three biggest language meetup groups in NYC? Have you ever been to them? My guess is probably not. It’s not the responsibility of these communities to reach out to your startup, it’s your responsibility as a founder to go and seek them out to find talent.
    Furthermore, I can’t help but notice that your article is subtly anti-engineer. “Oh the poor engineer, can’t figure out what to do, getting woo-ed away by the glitz and glamor of Wall St.” Fuck that. It’s more like the incompetent non-technical person who can’t tell their ass from their elbow with anything besides email, Twitter, and their blog. Did you ever think about the fact that engineers don’t want to come work at a startup because the idea is *technically boring*? I’m sorry, but your next group buying idea is not going to intellectually stimulate me. You need to bring more than money (or equity to the table) if you want to get the best talent. You need to have an idea that is going to get people excited about more than money, something they will be proud that they built.
    I agree with you about the failure of academia in New York City. I’m a graduate student at Columbia and I’ve been rather appalled by the lack of community outreach in the computer science department. But again, why are you looking for hand-outs? If you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself. Send an email. I get tons of forwards from startups who just emailed Columbia (particularly Remi Moss) looking for talent.
    You’re not the first to make these kind of false generalizations about engineers in New York. Zed Shaw had a similar post in January http://www.zedshaw.com/blog/2010-01-19.html. In both cases I think the fundamental flaw is the technical challenge of the startup itself. You’re not going to find great engineers with an incremental innovation. You get smart, technical people excited when they think they’re going to change something significantly. Come up with those ideas, and you’ll get the talent you want.

  57. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    Sigh. Talk like this makes me sad. It’s understandable, but sad.

  58. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Sigh. Talk like this makes me sad. It’s understandable, but sad.

  59. Apreche May 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    I’m a developer in NYC. I would very much like to work at a start-up, if it were the right one. It could potentially be very exciting, not that the job I have now is bad. It’s actually pretty great.
    However, I think a lot of people here have pointed out exactly the problem. There’s pretty much 0% chance I will ever risk my livelihood on someone else’s dreams. I’m not even in the financial sector, but I’m doing pretty nicely. I have rent to pay. If you give me equity or stock options, there goes rent and groceries. That’s just not going to happen.
    Sorry, I like eating more than I like your dreams. If it were my dreams, and I had a big enough nest-egg stored up, then maybe I would go for it. But for someone else’s dreams? You gotta pay the rent. I’m even willing to accept the same money I’m making now if your start-up is really exciting. Not willing to risk becoming homeless.
    Hiring developers for your startup is easy. Pay in cash, and keep your equity to yourself. If it’s so valuable, then you should be very happy with that arrangement.

  60. Apreche May 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    I’m a developer in NYC. I would very much like to work at a start-up, if it were the right one. It could potentially be very exciting, not that the job I have now is bad. It’s actually pretty great.
    However, I think a lot of people here have pointed out exactly the problem. There’s pretty much 0% chance I will ever risk my livelihood on someone else’s dreams. I’m not even in the financial sector, but I’m doing pretty nicely. I have rent to pay. If you give me equity or stock options, there goes rent and groceries. That’s just not going to happen.
    Sorry, I like eating more than I like your dreams. If it were my dreams, and I had a big enough nest-egg stored up, then maybe I would go for it. But for someone else’s dreams? You gotta pay the rent. I’m even willing to accept the same money I’m making now if your start-up is really exciting. Not willing to risk becoming homeless.
    Hiring developers for your startup is easy. Pay in cash, and keep your equity to yourself. If it’s so valuable, then you should be very happy with that arrangement.

  61. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Is that bitterness I hear in your voice…?

  62. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    Is that bitterness I hear in your voice…?

  63. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Chris is an awesome dude and HackNY is a great Org. They will be featured heavily in my next post.

  64. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Chris is an awesome dude and HackNY is a great Org. They will be featured heavily in my next post.

  65. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    I think part of how non-techies get better is that they interact with techies. The more the two mix, the smart both sides get.

  66. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    I think part of how non-techies get better is that they interact with techies. The more the two mix, the smart both sides get.

  67. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    True dat. DB founders are a big problem. Best way around that is communities and networks where the good guys shine and attract good peeps.

  68. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 7:39 pm #

    True dat. DB founders are a big problem. Best way around that is communities and networks where the good guys shine and attract good peeps.

  69. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    Well, in my experience, the key differentiator between a co-founder and an employee is one of mindset. Co-founders are risk-takers, they want adventure and to actually be entrepreneurs. Employees want to leave that up to someone else.

  70. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    Well, in my experience, the key differentiator between a co-founder and an employee is one of mindset. Co-founders are risk-takers, they want adventure and to actually be entrepreneurs. Employees want to leave that up to someone else.

  71. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    Umm, yeah. We started off doing the whole distributed teams thing and although it worked to get us to v1.0, it was NOT a long term solution. Seriously, it was so frustrating. Having done it once, I will never do it again.

  72. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    Umm, yeah. We started off doing the whole distributed teams thing and although it worked to get us to v1.0, it was NOT a long term solution. Seriously, it was so frustrating. Having done it once, I will never do it again.

  73. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    Giff, I’d say that the most important thing is creating those technical dream chasers. NYC doesn’t have enough cuz the universities pipe students into the banks.

  74. Matt Mireles May 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Giff, I’d say that the most important thing is creating those technical dream chasers. NYC doesn’t have enough cuz the universities pipe students into the banks.

  75. Campbell May 10, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    It’s tough to start something in your garage when your studio doesn’t even have a closet!
    I am a non-technical founder of a really early stage company. We have an excellent team of NYC based (freelance) developers now but 1) I feel like I lucked out and 2) no question, cash is king here. And I can’t say I blame them, especially at this stage. New York (even Brooklyn) is just too expensive to live in. I’ve lived in Palo Alto, Boston & San Francisco, and no where comes close to the cost of living in New York.
    I’m not sure how this problem gets remedied given the cost of living disparity (and the imbalance/opportunity cost you raise). You just have to be a bit scrappier to get it done in NYC if you’re a nontechnical founder. But isn’t that what New Yorkers are best at anyway?
    Matt, great post and no question something the NYC startup community needs to address if it is going to be a sustainable hub for tech innovation. Would love to hear some more comments from tech people out there on this. Maybe the consensus is, who needs business people to have a thriving start up scene?

  76. Campbell May 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    It’s tough to start something in your garage when your studio doesn’t even have a closet!
    I am a non-technical founder of a really early stage company. We have an excellent team of NYC based (freelance) developers now but 1) I feel like I lucked out and 2) no question, cash is king here. And I can’t say I blame them, especially at this stage. New York (even Brooklyn) is just too expensive to live in. I’ve lived in Palo Alto, Boston & San Francisco, and no where comes close to the cost of living in New York.
    I’m not sure how this problem gets remedied given the cost of living disparity (and the imbalance/opportunity cost you raise). You just have to be a bit scrappier to get it done in NYC if you’re a nontechnical founder. But isn’t that what New Yorkers are best at anyway?
    Matt, great post and no question something the NYC startup community needs to address if it is going to be a sustainable hub for tech innovation. Would love to hear some more comments from tech people out there on this. Maybe the consensus is, who needs business people to have a thriving start up scene?

  77. Dpontor May 10, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    Matt,
    Have you heard of http://hackny.org/ It’s working hard to create a network of startups connected to a network of students from NY area schools.
    My professor from CU, Chris Wiggins, is working hard to get students to startups: http://news.columbia.edu/newyorkstories/1955
    I agree with you that the NY startup scene is very nascent, but it’ll ramp up quickly and once it’s there, it’ll be hard for it to disappear. As for cost of living… I pay as much in SV as I did in NY (and accordingly I am happy to come back to NY)

  78. Dpontor May 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    Matt,
    Have you heard of http://hackny.org/ It’s working hard to create a network of startups connected to a network of students from NY area schools.
    My professor from CU, Chris Wiggins, is working hard to get students to startups: http://news.columbia.edu/newyorkstories/1955
    I agree with you that the NY startup scene is very nascent, but it’ll ramp up quickly and once it’s there, it’ll be hard for it to disappear. As for cost of living… I pay as much in SV as I did in NY (and accordingly I am happy to come back to NY)

  79. Giff May 10, 2010 at 11:25 am #

    I think this is a red herring. Neither place is cheap. It comes down to chasing dreams. In New York, actors and writers live here on a *pittance* because they are chasing dreams. In SV, young engineers live on a pittance because they are doing the same. New York needs to be a place where technical dream-chasers, who care less about security, also want to be. This takes years to change, but there is already some positive movement.
    On a separate note, I really disagreed with the article saying you don’t need a co-founder anymore. Most people need someone to balance their skillset. If most NY founders are non-technical, they don’t need technical employees, but rather a trusted partner who gets both the vision *and* the realities of technology, product development, etc.

  80. Giff May 10, 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    I think this is a red herring. Neither place is cheap. It comes down to chasing dreams. In New York, actors and writers live here on a *pittance* because they are chasing dreams. In SV, young engineers live on a pittance because they are doing the same. New York needs to be a place where technical dream-chasers, who care less about security, also want to be. This takes years to change, but there is already some positive movement.
    On a separate note, I really disagreed with the article saying you don’t need a co-founder anymore. Most people need someone to balance their skillset. If most NY founders are non-technical, they don’t need technical employees, but rather a trusted partner who gets both the vision *and* the realities of technology, product development, etc.

  81. rogerwu99 May 10, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    Hey Matt – I agree with David’s comment above. There is technical talent out there; the problem is pairing them with a non technical first time co-founder (NTCF). Typically, the technical part isn’t the problem, its the business applications. So if you’re a technical person, you know that you can execute your part, but you’re not sure what the NTCF can do. Essentially the risk is in your NTCF and if that person can’t execute, well then you’re out of luck. (In defense of the NTCF, they can’t prove their share until the technical part is done). You have the good old chicken and egg problem, unless NTCF’s stop complaining, start using The Google or The Amazon and figure out that the LAMP stack isn’t where you put your light.

  82. rogerwu99 May 10, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Hey Matt – I agree with David’s comment above. There is technical talent out there; the problem is pairing them with a non technical first time co-founder (NTCF). Typically, the technical part isn’t the problem, its the business applications. So if you’re a technical person, you know that you can execute your part, but you’re not sure what the NTCF can do. Essentially the risk is in your NTCF and if that person can’t execute, well then you’re out of luck. (In defense of the NTCF, they can’t prove their share until the technical part is done). You have the good old chicken and egg problem, unless NTCF’s stop complaining, start using The Google or The Amazon and figure out that the LAMP stack isn’t where you put your light.

  83. David Fisher May 10, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    I’m in Boston and we have a slightly similar problem. There are a ton of non-technical cofounders out there, but it is rather difficult to find good developer/technical founder/engineer.
    I should clarify that, finding a good developer isn’t hard. Yet finding one that is available, willing to work for equity and interested in what you’re doing is rather difficult.
    Let’s break those down:
    - Available: Good developers have often been snapped up already. Its rather like dating, in that you generally have to find people between things. Top grade developers will probably already have something lined up before they quit another gig, making that gap effectively zero. You need to convince someone that you know is already on the way out that your startup will be better than whatever they are already doing.
    -Cash/Equity: I see people talk all the time about the value of equity. Honestly, it generally isn’t worth the paper it is written on from what I’ve seen. There is a huge chance that you’ll work on it for a few months and little will come of it. Yes, you could start the next Google/Twitter/Facebook, but it is unlikely.
    Equity does not pay the bills. You’re talking about people in NYC here. They might have a 2K/month studio apartment in SoHo. You probably won’t be doing much for founders salaries even on an angel round, so suddenly this looks to be a really long time without cash flow if you’re talking equity only. For people in their 20′s that haven’t already been through a successfully exited startup and don’t have a nest egg (or trust fund) this isn’t possible.
    They understand the value of risk and stock, but knowing the value of it and being able to realistically quit your job/graduate and work without a paycheck is really hard. If the value was there, then the investment capital would be there. The concept of value is there, but not the value.
    - Selling the idea: At this stage, you’re generally selling an idea of an idea. 95% of the time when people talk to me about some startup they are doing I’m thinking, “This will never work”, “I know 6 people doing the same thing and they are a year ahead of you” or “Where is the money?”.
    Rare is it that someone has an idea like GroupOn that is an instant, ‘duh’ moment and you think you’d want to be instantly part of and owning a large portion of. I’m not going to work for a company (and take mainly equity) that I don’t believe in.
    All of this creates an impression of a bottleneck of developers and technical talent in a city. Throw in Google and a few other large companies (and academia) that can and will pay for top level talent and things really start looking dry.
    But here’s the thing, I don’t think there is a lack of technical talent. Rather there is a lack of top level non-technical co-founders out there will killer ideas, vision, experience, connections and fund raising ability. What are they bringing to the table if not those things? While an early stage startup can run with technical talent only, it can run without a ‘biz guy’ just fine while things get off the ground.
    So what to do as a non-technical co-founder?
    - Get technical! A little over a year ago few hard programming skills. Then I started picking up Ruby stuff on the side. I’ll never be a top level engineer, but through pain and blundering I can get the job done and get something mocked up in a reasonable amount of time to show that there’s something more than just an idea. This also gives me the ability to make better decisions as a business person and understand the rest of the company
    - Get money! Paying people gets stuff done. If your ideas are so killer, you can surely raise 50K or so to get them done. I’ve had friends (in NY) raise 50K to start things that would never scale or go big like PR firms. They did this through networking and knowing the right people. Its a big city with a lot of money floating around. Find it and pay to get your base level prototype made. Developers will blow you off if you’re waving your hands and talking about an idea, but if you say you’ll pay $125/hr to have a prototype made, then they listen.
    - Have better ideas and bring more to the table: There are a few non-technical people that I’d follow anywhere and its because they do have consistently great vision and ideas. Show people that you can lead and followthrough. One of my good friends Tim Hwang can’t code at all (AFAIK), but I’ve seen him execute with the Awesome Foundation, ROFLcon and the Web Ecology Project. I know that if he gets a great idea, that he will hold up his end. Do things like this and you’ll have no problem finding developers and technical co-founders.

  84. David Fisher May 10, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    I’m in Boston and we have a slightly similar problem. There are a ton of non-technical cofounders out there, but it is rather difficult to find good developer/technical founder/engineer.
    I should clarify that, finding a good developer isn’t hard. Yet finding one that is available, willing to work for equity and interested in what you’re doing is rather difficult.
    Let’s break those down:
    - Available: Good developers have often been snapped up already. Its rather like dating, in that you generally have to find people between things. Top grade developers will probably already have something lined up before they quit another gig, making that gap effectively zero. You need to convince someone that you know is already on the way out that your startup will be better than whatever they are already doing.
    -Cash/Equity: I see people talk all the time about the value of equity. Honestly, it generally isn’t worth the paper it is written on from what I’ve seen. There is a huge chance that you’ll work on it for a few months and little will come of it. Yes, you could start the next Google/Twitter/Facebook, but it is unlikely.
    Equity does not pay the bills. You’re talking about people in NYC here. They might have a 2K/month studio apartment in SoHo. You probably won’t be doing much for founders salaries even on an angel round, so suddenly this looks to be a really long time without cash flow if you’re talking equity only. For people in their 20′s that haven’t already been through a successfully exited startup and don’t have a nest egg (or trust fund) this isn’t possible.
    They understand the value of risk and stock, but knowing the value of it and being able to realistically quit your job/graduate and work without a paycheck is really hard. If the value was there, then the investment capital would be there. The concept of value is there, but not the value.
    - Selling the idea: At this stage, you’re generally selling an idea of an idea. 95% of the time when people talk to me about some startup they are doing I’m thinking, “This will never work”, “I know 6 people doing the same thing and they are a year ahead of you” or “Where is the money?”.
    Rare is it that someone has an idea like GroupOn that is an instant, ‘duh’ moment and you think you’d want to be instantly part of and owning a large portion of. I’m not going to work for a company (and take mainly equity) that I don’t believe in.
    All of this creates an impression of a bottleneck of developers and technical talent in a city. Throw in Google and a few other large companies (and academia) that can and will pay for top level talent and things really start looking dry.
    But here’s the thing, I don’t think there is a lack of technical talent. Rather there is a lack of top level non-technical co-founders out there will killer ideas, vision, experience, connections and fund raising ability. What are they bringing to the table if not those things? While an early stage startup can run with technical talent only, it can run without a ‘biz guy’ just fine while things get off the ground.
    So what to do as a non-technical co-founder?
    - Get technical! A little over a year ago few hard programming skills. Then I started picking up Ruby stuff on the side. I’ll never be a top level engineer, but through pain and blundering I can get the job done and get something mocked up in a reasonable amount of time to show that there’s something more than just an idea. This also gives me the ability to make better decisions as a business person and understand the rest of the company
    - Get money! Paying people gets stuff done. If your ideas are so killer, you can surely raise 50K or so to get them done. I’ve had friends (in NY) raise 50K to start things that would never scale or go big like PR firms. They did this through networking and knowing the right people. Its a big city with a lot of money floating around. Find it and pay to get your base level prototype made. Developers will blow you off if you’re waving your hands and talking about an idea, but if you say you’ll pay $125/hr to have a prototype made, then they listen.
    - Have better ideas and bring more to the table: There are a few non-technical people that I’d follow anywhere and its because they do have consistently great vision and ideas. Show people that you can lead and followthrough. One of my good friends Tim Hwang can’t code at all (AFAIK), but I’ve seen him execute with the Awesome Foundation, ROFLcon and the Web Ecology Project. I know that if he gets a great idea, that he will hold up his end. Do things like this and you’ll have no problem finding developers and technical co-founders.

  85. Nahurst May 10, 2010 at 10:51 am #

    For the last two months, I’ve run an event to connect software people with companies that are hiring through “speed dating for the hiring process” in NYC (http://hirelite.com if you’re interested). I’ve seen the demand for tech job seekers you mention firsthand, but from what I’ve seen, it’s recently started to squeeze startups more than usual. Over the last month, companies of all sizes have stepped up their tech hiring. At our March event, we had a waiting list full of job seekers. At our April event, we had a waiting list full of companies.
    As for the Wall Street talent drain, I’ve seen a lot of people casually looking to get out of finance find their way into startups – especially people who’ve been saving money instead of living large. The problem is that these people get snatched up very quickly (within one month from the feedback I’ve received). So it almost seems like the biggest competition for the smallest startups is well capitalized VC/angel funded startups that can offer a reasonable salary, some equity, great technical problems, freedom, and room for growth.
    As a side note, one major problem I’ve seen is non-technical founders who don’t know what they’re doing and that are looking for an engineering bitch (as you put it). Whenever someone looking to get out of finance or into a startup finds one of these people first in their job hunt, it really puts them off. Why would they leave their comfortable job to join someone with no clue who will treat them worse than their treated now (for less money)?

  86. Nahurst May 10, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    For the last two months, I’ve run an event to connect software people with companies that are hiring through “speed dating for the hiring process” in NYC (http://hirelite.com if you’re interested). I’ve seen the demand for tech job seekers you mention firsthand, but from what I’ve seen, it’s recently started to squeeze startups more than usual. Over the last month, companies of all sizes have stepped up their tech hiring. At our March event, we had a waiting list full of job seekers. At our April event, we had a waiting list full of companies.
    As for the Wall Street talent drain, I’ve seen a lot of people casually looking to get out of finance find their way into startups – especially people who’ve been saving money instead of living large. The problem is that these people get snatched up very quickly (within one month from the feedback I’ve received). So it almost seems like the biggest competition for the smallest startups is well capitalized VC/angel funded startups that can offer a reasonable salary, some equity, great technical problems, freedom, and room for growth.
    As a side note, one major problem I’ve seen is non-technical founders who don’t know what they’re doing and that are looking for an engineering bitch (as you put it). Whenever someone looking to get out of finance or into a startup finds one of these people first in their job hunt, it really puts them off. Why would they leave their comfortable job to join someone with no clue who will treat them worse than their treated now (for less money)?

  87. Gsiener May 10, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    Very interesting. What would you focus on changing with the “talent search” in the area?

  88. Gsiener May 10, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    Very interesting. What would you focus on changing with the “talent search” in the area?

  89. Michael Kimsal May 10, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    Granted, I’m not in the NYC area, but in my travels and experiences, I’ve yet to meet a single-founder who would be willing to give up *any* of their ‘vision’ for how their idea should be implemented. They generally seem to attract employee-types partially because that’s how they want to treat people – as implementers for their vision. Nothing *wrong* with that, specifically, but few people I’ve met really *want* co-founders. Those that do already have them.

  90. Michael Kimsal May 10, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    Granted, I’m not in the NYC area, but in my travels and experiences, I’ve yet to meet a single-founder who would be willing to give up *any* of their ‘vision’ for how their idea should be implemented. They generally seem to attract employee-types partially because that’s how they want to treat people – as implementers for their vision. Nothing *wrong* with that, specifically, but few people I’ve met really *want* co-founders. Those that do already have them.

  91. Justin Alexander May 10, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Find co-founders by “telecommute”. I know Israel is packed with risk taking entrepreneurial engineers of all stripes. Their English is (usually) first rate, and every one of them dreams of his/her first successful startup.
    I’m sure there are other international locations as well.
    But with modern communication tools the work is more possible than ever.
    I built a startup with a colleague that I saw 4 times a year in another city. Other than one, minor, face-2-face the entire product was designed and implemented between the two of us working together online.

  92. Justin Alexander May 10, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    Find co-founders by “telecommute”. I know Israel is packed with risk taking entrepreneurial engineers of all stripes. Their English is (usually) first rate, and every one of them dreams of his/her first successful startup.
    I’m sure there are other international locations as well.
    But with modern communication tools the work is more possible than ever.
    I built a startup with a colleague that I saw 4 times a year in another city. Other than one, minor, face-2-face the entire product was designed and implemented between the two of us working together online.

  93. G May 10, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    One other thing: Cost of living (i.e. apartment rent) in the NYC area is insane. Even more so that SV.

  94. G May 10, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    One other thing: Cost of living (i.e. apartment rent) in the NYC area is insane. Even more so that SV.

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